4 more Confucius Institutes open

Updated: 2013-04-13 01:29

By Joseph Boris in Washington and Liu Yuhan in Boston (China Daily)

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The opening of Confucius Institutes in New York and Washington in the past week brings a key part of China's "soft power" initiative to the United States.

Chinese and US dignitaries opened the first Confucius Institute in the US capital on Wednesday, expressing hope for a flowering of cooperation in education.

George Washington University became the latest campus in the US to host an outpost of China's primary project for spreading Chinese language and culture abroad.

University President Steven Knapp said the mission of the first Confucius Institute in the District of Columbia will be to educate professionals from the many US government agencies, international organizations and nonprofit groups that surround the campus, while also providing "invaluable cultural and educational exchange and enlightenment of our students and faculty".

The new institute, which will begin offering non-credit classes this fall, is the product of an alliance formed in recent years between George Washington University and Nanjing University.

"This is not a new partnership. This is meant to be here," Peg Barratt, dean of GWU's Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said on Wednesday.

Confucius Institutes are an initiative of China's central government that began in 2004 to promote Chinese language and culture in other countries.

The program is administered by the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, known by the Chinese acronym Hanban.

With the opening at GWU, one at New York's Columbia University on Tuesday and others in Georgia and Colorado in the past week, the number of Confucius Institutes in the US is nearing 100. In addition there are over 300 "Confucius classrooms" in the US, operating mainly as an extracurricular activity in schools.

Reinforcing the high-profile nature of its particular institute, the GWU opening featured the attendance of Hanban's top official, Director-General Xu Lin.

Xu can't attend every grand opening - there are about 400 Confucius Institutes around the world - but she had a busy itinerary in the US in the past week.

After the George Washington and Columbia ceremonies, she presided at the formal dedication of Confucius Institutes on Thursday and Friday, respectively, at the all-women's Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, and Colorado State University.

On Monday, Xu addressed the National Chinese Language Conference in Boston.

In Washington, she said Hanban and its university-level and other partners intend to focus as much on cultural exchanges as introductory language classes. Xu described Confucius Institutes as being "like a window, like a stage, like a bridge, to help people use their own eyes" in understanding China and its language, culture and history.

Cai Chunying in Washington contributed to this story.