Zhang Bo: Strengthen language and cultural exchanges between China and other countries to promote friendship and mutual understanding

By Zhang Bo Updated: 2022-11-17 en.cppcc.gov.cn

President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, said that the cultural fascination of a country and the cohesion power of a nation are mainly expressed and delivered by language. Mastering a language is just like acquiring a key to the culture of a nation. Learning different languages can make people understand the diversity of cultures, and then see the world in an objective and rational manner and get along with each other in an inclusive and friendly way.

Over the past decade, relevant government departments, society, and international friends have worked together to promote language and cultural exchanges between China and other countries, and have made noticeable progress under the guidance of the spirit of important speeches made by President Xi and of the building of a community with a shared future for humanity.

1. Deepen all-round international exchanges and cooperation on language amid the promotion and communication of Chinese

Since the launch of the reform and opening-up in 1978, the pragmatic values of the Chinese language have become more and more important with consistent economic growth and in the frequent international trade and economic exchanges of the country. In response, China started the Confucius Institute program overseas as a form of collaboration with host countries, and shifted the focus of its international Chinese education to the all-round, worldwide promotion of Chinese in 2004. By the end of 2019, a total of 550 Confucius institutes and 1,172 Confucius classrooms for primary and middle school students had been built in 162 countries and regions across the world. These institutes and facilities have provided millions of people with professional services in learning the Chinese language and culture, and have played a key role in promoting the language and culture.

President Xi has advocated the concept of building a community with a shared future for mankind since the 18th National Congress of the CPC in November 2012, pointing the way forward for language and cultural exchanges between China and other countries, expanding the scope of international communication of Chinese to international language and cultural exchanges promoting equality, inclusiveness, exchanges and mutual learning, and dramatically enhancing the country's international influence in global language exchanges and cooperation.

In 2014, China and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) jointly held the International Conference on Language under the theme of "Language Ability, Human Civilization and Social Progress" in Suzhou, East China's Jiangsu province, The "Suzhou Consensus" was released at the event.

The first, second and third China (Beijing) International Language and Culture Expo, under the theme "Languages make the world more harmonious and cultural advancement more splendid", and a series of supporting academic forums were held from 2017 to 2019, drawing the attendance of nearly 100 representatives of international organizations and foreign diplomats.

The first International Conference on the "Role of Linguistic Diversity in Building a Global Community with a Shared Future: Protection, Access and Promotion of Language Resources", co-sponsored by the Chinese government and UNESCO, was held in Changsha, capital city of Central China's Hunan province, in 2018. At the proposal of China, UNESCO adopted the "Yuelu Proclamation" on promoting language diversity, the first of its kind on language diversity, which represented Chinese wisdom and solutions to advance the protection and development of worldwide languages.

In July, 2020, 27 universities, enterprises and social organizations for educational and cultural purposes jointly launched the Chinese International Education Foundation (CIEF), which was responsible for the management and operation of the Confucius Institute program. The foundation has fully leveraged its strength in fundraising and drawn the participation of all types of social forces to inject stronger momentum into the development of the Confucius Institute program.

The Ministry of Education established the Center for Language Education and Cooperation in the same month to provide foreign people with high-quality services in their studies of China and its language, promote language exchanges and cooperation between China and other countries, and deepen reciprocal cooperation and mutual learning between different cultures.

2. Informatization facilitates the formation of a new pattern in overseas Chinese teaching

The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a negative impact on international Chinese education over the past three years. To help overseas Chinese learners conduct their studies in customized, diversified and ubiquitous ways, dozens of publishing houses, universities, research institutes, enterprises and public institutions founded the Global Alliance for Chinese Learning to speed up the establishment and use of the Global Chinese Learning Platform. So far, the platform has attracted 6.85 million users from 182 countries and regions.

The CLEC has collaborated with educational institutions, universities and enterprises at home and abroad to build an international Chinese language education resource system, which is based on the online education platform held by the Global Alliance for Chinese Learning, and features country-specific sub-platforms, smart classrooms, online Chinese classrooms and testing centers for Chinese learning. Up till now, the system has accumulated 16,000 episodes of online classes in over 340 courses from more than 400 universities and research institutions, fostering a special development paradigm featuring universal access to service platforms at all levels, the sharing of data resources and coordinated development.

Moreover, Chinese universities have strengthened cooperation with their international counterparts on exploring the feasibility of reciprocal recognition of credits earned on reciprocal campuses, the establishment of "credit banks", the joint cultivation of talents, and the cross-border collaboration on university building.

The implementation of the information-driven development approach has created more development opportunities for international Chinese education and helped it sail against headwinds to open new frontiers in its future development.

3. More diversified development in telling Chinese stories in terms of participants, content and formats

When addressing a group study session of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee on May 31, 2021, General Secretary Xi Jinping stressed that it is an important task for the country to tell its stories well, make its voice heard globally, and present a true, multi-dimensional and panoramic view of it while improving its capacity for engaging in international communication.

He emphasized that the country must take country-specific, region-specific and audience-specific approaches in the international communication of its stories and voice, and enhance global affinity with its image, as well as the effectiveness of relevant international communication work.

Therefore, relevant organizations and society have become more and more aware of the importance of proactively fulfilling their mission in the telling of Chinese stories overseas, under the guidance of the spirit of the speeches of President Xi.

In addition, there is a diversified development trend in the content and formats of telling Chinese stories globally.

The narrators of Chinese stories have expanded from government departments and mainstream media to cultural and educational institutes at home and abroad, social organizations, domestic enterprises associated with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), sinologists, foreign people working and living in China, overseas Chinese students and international Chinese learners.

For instance, William N. Brown, an American professor at Xiamen University, has become a witness to China's reform and opening-up since he came to Xiamen, East China's Fujian province, three decades ago. He acted as an image ambassador for the New Channel International Education Group in 2019 to introduce the city and the province to the world in English.

The topics of Chinese stories in international communication include poverty alleviation, economic development, sci-tech progress, the life of ordinary people, social opinions and folk traditions.

What's more, the telling of Chinese stories has now become highly documentary, interactive, dialogical and universal. The Stories of China Retold in English Challenge, the My China Stories: International Short Video Competition, the "Shanghai Through Our Eyes" video series, the Foreigners Chinese Speech Competition for the Building of a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind, and the writings and short videos posted by foreign people on their social networks have provided foreign audiences with easily understandable channels to listen to Chinese stories and understand the country's endeavors to embrace the world and deepen the friendship and mutual understanding between people from different countries.

(The author is Zhang Bo, a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a professor at the Beijing Language and Culture University, and editor-in-chief of the Chinese Teaching in the World magazine. The article was translated from Chinese to English by en.cppcc.gov.cn.)

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