China will set up three Confucius Institutes in central and west Asia this year to satisfy the growing demand for Mandarin, China's official language.
Preparations for the three institutes in Russia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are well underway, said Wang Lili, director of the Foreign Affairs office of Education Department in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
The Education Department, which was authorized to set up Confucius institutes in neighboring countries, will cooperate with the education authorities of the three countries to complete the project, Wang said.
"Starting March 1, we will begin recruiting volunteer teachers in Xinjiang and train them in Chinese language teaching methods," she said.
Wang attributed the surging demand for Mandarin learning in central and west Asia to the growing economic and trade exchanges between China and its neighboring countries.
"Confucius institutes will not only meet the demand to learn Chinese but also help people better understand China," she added.
Confucius institutes are non-profit schools specializing in Chinese language education and cultural communication. They have become an important means of expanding Chinese teaching abroad and stepping up understanding between China and rest of the world.
The world's first Confucius Institute opened in Seoul in 2004.
The first group of 25 Confucius institutes around the world were officially acknowledged by the Chinese government in July 2005 and the number has now increased to 123 in 49 countries and regions.
According to plans of the Office of Chinese Language Council International (OCLCI), China will have 500 Confucius institutes by the end of 2010.
Confucius (551 BC-479 BC) is one of the most famous thinkers, educators and philosophers in Chinese and world history. He revolutionized education in China 2,500 years ago by making it accessible to commoners.
(Xinhua News Agency January 25, 2007)