For the most part of the first decade in the 21st century, the five BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — were among the fastest growing emerging markets. Certainly, the term, first coined as “BRIC” by Goldman Sachs in 2003, does not mean that these countries are a political alliance (like the European Union) or a formal trading association, though they have the potential to form a powerful economic bloc. Leaders from the BRICS countries regularly attend summits together and often act in concert with each other’s interests.
The first BRICS summit was held in Yekaterinburg, Russia; the 11th summit was held in Brasília, Brazil in November 2019. During the past 10 years, the BRICS countries have had many achievements in various fields, such as infrastructure construction, international trade, education, and so forth. And among all the different kinds of cooperation, educational cooperation and cultural exchanges are playing the key role as bridges, among which Confucius Institute and Chinese language teaching/learning activities have made a great contribution.
The rapid rise of China has set off a global “Chinese wave,” and Chinese language teaching has also developed rapidly in Brazil. Since language is the carrier of culture, the lack of language skills is one of the major obstacles to the political, economic, trade, and cultural exchanges between China and Brazil. There are a number of elements involved in this issue, such as the external conditions of Chinese learning in Brazil, the motivation of Brazilian students to learn Chinese, the political relations and economic ties between China and Brazil, as well as the quality of education provided by Chinese Confucius Institutes. As a result, there is in an urgent need to strengthen the study of current problems in the process of China-Brazil education cooperation and language teaching/learning activities.
In the perspective of language education theory and cultural exchange, it is clear that the extraterritorial dissemination of language is always influenced by various cultural differences, and the process has never been smooth. The official language of Brazil, Portuguese, and Chinese have huge differences in nearly every aspect, including writing systems, pronunciation, grammar, cultural background, and so forth. All these differences have put sand in the wheels of the popularization of the Chinese language in Brazil.
As such, in order to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the current situation of Chinese teaching/learning in Brazil and the relationship between the two countries, this article will make a brief review of the past and present of Chinese teaching in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and present insights on the problems and future development.
The Development of Chinese Language Teaching and Learning in Brazil
Historically, the Brazilian people first entered into exchanges with China through their bilateral trade with Macau as the medium. In August 1880, the government of the Qing Dynasty and the Brazilian mission signed the “China-Brazil Treaty of Good Trade and Navigation” and formally established diplomatic relations between the two countries. However, due to geographical and economic factors, the two countries were not able to form a closer relationship. On August 15, 1974, China and Brazil signed a communique on the establishment of diplomatic relations between them. Since then, China’s national strength has been comprehensively upgraded, especially after “reform and opening up,” and the links between China and the rest of the world, including with Brazil, have also been fully rolled out. In this context, China-Brazil relations have reached a new height. The promotion of Chinese language teaching and learning in Brazil has also grown at the same pace as the development of Chinese national strength as well as the bilateral ties between China and Brazil (in the framework of BRICS).
Most of the earliest Chinese language teachers and tutors in Brazil were immigrants and their descendants, who came to South America from southeastern China in the late 19th century. Before the establishment of diplomatic relations between the People’s Republic of China and Brazil, Brazilian students were learning traditional Chinese for the most part, and most of their teachers and tutors were from Taiwan.
The political and economic relations between China and Brazil have developed rapidly in the 21st century. In December 2001, China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), and Chinese language teaching in Brazil enjoyed an unexpected and rapid development boost.
In 2009, China became Brazil’s largest trading partner, largest export destination, and second largest source of imports. As China’s large enterprises successively invest and build factories in Brazil, China-Brazil economic and trade cooperation has reached a new high. Exchanges and cooperation in the fields of science, technology, education, and culture have also been further deepened. The local media of Sao Paulo even coined a word “Chinamania,” which means “crazy about China,” to describe the popularization of the Chinese language.
Currently, the Confucius Institute is the main institution for the spread of Chinese in Brazil. The first Confucius Institute in Brazil was established in July 2008 by Hubei University and São Paulo State University. The scale of the college has been expanding since the establishment of Confucius Institute.
In the past 11 years, the number of students at the Confucius Institute at São Paulo State University has grown from the 104 to more than 2,000 registered in 2019; the number of teaching points has increased from the original 1 to 14.
The main campus has five multimedia classrooms and a voice lab, a 300-person multi-purpose lecture hall, a dedicated library, and complete hardware facilities. The Confucius Institute at São Paulo State University now employs more than 20 Chinese teachers and volunteers and about 10 local Brazilian staff, who are serving more than 7,000 students in that city. Therefore, it has become the largest Confucius Institute not only in Brazil but in South America. Due to its growing contribution to people-to-people exchanges and cultural communication between the two countries, it has won the title of “Best Confucius Institute in the world” twice, in 2012 and 2016.
Up to now, Brazil has built 11 Confucius Institutes and three Confucius Classrooms. In addition to the regular Chinese language courses, the Confucius Institutes and Classrooms are also fully integrated with the practical conditions of each school, offering courses in additional topics such as business Chinese and kung fu, and actively cooperate with the local education bureau to promote Chinese language courses in Brazilian middle schools.
The Confucius Institute also makes full use of Chinese traditional festivals, such as the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Spring Festival, to hold lion dances, Tai Chi performances, Chinese calligraphy demonstrations, cheongsam displays, and other Chinese cultural performances, so that Brazilians can get close to China and Chinese culture. The cultural activities, jointly organized by the Confucius Institutes and domestic partner universities, are warmly welcomed by Brazilian students and local citizens. Overall the Confucius Institute has become an indispensable bridge for cultural exchanges between China and Brazil, both in terms of the scale of teaching/learning activities and in terms of public influence.
Promoting China-Brazil Education Cooperation in the Framework of BRICS
The 5th BRICS Education Ministers Meeting was held at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on July 5, 2017. Delegations led by Chen Baosheng, China’s minister of education; Prakash Javadekar, India’s minister of human resources development; Lyudmila Ogorodova, Russia’s vice minister of education and science; Marcos Caramuru de Paiva, Brazil’s ambassador to China; and Diane Parker, South Africa’s deputy director-general for universities of the department of higher education and training.
The ministers agreed that the past decade had witnessed rich fruits of cooperation in politics, economy, and people-to-people exchanges, among BRICS countries. In particular, cooperation in education has continuously and steadily deepened and achieved important progress, which greatly improved cultural and people-to-people interactions and the overall cooperation among BRICS countries.
BRICS countries have continuously expanded their cooperation in the educational sector, registering positive progress in the level, scope, content, and mechanism of the cooperation. In order to stay resolved and united and deepen cooperation to boost the development of education, BRICS countries should join hands in promoting cultural and people-to-people exchanges and enriching the forms and content so as to make educational cooperation a pillar and highlight of cultural and people-to-people exchange among BRICS countries.
As all delegates agreed that more “BRICS initiatives” should be proposed to lead and promote the development of quality and equal education around the globe. Language teaching and learning activities may play the most important role in cultural communication and people-to-people exchange. The rapid growth of Confucius Institutes in Brazil has made a lot of contribution in this field since 2008 when the first Confucius Institute was jointly established by Hubei University and São Paulo State University.
Looking ahead to the future, more two-way communication and exchanges are urgently needed, in which Chinese students may also enjoy and learn about the splendid Brazilian culture and history through Confucius Institutes and its Brazilian counterparts or cooperation partners. In particular, the growing strategic mutual trust generated by the BRICS framework may provide the indispensable political environment for all these people-to-people exchanges and cultural activities, and finally construct a valid source strengthening the people-to-people ties among all BRICS countries.
Wang Peng is Associate Research Fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.