|Contestants of the 10th Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students take photos onstage after the event lowered the curtain on Oct 28 in Kunming, Yunnan province. [China Daily]|
Chinese Bridge Chinese-proficiency competitions are bringing people together and helping to build a worldwide community working for a shared future. Fang Aiqing reports.
Georgies Srour, a 25-year-old Frenchman, talks eloquently about the history of Beijing, from the traditional hutong, or alleyways, to the establishment of the new administrative area in Tongzhou district－in Chinese.
Speaking Mandarin with a slight Beijing accent, he was in high spirits when asked to talk about his understanding of Beijing's urban space, city life and social interactions during a symposium at the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing in early November.
"The renovation of Beijing's hutong and some other Chinese cities' downtown areas is getting better now, because China has shifted its focus from merely economic growth to a more people-oriented perspective," Srour says.
He explores the city by strolling around and snapping photos. He held a solo photography exhibition titled Guess the City in Beijing in June.
He has been reading the book Chengji by former journalist Wang Jun. The book depicts half a century of Beijing's construction and examines its urban planning since the mid-20th century.
He will begin working as an urban planner in the Beijing branch of the French multinational AREP in January.
Srour started learning Chinese when he was 13.
"I watched the films of Wong Kar-wai and Zhang Yimou, and was impressed by China's vitality," Srour recalls.
Srour won the Second Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students in 2009. It was one of the Chinese Bridge competitions hosted by the Confucius Institute Headquarters.
"The Chinese Bridge is a door," he says. "There's another world waiting behind it."
He studied architecture at Tsinghua University in Beijing for a year and then interned as a reporter in France, where he got a chance in 2015 to interview Wu Jianmin, a previous Chinese ambassador to France.
He also played a small role in Jackie Chan's movie Chinese Zodiac in 2012.
Richer inner world
On the 10th anniversary of the first Chinese Bridge competition for foreign high schoolers, 17 former champions were invited to Beijing to share their life experiences since winning.
Srour says it was his Chinese-language skills that enabled him to get his forthcoming opportunity at AREP after getting his master's degree in urban planning from France's Aix-Marseille University.
Chae Woo-hyuk, champion of the third Chinese Bridge for foreign high schoolers in 2010, says winning enabled him to insist on his own choice rather than follow the life path that his parents had planned for him.
Born in South Korea in 1993, he started learning Chinese at age 7 and was sent to Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in fourth grade to improve his Chinese. He stayed for five years and then returned to South Korea.
"I thought returning to my home country was just a transitional period of learning Chinese, but I didn't know where to go and was lost until I heard about the competition."
Chae came to Chongqing for the Chinese Bridge and won. He is now a senior majoring in Chinese and political science at Sogang University in South Korea. He hopes to work as a diplomat after graduation. Chae believes "political relations between China and other countries are very important".
American Nicholas Biniaz-Harris says the competition brought a different kind of change to his life－it enabled him to overcome his stage fright.
The 21-year-old music major, who is now studying at Yale University, says: "The Chinese Bridge helped to build my confidence. Now, when I'm performing or giving presentations, I worry less about what the audience might think of me."
He started learning Chinese at 12. As a piano player, he was attracted by the four Chinese tones. "It was like music," he says.
He was the champion for the sixth Chinese Bridge competition for foreign high schoolers in Kunming, Yunnan province, in 2013. The experience stimulated his interest in different Chinese ethnic groups' cultures and music. This became the topic of several research reports he did for school.
"Chinese learning broadens horizons, adds to the students' knowledge and strengthens their understanding about another culture so that their inner world becomes richer and skills more diverse," says Zhao Guocheng, chief executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters. "And the Chinese Bridge is not only an inner bridge for individuals but also an external bridge that brings people together."
Making a difference
Khalzan Tserendolgor, a 21-year-old Mongolian who is studying at Renmin University of China, says: "If we compare language to a river, then one side is friendship and the other side is cooperation. Those of us who are learning Chinese are the vehicles on the bridge and boats on the river that shuttle back and forth."
Few chose to learn Chinese in the past. It was only after Srour had won the championship that some of his family members, friends and teachers began to truly believe that he was learning Chinese.
However, learning Chinese has become increasingly popular worldwide.
American Drew Alexander Korschun recalls how his Chinese teacher tried to create an environment that allowed them to explore and cooperate.
The 23-year-old recorded a short video about the Dragon Boat Festival with two partners. They managed to obtain and decorate a small raft. They filmed themselves yelling aboard the craft, as if they were participating in a dragon boat race.
His teacher also took them to the Chinese supermarket and encouraged them to order in Chinese.
"That was when I realized that there is such a different little world in my city," he says.
"And since my journeys to China, I came to know how important a role China is playing in the world."
Korschun is pursuing his master's degree in East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Colorado Boulder. After learning Chinese, he also became interested in Japanese and Korean.
"I understand the difficulty of bringing positive changes to the society as an individual, but together we can make a difference," Korschun says.
"The Chinese Bridge inspired us to create a positive bridge by getting to know each other. Thus, there will be friends coming to help when we face setbacks."
Zhao says: "Chinese people can learn lessons from these young (foreign) people, who are learning about their language and culture. Understanding one another's languages is important to building a human community with a shared future."
(Source: China Daily)
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