China has developed plans to reform the Confucius Institute system to make the language and cultural teaching facility better serve Chinese diplomacy.
A document on the reform of the Confucius Institute was adopted at a meeting of the Leading Group for Deepening Overall Reform of the 19th Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee on Tuesday, presided over by President Xi Jinping.
The group requires the reform of the Confucius Institute "to turn it into a significant force for the cultural and educational exchange between China and other countries."
"Learning from the experience of the UK, France, Germany and Spain in promoting their languages, China began its own exploration by establishing non-profit public institutions to promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries in 2004," the Confucius Institute website says.
Confucius Institutes have been playing the role of overseas Chinese cultural ambassadors since it was first established in 2004. A total of 516 Confucius Institutes and 1,076 Confucius Classrooms have been established in 142 countries and regions, receiving more than 9 million students, Ma said. In 2017, over 12.7 million people participated in cultural events organized by Confucius Institutes across the world.
And it continues to expand. The institute plans to employ 2,536 Chinese language teachers for 2018, its website shows.
"The Confucius Institute is never merely a language teaching organization. We also conduct sessions in calligraphy, kung fu and Beijing Opera, among others. During traditional Chinese festivals, we also organize events like a dragon dance in cities," a former volunteer Chinese language teacher surnamed Qu at the Confucius Institute of De Montfort University in the UK told the Global Times.
"I believe that CIs are great for anyone interested in learning Chinese or anyone looking to learn more about China to get rid of prejudice," said a French student named Julie who studied at a Confucius Institute.
Knowledge of Chinese is seen as a skill that boosts personal competitiveness in finding jobs overseas, just as Chinese people sought to work in foreign companies in the 1970s in order to earn a higher salary, said Xie Zuoxu, a professor of education at Xiamen University.
He said more countries are beginning to realize how important the Chinese language is on the global stage, and many are introducing Chinese courses in their home countries to meet the demand.
China will deepen the reform of Confucius Institutes by improving the quality of education and systems, and offering more innovative programs, Ma Jianfei, deputy chief executive of Confucius Institute Headquarters, wrote on China Education Daily on Wednesday.
Local faculty will be improved with strengthened support from China. More Chinese deans and teachers will be employed overseas, Ma said.
The Confucius Institute is facing challenges overseas especially in the West. That's because some Westerners misconstrue the Confucius Institutes as a religious organization sponsored by the Chinese government. But in fact, it's just for language teaching and cultural exchanges, said Wang Yiwei, the Jean Monnet chair professor at Renmin University of China.
Language education in other countries will surely serve the country's diplomacy, Wang said, "just like more English speakers around the world will benefit English-speaking countries.
In addition, much of the criticism against Confucius Institute come from its competitors, such as Chinese language education organizations established by Taiwan, Wang added.