A blue-eyed blonde from Canada gave a speech about her travels in China in fluent and vivid Chinese. Another girl from the Republic of Korea quickly matched the different Chinese local dramas to their original provinces. And a young man from Hungary performed Taijiquan a kind of Chinese traditional shadow boxing winning rapturous applause from the audience.
The reason for these displays of cultural dexterity: The 4th Chinese Bridge a Chinese proficiency competition for foreign college students which started in Beijing yesterday. This competition has been dubbed the "Chinese Olympics".
During the course of the contest, which kicked off yesterday and runs until Friday, a total of 95 students from 45 countries will be put through their paces.
Those taking part in the Beijing finals have already come through preliminaries in their home countries and represent the crme-de-la-crme of the world's Chinese language students.
Yulia Bredneva, from Uzbekistan, said she had been learning Chinese for four years and has had some interest from Chinese companies in Uzbekistan who want to employ her after she graduates.
Peter McSweeney, from the University of Sheffield, Britain, said the hardest thing about studying Chinese was the writing. Although he speaks good Chinese, he said he still needs to improve.
When learning Chinese, foreign students also get to know Chinese culture. Promoting Chinese study overseas will link China with the rest of world, said Xu Lin, director of the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.
She said her organization is co-operating with 22 institutions in 16 countries to establish the Institution of Confucius. Confucius (551-479 BC) was a Chinese philosopher and teacher, and still serves as a symbol of traditional Chinese culture.
In contrast to the craze of learning Chinese in foreign countries, teaching and studying the Chinese language meets many problems in its motherland.
In a recent Chinese language competition held in Fudan University in Shanghai, open to both Chinese and foreign students, the team of foreign students created a great upset by winning first prize.
The Chinese students do not work hard to study, taking for granted that Chinese is their mother tongue, said Yao Xishuang, standing vice-director of the Ministry of Education's Institute of Applied Linguistics.
(China Daily July 14, 2005)