The 11th “UN Chinese Language Day” was celebrated on April 19, 2020. Due to the CO-VID-19, the celebrations were all held online with rich content. In order to celebrate the event, the UN Headquarters held an exhibition of Chinese traditional poetry, calligraphy and painting, the International Society for Chinese Language Teaching released a commemorative video; the Confucius Institute Headquarters’ “Chinese Plus” offered Chinese course DEMOs; Beijing Language and Culture University launched a “global Chinese information cloud sharing platform”; and many Chinese educational institutions and Chinese learners also held various celebrations. These activities indicate that the conditions required for a world-wide “Chinese Language Day” are ready and the event will soon take shape.
The establishment of a national or international language festival is an important measure to promote language identity, maintain language vitality and enhance language influence. It is also an important symbol marking periodic and ritualistic approach to specific languages for learners. Its nature is similar to the “International Mother Language Day” initiated by UNESCO, the European Day of Languages advocated by EuropeanUnion, and the “Hangeul Day (Korean Language day)” promoted by the ROK. In 2010, the UN Department of Public Information launched the “Language Days at the United Nations”, seeking to promote the equitable use of six official languages including Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish and Arabic throughout the UN organizations and cultural diversity contained in these languages. Currently, the “Language Days at the United Nations” has become one of the most influential language festivals in the world.
After the launch of the “Language Days at the United Nations”, the six-official-language speaking countries have seized the opportunities and taken actions to expand the scope and enrich content of the activities, gradually expanding the six languages from the UN Language Day to an international and even a world language day. For example, on March 20, 1970, 21 French-speaking countries established the “Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF)”. In 1990, the organization designated March 20 as “International French Language Day”, and then in 2010, the United Nations designated March 20 as “French Language Day at the UN”. Since then, with the support of the French government, French overseas offices, Alliance Francaises and or-ganizations of French departments in universities around the world have gradually stepped up their efforts to celebrate the “International French Language Day”, which has become a common festival for French learners worldwide. On March 20, 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron attended the celebration of the “International French Language Day” held by L’Institut de France and proposed that France will strengthen the promotion of French and plan to make French the world's third largest language by 2050, which greatly inspired French learners around the world. On December 18, 1973, the United Nations officially included Arabic as one of its official work-ing languages, and in 2010, the “World Arabic Language Day” was celebrated on December 18 every year. Since then, many Arab countries would hold various celebrations on this day.
The date for the UN Chinese Language Day comes from Guyu (Rain of Millet), the 6th of 24 solar terms in the traditional East Asian calendars, with an aim to pay tribute to Cang Jie, the inventor of Chinese characters. Since the inception of the day, the UN Headquarters has celebrated it every year. Meanwhile, as an organization specialized in international Chinese education, the Confucius Institute Headquarters has encouraged and funded Confucius Institutes and the vast number of Chinese learners in over 100 countries to hold Chinese teaching and Chinese culture-related activities according to the local conditions. In addition, many other Chinese educational institutions and overseas Chinese associations have also held “Chinese Language Day” or “Chinese Language Week”. South Africa has even established “South African Chinese Language Day”. These activities have better expanded the audience range and the attraction of Chinese, and has gained much experience for making the “UN Chinese Language Day” into a worldwide “Chinese Language Day”.
At present, international Chinese education boasts a strong demand and sound development momentum. According to incomplete statistics, there are 550 Confucius Institutes and 1,172 Con-fucius Classrooms around the world, and more than 4,000 universities have offered specialized courses in their Chinese departments, with Chinese incorporated into more than 60 countries’ national education systems. More than 75,000 schools and training institutions of various levels and types have offered Chinese courses, and over 25 million people are studying Chinese. In addition, there are many overseas Chinese who speak Chinese to varying degrees. With the continuous expansion of the scale and learners of international Chinese education, as well as the increasing demand for personalized and diversified Chinese learning, a good foundation has been laid for expanding the “UN Chinese Language Day” into a worldwide “Chinese Language Day”.
In recent years, more and more Chinese educational institutions, experts and scholars have begun to call for the establishment of a worldwide or international “Chinese Language Day” to give Chinese learners around the world a fixed day to celebrate as well as exchange their expe-rience in learning Chinese and jointly create an atmosphere of learning, loving and speaking Chi-nese. On these grounds, a world-wide “Chinese Language Day” will gradually take shape and will be enriched and perfected in the next few years.
As one of the oldest and most beautiful languages in the world, Chinese not only inherits the cultural genes of the Chinese nation, but also shoulders an important responsibility of becoming a common language in the world. It is believed that the establishment of the world “Chinese Language Day” will help to enhance the affinity and influence of Chinese language and promote cultural exchanges between China and other countries. It will further enhance the friendship between Chinese people and people around the world, and make positive contributions to the development of diversified languages and cultures in the world and building a community with a shared future for mankind.
(The Author is the Project Director of the Division of Development and Planning of the Confucius Institute Headquarters)
(Story by Kong Jia, People’s Daily (Overseas Edition), Page 11, April 24, 2020)