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Sway of Chinese language on display

By Zhang Menren | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-02 08:53

At a recent forum in Hong Kong, Jim Rogers, a Wall Street tycoon, played for the other participants a video of his daughter reciting aloud a classical Chinese poem. This is not the first time Happy Rogers, the elder daughter of the global investor, has exhibited her proficiency in the Chinese language.

At an event in Singapore in April 2013, the then 9-year-old studying in Nanyang Primary School showed off her nearly perfect Putonghua pronunciation and tone when she recited a not-so-well-known poem by Li Qiao, a Chinese poet during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). She won a big round of applause from the audience, most of them Chinese descendants. Happy's sister Baby Bee, then 5 years old, did equally well, singing nursery rhymes in Chinese, with a lovely sigh at the end.

While it is not uncommon for young Chinese language learners to recite ancient poems, Happy spoke in classical Chinese with a fluency that could make even some native Chinese speakers envious.

And recently, during US President Donald Trump's visit to China, his granddaughter Arabella's recital of Chinese poems went viral on the internet, making the five-year-old a "popular figure" among Chinese audiences.

There is a long list of foreign celebrities and their children learning Chinese, which includes Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' four children and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his daughter. And Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, media reports say, studied Chinese as a compulsory subject in school.

The increasing popularity of the Chinese language has led to the introduction of a variety of teaching programs and classes in some countries. Some say baby-sitters in New York adept at speaking Chinese are better paid than others.

According to a rough estimate, the number of people studying Chinese in the rest of the world, including overseas Chinese, is more than 100 million, as many believe the Chinese language can be used as a tool to gain access to conveniences in not only China but also some other countries.

The growing enthusiasm of people in other countries to learn Chinese can be attributed to their love for Chinese culture, which, given its profound connotations, carries a cultural charm beyond national boundaries. That perhaps also explains why traditional Chinese cultural elements, from kung fu films and Chinese calligraphy to such ancient works as The Analects of Confucius and Sun Tzu's The Art of War, have won so many "diehard fans" in other countries. Many foreigners even believe that Chinese characters are an expression of aesthetic appreciation-maybe that's why many famous personalities including former soccer star David Beckham have got Chinese characters tattooed on their body.

China's economic and social development is another important factor why many people overseas have become interested in the Chinese language and culture. As the world's most populous country and the second-largest economy, China for years has accounted for the largest number of students studying in other countries, which might also have made people overseas interested in the Chinese language.

As Jim Rogers said, whether you like or not, the 21st century will belong to China. He always tells people that if they have children, they shall encourage them to learn Chinese, "because Chinese will be the most important language in the remaining years of their lives".

China's growing global influence will prompt foreigners to take more interest in its language and culture. For foreign companies intending to do business in China, they can have a huge advantage over their competitors if they can master the Chinese language.

And with the Belt and Road Initiative progressing smoothly, an increasing number of Chinese enterprises will venture into the countries along the two ancient trade routes to do business, which also means more and more Chinese-speaking people will be in demand.

The article was first published in Guangzhou Daily.

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