by Beth Stefanik and Megan Shearin
The College of William & Mary officially opened its Confucius Institute on Monday, April 16, with a day-long celebration of events involving William & Mary faculty and administrators, as well as delegates from Beijing Normal University (BNU), the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban) and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.
The William & Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI) is a collaborative partnership with BNU and Hanban, and will offer Mandarin language and Chinese culture classes, provide teacher training, and augment other programs on Chinese culture for the College and local communities.
“The William & Mary Confucius Institute will contribute significantly to the study of Chinese language and culture at our university and throughout the region,” said President Taylor Reveley. “It’s a special delight for us to celebrate the opening of our Confucius Institute together with President Liu of Beijing Normal University, Deputy Director Wang of Hanban, and Minister Counsellor Fang of the Chinese Embassy, as well as many other distinguished representatives of their organizations.”
The WMCI will become part of a network of more than 300 Confucius Institutes worldwide, and is only the second Confucius Institute established at a university in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
“It’s especially significant that there are only two Confucius Institutes in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” said Provost Michael R. Halleran. “The William & Mary Confucius Institute will meet a growing interest in and demand for information about China and Chinese language education here in southeastern Virginia.”
Yanfang Tang, director of the WMCI, echoed these sentiments.
“The opening of William & Mary’s Confucius Institute is a significant event for the College and for our surrounding Tidewater community, providing further international educational programs and activities,” she said. “I expect a bright future where these varied initiatives will lead to a greater understanding of Chinese language and culture.”
The grand opening schedule included a private tour of Rowe House, the home of the Confucius Institute at William & Mary, as well as a trip to the College Child Care Center to observe Mandarin language classes in action. A guided tour of Chinese scrolls and exhibits at Swem Library was led by Dean Carrie Cooper and Bea Hardy, director of the Special Collection Research Center, after which delegates witnessed a College Mandarin class in the Wren Building’s historic grammar school classroom.
A formal lunch was served in the Great Hall of the Wren Building, with musical entertainment provided by four folk musicians from BNU. The quartet included four traditional Chinese folk musical instruments: guzheng, erhu, pipa, and yangqin. Ms. Wang Jie, a visiting instructor of dance from Beijing Normal University, performed a dance entitled, “A Uygur Girl,” which expressed a girl’s happiness after falling in love. An official WMCI plaque was also unveiled at the end of the lunch program.
“This is just the very beginning stage of the William & Mary Confucius Institute,” said Deputy Director General of Hanban Wang Yongli. “We are very dedicated to continuing this relationship between the U.S. and Hanban, and to help the development and understanding of Chinese language and culture through Confucius Institutes such as this one at William & Mary.”
Following the celebratory lunch, a traditional dragon dance was performed in the Sunken Garden. Professional lion dancers and martial artists from Washington, D.C., were on hand to lead the parade while William & Mary students participated with a drum performance, a Yangge dance performance, a Tibetan dance performance and a Uygur dance performance. Three students also engaged in a martial arts display, and Emily Wilcox, a visiting assistant professor of Chinese Studies, performed sword choreography. The events were a culmination of a Chinese Cultural Semester organized by the WMCI.
“We are living in a fast changing world and it’s important to understand each others cultures together, and language is key to the understanding of cultures,” said Liu Chuansheng, Chairperson of University Council for Beijing Normal University. “I believe the WMCI is creating a bridge between our two universities, which will lead to mutual understanding between our two cultures.”
On Tuesday, April 17, the WMCI will host its first official event, the Faculty Forum on Confucian Classics. Participating in the forum will be W&M faculty members T.J. Cheng, Eric Han, Yanfang Tang, Emily Wilcox, Tomoko Connolly and Xin Wu, as well as eminent scholars from BNU, including Professors Wangeng Zheng, Zhen Kang and Zhen Han. Participants will present their research and perspectives on Chinese classics such as the Book of Changes and works by authors such as Confucius and Sun Zi, also known as Sun Tzu.
“The William & Mary Confucius Institute builds directly on our remarkable strengths in the study of Chinese language, culture, history and society here on campus,” said Stephen E. Hanson, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center. “The generous support of our Chinese partners will propel us to an even higher level of visibility and prominence in Chinese and East Asian Studies in the years ahead.”
Fang Maotian, Minister Counsellor for Education Affairs, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, summed up the day in his remarks during lunch.
“Education is one of the core elements in the China and U.S. people to people communication framework,” said Fang. “Young students are our future. Through the Confucius Institute we hope that the students at the College will learn Chinese language, be exposed to our rich culture and develop a cross-cultural communication capacity.”