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Peter Lee, an Indonesian man of Chinese origin, moved to the United States with his family when he was eight years old and settled there.

He quickly assimilated and has become fully Westernized -- a "banana," as jokingly called by Chinese, referring to those whose complexion is yellow but act like white people.

Lee graduated from university two years ago, and applied a job at a computer company whose major business was in China.

He thought his Chinese appearance would help him get the job easily. But he was refused the post because he had not passed the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi), a Chinese language proficiency test.

This setback encouraged Lee to come to China to study Chinese. After two years of efforts, he has now mastered his parents' mother tongue.

He passed the band 3 test of the HSK last year. He also took band 6 (medium level) earlier this year. Although the result has not come out yet, Lee is quite confident he will get the certificate -- which will qualify him for the post of the principal of his company's Shanghai office.

Lee is only one of the tens of thousands of foreigners learning Chinese in China.

According to the Shanghai-based Xinmin Weekly, the number of overseas citizens coming to China has been increasing and spurred on by China's accession to the World Trade Organization and Beijing's winning of the host of 2008 Olympic Games. There has been a significant surge in arrivals from Europe and North America over the past two years.

According to the National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Second Language, there are more than 20 million people outside China learning Chinese.

HSK Development

Sources said the number of foreigners who come to China to learn Chinese has risen by 35 per cent each year since 1997, with most coming from Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries.

In Beijing and Shanghai for instance, it is not a novelty to find foreigners speaking fluent Chinese.

This "fever" of learning Chinese has greatly helped the development of HSK, which is unofficially dubbed "Chinese TOEFL."

In 1988, China launched the HSK to test foreigners' proficiency in the Chinese language.

There were only around 200 examinees in the first few years.

But 10 years later, it has developed into the most authoritative and influential national test of the Chinese language.

According to Cui Xiliang, director of the HSK center of Beijing Language and Culture University, as many as 144,000 people sat HSK last year -- a rise of 40,000 from the number in 2001.

Over the past 14 years, about 540,000 people from 120 countries have taken part in the HSK examination in total.

The HSK now consists of three levels: elementary, intermediate and advanced.

Examinees are tested orally and on their grammar, reading ability and comprehension in the three-hour examination.

The HSK has been accepted and conducted in increasing numbers of countries and is the most influential national standardized test.

Whoever passes a certain level of the HSK can be granted the "Chinese Proficiency Certificate" issued by the National Chinese Proficiency Test Committee.

The National Chinese Proficiency Test Committee has set up 44 examination centers in 27 cities within China, including Hong Kong and Macao, and 55 centers in 24 foreign countries.

Cui attributed the dramatic growth in the amount of HSK examinees to the rapid economic development of China, and the country's increasing integration with the world.

"China's entry to the WTO has opened doors for foreign enterprises and capital to access the Chinese market and along with it, the Chinese language has become more and more important," he said.

The reasons why foreigners study Chinese have also changed.

According to an investigation jointly held by the HSK center at Cui's university, most examination attendees in the late 1980s and early 1990s were international students who had come to study at Chinese universities.

Today, most people have taken the HSK out of consideration for their careers, because most companies require an HSK certificate when they are hiring non-Chinese to work in China.

More than 50 per cent of those from Japan and South Korea said the reason they studied Chinese was to find jobs more easily.

Yamasaki Yoshiyoki works at the Shanghai branch of a Japanese bank. With his wife, Yamasaki Kimiyo, they have really enjoyed life in China's most dynamic city.

His company decided to reduce the amount of their clerks in Shanghai by 50 per cent last year. However, none of Yamasaki's colleagues were willing to leave and return to Japan.

The final solution of the bank was to ask all clerks to take HSK test, and only those who get the highest points would stay in China.

In order to achieve a good result in the examination, Yamasaki attended a training course at a university. He went there five nights a week.

When he was on a business trip, his wife would attend the course for him, and teach him on his return.

Global Tide

With increasing numbers of foreign universities running Chinese language courses, demand for Chinese teachers has far surpassed supply in the United States and many other countries.

Xinmin Weekly reports that nearly 1,000 high schools in the United States currently offer Chinese language courses, accounting for more than one third of the 3,000 high schools in the country.

In recent years, overseas students from the Chinese mainland have established more than 200 Chinese language schools in the United States.

Chinese has become the third most frequently used language in the United States.

The American Association of Chinese Teachers now has 800 members -- 80 per cent of whom are from the Chinese mainland.

Chinese is also the third most frequently used language in Canada, where many universities have opened Chinese courses.

Due to geographical and historical reasons, Asian countries have shown more interest in learning Chinese than the rest of the world.

South Korea has taken the lead in the Chinese-learning fervor. Most universities in the country have set up a Department of Chinese Language. In addition, more than 300 high schools offer Chinese courses. The amount of Korean students in China have surpassed those from Japan.

In Japan, it is estimated that nearly 2 million people are learning Chinese. Almost all of Japan's nearly 500 universities offer Chinese language courses -- 85 of which have a Department of Chinese language.

(China Daily April 1, 2003)

Increasing Foreigners Show Desire to Learn Chinese
More Foreigners Learn Chinese
Teachers of Chinese in Great Demand
Big Increase in Chinese 'TOEFL' Examinees
Teaching of Chinese Spreads Worldwide
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