Directors of foreign universities expressed their welcome to the Confucius Institute, China's program to promote its culture and mutual understanding around the world.
The second Confucius Institute Conference opened in Beijing Tuesday gathering delegates from Institutes around the world.
"My experience at the conference shows that you can make friends worldwide if you speak Chinese," said Gary Sigley, director of the Confucius Institute of the University of Western Australia, here on Tuesday.
To promote Chinese language and culture, China started to host Confucius Institutes in 2004. So far, there have been 210 Confucius Institutes opened in 64 countries and regions. In addition, more than 20 organizations from 61 countries have applied to open Confucius Institutes.
Sigley's 45 students are studying in China under an exchange program with the institute. Most of them are younger than 25.
"They come from different cultural and social backgrounds from their Chinese counterparts but share the same dream of a peaceful and harmonious world," he said. "Confucius Institutes offer a platform of cross-culture communication and friendship."
"Courses on Chinese tea culture and Tai Ji Quan, offered at the institute, are always over-subscribed," said Kawaguchi Kiyofumi, president of Ritsumeikan University.
Agreeing with Kiyofumi, William M. Tsutsui, executive director of the Confucius Institute of the University of Kansas in the United States, said that local residents are expecting more practical and interesting Chinese courses.
China's Peking University is cooperating with nine Confucius Institutes at colleges abroad. Xu Zhihong, its president, said that the program also helps the university to improve all-round cooperation with foreign counterparts.
Timothy O'Shea, Principal of the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, said that the Confucius Institute helped strengthen China-Britain friendly cooperation and deepened British people's understanding of Chinese culture.
The university's Confucius Institute has offered Chinese language courses at different levels and special programs, for example for company employees, government officials. It has also organized a touring Chinese film festival, he said.
Jean Tabi Manga, president of University of Yaounde II of Cameroon, is on his first trip to China.
Cameroonian people hold China in special affection, he said, adding that the Confucius Institute has received a warm welcome from both the government and ordinary people.
"The Confucius Institute in our university is young but energetic. We have many plans and are confident we can promote Chinese language and culture among Cameroonians and in Africa at large, so as to expand cooperation between the two sides," he said.
Almost all the delegates at the conference recite, "It is such a delight to have friends coming from afar," the famous saying of Kongzi, the ancient Chinese philosopher whom the Confucius Institute was named after.
Chinese State Councilor Chen Zhili said China would join hands with foreign counterparts to further improve the teaching quality of Confucius Institutes.
"At its primary stage, Confucius Institutes still face such problems as lack of qualified teachers, inadequate textbooks and insufficient teaching methods," she said.
She said a long-term development plan should be drawn to ensure a sustainable development for the Confucius Institute, so that such key factors as investment, teacher, textbook and teaching methods would be well arranged.
"In addition, more interesting courses such as traditional Chinese medicine, Chinese health care, culture, tourism and commerce will be added to meet learners' demand," Chen said.
Confucius Institutes will also improve its service to local primary and middle schools and play a more active role in internet-based Chinese language teaching and teachers' training program, she added.
The Confucius Institute has helped promote the concept of a harmonious world proposed by the Chinese people, said Chinese Education Minister Zhou Ji.
Statistics showed that more than 30 million people overseas are learning the Chinese language.
"The Confucius Institute has become a window to display Chinese culture to the outside world, and a bridge to strengthen mutual understanding between peoples," Zhou said.
Education Minister Zhou Ji said that more than 200 institutes in 61 countries and regions have applied to open up Confucius Institutes in addition to the existing institutes. "China will give all possible help," he said.
According to Zhou, the headquarters has so far sent more than 300 teaching experts and presented 30 kinds of books to overseas Confucius Institutes. Total investment in Confucius Institutes has reached 26 million U.S. dollars to date.
China hosted the first Confucius Institute Conference in 2005 to officially announce the establishment of the first group of Confucius Institutes. This year, more than 1,000 delegates from home and abroad attended the conference. The delegates will discuss and draw up a charter for the Confucius Institute Headquarters (CIH), a permanent organization in charge of Confucius Institute affairs.
(Xinhua News Agency December 12, 2007)