China Day emphasizes Chinese language, Beijing Olympics

by Courtney Sinner

Northrop Auditorium played host to 850 middle and high school students from around the Twin Cities on Friday to celebrate a common interest – learning the Chinese language.

The sixth-annual China Day, hosted by the University China Center, highlighted the upcoming summer Olympics in Beijing, and organizers said it’s important to study the Chinese language and culture as China becomes more prominent on the global stage.

Joe Allen, chairman of the Asian languages and literatures department, said high schools have been dominated by European culture for years, and it’s nice to see a change.

“Asia has been emerging, and now it’s finally reaching high schools,” he said. “It’s practical to learn. China is going to be an ever growing presence.”

Yongwei Zhang, director of the China Center, said learning Chinese will help the students compete in today’s world.

“English is currently the most popular language, but that will change,” Zhang said. “I am flabbergasted to see so many students here today.”

There was more interest from area schools and students this year than ever before, partially because of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s Chinese Language Initiative, which passed the 2006 Legislature, Joan Brzezinski, assistant director of the China Center, said.

“Because of that, the administration is learning more about what we can do,” she said. “Different colleges are charting strategies for globalization.”

It’s important for business and economics professionals to understand Chinese, Zhang said, but the knowledge can be applied elsewhere, too.

“There are 1.3 billion people in China, so there are many areas to interact,” he said. “Even in the liberal arts, they will find a great demand for Chinese and it will give them the leading edge.”

Aubre Suttle, a senior at Wayzata High School, said this is the first full academic year that Chinese has been offered in Wayzata.

The 18-year-old said she finished studying French last year, but started taking Chinese this year to help her understand some of her pingpong opponents.

“It’s helpful to know what other people are saying during a game,” she said.

Brzezinski said events like these are important because the students get to see others with similar interests, so it provides a sense of community.

“It strengthens the idea when they can see how many other kids are involved, and it gets them on campus,” she said. “They see the ‘U’ and might think about coming here. Our program is one of the best in the country.”

Working to advertise the University’s program has clearly paid off – Suttle said she wants to come to the University next year and continue studying Chinese, even though she said she’d like to be an art teacher.

“But we studied some oriental artwork in my art history class, so it will still help,” Suttle said. “It’s just for balancing out my life.”