A home to support cultural expression

08:46, August 13, 2010      

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Steps away from New York City Hall at Lower Manhattan, the fourth floor of Pace University presents an oriental outlook: a golden Confucius statue on the table, a Chinese papercut calendar on the wall, and shelves of books on Chinese language and culture.

Here locates the Confucius Institute at Pace University, the first university-based center of its kind in New York City, which offers a platform for anyone who is interested in learning Chinese culture, Chinese language, traveling to China or getting involved with Chinese community.

This is also the fourth Confucius Institute in the U.S. state of New York, while the total number of the Confucius Institutes in the United States has reached 58.

"Pace has always been interested in giving the students a global experience. It is really intriguing that the Confucius Institute can help to bridge the East and West, and show how effective teaching Chinese language can be in this country," said Dr. Nira Herrmann, Dean of Dyson College of Arts and Sciences at Pace, who is also supervising the Confucius Institute.

The Confucius Institute at Pace has organized a series of activities since its establishment in May 2009, to introduce the rich and vibrant customs of China in a new and exciting way and provide an innovative way to break down cultural and racial barriers.

It hosted the New York region finals of the Chinese Bridge linguistic and cultural contest in April this year, which witnessed 23 American college contestants representing Princeton, Columbia and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, among others. They gave speeches in Chinese, performed Chinese songs and dances, and demonstrated traditional Chinese arts such as brush painting, calligraphy and martial arts.

In June, the Confucius Institute at Pace co-hosted a Chinese Cultural Festival for middle-school aged students at Chinatown. Students were given a brief account of Chinese culture and customs, and they also painted large murals of pandas, the Great Wall, and of course Confucius -- the great ancient philosopher and educator the Institute was named after.

"These activities opened up the cultural awareness of China and provided opportunities for people to easily improve their understanding to China. It has been very effective," Herrmann said.

She was particularly impressed with the screening of the movie Confucius, a 2009 blockbuster in China, to students and faculty from Pace as well as people who are interested in the movie that had not been officially released in the United States. The screening was followed by a panel discussion on the movie and its meaning for present day Chinese society at the Confucius Institute at Pace in May this year.

"The event illustrated how the Confucius Institute brings both culture and scholarship together, and combines the community involvement with academic excellence," Herrmann said.

She said the film broadened the perspective how Confucius is viewed in China and introduced Confucius' emphasis on education and learning.

"This can help to explain why having a Confucius Institute at university is an interesting idea because Confucius' notion that you learn through your life and our notion of life-long learning really come together," she added.

The Confucius Institute at Pace is the only one among the 317 Confucius Institutes in the 94 countries and regions to partner with a publishing enterprise, the Phoenix Publishing and Media Group, in addition to an academic partner in China, the Nanjing Normal University.

It is also supported by the Office of Chinese Language Council International (also known as Hanban), a nonprofit body created by the Chinese government to promote knowledge of Chinese language and culture around the world.

"All of them bring strong educational, scholarly and professional expertise to the Confucius Institute at Pace. Also, we have a group of dedicated faculty and staff members who share a vision and passion to bring Chinese language, culture, philosophy, and educational aspiration to the heart of New York," said Dr. Niu Weihua, director of the Confucius Institute at Pace.

Dean Herrmann said they have been fortunate that they have not been pushed for an agenda. Instead, the approach at the Institute has been very soft.

"There is a sense that who runs the Confucius Institute. Our experiences are that we have been running it. We can pick and choose what materials we want and how we use the materials. We are very flexible to work out the way we think it appropriate," she said.

She added the partners have offered the institute a very wide range of materials and provided expertise, including teachers who not only can speak Chinese, but also have been trained to teach Chinese to people from outside China.

In the new term this September, the Institute will offer some new courses on business Chinese and Chinese business culture to students who want to understand China and know some Chinese business manners. It will also offer conversational Chinese within cultural context.

A group of teachers at Pace from different disciplines will also learn Chinese language and culture in the new term to add a global dimension at each course they are teaching. They plan to travel to China next summer to immerse themselves in the local culture and bring the experiences back to give students a better and more vivid understanding of China.

"One of things we have learned is that the Confucius Institutes around the world do very different things, and there is room for doing all those different things. So you can develop the Confucius Institute that really fits your local area and have connections with the local community," said Herrmann.

Source: Xinhua


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