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UK headteachers start culture tour in China
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To Liz Gleave, a school inspector from Britain, everything about China is new and interesting.

Standing in front of the Chinese calligraphy and traditional costumes exhibited in a hall at the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing, Gleave said her visit to China, the first in her life, was amazing and excited.

"Everything about China is new and interesting to me," Gleave said.

Gleave and 109 other headteachers and education officials from Britain started their visit to China on Monday, as guests of the Chinese Hanban, or Office of Chinese Language Council International, and the British Council.

They are here for a week-long tour especially for Chinese culture and Chinese language teaching.

After a short stay in Beijing, the 110 delegates will be divided into groups to visit six Chinese provinces and municipalities and establish partnerships with local Chinese schools.

"I am looking forward to the meeting with the schools," said Paul Quantick, International Development Officer for Wiltshire County Council.

To his way of seeing, meetings always resulted in further cooperation. Quantick and some school representatives visited Nanhai of south China's Guangdong Province in September last year, and there they met with headteachers from 10 Chinese sister schools.

In September this year, what they had talked about during last meeting became true as two Chinese teachers from Nanhai went to teach in Wiltshire.

They gave Chinese culture courses to students, teachers, in subjects such as calligraphy, Taichi, martial arts and of course Chinese language, Quantick said, noting the whole community had an "increasing" interest in learning Chinese.

It is noticeable that Chinese language has become popular among youngsters in Britain and other western countries, as Chinese language has become a requirement in finding a China-related job.

Joanna Burke, culture counselor with the British Embassy in China and also a senior official with the British Council, said China is a country of great strategic importance to Britain as an emerging economy and also as a political and cultural power in the21st century.

"Education plays a major role in helping the people of both countries better understand and engage with each other," she said, "and the first step to getting young people to engage in such dialogue is ensuring that they have the language skills to enable them to do so."

Statistics of the British Council show that currently there are around 500 schools in Britain that teach Chinese regularly.

Ten Confucius Institutes and 15 Confucius classrooms have been set up there to give Chinese language and culture courses. An estimated 60,000 Chinese students are studying in Britain, and small, but growing numbers of British students studying in China.

To meet the surging demand of the young people, the Hanban and the British Council last year initiated the culture tour for British headteachers, which resulted in 73 cooperative agreements between the two sides.

"We are expecting that more Chinese and British schools become friendly schools, and we will provide them with better and more effective language promotion service," said Xu Lin, director of the Hanban.

At the kicking-off ceremony on Monday, the Hanban also presented each visiting school a set of Chinese teaching materials.

"It is a certain kind of drizzle effect," said Peter Thompson, deputy director of the Ashcombe School when receiving the list of the books presented by the Hanban.

Stressing that people have used "life is changing" so many times to describe such a tour, Thompson still thinks it is "the beginning of this road for many people", as British and Chinese will start to learn about and appreciate each other's culture.

(Xinhua News Agency November 25, 2008)

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