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Africans learning Chinese can boost cooperation channels

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

03-23-2016 15:08 BJT

By Miroslav Atanasov, Ph.D., Renmin University of China

Language is vital to comprehend the heartbeat of a culture. Africans and Chinese have had a limited understanding of each other until recently. With thousands of Africans migrating to China and many Chinese exposed to Africa, the two cultures are beginning to merge together.

Since the triennial Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was launched in 2000, Beijing has lured more African students to China by offering a government scholarship program for intensive studies in Mandarin.

The Confucious Institute is teaching the Chinese language and culture to African youth in their home countries, which stand as key components for China’s pragmatic soft power approach to Africa.  Historically, African families would send their children to study in Europe or the USA.

Now, China has become an attractive international destination for their education pursuits even apart from scholarship provisions. Actually, self-supporting African students in Chinese universities outnumber scholarship recipients.

China-awarded degrees are widely recognized across the African continent. In 2003, there were only 1,793 students from Africa in Chinese universities. Every year that number has been growing, according to official reports: in 2008 they were 8,799, in 2012 – 27,052, and in 2014 – 41,677.

At the Shanghai Institute of Technology, about 130 African students are majoring in civil engineering and architecture. In their first year, they master Chinese and take a language proficiency test. This is a normal pattern for foreign students pursuing their degrees in China.

Christian King, a student in philosophy and international trade at Renmin University, told Panview: "I started studying Chinese back home in Zimbabwe and it was very difficult at first. The tones and characters were challenging, but after several years in China I am almost fluent. I love and enjoy Chinese now."

King believes the huge language barriers in the China-Africa cooperation context give Chinese-speaking Africans a major advantage for employment opportunities.

Danielle Carole Tangmeu Kenmoe, a Cameroonian student at Zheijiang Normal University, believes her Mandarin fluency looks great on her resume. "Translators are needed to assist China-Africa business deals in a smooth and professional way," Kenmoe said.

Augustine Ballah, a medical student from Liberia soon to graduate from Hebei University in Baoding, said, "Studying in Chinese has been a challenge in some respects, but the advantages are tremendous. Most importantly, it has given me the ability to communicate with local patients; speaking their language was a key factor in gaining their trust."

In 2009, FOCAC initiated the 20 Plus 20 Project in cooperation with the Chinese Ministry of Education. The program established partnerships between 20 Chinese Universities and 20 African ones.

The universities in China have arranged for government scholarships, Chinese language programs, and academic exchange opportunities for African students.

One of the beneficiaries was Hicham Erfiki, a Moroccan student at Peking University. When he first came to Beijing in 2007, he could not even say "hello" in Chinese.

Since then, he has learned fluent Mandarin and earned a master's degree in international politics. He continues on with his Ph.D. studies and remains active at the PKU African Student Association, which promotes a deeper cultural understanding between Africa and China. 

One area, where knowledge of Chinese is crucial, is tourism. In 2013, China was recognized as one of the largest sources of global travelers.

Chinese tourists going abroad have surged to 100 million and it's likely to double by 2020. African countries, which offer great opportunities for heritage, back-packing, and eco-tourism, have been rather slow to capture greater interest from China.

Speaking Chinese is a necessity for tour agents who want to stay ahead of trends. Kenya is one of Africa's most popular tourist destinations. In 2015, 41,000 Chinese visited the country, while Kenya's Board of Tourism hopes to increase that number to 100,000 per year.

Sandra Rwese, a 39-year-old Kenyan entrepreneur, had the foresight to learn Chinese to fill an opening niche in her country's tourism sector.

Her interests in the Chinese market started in 2008 and she founded Chinese Business Trainers, a consultancy agency in Nairobi, to assist local tourist and hospitality companies in handling Chinese clients.

She has studied Chinese language and culture, researched China's service industry, and published articles about Chinese travelers. Since 2013, Rwese has studied at Xiamen University, but continues to travel as her work requires. She has European clients wishing to woo Chinese visitors.

"If you want to do business with the Chinese, speak Chinese. Speaking their language gives me an opportunity to work as a citizen of the world," says Rwese.


Miroslav Atanasov, Ph.D., Renmin University of China

( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.


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