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Chinese centre boost for Rhodes

Date Released: Fri, 7 September 2012 13:59 +0200

RHODES University’s decision to offer Chinese studies four years ago is helping to turn what many perceived as a colonial establishment into something with more universal appeal.

With China Week in full swing in Grahamstown, organiser Professor Marius Vermaak yesterday said that offering Chinese studies at the school of languages' Confucius Institute had resulted in a beneficial overlap with several other academic departments and disciplines.

"Rhodes University is in a process to reposition itself in the world from what used to be a colonial university into something more universal." According to Vermaak, who is the Confucius Institute director, China had become a very important part of this process. The Confucius Institute is the second one in South Africa and has been followed by the launch of a Chinese Cultural Centre opposite the university.

Opened officially last night, the Chinese government funded centre is similar to other global cultural outreaches and resulted in Rhodes twinning with Chinese university, Jinan. The centre boasts a library, reading room and offices open for anybody to find out more about Chinese culture.

According to Vermaak, the institute is fully integrated in Rhodes University through its Chinese studies programme. They have also applied for the course to be extended to honours level. Rhodes school of languages head Professor Russell H Kaschula yesterday said Chinese Week helped bridge divides by creating a better understanding between different nations.

He said Chinese studies had grown to the extent that 40 students were now being accepted into first year with several choosing it as a major subject. "We hope to expand the study of Chinese in the future." Kaschula said they had applied for funding from both the Chinese and South African governments to build a bigger school of languages which allowed for growth in all languages on offer.

Chinese director of the Confucius Institute Ma Yue said the cultural centre was a platform to reach out to the community. Topics highlighted this week range from traditional medicine to world famous Chinese ceramics, textiles and art — some of which can be found at the Albany Natural History Museum and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum in Port Elizabeth.

According to Albany curator emeritus Fleur Way-Jones a stash of ancient Chinese textiles believed to date back as far as the 1840s, was discovered last year in a box which had been mislabelled as 'furnishings' — just in time to display during Chinese Week. "The treasure box of textiles did not have much background details and required research. However, the beauty amazed everyone," she said.

By David Macgregor

Picture by Judith Doubell