China should step up its efforts to promote the use of Chinese language among foreigners in a bid to spread Chinese culture and develop the country's "soft power," a national lawmaker has said.
Hu Youqing, a deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC), said the overseas expansion of the Chinese language can help foreigners better understand China as well as its culture.
"In fact, promoting the use of Chinese among overseas people has gone beyond purely cultural issues," he told China Daily in an exclusive interview.
"It can help build up our national strength and should be taken as a way to develop our country's soft power."
Hu, a Chinese-language professor with Nanjing University, serves as director of the National Advisory Committee for the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK), or the Chinese Proficiency Test.
To help non-native Chinese people learn Chinese, China introduced the HSK, the equivalent of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), in 1991 as the official Chinese language examination.
Over the past decade, the test has gained popularity along with the growing global interest in China.
Up to 120,000 people took up the HSK last year, compared with only 2,072 on the first year of introducing the test.
By the end of last year, about 500,000 people from 120 countries and regions had taken the test. More than 150 HSK Testing Centres have been set up in 37 foreign countries.
Despite the increasing popularity of the HSK, Hu acknowledged that the promotion of the Chinese language still has a long way to go.
"We have to realize that more overseas people choose to learn Chinese just because of their need for economic exchanges with China rather than out of their love for Chinese culture," he said.
The professor explained that China's fast economic growth over the past two decades is a key factor stimulating the demand to learn Chinese among foreigners.
Now, about 90,000 foreign students come to China every year to study the language.
It is estimated that about 30 million people overseas are studying Chinese, inspired by growing trade and closer exchanges between China and other countries.
More than 2,500 universities and colleges in more than 100 countries have established Chinese language programmes. In the United States, hundreds of primary and high schools have elective Chinese language courses.
To better combine the teaching of the Chinese language and the promotion of Chinese culture, Hu said, the China National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (NOCFL), founded in 1987, has already begun to establish the Confucius Institute abroad.
In co-operation with local universities or education bodies, the institute is aimed at promoting the language and strengthening cultural exchanges between China and other countries.
Hu said China plans to set up about 100 Confucius Institutes, mainly in its neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia, the United States, Europe and Africa.
Since the first Confucius Institute was set up in Seoul of the Republic of Korea on November 21, 2004, the country has so far established about 30 such institutes in 20 countries.
Another 10 will be set up soon in line with NOCFL's agreements with foreign partners.
(China Daily March 10, 2006)