Learning Chinese Sparks Passion for Life

2019-11-29 15:44:00 Source:China Today Author:ZACHARY GORDON LUNDQUIST
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“One World, One Family” is a theme that conjures up images of harmony and the desire to bridge cultural divides, so it was a fitting backdrop for the 18th “Chinese Bridge” — Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign College Students held in Changsha, Hunan Province this year. Sponsored by the Confucius Institute Headquarters and the Hunan provincial government, the annual event had been preceded by contestants showcasing their impressive Chinese language skills, passing through a grueling process of elimination until there were five contestants remaining — each representing their continent. Victory went to Egyptian student Passant Sayed Khalil Ahmed Ali, or Shi Yu, as she is known in China. The enthusiasm and excellence of the final contestants, and all who took part, were a demonstration of the growing global interest in learning the Chinese language and culture.

One World, One Family

Learning Chinese brings each learner into the big family of Chinese speakers as well as connects them with a culture that stretches back over 5,000 years.

Passant Ali from Egypt, Joshua Robinson from the United States, Ana Scobioala from Moldova, Maximillian Silk from Australia, and Kaing Thinn from Myanmar were the five continental finalists. Their mastery of the Chinese language was not just a means of gaining an award and fame as the Chinese Bridge champions, but rather the result of their deep interest in China. At a press conference held after the final competition, the five contestants shared a little of their experience of learning Chinese and how it changed their lives.


                                     The final five regional contestants wait during the first round of the finals of the 18th Chinese Bridge to answer questions from the host.

The overall winner Ali has a deep passion for Chinese literature, especially Chinese poetry. It was this passion and her ability to recite many Chinese poems and tongue twisters that impressed the audience and judges. “I was first inspired to take part in the Chinese Bridge Competition when I saw the Egyptian champion of the African Chinese Bridge back in 2016. At that moment, I made up my mind that I was going to apply myself to study Chinese,” said Ali. Over the following three years, in which she studied at the Confucius Institute in Cairo and the Confucius Institute Headquarters in China, not only has her knowledge of the Chinese language grown but her passion to be another cultural link between Egypt and China has also increased.

Winning the competition not only gave her the title of global champion of the China Bridge, but also means her accomplishments can inspire others. “I think this honor that I have gained through this year’s Chinese Bridge will do much to encourage more young people in Egypt and throughout the African continent to learn Chinese,” she said.

Robinson, champion of the American Chinese Bridge Preliminary, recalled the first time he learned about China in a world history class in high school. “The images of Chinese characters and descriptions of Chinese culture fascinated me, but since I didn’t understand the Chinese language, the meaning of the Chinese characters were mysterious. Learning Chinese has brought to life those mysterious characters and ancient Chinese poetry,” said Robinson.

His language performance during the round of acting out the story of the famous Chinese Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai moved the audience. As for his future plans, Robinson said that he wanted to be a modern cultural ambassador between his country and China.

As champion of the Australian Chinese Bridge Preliminary, learning Chinese has brought Silk closer to Chinese music, culture, language, and history. He said it was his father’s long-term vision that with the rise of China on the global arena, his son should study Chinese. As a result, Silk began his journey of learning Chinese in high school.


       Maximillian Silk (center) exhibits his passion for the Chinese language while introducing himself to the audience during the first presentation of the five final contestants.

Chinese has already become the second most spoken language in Australia, with Chinese speakers representing 1.5 percent of the population. According to a report of China News Service (CNS), there are over 300 schools in Australia that now offer Chinese as a second language, with over 77,000 students in primary and middle schools currently studying it. “When I began to learn Chinese, even though there are many Chinese language classes in certain parts of Australia, there were not many Chinese people in the region where I lived to practice Chinese with,” said Silk. As he progressed with much hard effort, he not only learned a language but fell in love with it and the people who speak it.

“Learning Chinese has helped me learn a lot about China, as well as make many new friends. It also has given me many career opportunities to choose from. But with my love of music, some of the most interesting opportunities I have had have been singing Chinese songs on the international stage, popular Chinese songs like Ear by Li Ronghao, and Wind Is Blowing North by Sun Nan,” said Silk. It was this love for Chinese that was clearly demonstrated in his performance during the China Bridge finals.

