Foreigners Beat Chinese Team in Varsity Chinese Linguistics Competition

July 5, 2005 Updated: July 5, 2005

The first prize in a recent Chinese language competition went to an overseas team this year, which beat the local Chinese team, much to the consternation of many Chinese.

According to Wenhui Daily, this annual competition tests contestants from different faculties on aspects of Chinese language such as structure, phonetics, idiomatic expressions and general knowledge.

Overseas students previously ranked towards the bottom, but this year they made it to the top. The local Chinese teams paled in comparison when it came to general knowledge and performance, despite the fact that many of the participants were freshmen who had just entered college and therefore still had a strong foundation in the Chinese language.

This year the competition was held at the prestigious Fudan University. Professor Fu Jie from the Chinese Studies department of Fudan University said, "Having lived in China for so long, many Chinese students have become desensitized and fail to appreciate the beauty of their mother tongue. In contrast, overseas students are more willing to spend time exploring the cultural phenomenon underlying the Chinese language."

Professor Qi Senhua from East China Normal University raised three points to support his observation that Chinese language studies are being marginalized by universities. Firstly, the Ministry of Education does not make Chinese language studies compulsory at the tertiary level. In fact, certain polytechnics and medical colleges simply do away with such courses. Secondly, many students would rather invest their time in learning a foreign language, as this is more advantageous to their career advancement. Thirdly, institutions of higher learning tend to adopt a utilitarian approach in planning their curriculums. Consequently, Chinese language is relegated to a "forgotten corner."

Mr. Xu Xiao, a middle school language teacher, had similar sentiments. Under the exam-oriented education system, he felt that the curriculum has become too utilitarian. In middle schools, the time spent teaching mathematics and sciences has increased at the expense of the morning reading program, which has been canceled.

Quoting French writer Romain Roland, Mr. Xu said, "Language is the distinctive feature of a race; it is the most intimate and enduring aspect of the human condition." The French have used the constitution to protect their native language, while the Israelites have strived to preserve their mother tongue, the Hebrew language. Mr. Xu said, "Looking at these countries, I feel saddened by the decline of the Chinese language in this utilitarian education system."