A team made up of foreign students has won this year's Chinese Language Contest, a first for the annual competition organized by Shanghai's Fudan University. In past competitions, foreign students have finished either last or second last.
The competition tests contestants' knowledge of Chinese character structure, pronunciations of polyphones, and idiom comprehension among others.
Some reasons offered for the Chinese students' poor performance include a lack of basic knowledge, despite the fact that many of them passed the university entrance exams only a year ago, and nerves.
Compared with Chinese students, foreign students' level of Chinese proficiency continues to improve every year. Many of the foreign students in China learn some Chinese in their native countries before coming here for further studies, according to a Mr. Xu from the dean's office, Fudan University.
For example, a Singaporean who took part in the contest is currently pursuing a master's degree in the university's Chinese Department, and a Russian student attends doctorate courses there.
Why foreign students do so well could be attributed to their keen attention to the culture behind the Chinese language. This enables them to understand and study Chinese with a broader perspective than the locals.
However, Chinese students, who use their mother tongue every day, do not necessarily appreciate the beauty of their language, let alone want to study it, said Fu Jie, director of the Institute for Chinese Language and Literature at Fudan.
Chen Guanglei, a member of the competition review committee, had this to say about the contest result: "Language defines a nation. The foreign students' victory shows that interest in China and our culture is increasing, a fact that we should appreciate and be proud of.
"At the same time, we should improve ourselves and our knowledge of our country and culture. Chinese students should spend as much time and money learning Chinese and about China and Chinese as they do on foreign language study."
(China.org.cn by Li Shen, June 29, 2005)