Chinese newspaper Shanghai Daily reports today on the rise of the Confucius Institute [en] in Kyrgyzstan. Confucius Institutes are non profit-making organisations connected to the Chinese Ministry of Education aiming to promote Chinese language and culture, somewhat akin to the British Council from the UK or the Goethe Instituts from Germany.
There are around 500 Confucius Institutes around the world after the first branch was opened in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2004. A few years ago, the Ministry of Education estimated that around 100 million people would by now be learning Chinese as a result of the Institutes’ language programmes.
Three Confucius Institutes operate in Kyrgyzstan, which shares a border with China. The aim of the Shanghai Daily article appears to be to raise awareness amongst its English language readership of the benefits that the Institutes and their staff are bringing for Kyrgyz people. It may be down to the translation from Chinese but the article does in places read like a propaganda piece:
The exhibition [that the Institute’s teacher from China organised to introduce China to local residents] turned out to be perfect, receiving a large number of student and teacher visitors.
Kyrgyz Education, Science and Culture Committee of Parliament has made positive comments on the Confucius Institutes in Kyrgyzstan, saying that thanks to the Confucius Institutes, Kyrgyzstan learns good teaching experience and methods.
China is a growing influence in Central Asia, much like in many other countries around the world. Chinese money is funding great new skyscrapers in Tajikistan, for example, and Chinese workers are now a common sight on building sites, in markets and so on.
But it’s not just one way, despite what you’d think from reading the Shanghai Daily report. A growing number of Central Asians are learning Chinese, not necessarily because they want to learn about China and its culture (ostensibly a key remit of the Confucius Institutes) but for economic benefit: with Chinese language they improve their employment prospects and expand the number of people they can do business with by a billion.
The Central Asian school and university students studying Chinese are making a shrewd move, but the even smarter students are the ones who also learn English (increasingly a global lingua franca), thus establishing themselves as truly global citizens who can operate pretty much anywhere around the world.