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Xi hails role of Confucius institutes

Source: China Daily

China's President Xi Jinping (R) applauds with Britain's Prince Andrew after unveiling a plaque during a Confucius event at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in London, Britain Oct 22, 2015.(Photo/Xinhua)

Classrooms make big contribution in helping the world know China

President Xi Jinping praised the role Confucius Institutes have played in promoting cultural exchanges with foreign countries as he attended the UK Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms Annual Conference and unveiled the 1,000th Confucius Classroom plaque for the Hautieu School in Jersey.

Giving a more cultural touch to his first state visit to the UK, Xi attended the event that groups hundreds of leaders of the Confucius Institutes and teachers from the classrooms in the UK.

After hearing a group of primary school students sing a Chinese song and a university student recite a poem written by him in the 1990s, Xi said that language is the key to understanding a country, and that the Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms are important platforms to help the world know China.

He said he is glad to see so many students are learning Chinese in the UK.

President Xi Jinping attends the UK Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms Annual Conference.(Photo/Xinhua)

Recent heated discussions about the different teaching approaches in China and the UK are revealing different educational mindsets, he said.

Started in 2004 by the Chinese government in an effort to help Western students learn Chinese language and culture, Confucius Institutes are affiliated with Western universities, and generally have a specific focus, such as culture, business or the arts.

The UK now has 200 Confucius Institutes and 126 Confucius Classrooms, more than any other country in Europe, and stands second only to the United States as a host country.

President Xi Jinping speaks at the UK Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms Annual Conference.(Photo/Xinhua)

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, who accompanied Xi to the event, said it was a pleasure to support the institutes and classrooms because "China is a very, very important country".

"By learning the language, understanding the culture and civilization, we can make better use of our skills in order to work together in the future," he said.

The rapid expansion of the Confucius Institutes in the UK is playing a significant role in not just helping Western students learn Mandarin but also by promoting cultural understanding between China and the West, experts say.

One example is the Business Confucius Institute at the University of Leeds, which was established in November 2012. The institute not only offers the standard range of language and culture classes but also helps introduce UK businesses to their counterparts in China through events and networks.

President Xi Jinping visits an exhibition during a Confucius event.(Photo/Xinhua)

The choice of business focus traces back to the institute's founding director Peter Buckley, a professor of international business at Leeds, who has been instrumental in developing links with Beijing's University of International Business and Economics, the school's Chinese partner.

"The Confucius Institutes are a bridge for mutual learning and understanding," said Hinrich Voss, executive director of business institute.

Since the institute's opening in 2012, student numbers have grown to nearly 400. Among those it serves are businesses whose employees want to study Mandarin.

The increasing popularity of Mandarin study coincides with an initiative from the British government to give the language more importance in the British education system. After returning from a trip to China in 2013, UK Prime Minister David Cameron urged students to move away from French and German and start studying Chinese.

President Xi Jinping attends the UK Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms Annual Conference.(Photo/Xinhua)

"By the time the children born today leave school, China is set to be the world's largest economy," he said. "So it's time to look beyond the traditional focus on French and German and get many more children learning Mandarin."

Now around 600 primary and middle schools in the UK offer Mandarin classes. Cameron said he hoped the number of students would increase to 400,000 by 2016.

The language learning trend has also extended to leaders in business and education. One example is Keith Burnett, vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield. Burnett is chairman of the Confucius Institute in Sheffield and a Mandarin speaker.

"There has never been a more important time for the people of the United Kingdom to reach out the hand of friendship to China. Whether it is collaboration on low-carbon energy or a desire to share cultural insights, we are remaining true to the teachings of Confucius," he said, by getting together "in the spirit of mutual understanding".