A rising Desire: Africans flock to study China and Chinese
Updated: 2013/10/14 Source: Africa Daily
Mandarin Chinese is not a language you would expect to hear on the streets of many African cities. However, many Chinese in Africa might have the experience of hearing Africans speaking mandarin Chinese on the streets.
Figures from the Ministry of Commerce show China was the largest trading partner with Africa for four consecutive years by 2012, with a total volume of around $198.49 billion. As Africa’s biggest business partner, the rapid increase of Chinese trade and investment in this continent has aroused the enthusiasm of learning Chinese.
Confucius Institutes in Africa
Most Africans learn Chinese through Confucius Institutes. The first Confucius Institute in Africa was established jointly by Tianjin Normal University (a Chinese university) and University of Nairobi in 2005. According to Hanban, or China Confucius Institutes headquarters, China has founded more than 31 Confucius Institutes and 5 Confucius classrooms in 26 African countries by the end of 2012, with some granting accredited degrees in those countries. Official figures shows China allocated more than $4 million to Africa in the year of 2009.
The main function of Confucius Institutes in Africa is teaching Chinese language and culture to students, professionals, diplomats as well as business people. Most Africans of Confucius Institutes major in specialties related to China, such as China-Africa relations, Chinese Literature or East Asian studies. Many of them wish to find a job in Chinese company in Africa after they acquire the language, such as Huawei, Zhongxing, etc.
Some African and western media argue that Confucius Institutes are tools of soft power. They also blame that Chinese government spending so much money and efforts helping Africans learn Chinese is an obvious signal of Chinese new colonialism in Africa. Opinions on these criticisms differ from person to person. LI Changchun, the former propaganda chief of the Communist Party of China described Confucius Institutes as “a huge element of China’s great plan of international publicity” and “important tool of dissemination of the Communist Party of China”. XU Lin, the Director General of the office of Chinese language Council International (Hanban) publicly denied the function as soft power during an interview.
Many teachers from Confucius Institutes in Africa deny the organization as a threat to African communities. “I think there are lots of misunderstandings. Actually we are always discreet and careful not to use words related to power. I would prefer to use mutual benefit, culture exchange or terms of this kind. I am a Chinese, but I’m not here to promote any kind of power. In this globalizing world, Chinese language is surely welcomed by Africans. That is why we are here. It is not always necessary to connect all the things with politics,” said a Chinese teacher from Nairobi Confucius Institute.
There are also Africans who refuse the concept of “soft power”. “In my opinion, it is only a language that we really need. My attitude will not changed by learning ‘nihao’ and ‘xiexie’. It is just a way to help me understand China better. I am also a realist, I think I will have a higher possibility to find a job if I could speak a foreign language”, said an African student who is currently studying Chinese in Confucius Institute in Cape Town.
Assuredly, Africans who learn Chinese through Confucius Institutes have an intellectual freedom and critical opinions to precisely differentiate their interest in the language from China’s political and economical engagement in their countries. Despite the quick development of Confucius Institutes in Africa has a speculation with strong publicity colors and criticism, there is no doubt that the Confucius Institutes has become popular among Africans.
Study in China- A way to know the real China
In point of fact, Africans are not satisfied simple language learning. They are also eager to know about China, especially Chinese history, culture, politics and economy. More importantly, they want to know how to communicate with Chinese people effectively. Thus, more and more Africans chose to study in China.
According to the Ministry of Education of China, 20,744 African students were studying in China under the government scholarship or under their own funding in 2011. In recent years, the Chinese government has encouraged more African students to study in the country, offering thousands of scholarships. In the year of 2012, Chinese government offered 5500 African students with scholarship, which is an astonishingly high figure comparing to many other countries. As Chinese government provides more and more opportunities to African students, Africans who do not have enough money to live in China could still find an opportunity to study there if they are excellent enough.
Many Africans think it is increasingly essential for them to know Sino-African economy and trade relations. Many of them like Nashiru from Ghana, did his masters in Shanghai University of Finance and Economics from 2008 to 2011. His study focused on business and financial services. Before he came to China, he worked for the government and had a relatively high position. After several years working in government, he realized that as China is playing a crucial role in his country, it is important for him to have a better understanding of this country and the people. His main interest is economics, so he chose Shanghai to study, the biggest financial center in Mainland China. During his study in Shanghai, he was very active. He emphasized the importance of hanging out with the local people. “ I hanged out with my Chinese friends very often. I like having BBQ and drink beer with them. I think it is an important approach to get to know the Chinese better and learn how to communicate with them, who have different culture and background with me. I also established a student association with my Chinese classmates. I was a leader of a student association at that time.” Nashiru thinks his core competence is having a good understanding of Chinese commodities on the African market. After three years study in China, Nashiru was happy to chose the China-Africa Development Fund to continue his career. As the CAD Fund focusing on stimulating and facilitating Chinese investments in Africa, Nashiru achieved his goal- becoming a bridge between China and Africa.
It is of great importance for China, the biggest developing country, and Africa, the largest group of developing countries, to enhance mutually beneficial cooperation. In this regard, China and Africa need to further take into consideration each other's concerns and needs, and enhance communication and coordination on major issues. Hence，it needs large number of talents who know China and Africa very well. Believe it or not, the trend of Africans flocking to study China and Chinese will not change.