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Remarks by Ambassador Liu Xiaoming at the UK Preliminary Event for the Ninth "Chinese Bridge" Chinese Proficiency Competition

LSE : 13th March 2010

Judges, contestants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives me great pleasure to attend the UK Preliminary Event for the Ninth "Chinese Bridge" Competition. I would like to thank the LSE for its thoughtful arrangements for today's contest.

I arrived in London two weeks ago on the 28th February, and it may be coincidental that my public diplomacy engagement should be an event about mandarin learning in Britain. But in a way it is quite natural, too.

Recently whilst watching a Chinese Television programme, I saw a young British man speaking perfect mandarin. He has a funny Chinese name: "Da Niu" or big ox, although I later learned his name is Daniel Newham and he is from Cheltenham. As a TV presenter and even co-starring in sketches with famous Chinese comedians he has become something of a celebrity in China attracting many fans.

Since arriving in London, I have discovered that Da Niu is not alone in his passion for Chinese. As there seems to be an increasing 'mandarin fever' emerging in the UK which ranges from the Prime Minister Gordon Brown delivering Chinese New Year greetings to all British Chinese in Cantonese. After learning more about the Chinese New Year from his eldest son John, who had been studying it at school.

To there now being 12 Confucius institutes and 31 Confucius classrooms in the UK, with over a hundred teachers, volunteers and teaching assistants from China. And the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT), with the support of the UK government, is planning a Confucius classroom programme which will cover all primary schools in England.

I am very pleased to know that the number of contestants for this year's "Chinese Bridge" Competition has increased by more than 50%. 20 high-level contestants from 12 British universities have gained their places in this contest through intense competition.

I cannot but reflect on the popularity of mandarin learning in the UK. What is motivating this choice and why are both the Chinese and British governments placing such a priority on promotion mandarin here in the UK?

There may be different explanations for this. And as far as I can see, this may have a lot to do with the cultural and historical traditions of our two countries. Language is an important skill for the 21st century, which is one of globalisation and interdependence. Acquiring a new language means mastering additional skills in communication and leads to more opportunities for career development. In a recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry, 38% of employers in the UK are seeking to employ mandarin speakers. This demand is expected to rise further along with the growth of the Chinese economy and flourishing business ties between our two countries.

Language is the key to the door. It is not just a system of symbols, but is also the most important carrier of cultural messages and all that is quintessentially part of that culture. As Samuel Johnson said, "Language is the dress of thought"; "words are but signs of ideas". At 5,000 years, the Chinese civilisation is the only continuous one of the four ancient civilisations, and much of his can be attributed to the invention and wide use of the written characters in the Chinese language. Learning mandarin is like opening the door to Chinese culture. You can gain much insight into the Chinese people's way of life, behaviour, values, national psychology and character. As well as  contributing factors for China's economic and social transformation in the past few decades.

Language is a bridge of friendship between different countries and nations. With more than 30 years of reform and opening up, China has seen significant changes in its relations with the world. China is committed to peaceful coexistence, win-win cooperation, mutual learning and integration with other countries. At the same time, it feels strongly about the diversity of civilisations. We believe that China and the West need to seek harmony in diversity. We need to enhance mutual understanding through greater knowledge about each other's language and culture. Only in this way will the world be a more harmonious and a better place.

Alongside the mandarin fever in the UK, there is a UK study fever in China. There are now approximately 100,000 Chinese students in the UK. Whichever university you go to in the UK, you are likely come across Chinese students. Over 100 sister relationships have been set up between our universities to strengthen teaching and research cooperation and jointly develop high-level talent. The education authorities of our two countries have also  initiated regular meetings and signed a number of agreements on mutual recognition of academic degrees and the strengthening of exchanges and cooperation. China-UK cooperation in education has become a major contributor and a highlight in our overall relations.

The China-UK partnership has gone beyond its bilateral scope and is taking on strategic and global significance. The Chinese government attaches great importance to its relations with the UK and is committed to promoting exchanges and cooperation in all areas with the UK. We must strengthen our mutual interests, Learn to handle any differences more effectively and elevate our relations to new levels.

I sincerely hope that more and more of our British friends will find that learning mandarin it interesting and beneficial. And, if you have not already done so, I am sure you will find it helpful in enabling you to better understand China. Then hopefully you will be able to act as envoys of China-UK friendship as well as participants and facilitators in the cooperation between our two countries.

The Chinese Embassy will continue to support mandarin learning here in the UK, as well as the exchanges and cooperation between our schools and universities. With the hope that many more of you will go on to study in and about China.

In conclusion, I wish all the contestants best of luck and I wish the Ninth "Chinese Bridge" Competition a success.

With great pleasure, I now announce the start of the Contest.