Remarks by China’s State Councilor Liu Yandong at the 2011 National Chinese Language Conference

San Francisco, CA | April 14, 2011

(Applause) It’s such a lively scene today. When I visited the United States in April 2009, the College Board and Asia Society hosted a grand dinner for the Chinese delegation, the warm and friendly atmosphere and the lively interaction of which I still vividly remember today. Just now my old friends, President Gaston Caperton and President Vishakha Desai, told me that this conference was originally planned for 900 participants; however, the actual number of delegates registered for participation is more than 1,500. Some of you drove more than ten hours to get here. I’m deeply touched by your enthusiasm and active participation.

Even more touching to me is a letter I received not long ago from a 12th-grade student from Oregon written in neat Chinese. In the letter he wrote, “I think Chinese language is very interesting as it’s important for the future of the world. I hope I can go to China sometime to visit the world-famous Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an.” (Applause) There is another group of lovely kids from this state who hear lots of things about China and want to share their impression of China with me. (Presentation of drawings by the kids) This is what they think of China. In my view, learning Chinese language evokes the kids’ heartfelt love for China – a place thousand of miles away, far across the ocean – which indicates the power of language and cultural exchange. Although we have a tight schedule for this visit, I’ve decided to squeeze some time to visit the kids in Oregon. (Applause)

I think these two letters confirm the gratifying results of Chinese education in the U.S. For a long time, the College Board, led by President Gaston Caperton, and the Asia Society, led by President Vishakha Desai, have been promoting social exchanges between these two countries with wisdom and vision. By starting with language teaching to promote educational and cultural exchanges between the two countries, they’ve become leaders in strengthening the Sino-American relationship. Since it began in 2008, the National Chinese Language Conference’s growing influence has played an important role in promoting Chinese teaching in the U.S.

All delegates present have been wholly dedicated to Chinese education and cultural exchange. Each of these individuals is like a bridge of communication and friendship between China and the U.S. The federal government, state governments, and schools are increasing emphasis on Chinese language teaching and issuing strong support for establishing Chinese language courses in primary and secondary schools. Recently, Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon and house speaker wrote me a letter to announce that Oregon has passed a state bill for conducting Chinese language classes in its public schools. To date, more than 5,000 students in over 50 schools have started learning Chinese. (Applause) I also congratulate them. For Chinese education in the U.S. to have such a good situation today and the Sino-American friendship to have such a good foundation in the private sector, your contribution cannot be denied. I pay great respect to you and through you to all those friends engaged in Chinese teaching in the U.S. (Applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, in this era, our world has become a global village where scientific and technological progress brings distant lands closer together. Safeguarding the common interests of mankind and coping with common challenges require us all to work together, regardless of where we live. Language is the first tool of human communication. The desire of all people to learn foreign languages and enhance understanding has never been as strong as it is today. The Chinese government actively promotes and encourages people, particularly the youth, to learn foreign languages. Over sixty kinds of foreign languages are now available in Chinese institutions of higher education and most primary schools begin teaching English in the third grade. Over 300 million Chinese are learning English now and thus playing an important role in their understanding of the outside world and promoting friendship with people of foreign countries. With the growing exchanges between China and the world, a sort of Chinese language fever has also reached a global scale. At this point, 98 countries and regions have set up Confucius Institutes and Confucius classrooms comprising a total of around 400,000 students. In the United States, more than 1,000 universities have set up Chinese language departments, more than 4,000 primary and secondary schools offer Chinese courses and increaslingly more states arrange Confucius classrooms within primary and secondary schools. Chinese language teaching is flourishing and highlights the positive development of bilateral relations.

Sino-American language exchange not only enjoys broad support by civil society, but is also highly valued by the heads of state of these two countries. During President Hu Jintao’s U.S. visit in January, he paid a special visit to the Chicago Confucius Institute of Walter Payton College Prep where he expressed his great appreciation for Chinese education in the U.S. In fact, President Hu initiated the Chinese Bridge program encouraging 100,000 foreigners to do research in China. Meanwhile, President Obama has come up with the 100,000 Strong Initiative, which seeks to increase the number of Americans studying in China to 100,000. Both programs will greatly stimulate the language and cultural exchanges between these two countries. I would also like to add that 180 million Chinese students have studied abroad since China’s reform and opening up three decades ago, of which 60 million studied in the U.S. Currently, 130,000 Chinese students are studying in the U.S., whereas 20,000 American students are studying abroad in China. (Applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, language is the carrier of culture. The famous American poet Walt Whitman once said that language is intertwined with love and hate, joy and suffering, needs and satisfaction of the common people. Learning Chinese not only enables one to obtain a communication tool, but more importantly to enjoy the unique charm of Chinese culture. Chinese written script is the world’s only living pictograph. For example, the Chinese word for “harmony” hexie – consists of two characters: “he” and “xie.” The first character expresses food for all and the second expresses a voice for all. Studies indicate that the ancient Chinese focused on everyday livelihoods and democratic values when creating the characters for their written script. Through the course of China’s long history, “he” has enhanced in meaning and has evolved into a core concept of Chinese traditional culture. “He” (harmony)consists of four branches: first, overall harmony is the most valuable principle; second, all nations shall live in perfect harmony; third, harmony occurs between man and nature; and fourth, harmony exists without uniformity. These ideas are firmly integrated in Chinese heritage. They shape the nation’s drive for harmony and peace-loving nature and these ideas have guided Chinese society’s interaction with foreign nations throughout China’s history. The concept of “he” permeates China’s current policy of building a harmonious society internally and adhering to peace and development externally. “He” advocates diverse civilizations to learn from one another through dialogue and exchange, to live in harmony through seeking common ground while putting aside differences, and to reach the ideal situation of “finding your beauty and that of others; sharing the beauty and achieve unity.” Therefore, I think by understanding the meaning of “he,” we can better understand the essence of Chinese traditional culture as well as contemporary China’s state of mind in longing for peaceful development. Many commonly used words in the development of Sino–U.S. bilateral relations such as “be in the same boat,” “tolerance and mutual trust,” “partnership,” “mutual respect,” and “mutual benefit” highlight the eminence of “he.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the famous “ping pong diplomacy” and Dr. Henry Kissinger’s secret visit to China, which together opened the door to a new era of Sino-American relations. Now, four decades later, the development of Sino–American relations is well beyond people’s expectations. This cross-cultural relationship has become one of the world’s most dynamic and important bilateral bonds, benefiting a quarter of the world’s population – 1.6 billion people. The two countries have established 36 pairs of friendship provinces and states, as well as 160 pairs of friendship cities. Annual cross-border travel has reached over 3 million tourists. The U.S. is China’s second largest export market. A lot of investment in China has brought advanced technology and management experience to China. 600,000 Chinese students have studied in the U.S. and made advancements in their studies. The U.S. has also benefited a great deal from China’s rapid development. China is the fastest-growing major export destination for the U.S. for nine consecutive years. Four million U.S. jobs are closely related to Sino–American trade. The largest contribution to the global profits of many U.S. companies come from China. Even during the two years of most serious international financial crisis, more than 70 percent of America’s companies made profits in China. Currently that number is at 85 percent. It is rare and commendable that two countries at such different stages of development have such a great blend of interest and interdependence that benefit the whole world.

