One of the most notable characteristics of China’s emerging global cultural imprint is the creation of Confucius Institutes to promote and enhance Chinese language and culture around the world. Confucius Institutes are modelled on France’s Alliance Francaise, Germany’s Goethe Institute, Spain’s Instituto Cervantes and the British Council.
In recent years with the emergence of China as a superpower and the increasing influx of Chinese tourists and migrant workers there has been a strong surge in the establishment of Confucius Institutes around the world. Learning a foreign language beyond the borders becomes challenging and self-satisfying. There is globally a growing craze to learn Mandarin (Putonghua) and this tendency is showing no sign of abatement. The demand is increasingly strong and statistics of 2009 have revealed an estimated 40 million students learning Mandarin across the world. Mandarin is the most widely spoken language, with a quarter of mankind speaking it but still English remains undisputably international.
In Mauritius, hotels, airport and other touristic sectors are trying to cope up with such discrepancy in terms of linguistic barriers with the Chinese tourists. According to Xu Lin the lead official overseeing the Confucius Institute, more than 400 institutions in 70 countries have expressed their keen interest in establishing a Confucius Institute. China’s goal is to build 1000 Confucius Institutes worldwide by 2020 and is willing to offer 3000 scholarships to do so. Language is knowingly a vehicle for communication and can forge commercial relations ahead. It will be a significant boost for our tourist industry and commercial transactions.
It was in Seoul (South Korea) that in November 2004 the first Confucius Institute was erected following a prototype in Tashkent in April 2004. In Africa the birth of Confucius Institute in Nairobi in Kenya in 2005 gave a new dimension to Chinese diplomatic presence. On the African continent there are about about 40 Confucius Institutes. By the end of 2011 more than 350 Confucius Institutes and 500 Confucius classrooms were operational in 105 countries across the world according to Xu Lin. These numbers can be compared very positively with the British Council (230 offices with 138 English language and British culture teaching centres), France’s Alliance Francaise Centre (1140 in 138 countries), Germany’s Goethe Institutes (128 in 76 countries) and Spain’s Instituto Cervantes (38 in 23 countries).
Confucius Institutes are powerful tools in China’s diplomacy to foster mutual understanding, to promote friendship between nations and disseminate Chinese language and culture abroad. They are supervised by Office of the International Language Council or Han Ban which falls directly under the Ministry of Education. Xu Lin is the executive director. The Han Ban was initially established in 1987 on the suggestion of State Councillor Zhu Muzhi and was primarily geared at that time to recruiting and paying for African students to study in China. From 1995 to 2005 North America and Asia were earmarked for the erection of Confucius Institutes but since that time with the emergence of China as a superpower on the world stage the Confucius Institutes have gone global. Their expansion is more accelerated in Europe and more recently in Latin America, Middle East and Oceania.
In terms of funding Han Ban usually donates a take-off contribution of 100,000 US dollars followed by an annual subsidy to the foreign partner and hopes to operate on the basis of matching funds. In theory Han Ban seeks to provide only 3 years of seed funding with the foreign institutions absorbing 100% of operating cost thereafter but Executive Director Xu Lin admitted that they continued to finance them even after 3 years.
It is surprising that up to now Confucius Institute has not been set up on our soil although China is noted for its presence in terms of foreign aid whether it be the building of the airport, radio and television station, stadium, bridges and road network. Besides, Mauritius is reputed for its vibrant but small community of Sino-Mauritians, lovers of Chinese language and culture, rare in many African countries.
- Published in print edition on 2 October 2015