Published 01/02/12

The Confucius Institute and a Bryant education

The following is adapted from the keynote address presented by Bryant University President Ronald K. Machtley at the opening ceremony of the international Confucius Institute Conference Dec. 9, 2008, in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Next year the United States and China will mark the 30th anniversary of the normalization of diplomacy between the two countries.

How far we have come in those three decades! This past summer, the world witnessed a most remarkable Summer Olympic Games, during which people marveled at the opening ceremonies, the innovatively-designed facilities, and the growth and modernization of China.

"We believe that the only way for our countries and the world to live peacefully ... is to be immersed in global education."

Ronald K. Machtley

And through the efforts of the Office of Chinese Language Council International, known as Hanban, and its leader, Madam Xu Lin, more people than ever are learning about the Chinese language and culture through the nearly 300 Confucius Institutes that have been opened around the world.

Since 2006, Bryant University has hosted a Confucius Institute, so for me it is truly an honor to speak in this Great Hall of the People before this distinguished audience. Though our pasts are different, here we are today, bound by a common interest: to understand China through its language and its culture, to share and to learn from one another.

I'd like to share with you how the Confucius Institute has helped our students and our faculty.

When I arrived at Bryant University, I knew from my world travels -- both as an officer in the United States Navy and as a U.S. Congressman -- and from my directorships on corporate boards that the world truly is flat, as Thomas Freeman has written. The introduction of the Internet and the expansion of multinational corporations inextricably link our present and our future. Because of the change and growth in China, Bryant University made a strategic decision in 1998 to prepare our students to do business in China and with China. This inevitably meant that our students would need to understand China's history, culture, customs and language. It also meant that we needed to ensure that our students, faculty and senior staff visited China. To accomplish this strategy we created the U.S.-China Institute at Bryant University.

In 1999, Hong Yang, our distinguished faculty member and the director of Bryant's U.S.-China Institute and the Confucius Institute, began taking our students to China. From that modest beginning, more than 300 of our students, 30 percent of our faculty, 80 percent of our senior administrators, and a third of our Board of Trustees have visited China.

And this is my fourth visit to China in five years, for I believe it is not only critical that the leaders of our institutions develop personal relationships with Chinese academic, business and government leaders, but that we also show by our actions our personal commitment to a China-centric strategy.

However, as important as it is to visit or study in China, Bryant also understood that many individuals, due to limited time or financial resources, will not be able to travel to China. We quickly realized that to have a successful China strategy, Bryant needed greater resources on campus:

  • more skilled Chinese language professors;
  • more Chinese literature and resource materials;
  • more Chinese cultural activities to excite and educate the students, faculty and staff who may not have a personal opportunity to visit China.

With the designation of Bryant University as a Confucius Institute in October 2006 and the resulting resources, Bryant has been able to more fully implement a China strategy throughout the university, as well as in nearby communities and businesses. Five years ago, not one Bryant student studied Chinese on our campus; today we have 13 sections of 15 to 20 students each so engaged. Bryant also is completing its plan to hire in every academic department at least one Ph.D. Chinese faculty member expert in their discipline. Our academic programs include partnerships with China University of Geosciences and a joint distance learning center, a China speaker series, the undergraduate Sophomore International Experience, and the Bryant-Lingnan Exchange Program. Cultural initiatives include our Forbidden City project, which will not only attract people from all over the United States but will also be a place to exhibit cultural artifacts and conduct Chinese cultural performances. The University also is working with a number of public schools in the region to teach their students Chinese.

None of this would have been possible without our designation as a Confucius Institute.

Confucius was right when he said: "To be capable, one must study; to be intellectual, one must learn from others." But why, beyond learning to speak another's language and appreciate their culture, does Bryant believe this is critically important?

It is because we believe that the only way for our countries and the world to live peacefully in a time of competitive economies and ever decreasing resources is to be immersed in global education. With the remarkable transformation of China to a free market economy, it is critical that students in the United States, and other countries, understand the Chinese language, their culture and traditions. Today in one of our universities may be the future premiere of China, prime minister of Japan, or president of the United States. If we are to live peacefully, there has never been a more important time for Confucius Institutes to exist and thrive around the world.