Chinese education for Thai studentsUpdated: 2013-10-14 00:23
Visiting Premier Li Keqiang (left) and Thai counterpart Yingluck Shinawatra are greeted by villagers during their tour of a local products center in Chiang Mai province in northern Thailand on Sunday. Photo by Wichai Taprieu / AP
If I had not been to the Chongfha Sin Seng School on Sunday to cover Premier Li Keqiang's visit, I would never have imagined students in another country could get a traditional Chinese education, an opportunity that has almost disappeared in China itself.
What surprised me more was that 70 percent of the students there are not ethnic Chinese.
The premier's school tour began with his watching 300 students performing Tai Chi Kung Fu Fan, a "dance" that ingeniously combines tai chi and other forms of Chinese martial arts with fan dancing.
Then the school's folk orchestra played Jasmine, a Chinese folk song, on traditional Chinese musical instruments, including the erhu, yangqin and zither.
Everybody here seems to speak Chinese well. The premier even jokingly said a high school girl spoke Chinese better than the premier himself.
Unlike a successful US Chinese school I once visited, which seeks to help students communicate with modern Chinese society, the Chongfha Sin Seng School seems to focus on forging perfect Chinese talents that match the high standards of ancient times.
The more than 2,500 children and students in the complex, from kindergartners to high school students, learn Chinese with teachers from China. They also study Chinese music, literature, history and geography.
The students can also pick up calligraphy and other artistic skills inherited from ancient China. Li watched 8-year-old students on Sunday reciting an ancient Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) poem.
The school was established in 1901 by a close friend of Sun Yat-sen, the forerunner of the Chinese Revolution, and some other outstanding overseas Chinese in Chiang Mai. It is easy to understand their setting high and traditional standards for ethnic Chinese children.
But now more and more local people are enrolling their children, driven by Thailand's prosperous business ties with China, Chaidan Saeting, a Chinese-language teacher at the school, told me.
"Now Chinese is more popular than English when the parents consider having their children learn a foreign language," Chaidan said. He said he himself has no relatives in China.
China is now Thailand's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade reaching nearly $70 billion last year and projected to be $100 billion by 2015.
Chaidan said there are now at least 80 similar schools across Thailand.
A large part of Chinese education volunteers that China sent abroad went to Thailand because of the booming demand.
A Chinese reporter in Thailand told me that many Thai companies, including banks, the media and various other industries, are setting up their own Chinese-language classes to train their employees. In January, a local police bureau even sent 60 policemen to Chongfha Sin Seng School to learn Chinese, as more and more Chinese tourists are visiting the Southeast Asian country.
I am 100 percent sure that more police officers will learn Chinese, and more families will send their children to similar schools.
Li and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who accompanied Li to about 10 activities during his stay of less than 48 hours in Thailand, announced on Friday that the two nations will discuss waiving visas requirements of visitors to each other's countries. Li told reporters that he expects Chinese people to pay more than 5 million visits to Thailand within this year. The corresponding figure for last year was 2.8 million.
Aside from tourism, this development will also give a strong boost to economic ties by facilitating business travel. The two countries have announced major plans for high-speed railway construction, among other proposals.
Li on Sunday wished students in the school "a bright future". I think they will have one.
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