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Chinese Studies at Rhodes are a great success

October 9, 2009
By: Communications and Development Division

This story was first published on the Rhodes University website.

Dr. Badat and Ambassador Zhong

Celebrating the successful implementation of the Confucius Institute at Rhodes (CIRU) and the growing relationship with Jinan University (JNU), China, the recent China Week events on 28 September to 2 October 2009 included a visit from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Ambassador Mr Zhong Jianhua, Mr Wei Yangen and a delegation from JNU. The latter included a top academic and an administrator who attended a meeting of the CIRU Board of Advisors, two lecturers giving the art workshops during China Week, and two economists who participated in the Colloquium.

As getting an Ambassador to a university is a difficult thing to do, Rhodes used the important date of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC on 1 October as an added attraction. Part of the agreement with JNU is that the universities facilitate exchange between staff and students. 

Directed on a part-time basis by the Dean of the International Office, Prof Marius Vermaak, and including one lecturer, Professor Ma Yue, and part-time administration support, the CIRU, housed in the School of Languages, has been astonishingly successful. In February 2009 50 students were enrolled for Chinese Studies 1. It is hoped that in 2010 this number grows to 80 and above, and that 10 to 15 students continue to Chinese Studies 2. Chinese Studies 3 will be introduced as a major in 2011, as well as a non-language semester course in Chinese Civilisation. “We believe there is a hitherto untapped potential target group of Commerce students for language studies,” said Prof Vermaak.

The excellent language skills of the students currently taking the Chinese Studies 1 course did not go unnoticed by Ambassador Zhong. “Our students have performed excellently in the South African stage of the Chinese Bridge Competition (a world-wide "Idols" in Chinese),” said Prof Vermaak. “Gisela Zipp got first prize and went on to compete in China and on Chinese TV.”

Rhodes students also did very well in the rigorous and independent HSK test levels 1 and 2. These are much like Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) for English competence. In addition the 16 top students went on a study tour of China during July. By the end of the year the CIRU will have given about five presentations or papers at international conferences.

“The visit by the Ambassador was extremely significant and is a boost for CIRU,” said Professor Russell Kaschula, Head of the School of Languages. “It validates what we are doing and indicates support from the highest level. This augers well for relationships and growth in the future.”

“We've cemented our relationship with our partners, Jinan University,” said Prof Vermaak. “We've received generous funding and support from the Confucius Institute Headquarters and the Hanban (the Chinese version of the British Council) and they've been so impressed by our creative projects and delivery that we have been invited to submit additional ideas.”

For China Week the CIRU worked closely with the Economics Department to plan and hold a Colloquium on China-Africa Economic Relations. Speaking about economics and the impact of China on Africa, there were lectures by guests from JNU, Standard Chartered Bank, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Trade Law Centre of Southern Africa, amongst others.

There was also a photojournalism exhibition held in conjunction with the School of Journalism & Media Studies. Comprising 80 photographs, this exhibition is the product of an exchange program between Rhodes and Jinan in Guangdong Province, China.

Prof Kaschula cites further modules dealing with culture, politics, economics and so on as exciting future developments for CIRU. They also hope to develop community outreach and cross-language research between, for example, Chinese and isiXhosa. These projects would include the translation of books and teaching material.

Future developments for the JNU and Rhodes relationship are exciting and varied. They include the following:

(1) Plans to build a service learning component into Chinese Studies 2: students will collaborate with UPSTART, a local NGO focusing on literacy and writing skills for Grahamstown learners, in offering a rich programme in Chinese culture and civilisation.
(2) JNU has come up with the idea of starting a Centre for African Studies, and Rhodes academics would be asked to assist with this.

Rhodes further intends to develop relations with the rest of Africa, India and with the rest of the Chinese world. “The International Office, individual academics, researchers and departments, and CIRU, all have a role to play,” said Prof Vermaak.

“For instance, there is a network of Confucius Institutes right through Africa, which offers lovely opportunities for contact and collaboration. We also want to engage with the full Chinese world: the PRC is all important, but there are possibilities too in Singapore and in the Chinese diaspora. We would like to develop a cluster of Chinese university partners, of which the core one will always be JNU.”

For more information on the CIRU visit http://www.ru.ac.za/international/aboutus/confuciusinstitute
To discover the range of activities held during China Week please visit http://www.ru.ac.za/confuciusinstitute/news/2009/chinaweek2009.

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Last Modified: Fri, 15 Jul 2011 15:03:52 SAST