Confucius Institute opens new doors

By Becca Clemons

UK will open a new door to diversity on Saturday at a gathering of cross-cultural events.

The Confucius Institute  will be inaugurated Saturday at the Singletary Center for the Arts. The inaugural ceremony will include remarks from Shanghai University President Zhewei Zhou, UK President Lee Todd and keynote speaker former U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao. A ribbon cutting ceremony, calligraphy demo, martial arts performance, concert and gift exchange between the two universities will follow.

The Confucius Institute is  defined as a gateway for Chinese language, culture and art, the institute’s website said.

Shanghai University in China is partnering with UK to create a cultural and educational exchange between the two campuses.

UK joins 73 U.S. and about 280 worldwide institutions that have Confucius Institutes and will be one of only two in Kentucky, Asia Center Staff Assistant Mike Hardy said.

The inaugural ceremony will also feature Chinese music using instruments foreign to UK and played by music students from Shanghai University, Confucius Institute Director Huajing Maske said. UK’s Symphony Orchestra will play American and Chinese folk music, and the concert will end with world-renowned Chinese violinist Cha performing with the orchestra.

In addition, four martial arts kung fu masters from the Shaolin Monastery in China will perform.

A public reception with Chinese food and free gifts provided by the institute will follow the ceremony and concert.

Others in attendance will include U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, the minister counselor for educational affairs from the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the deputy director for the Hanban, China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International headquartered in Beijing, Maske said.

“The Confucius Institute will be influential on campus, but we are also trying to be more community focused,” Hardy said.

The institute will help provide primary and secondary schools in Lexington and the surrounding community with Chinese language and culture programs, Maske said. The institute will fund educational opportunities on and off UK’s campus, including a Chinese culture lecture series that will cover topics such as art, calligraphy, Tai Chi, cooking, dance and music, Maske said.

The institute will offer Chinese language courses in Spring 2011, which UK students can take for free and without credit. Maske said the courses can serve as a testing ground for students interested in studying Chinese.

Opportunities for studying abroad in China will also be offered through the institute, in conjunction with Education Abroad and the Asia Center. The UKCI will offer need and merit-based scholarships for interested students.

Hardy said learning Chinese is important for significant economic and cultural reasons, especially since it is the most spoken language in the world. Many other cultures around the world have been influenced by the Chinese because China is the world’s oldest continuous civilization, he said.

Maske said the art connection between the two universities is important, as art can be used as a medium for cultural and campus exchange. The UK College of Fine Arts will also participate in the artistic exchange.

Bringing in speakers and performers will enrich UK campus life and community awareness for China, she said.

While numerous performers are in town for the inaugural ceremony, the institute has worked to bring the acts to public schools around Lexington for cross-cultural demonstrations. Maske said doing this connects UK to the public schools in the area that already have a thriving Chinese program.

The institute will also help public school teachers with professional development and will help pay for the expansion of schools’ Chinese language programs. Maske said the institute will start in the Bluegrass area and expand outward.

Hardy said the main goal of the institute is to start educational programs and enrich the community.

“If you know another country’s language, you start to understand its culture,” Hardy said.

The inaugural ceremony begins at 6:45 p.m. Saturday. Tickets can be purchased at the Singletary Center Box Office.