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Chinese-language learning enhances nation's 'soft power'

THERE has been a big rise in the number of foreigners learning Chinese, but still too few are studying the language, officials said yesterday.

China began setting up Confucius Institutes in 2004 to teach Chinese and they are now in about 80 countries, but efforts to expand them are being hampered by too few teachers and poor teaching materials.

"At present, the basis for the studying or teaching of Chinese is very weak, unlike for English, French or Spanish, which have been popularized for hundreds of years," said Xu Lin, director of the Confucius Institute Headquarters.

Xu, speaking to reporters at China's annual session of parliament, said in the United States more students studied Latin at middle school than Chinese.

"Though the desire to learn Chinese is very high, there is a lack of teachers and teaching materials," she added, referring specifically to the Confucius Institute.

Still, the number of foreigners learning Chinese around the world now stood at about 40 million, Xu said.

China originally planned to have more than 100 Confucius Institutes worldwide by 2008, but by the end of last year already had more than 250, such is the demand.

Zhu Chongshi, president of Xiamen University in east China's Fujian Province, said promoting the Chinese language and culture globally would be good for the country's image.

"What is soft power? The best soft power is to let people know you, understand you, love you," he said. "Less than 1 percent of US students study Chinese. With a situation like that, it's impossible for China to raise its soft power.

"Setting up Confucius Institutes can have a huge effect on promoting understanding between China and the world. It will help the people of the world objectively, fully and properly know China's people and culture," he said.


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