With the deepening of economic globalization, China and the U.S. have more extensive common interests and shoulder more important mutual responsibilities. Sino–American coordination and cooperation has become an indispensable link in solving many regional hot issues and global problems. At this juncture, it is the common aspiration of both sides to build a more stable, lasting and dynamic Sino–American partnership.

During his successful visit to the U.S. in January, President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama reached the important consensus of building a mutual-respect, mutual-benefit and win-win China–U.S. partnership. The Sino–American Joint Statement issued by the two sides includes cultural exchanges in the strategic framework for Sino–U.S. relations as part of building partnerships for the first time. This is of great vision and practical relevance. An old Chinese saying goes, “The relationship between two countries is based on their mutual intimate engagement, the valuable understanding produced from this engagement and the sincerity of lifelong friendships.” Cultural exchange is person-to-person and heart-to-heart communication, which plays an irreplaceable role for people in achieving mutual respect, deepening understanding and enhancing friendship. It can develop warm and lasting sentiments between the people, help people rationally view differences and build a solid basis of trust.

The purpose of my visit this time at the invitation of the U.S. government is to implement the results of President Hu’s visit and to strengthen cultural exchanges. Two days ago, I co-chaired the second round of consultations on cultural exchanges with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. Both sides vow to take concrete steps to promote cooperation in various fields, including education, science and technology, culture, women and youth, as well as to attract people from all sectors like government, education, businesses and communities to participate in these exchanges. In my visit to the U.S. in 2009, I brought the “three eight hundred” program on Chinese educational exchanges, which invited 800 primary and secondary school principals and 800 university and secondary school students to visit China, and provided 800 scholarships for the Confucius Institute. For the joint consultation with the U.S government this time, I have brought a new “three ten thousand” program. (Applause) That is, within four years, will support 10,000 American students to study in China, implement the “Chinese Bridge” program that encourages 10,000 foreigners to do research in China and send 10,000 Chinese students to study in the U.S. for PhD degrees at the government’s expense. (Applause) We will also set up Sino–American women leaders exchange programs and youth leaders exchange programs, support high-level universities to establish cooperation platforms for teaching and research, and encourage mutual visits and exchanges between primary and secondary school and university teachers and principals. Over the next two years, we will hold Chinese cultural festivals in the U.S. to carry out arts, heritage, film, publishing and other exchanges.

In my view, the Sino–American friendship is rooted in the people and the broad participation of the people will make the tree of Sino–American friendship a well established and vigorously developing one. (Applause) Chinese education is an important part of cultural exchanges and the fundamental purpose for China to promote Chinese language teaching is to promote understanding, mutual trust and cooperation. We will extend more support to Chinese education in the U.S., train more local Chinese language teachers, send over more Chinese volunteers and promote exchanges between students, teachers and principals of primary and secondary schools and universities. At the same time, we will offer help on Chinese teaching materials and curriculum to U.S. schools of all kinds and levels based on the actual needs of the American education system.

Therefore, I sincerely hope all of you to carry on with the noble cause of enhancing understanding and friendship between the Chinese and American people, to continue to be explorers of local Chinese education, practitioners of cultural exchange and promoters of Sino–American friendship! (Applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, 27 years ago when I was the Vice-Chairman of the All-China Youth Federation, I led a Chinese youth delegation’s first visit to the U.S., during which we visited San Francisco. Back then, in many parts of the U.S., I only noticed Chinese characters in Chinese restaurants. Now, however, when I was walking the San Fran streets, many people greeted me with “Ni hao.” (Applause) In my view, it shows the power of language exchange that enables us to transcend national borders, span oceans and become closer with one another. I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to the Asia Society, College Board, Assistant Secretary Of State Kurt M. Campbell, President Vishakha Desai,President Gaston Caperton, and all friends present tonight! Let’s work together and do our best to promote the friendship between our two countries and, in turn, promote the peace and prosperity of the world!

(Translation courtesy Project Pengyou. Full video here.)