Attracting approximately 400 delegates from 38 countries and regions, the first Confucius Institute Conference was held in Beijing on Thursday. Chinese State Councilor Chen Zhili said at the opening ceremony that people from all round the world could benefit from the Confucius Institute which specializes in Chinese language and culture education.
"Language is the most important tool in helping promote mutual understanding and friendship among people," Chen said. The Chinese government encourages the population, especially young people, to learn foreign languages and understand other cultures. Currently more than 300 million Chinese are learning foreign languages.
With China's further opening up to the outside world the country’s language had attracted more attention from the people of foreign countries, Chen said. Statistics show more than 30 million people worldwide are learning Chinese.
The Confucius Institute, a non-profit public body, was initiated in 2004 to satisfy the surging overseas demand to learn Chinese.
So far a total of 80 Confucius Institutes have been opened in 36 countries and regions and 99 institutes from 38 countries have applied to set up Confucius Institutes.
Chen said the Confucius Institutes in different locations had developed in various ways in accordance with the demands of countries and regions. "From a Confucius Institute people not only learn the Chinese language and culture but also get a much clearer picture of a modern China," Chen said. "Therefore, Confucius Institutes had been widely welcomed by overseas communities.”
Nancy Jervis, vice-president of the China Institute in New York, "dared not imagine" that the "Chinese language could become so popular" when she first visited China in 1972. Beyond her imagination perhaps but a total of 2,400 US universities are now planning to run Chinese language courses. And Chinese in comparison with other languages has witnessed the largest increase in students in recent years.
"It’s of great significance to learn the Chinese language which belongs to a most populous nation with the fastest economic growth," Jervis said. She felt "honored" that the first Confucius Institute in the United States had been established by the China Institute.
(Xinhua News Agency July 7, 2006)