Confucius Institute opens to enthusiasm about possibilities for research, promoting cultural awareness

by Sal Nudo   /   Jan 27, 2014

The Nov. 21, 2013, opening ceremony of the Confucius Institute at the University of Illinois was marked with a slate of international guests and campus leaders. Provost IIesanmi Adesida said the roots of the institute extend back almost to the University’s beginnings when in the early 20th Century, president Edmund J. James helped set up the first U.S. office for foreign students, provided local housing for Chinese students, and encouraged women and men from China to study at Illinois.

“Today we are home to nearly 10,000 international students, more than any public university in the U.S., and nearly half of those students come from China,” said Adesida.

The University of Illinois Confucius Institute, housed in the College of Education, will allow all students to benefit from increased awareness of Chinese culture and the research of Chinese language testing. This will facilitate Chinese language education in local schools and strengthen the web-based version of the Chinese (language) Proficiency Test.
 

“Our college has a history of testing and evaluation, and now, to be including this area in the Chinese domain, makes us very, very proud,” said Dean Mary Kalantzis. “We’re confident that what we can deliver will be of very high quality.”

The Institute has a board of directors made up of representatives from the U of I, Jiangxi Normal University, and the Confucius Institute headquartered in Beijing. President Guoping Mei of Jiangxi Normal University said the partnership between the U of I and his school in China will provide a larger platform for educational and cultural exchanges between the two countries and all universities.

Speaking through a translator, Juhua Qin, education director in the Education Office of the Chinese Consulate General in Chicago, echoed these thoughts, saying that the establishment of the Confucius Institute is a result of the increasing need to learn the Chinese language and culture. Qin’s office will provide support to the Institute by providing teachers and textbooks and offering activities.

There are currently almost 400 nonprofit Confucius Institutes worldwide, with nearly 100 in the U.S., including on the college campuses of Michigan, North Carolina, Stanford, and UCLA. Confucius Institutes around the world are sponsored by the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language. The Institutes originated as a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education "committed to providing Chinese language and cultural teaching resources and services worldwide that … goes all out in meeting the demands of foreign Chinese learners and contributing to the development of multiculturalism and the building of a harmonious world," according to office's website.

Here at Illinois, the initial budget for the Institute included $150,000 start-up funds from the Chinese Ministry of Education, matched by funds from the U of I International Programs and Studies, the College of Education, and the Urbana campus.

In the near term, Professor Hua-Hua Chang and Jian (Jack) Zhang, the institute’s deputy director, will focus on research and outreach, respectively. In the next year, the pair will continue to conduct research on the HSK Chinese language proficiency test, and collaborate with local Urbana-Champaign schools to develop Chinese-English bilingual education programs.

In addition, Zhang is clearing space for a library at the institute that will hold 5,000 books, which will come from the Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing. The collection will include multimedia materials, textbooks, historical and cultural books about China, and dictionaries.

“People who are interested in knowing Chinese language and culture can come and read the books and borrow the books,” Zhang said.

Speaking enthusiastically behind the pulpit following a heartfelt introduction by Dean Kalantzis, Professor Chang said the research results discovered at the Confucius Institute will be transformative.

“I promise we will work very hard to make this the best Confucius Institute in the world,” he said.