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Booming Confucius institutes enhance China's soft power
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Back in the fall of 2003, a student at the University of Rohode Island circulated a petition for the university to offer Chinese language classes. Some 300 students signed the petition.

Four years later when Xu Lin, a senior Chinese educational official, visited New York, President of the University of Rhode Island Robert L. Carothers drove for hours to Xu's hotel and requested a meeting.

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2008 International Confucius Cultural Festival in Qufu, east China's Shandong Province, Sept. 27, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2008 International Confucius Cultural Festival in Qufu, east China's Shandong Province, Sept. 27, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)

The president got all the documents ready and wanted to persuade Xu into signing right there the papers on setting up a Confucius Institute, a Chinese language and culture learning institution, at his university.

"Do you want to know our terms first?" Xu asked.

"No, we have studied that many times and totally agree with your terms," Carothers answered.

The meeting ended with a contract on the project, and that was how the Confucius Institute came to this US university.

The story just offers a glimpse into the rising popularity of the Confucius Institute in the United States and other parts of the world.

Before the 1970s, Chinese language education in the United States were confined to Chinatowns and Chinese communities across the country.

However, since China adopted a policy of reform and opening-up in 1978 and forged diplomatic ties with the United States in 1979,there has been increasing demand for the study of Chinese culture and language in the States after a long separation between the two countries.

This is illustrated by the rapid growth of Beijing-based Confucius Institute in the United States.

The Institute, headquartered in Beijing and sponsored by China's National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, has not only offered a place for Americans to learn Chinese, but also serves as a platform to help the two peoples better understand each other.

Since the opening of the first Confucius Institute in the United States at the University of Maryland in 2004, more than 40 such institutes have been set up across the country.

The New York Confucius Institute has a class for preschool children, while the one in Chicago offered special learning sessions to Chinese children adopted by US citizens.

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