Scobioala, champion of the European Chinese Bridge Preliminary, hails from Moldova. For her, in addition to being able to represent her country in the competition, through learning Chinese, she has been able to connect with China. In her home country in the past, there was such a small representation of Chinese people that when she decided to begin learning Chinese a few years ago, there were few people to speak to. “I had to search high and low to find Chinese people to practice Chinese with.” Learning Chinese has enabled her to gain a deeper understanding of the ancient wisdom hidden in classical Chinese poetry, as well as make long-lasting friendships with Chinese people. During the final competition, Scobioala’s love for Chinese poetry and gracefulness in performing a Chinese dance left a lasting impression on the audience.

With the rapid expansion of China’s relationship with Europe, more and more Chinese businesses are finding their way to Moldova. “Now whenever I see Chinese in Moldova, I feel like meeting extended family,” she said. Learning Chinese has enabled her to expand her circle of friends and understanding of the world.

For Thinn, champion of the Asian Chinese Bridge Preliminary, the competition has given him new eyes to see the world as well. “During my time in China while participating in the Chinese Bridge competition, I saw with my own eyes the advanced development that China has been able to achieve in a relatively short time, and I hope one day my country can achieve such changes,” he said.

His excellent pronunciation and expression of Chinese throughout the competition also greatly impressed the audience and brought him into the very last round of the evening.

Chinese hasn’t always been Thinn’s passion. Being from Myanmar, a country that is relatively close in proximity to China, he said, he often saw Chinese business people in his country. “From the age of 13, I began to learn Chinese. Later after spending much time and energy learning the tones and characters of Chinese, I really began to like the language,” said Thinn, who is now pursuing his dream of becoming a Chinese teacher in his country.

The Youngest Star of the Evening

Of all the special performances interspersed throughout the finale of the 18th “Chinese Bridge” competition, the one that left the greatest impression on the audience was the story of the youngest guest to take the stage, 15-year-old Thuch Salik from Cambodia. In his young life he has already mastered basic conversational skills in 15 different languages, including Chinese, French, Korean, Japanese, English, and Spanish.


         The final winner of the 18th Chinese Bridge competition, Passant Ali, holds her award, winning the title of global champion and ambassador of the Chinese Bridge.

Because of his family’s financial struggles, Salik began working at a very early age to help support the family by selling souvenirs to tourists in Cambodia. When interviewed about his life on stage during the competition, he said, “In order to attract foreign tourist to purchase my souvenirs, I tried to learn how to communicate with as many tourists as possible in their own language.” With the help of foreign tourists as language teachers, he slowly built up an oral language ability in multiple languages. Due to the great number of Chinese tourists visiting Cambodia, young Salik quickly learned Chinese.

From language to songs and then to friendships, not only did he attract many tourists to buy his wares, but he attracted much attention from Internet viewers all over the world after a tourist uploaded a video of him touting. This year at the Chinese Bridge finals, Salik was invited to share his story of how he went from a young child peddler in Cambodia to now studying at a high school in southern China. What most amazed the audience and host was the ease in which he spoke Chinese. Thanks to learning Chinese, he is now on the way to not only being able to speak Chinese with Chinese tourists in Cambodia, but also achieve his dream of expanding the relationship between China and Cambodia through business and trade.

Dreams for the Future

After the music and applause, the final competition of the Chinese Bridge came to an end, and everyone returned to their corners of the world. Passant Ali will continue her dream of becoming a teacher of Chinese back in Cairo. This fall she will begin her master’s studies in Beijing in the field of education. Kaing Thinn, after returning to Myanmar, will strive to achieve his dream of also becoming a Chinese teacher to help more people back in Myanmar learn from China ways of speeding up economic development. Maximillian Silk will return to Australia to continue pursuing his passion of producing a music album of songs that he has written so he can help build more bridges between the cultures of Australia and China as a cultural ambassador. Ana Scobioala and Joshua Robinson will also continue their dreams of promoting people-to-people exchanges between China and their own countries. And Thuch Salik will continue with his high school studies, then university, help his family out of poverty, and do what he can to assist his country expand economic development. Such dreams and the possibilities to realize them have been made possible by the wings that learning Chinese has given them. 

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