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Confucius Institute at center of promoting Chinese culture, knowledge
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The Chinese language institute, Confucius Institute (CI), is one of the friendliest ways of bringing people of different cultures together, a senior Zimbabwean scholar has said in an exclusive interview with Xinhua on Wednesday.

The director of the Confucius Institute and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Zimbabwe, Pedzisayi Mashiri, said the institute derives its name from Confucius, the famous Chinese great thinker and educator in ancient China, and the basic tenets of Confucianism, founded around 2,500 years ago, were harmony and peace.

The institute was jointly built by the Office of Chinese Language Council International and the University of Zimbabwe to promote cultural and educational exchange activities between China and Zimbabwe.

It was officially opened in 2006 and became the 85th Confucius Institute around the world. Between 2007 and this year, more than 400 members of the public from all walks of life had gone through it.

Speaking at the 2nd Symposium on China-Africa and China- Zimbabwe relations on the institute as a stimulus for development in Zimbabwe, Mashiri said the institute was an important tool for development.

He said the "keenness with which the institute was established and its rapid and spectacular growth, among other things, could be attributed to institutional support and political will."

"The political will is understood given the Zimbabwe-China relations which span over many years. The project then fitted naturally within the Zimbabwean government's Look East policy," he said.

He said, however, that some critics had been skeptical about the project which they regarded as an inferior product, and added that work still needed to be done to change attitudes, otherwise the institute would run into problems of effectiveness of the project.

On the benefits of the institute, he said the first one was internationalization. "The University of Zimbabwe has had a policy of internationalization for several decades, but Europe and the United States have been the preferred partners for collaboration and networking. The Confucius Institute offered not only the opportunity to move out of the box and engage China, but also to broaden the network," he said.

He said the institute had in 2007 sent 40 of its part-time students on a study tour of China where they spent one to two weeks.

"Most of them were indigenous business-people. They explored these business partnerships and collaboration and our research tells us that about 90 percent of them eventually established businesses of one kind or another in Zimbabwe. The majority of boutiques you see downtown are owned by people who have gone through our program," he added.

It was unfortunate, however, that the Zimbabwean government did not seem to realize the centrality of the CI program in its investment drive.

"If they look at language as money, then they must have a policy of language learning through the CI. There must be a policy where people from different government departments who deal with China go through a language programme. Otherwise without effective communication, business, investment, engagement, partnering is futile," he said.

He recommended that the Zimbabwean government should invest in CI by developing a policy of training of staff in critical sectors of the economy that deal with China such as Air Zimbabwe and Ziscosteel for effective engagement and communication.

He also recommended the establishment of CI classes at other universities as an outreach program.

(Xinhua News Agency May 21, 2009)

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