The Chinese language has become more popular worldwide with the rapid increase in the number of Confucius Institutes, Education Minister Zhou Ji said on Wednesday.
As of this month, 249 Confucius Institutes and 56 Confucius classrooms have been established in 78 countries, Zhou, who is also vice-president of the council of the Beijing-based Confucius Institute Headquarters, told the ongoing 3rd Confucius Institute Conference.
The Confucius Institute Headquarters was officially established in Beijing, April 9 2007.
The non-profit institute, named after ancient China's influential philosopher Confucius, was established by China in 2004 as a tool to help non-native speakers to learn Chinese.
Confucius Institutes worldwide have held 6,000 classes with more than 120,000 registered learners and organized 2,000 cultural activities with 1.2 million people attending, according to Zhou.
"The Chinese language has become more attractive, as the enrollment of the Confucius Institute in our school doubled that of last year," said Matti J. Tikkanen, vice-chancellor of the University of Helsinki in Finland.
The University of Helsinki started Chinese teaching in 1974 and opened Finland's first Confucius Institute in 2007. Three Chinese and two Finnish teachers are co-chairing the institute.
"The remarkable achievement of China since its opening-up has drawn the whole world's attention, and the surging demand for Chinese learning has reflected that," Tikkanen said.
Ou Keping, chairman of Chongqing University in southwest China, said he had also witnessed surging demand from foreign universities. Sponsoring two Confucius Institutes in Thailand and Italy, staff of his university have been busy improving their language-teaching ability.
"What people want to know is more than the Chinese language," Ou said, adding the local opera of Sichuan Province has also been promoted and warmly welcomed by the Italian people via the Confucius Institute.
Liu Chuansheng, chairwoman of the Council of Beijing Normal University, believed that the Confucius Institute, although at its very beginning, would help boost the development of multi-cultural and internationalized higher education.
"The Confucius Institute has set such a good example for language promotion that many countries want to copy" the model, said John Taplin, vice-chancellor of the University of Adelaide in Australia.
The Confucius Institute has not only pushed forward academic research in his school but also helped attract language resources from other countries, he said.
The "Confucius Institute really played a role as a bridge," said Gary Sigley, director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Western Australia.
By promoting Chinese language and culture courses, the Confucius Institute at the University of Western Australia set up a network dubbed as "Friends of the Confucius Institute".
"From this network, we may get to know more clearly what kind of courses are welcomed by which group of people, so that we can better arrange the courses and attract more learners," Sigley said.
With the help of this network, the University of Western Australia also set up a Confucius Institute Foundation through which the local community organized financial support for poor students in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
Despite its achievements, the Confucius Institute has also encountered difficulties in developing further.
"Compiling teaching material for people speaking different mother tongues should be on the top of the agenda," Zhang Guoyou, vice-president of Peking University, said.
Peking University has joined with nine foreign counterparts to build Confucius Institutes since 2006.
Boniface Egboka, vice-president of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University of Nigeria, hoped that government departments and schools on both sides would strengthen cooperation and give more scholarships to exchange students.
Zhou, at the latest conference, announced the establishment of Confucius Institute scholarships for 3,000 people next year. Foreign teachers who teach Chinese and excellent Chinese learners will have the opportunity to study in China.
So far, about 40 million Chinese learners are native speakers of other languages.
About 500 heads of the institutes, presidents of universities where Confucius Institutes are located, and members of the Confucius Institute Headquarter's executive council, were in Beijing for the congress.
(Xinhua News Agency December 11, 2008)