The United Nations celebrated the first Chinese Language Day Friday as part of an initiative to raise awareness and respect for the history, culture and achievements of each of the six official languages of the world body.
"The Chinese language was designated as one of the official languages of the United Nations from its very beginning. It is one of the most ancient and widely spoken languages in the world," said Kiyo Akasaka, under-secretary-general for the Department of Public Information (DPI) and coordinator for multilingualism at the UN.
Addressing some 100 UN staff and diplomats attending the ceremony, Akasaka said he was very happy to see the strong interest in the Chinese Language Day from so many diverse UN offices and groups who work with Chinese on a daily basis.
"We are delighted to draw attention to the beauty, history and cultural importance of the Chinese language," Akasaka said.
In order to show his own appreciation of Chinese poetry, Akasaka, who is a Japanese national, surprised the audience by showing his own Chinese calligraphy.
Li Baodong, permanent representative of Chinese Mission to the United Nations, said that it is of great significance to celebrate the Chinese Language Day for the first time in the UN history.
"We sincerely hope that the celebrations will further expand the influence of Chinese as an UN official language and offer a window of opportunity for more people to meet and learn about the time-honored and splendid Chinese civilization and culture," Li said.
According to incomplete statistics, as many as 1.4 billion people in the world speak Chinese. In other words, one in every five people in the world speak the language.
"More and more institutions are studying the Chinese language, and more and more universities and middle schools have opened Chinese language courses. The 'Chinese language craze' is spreading across the world," Li said.
Also at the ceremony, the UN Singers sang a famous Chinese song "Mo Li Hua" (Jasmine) and UN students of Chinese read a poem by ancient Chinese poet Li Bai.
The initiative of the UN Language Days was launched in February this year in order to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six of its official working languages throughout the organization.
The dates for the Language Days were selected by the Department of Public Information for their symbolic or historic significance in connection with each language.
The Chinese Language Day falls on April 20 to remember the invention of Chinese characters by Cangjie.
While the first Chinese Language Day celebrated on November 12, it will be observed on April 20 since 2011.
The other five Language Days are Arabic: December 8, the date on which the United Nations General Assembly designated Arabic as the sixth official language of the United Nations in 1973; English: April 23, traditionally recognized as William Shakespeare's birthday; French: March 20, International Day of Francophonie; Russian: June 6, the birthday of Alexander Pushkin, considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet; Spanish: October 12, to coincide with Spanish National Day.