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Strategic Studies of International Promotion of the Chinese Language

[Editor’s Note: The Institute for the Promotion of Chinese Language and Culture (IPCLC, was established in November 2006 under Renmin University of China. It is one of many research centers set up by Hanban, or the Office of the Chinese Language Council International, an inter-governmental agency leading the regime’s international promotion of the Chinese language. The director of IPCLC, Ji Baocheng, is also the President of Renmin University of China. In August 2008, IPCLC issued a “Strategic Research Report on the International Promotion of the Chinese Language,” detailing the strategic considerations behind the promotion of the Chinese language and plans to carry out its goals.[1] Following are excerpts from the release on IPCLC’s website.]

Language Has Become the Basic Symbol of the “Rise and Fall of Great Powers”

1. For any language, if it could be promoted and used internationally, and eventually be accepted as one of the global communication standards, then the significance would be far beyond the usage of the language itself. It (language) not only symbolizes a new addition to the global “cultural ecology” and measures the interaction and balance between “hard power” and “soft power,” but it has actually become a basic symbol for the “rise and fall of great powers.” Compared to the length of the influence period of military and economic domination, the formation of a language and the power of culture are relatively slow, but they are longer lasting. The history of the western world has shown that the influence power of a language and of culture may be established with the aid of the corresponding country’s “hard power,” but once the influence power of the language and culture have been established, then to a substantial degree it will extend the time of the “hard power.” After military and economic strength weaken, it could even be the dominant factor in its national strength.

2. Historically, establishing English, French, and Spanish as international languages resulted from the great enhancement of the “hard power” of these countries. On the other hand, while a language stays in power, it is exactly the reflection of the nation’s “hard power” and it can even become the most basic national symbol. A good example for this would be the rise and fall of the modern Western “nation states.”

3. In the Middle Ages and onwards, the symbiotic interactions of the European powers and their influential languages provided a basic “prototype” and philosophy for their colonial expansion. Thus wherever their “hard power” expanded, it was always accompanied by the expansion of their “language maps.” Today in Western countries, how to maintain cultural security, how to balance cultural ecology, and how to increase cultural influence, are still the major “issues of awareness” and indicators for measuring language promotion.

4. The exportation and promotion of a language are in fact the process for establishing a standard. It was exactly due to strong promotion by English speaking countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, that, as a result, English became the default international language and became the current global platform for world communication and information exchange. Under this situation, in international competitions, the English-speaking countries often have a first-move advantage.

5.  The momentum of “Western-centrism” has long been dominating the worldwide exchanges of capital, technology, and products. Even languages, cultures, and values have always been unidirectional, exporting only from “developed” Western countries into “developing” countries. As a matter of fact, once the observable military-economic hegemony turns into the more hidden language-cultural hegemony, those who are enslaved usually have already lost awareness of their situation.

The International Promotion of the Chinese Language is to Completely Change the “Western Standard” Mindset and the “Unidirectional Exporting” Discourse Hegemony, Winning Greater Space for China’s Peaceful Development.

6. Ultimately, the basis for promoting the Chinese language internationally is also China’s “hard power” and the new world order that has been reconstructed by the “hard powers.” China’s continuing, healthy economic and social development has provided us an unprecedented historic opportunity for promoting the Chinese language internationally. If we properly grasp this opportunity, and thereby promote our national strategy of making the Chinese culture “go out,” then it will greatly pay us back in contributing to the growth of China’s national strength and overall global position, as well as completely change the “Western standard” mindset and the “unidirectional exporting” discourse hegemony, and win greater space for China’s peaceful development.

7. The Chinese language should be promoted to the world around the subject of “the relationship between Chinese culture and the world.” The Western-centered unidirectional transmission, unidirectional exporting, and unidirectional influence need to be abandoned. The international promotion of the Chinese language will evolve into cross-cultural dialogues, and eventually the Western discourse hegemony will be eliminated by equating the different cultures, and the global cultural ecology will be balanced through the interaction of different cultures.

10. Since we joined the World Trade Organization, China has been fully engaged in the world economic system. This also means that we will be more associated with, and rely more globally on energy, resources, finance, and markets. In the future, energy security, resource security, financial security, and issues such as world market share will not be resolved by a single means. They will for sure be dependent on cultural safety and cultural influence. In the suture, the international promotion of the Chinese language will become an important way to guarantee China’s national energy security, resource security, financial security, and world market share.

11. The concept of “culture safety” has always been passive and negative, and something that we feel we are forced to face. A notion of culture safety that is active, positive, and effective in the long-term has yet to be formed. How to create a positive and progressive concept of culture safety? How to enhance understanding and eliminate hostility through cross-cultural dialogues? How to invisibly, slowly, and steadily reconstruct “the image of Chinese culture” or “the image of a culturally-rich China,” and then in turn reconstruct the cultural ecology of the world? Within a very long time from now, these issues will almost have no solution. However, the international promotion of the Chinese language is providing us a rare opportunity for solving these issues.

Construct a Broad and Amorphous “Five-Ring Diplomacy”

14. After the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, Japan’s economy really took off. The 2008 Beijing Olympics has gone through all kinds of troubles, and this has left China with a great hint: we must steadfastly enhance China’s “soft power,” resist the “Western centered” discourse hegemony, change the unidirectional exporting mode of information, technology, and culture products, and create a favorable global environment for the peaceful development of China. This means that we must develop a medium to long term strategic plan for the international promotion of the Chinese language, and it must be in accordance with a new starting point, a new positioning, new goals, and new ideas.

16. In 2005, the funding for the Confucius Institute was only 0.0000549% of GDP. Even in 2007, it was only 0.000422%. According to the Pearson correlation analysis from 2005 to 2007, between the two variables of the capital investments for the Confucius Institute in different countries and China’s export volume in these countries, we see that the significance level between these two variables was only 10% in 2005 and was 5% in both 2006 and 2007. The correlation coefficient also improved by 0.37. This proves that by increasing the capital investment for the Confucius Institute, it is entirely possible to influence China’s exports. If we can borrow the experience of Western countries, we see that the potential economic benefits for promoting the language are enormous.

[1] Website of The Institute for the Promotion of Chinese Language and Culture