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Speech at Opening Ceremony of Fourth National Chinese Language Conference


Liu Yandong

San Francisco, 14 April 2011

Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell,
President Gaston Caperton,
President Vishakha N. Desai,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

I am exceedingly glad to see so many friends, both old and new, here on this exciting occasion. Let me begin by extending warm congratulations on the opening of the 2011 National Chinese Language Conference and cordial greetings to all participants.

When I visited the United States in April 2009, the College Board and the Asia Society hosted a grand banquet for the Chinese delegation. The warm atmosphere and close interactions that night are still fresh in my memory. Just now President Caperton and President Desai told me that, instead of the 900 participants they had originally anticipated, over 1,500 people have registered for this year's conference. Some of you even drove more than 10 hours to be here. Such enthusiasm is truly touching. What moved me more deeply is that I received a letter a few days ago from a 12th grader in Oregon. The letter was written in neat Chinese, and reads, "I find the Chinese language very interesting and very important for the future of the world. I hope I can go to China some day, and have a look at the most famous terracotta warriors in Xi'an." Let me show you another letter from a group of five and six-year-olds, also in Oregon. They have apparently learned a lot about China from their teachers, and were eager to share with me what they think about China, so they sent me this. The learning of the Chinese language has inspired in these children a genuine love for China, a country far away across the ocean. This is the power of language and cultural exchanges. Despite my crowded schedule this time, I will go and see these children in Oregon.

These two letters speak to the encouraging progress in Chinese language education in the United States. Over the years, the College Board and the Asia Society, under the able leadership of President Caperton and President Desai, have demonstrated wisdom and foresight in promoting people-to-people exchanges between our two countries. With a special emphasis on the role of language teaching, you have promoted China-US educational and cultural interactions, and become the frontrunners for the cause of people-to-people exchanges between China and the United States. Since its inauguration in 2008, the National Chinese Language Conference has steadily extended its reach and played an important part in pushing forward Chinese language instruction in the United States. All participants are devoted to Chinese language teaching and involved in cultural exchanges. They each have served as a bond of China-US friendship. The federal government, state governments and schools have paid greater attention to Chinese language instruction and given strong support to elementary and high schools in opening Chinese language courses. I recently received letters from Governor John Kitzhaber and leaders of the state legislature of Oregon, telling me that the State Senate and the House of Representatives have passed a bill to make the instruction of Mandarin Chinese available to all public school students across the state, and that over 5,000 students in more than 50 schools have started learning Chinese.

Without the hard work of each and every one of you here, Chinese language education in the United States would not have come thus far and China-US friendship would not have garnered so much public support. I want to use this opportunity to pay sincere tribute to you, and through you, to all the friends who are engaged in Chinese language education in the United States.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We live in a global village. Economic globalization and science and technology advances have brought people closer to each other. It takes the joint efforts of the entire global community to uphold the shared interests of mankind and tackle common challenges. Language is the primary tool of human communication. People across the world are more eager than ever to learn foreign languages and get to know each other better.

The Chinese government has taken vigorous steps to encourage the Chinese people, the young in particular, to learn foreign languages. There are more than 60 foreign language majors in our universities. Students start to learn English from the third or fourth grade in most elementary schools. Over 300 million people are learning English across the country. All these have been important in helping the youth explore the outside world and build friendships between countries and peoples.

As China's interactions with the world keep growing, we have seen a craze for the Chinese language in many parts of the world. So far, Confucius institutes and Confucius classrooms have been set up in 98 countries and regions, with 400,000 registered students. In the United States alone, over 1,000 universities have opened Chinese language major and more than 4,000 elementary and high schools have introduced Chinese language course. More and more states have established Confucius classrooms in elementary and high schools. The booming activities of Chinese language teaching have become a bright spot in the deepening bilateral relations.

Language exchange between our two countries is blessed with not only broad public support but also serious commitment of our presidents. During his recent visit to the United States, President Hu Jintao made a special trip to the Walter Payton College Preparatory High School, which houses the Confucius Institute in Chicago. He spoke highly of the Chinese language teaching in the United States. Both President Hu and President Obama have come up with initiatives for American students studying in China, namely the 10,000 "Chinese Bridge Scholarships" and the "100,000 Strong" initiative. These initiatives will give unprecedented impetus to language and cultural exchanges between the two countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Language is a vehicle of culture. Walt Whitman says, "Language … is something arising out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, tastes, of long generations of humanity." The learning of the Chinese language gives one a communication tool, and more importantly, a chance to feel the unique charm of the Chinese culture. Chinese is the world's only pictographic language still in use. Let me give you an example. The word "harmony" consists of two Chinese characters, "he" and "xie". "He" means everybody having food to eat and "xie" means everybody having a chance to speak. This may give you an idea of how people in ancient China projected their simple aspiration for a good life and democracy when creating Chinese characters. Now, after several thousand years, the connotation of "he" has acquired more dimensions, and "he" has become an essential concept in traditional Chinese culture.

