- Language Tips
Growing influence of country draws more than just economic players
Just two days ahead of the opening of the fifth session of the 11th National People's Congress, a new promo video featuring Chinese culture made its debut on the screen overlooking Times Square in New York.
Unlike a series of videos promoting China's national image that were broadcast in the square, this video presents passers-by a multidimensional and vivid image of fascinating Chinese culture.
Indeed, at a time when the rest of the world marvels at China's economic achievement, Beijing is looking to give the world a better picture of China through the appeal of its culture.
"Deepening cultural exchanges with foreign countries, and promoting Chinese and foreign cultures to learn from each other" has been listed as one of the major tasks of the Chinese government in 2012, says the government work report delivered by Premier Wen Jiabao at the opening ceremony of the National People's Congress in Beijing on Monday.
It is obvious that the Chinese leadership has put promoting Chinese culture overseas high on the agenda.
In my opinion, the urge to expand Chinese culture's global influence demonstrates Chinese authorities' commitment to sharpening China's "soft power".
Apart from economic, military and political "hard power", soft power, with cultural strength as its basis, has emerged as an increasingly important indicator of a country's comprehensive competitiveness on the world stage.
As Minister of Culture Cai Wu once said at a news conference, "China should use its culture as a diplomatic platform to enhance its image and project its soft power".
Despite intensified promotional efforts, China does not need to resort to hard-sell tactics because people from other cultural backgrounds, particularly those from the West, are becoming increasingly eager to learn more about China, other than just its economic success.
At a time when people from developed economies feel despair about their countries' sluggish economies, China maintains robust economic growth, triggering curiosity to learn more about the Chinese way of thinking by becoming acquainted with the country's culture.
I have a friend who has been working as a Chinese teacher in Spain for about six years.
She was surprised to see the number of people learning Chinese in Spain surge in the past three or four years, starting just after the financial crisis in the West broke out.
"More people think Chinese is the language of the future," she said to me. "They think having Chinese-language skills will increase their employment opportunities."
The Chinese-learning spree actually reflects people's changing attitudes toward China.
As a Chinese person, I am more than happy to see foreigners showing more interest in my culture and regarding my culture as a competitive edge in the job market.
As more people gain Chinese literacy, the spread of other Chinese cultural forms will become much easier, because language is the best medium for conveying culture.
So when people ask me if China's soft power is strong, I answer that people's enthusiasm for learning Chinese is the best barometer.
The strength of Chinese culture will be clear to all if the day comes when the world's people are as eager to learn Chinese as the Chinese people are today with English.
Maybe we just need to patiently await the day when people worldwide will want not only goods made in China, but also cultural products.
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