The worldwide network of 145 Confucius Institutes, educational and cultural centers seeking to promote Chinese culture abroad, saw its new headquarters inaugurated in Beijing in Monday.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, State Councilor Chen Zhili gave the new HQ's modus operandi, saying it will make appropriate rules, regulate budgets, evaluate achievements and progress made by existing institutes, approve new ones and assign managing and teaching staff. Minister of Education Zhou Ji added that it would also expand cooperation among the institutes dotted around 52 countries and regions.
Chen spoke of the role Confucius institutes play as important platforms for foreigners to study Chinese language and culture. "We will help Confucius institutes improve teaching quality to meet the surging demand of foreign learners," Chen said.
According to the Ministry of Education, the number of foreign students of Chinese stands at 30 million foreigners, and is set to rise to 100 million before 2010. In China alone, the number of foreigners studying Mandarin has shot up from 36,000 ten years ago to 110,000 this year.
The expansion momentum will continue through 2007, and it was thus necessary to create a supervisory for the non-profit institutes, said Zhao Guocheng, deputy director of the Chinese Language Council International (CLCI), a government body which co-ordinates Chinese teaching around the world.
On Sunday, the CLCI finalized an agreement with Novosibirsk State Technical University to build the fourth Confucius Institute in Russia, following a similar pact signed with Nebraska-Lincoln University in the United States last week.
The pilot institute was founded in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in June 2004, with President Hu Jintao attending the ceremony. Since this occasion, hundreds of foreign universities, colleges and other organizations have applied to the CLCI to set up Confucius Institutes. Last year alone, the council received over 400 applications.
Over the last three years, the growth of the Confucius Institutes has been staggering, leaping from six at the end of 2004, to 42 by 2005, before nearly tripling to 125 by 2006.
Besides teaching Chinese and training teachers, the institutes also act as an examination venue and offer consultancy on Chinese culture, economy and society.
(Xinhua News Agency, China Daily April 10, 2007)