New Confucius Institute will expand study of Chinese language, culture

University Park, Pa. -- China has emerged as one of the top economic and political powers in the 21st century, becoming a critical area of opportunity for U.S. students seeking global careers. Penn State students will have an opportunity to substantially broaden their learning and knowledge of traditional and contemporary Chinese language, culture, history and society with the establishment of a Confucius Institute at Penn State.

The Office of Chinese Languages Council International, known as the Hanban, has awarded a five-year, $1 million grant to create a new Confucius Institute at Penn State. Penn State’s Confucius Institute will be co-directed by two leading faculty: Denis Simon, a top specialist on the study of innovation in China, and Eric Hayot, a specialist on comparative East/West literature and director of the Asian Studies Program in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts. An advisory board will comprise faculty from different departments across the University and from Dailan University of Technology, the partner university in China.

"We’re absolutely thrilled to be building a Confucius Institute at Penn State," said Hayot. "Over the next few years the institute will help us expand our offerings in Chinese language, history and culture. The resources and support provided through the Confucius Institute will help Penn State to grow and become a national and international leader in the study of China, and to expand its scholarly exchanges and collaborative research projects in China."

"The Institute will allow us to build international networks of scholars in a wide variety of fields across the University, including liberal arts, the sciences, business and agriculture, and it will contribute to the continued globalization of Penn State’s curriculum," said Simon, co-director and a faculty member in the School of International Affairs. "Our partnership with Dalian University of Technology will allow us to focus on pressing issues in contemporary science and technology development, and help connect Penn State faculty and students to their counterparts in China."

Under the Hanban-Chinese Languages Council International, the Confucius Institute program promotes the teaching of Chinese as a foreign language and coordinates educational and cultural exchanges and partnerships with colleges and universities and K-12 schools. Among their services are training Chinese language instructors, providing language teaching resources and conducting Chinese proficiency tests and tests for the certification of Chinese language teachers. Across the United States, institutes have been established at public and private universities including top institutions such as University of Michigan, UCLA, University of Minnesota and Columbia University.

Established in 2008, Penn State’s Asian Studies Program oversees majors and minors in Asian studies, Chinese and Japanese; programs in Hindi, Korean and Asian American studies; and dual-title doctoral programs in applied linguistics, comparative literature, history and political science. For example, the undergraduate program in Chinese enrolls about 280 students per semester, with four full years of language instruction available taught by a full-time teaching staff of three. In addition, the University’s Summer Intensive Language offers two years of Chinese instruction.

Chinese studies is the most prominent area represented by the Asian studies faculty, which include professors in the fields of economics, labor studies, applied linguistics and art history, as well as history, political science and international affairs. In addition, faculty in other colleges, particularly in the sciences, engineering and agriculture, have numerous longstanding research collaborations with faculty and universities in China. Most recently, Penn State signed a major cooperation agreement with the Dailan University of Technology to promote exchanges and interactions regarding the development and application of clean energy technologies.

This academic year, Simon helped launch the Penn State Forum on Contemporary China, which has brought together faculty and students who share an interest in the latest developments in Chinese affairs, including the media, new energy development, the rural economy and the latest trends in China’s R&D system.

As one of the top public universities in the United States, Penn State is a natural setting for a Confucius Institute with its significant international student population, the largest proportion being from China. The University’s ties with China date back to the early 20th century, when specialists in agriculture worked with their counterparts in southern China to enhance rural productivity and food output. The local community surrounding the University Park campus also has a large Chinese-speaking population due to the presence of the faculty, students and their families, and area schools supporting regular Chinese language instruction.

Other key University partners with the Confucius Institute will be the University Office of Global Programs and the Center for Advanced Language Proficiency Education and Research, a federally funded National Language Resource Center.

"The Confucius Institute is yet another sign of the strength of Penn State’s program in Asian studies, and of both our accomplishments so far and our ambitions for the future," Hayot and Simon said. "This is just our latest step, and not our final one, on the road to international excellence in Asian Studies fields."

More information about the Asian Studies Program at Penn State can be found at online. Information about the Confucius Institutes can be found at online.

Last Updated March 23, 2011