"He", in essence, means first, placing utmost value on harmony, second, seeking harmony with all nations, third, pursuing harmony between man and nature, and fourth, maintaining diversity in harmony. These ideas run in the blood of the Chinese people. They have shaped China's national character of love for harmony and peace, and guided us in our exchanges with the rest of the world for thousands of years. Today, China is building a harmonious society at home and pursues peaceful development on the external front. Both are strong examples of our commitment to "he". It calls for mutual complementarity between civilizations through dialogue and exchanges and harmonious coexistence through seeking common ground while reserving differences so that by appreciating our own merits and valuing those of others, we may all benefit from this process. With a good understanding of the "he" concept, one can better appreciate the essence of China's traditional culture and the aspiration of the Chinese people for peaceful development. As a matter of fact, much of the language frequently used in China-US relations, such as passengers in the same boat, inclusiveness, mutual trust, partnership, mutual respect, and mutual benefit, is about "he".

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the famous ping-pong diplomacy and Dr. Kissinger's secret mission to China. These two historical episodes opened a new chapter in the history of China-US exchanges. Over the past 40 years, China-US relationship has traveled a long way, much farther than we expected. It has become one of the most vibrant and influential bilateral relationships in the world, and benefited the 1.6 billion people of our two countries, one quarter of the world population. We have forged 36 pairs of sister provinces/states and 160 pairs of sister cities. Each year, three million tourists travel between the two sides. The United States is China's second largest export market, and heavy US investment in China has brought along advanced technologies and managerial expertise. Around 600,000 people from China have studied in the United States and benefited from their learning experience here. The United States has benefited enormously from China's rapid development. China has been the fastest growing export market of the United States for nine years in a row. Millions of American jobs are closely related to our bilateral trade. And the Chinese market has been the biggest contributor to the global profits of many US companies. Even in the two worst years of the global financial crisis, over 70 percent of US-invested enterprises in China stayed profitable, and the number now has reached 85 percent. For two large countries at quite different development stages like China and the United States, it is highly valuable that we enjoy an interdependent relationship with our interests closely entwined. This has brought benefits to the whole world.

As economic globalization deepens, China and the United States share more common interests and shoulder greater common responsibilities. The coordination and cooperation between our two countries has become indispensable for addressing many regional hotspot issues and global challenges. To make China-US relations more solid, enduring and vibrant at a new starting point is the shared aspiration of both sides. Last January, President Hu Jintao paid a successful visit to the United States and reached the important agreement with President Obama on building a China-US cooperative partnership based on mutual respect and mutual benefit. The two sides issued the China-US Joint Statement, which, for the first time, put people-to-people exchanges in the strategic framework of China-US relations as part of the broader effort of building a cooperative partnership. This is an important initiative of great vision and practical value. Some old Chinese sayings observe that, "amity between people holds the key to sound relations between states", "true friends understand each other's heart", and "sincerity is vital to a lasting friendship". They all speak to one truth that people-to-people exchanges, being heart-to-heart communication, play an irreplaceable role in nurturing mutual respect, increasing understanding and deepening friendship. They can foster warm and enduring affections between people, help them view differences and disagreements in a rational light, and build a solid foundation for trust.

I have come to the United States at the invitation of the American government to follow up on the outcomes of President Hu Jintao's recent visit and enhance people-to-people exchanges. Two days ago, Secretary Clinton and I co-chaired the second meeting of the High-Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange. Our two sides will take concrete steps to advance cooperation in education, science and technology, culture, and youth and women affairs and attract the participation of people from governments, schools, enterprises and communities. In the next four years, China will provide scholarships to 10,000 American college students to study in China, implement the "Chinese Bridge" study program for 10,000 Americans in China, and send 10,000 PhD candidates to the United States on Chinese government scholarship. We will set up bilateral exchange programs for women leaders and young leaders. We will support our respective leading universities in building teaching and research cooperation platforms and encourage exchange of visits by teachers and principals of elementary and high schools and universities. This year and next year, we will hold a Chinese culture festival in the United States and conduct exchanges in arts, cultural relics, movies, TV programs and publications. The China-US friendship has its roots in popular support. With broad public involvement, our friendship will further deepen.

Chinese language education is a major component of people-to-people exchanges. The fundamental objective of our effort to promote Chinese language education is to strengthen understanding, trust and cooperation with the outside world. We will give more support to the Chinese language education in the United States. We will work with our US partners to train more local teachers, send more Chinese language volunteers, and increase exchanges between students, teachers and principals of elementary and high schools and universities. At the same time, we will provide help to various kinds of American schools at various levels in terms of Chinese language teaching materials and curriculum in light of the needs of the US side, and explore with you the teaching methodologies that meet the need of American learners. We sincerely hope that all of you will remain committed to the noble cause of increasing understanding and friendship between the Chinese and American people, and play your active part in promoting localized Chinese language education, and cultural exchanges and the friendly ties between our two nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When I first visited the United States as head of a Chinese youth delegation 27 years ago, I could only find Chinese characters in Chinese restaurants. Today, when I walk on the street here, many people greet me with "Ni Hao". It is the exchanges enabled by language that have brought us closer across borders and oceans. I wish to take this opportunity to express heartfelt thanks to the Asia Society and the College Board. And I want to thank Assistant Secretary Campbell, President Caperton, President Desai, and all friends present tonight. Let us work even harder for the friendship between China and the United States and for world peace and prosperity.

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