Confucius, who revolutionized education in China 2,500 years ago by making it accessible to commoners, once pondered taking a boat to spread wisdom everywhere.
Today, he would have received offers of air tickets from dozens of countries to meet students in schools named after him.
There will soon be 80 Confucius Institutes worldwide, according to agreements signed on Wednesday by Chinese Language Council International (CLCI), a government body which co-ordinates language-teaching efforts in other countries.
Portugal, Belarus and Serbia will have their first institutes; and one each in Britain, Germany and Spain will bring the three countries' total to 14.
The United States and Thailand have the highest number of institutes 11 each.
Figures from the Ministry of Education show that more than 30 million people are learning Chinese worldwide, and the number is on the rise, creating an acute demand for teachers.
The rapidly-growing number of Confucius Institutes is to meet the "huge demand for Chinese learning overseas", State Councillor Chen Zhili said yesterday in Beijing on the first day of a two-day Confucius Institute Conference.
The institutes' main responsibilities are to teach Chinese, train teachers, certify instructors, conduct examinations and provide consultancy services on Chinese culture, the economy and society.
"Chinese has become hot in the United States during the past one or two years," said Nancy Jervis, vice-president of the New York-based China Institute, who is in Beijing to attend the conference. Her organization hosts the earliest Confucius Institute in the United States.
She said some parents, brokers on Wall Street, have gone to the extent of employing Chinese nannies for their children so that they grow up speaking Chinese and work internationally.
"China's rapid economic growth is the major reason behind the language fever," she said, adding that the unique culture is also a big attraction.
The China Institute is also working with New York city and state officials to teach Chinese in public schools more than 2,400 US secondary schools have expressed interest but Jervis worries there would not be enough teachers.
"Currently, there are about 500 Chinese teachers in the United States, but we need at least 5,000," she said.
In response to some US media reports that the institutes are being set up to export "soft power," Jervis said it is common practice for countries to set up such institutes to let other people understand their culture better.
She pointed out as examples the Alliance Francaise and Goethe Institutes around the world.
(China Daily 07/07/2006 page1)