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Li Maosen: international Chinese language education needs a caring and considerate mind
(2022-11-18 21:11:19)
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Li Maosen is an associate professor at the School of Philosophy, Renmin University of China (RUC). He talked about his work in this interview recently, as Chinese Director of Confucius Institute at the University of Helsinki, Finland since January 2021.

Professor Li was firstly asked why he decided to take up that position at Confucius Institute at the University of Helsinki, Finland (hereinafter referred to as CI). He said that CI is a very important platform to meet the demand for Chinese language learning overseas, as well as an important place for cultural and academic exchanges between China and abroad. China has a long history of civilization. Chinese culture is supposed to make a great contribution to the world peace and prosperity today.

“I have a feeling that working at CI is a kind of mission for me.” he said, “as the Chinese culture has indeed rich resources, how can we make the Chinese culture to benefit all people? how can we make it to be helpful in building a community for human flourishment? I think these are very significant questions in the era of globalization.”

As for his experience in Chinese language teaching activities, Professor Li shared his thought about finding a unique match between Chinese and Finnish cultures. When he came to Finland, he learned the Finnish word SISU. It is believed to be the spirit and character of the Finnish people. A well-known icebreaker in Finland is named as SISU. The portal of the education system for the students at the University of Helsinki has been renamed as SISU since last year. The pronunciation of “SU” reminded him of the Chinese idea of human autonomy and dignity in the traditional Chinese Zhongyong Doctrine.

It inspired him to develop a set of teaching materials called SISU Chinese (思素中文). It may help students to get a kind of identification of common values between Chinese and Finnish cultures from the very beginning of their Chinese studies.

“I think that we all have our expertise,” Professor Li said. “And when we look at an issue, if you have the expertise, you may have some unique understanding for it.”

Professor Li also recalled the difficulties and the process of overcoming them. He said that there is an impression that CI is sometimes slightly less academic than it should be, and CI directors should try to improve Chinese teaching in a more comprehensive way. In his understanding of second language acquisition, the language learning and the cultural engagement can’t be separated. Language is the key part of the culture. In order to avoid barren and boring learning or teaching, there must be various cultural elements to be introduced so that the students’ interest could be aroused by the vivid language usage in the reality and history.

CI encourages the language learners to participate in some Chinese cultural activities. The Finnish-Chinese Association often has activities about Chinese culture. Before the COVID-19 pandemic which started in 2020, the Finnish-Chinese Association used to hold a carnival event during the Chinese New Year in Helsinki. The local people would find the Chinese language and culture fascinating and take pictures and experience calligraphy. They would also be happy to get a small gift (souvenir) with Chinese traits. Last year, when it was impossible for people to gather, some local Chinese associations held an online concert and invited Chinese students to do the performance. CI informed some Finnish students to enjoy those activities.

In addition to the regular curriculum, CI has also offered a summer course on Chinese poetry introduction. Through the brief history of Chinese poetry, the students will find that Chinese poetry adds an picturesque and emotional dimension to the lives of Chinese people, and that it is an unique part of Chinese culture. CI has also invited a Finnish scholar to offer a course related to Confucianism.

In the face of some derogatory opinions about CI, Professor Li believes that CI should promote its international understanding and improve its management in the local social/cultural setting, and that those opinions are usually political prejudice, neither true nor fair. According to him, CI is an international project to promote friendship and academic exchanges between the two countries. Its fundamental task is to do a good job of Chinese teaching and give a good help to the local students who have interest in Chinese and wish to have more opportunities in their career development.

He quoted two Chinese phrases as his work principles. One is Zhong Shu (忠恕), which encourages him to have a caring and considerate mind. He emphasized that it is important to avoid conflicts in terms of political ideologies and to seek common ground. The other phrase is He He (和合), encourages his to pay attention the values of growth and trustworthiness in international cooperation and cross-culture management. “We need to focus on the growth and development in both individual and organizational sense. Trust is essential value for the CI practice and coaction at the local university. ”

How to promote international Chinese language education in an empathetic perspective? Professor Li believes in seeking for the common good. In our modern society, it is the common value to help people enjoy a better life. He said, “as long as CI is concerned, I think it is the common good that we work together all parties to provide a qualified Chinese education environment for the students, trying to develop their potentials and to let them have a good master of the Chinese language. That is our simple and plain purpose.”

Professor Li mentioned that the CI was also active in cooperation with companies. Its first corporate course was conducted in cooperation with Peter Vestervacka, the internationally renowned Finnish entrepreneur and founder of Angry Bird. CI teachers taught the employees every week at We+ Workspace in Helsinki.

The student feedback is important in CI teaching. Kaisu Helminen, a student at the University of Helsinki, said that the language courses he took were useful and interesting. “After participating in the CI program for just one year of studying Chinese, I am proud to say that I can understand the content of Chinese classes and participate deeply in classroom interactions,” Helminen said, “The atmosphere is great and the teaching is fun.”

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