The number of New Zealand university students studying Chinese in the last 10 years has halved, according to Dr Rosemary Haddon, senior lecturer in Chinese at Massey University (Radio New Zealand interview with Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon on Thursday, March 6th).
I find this trend very disconcerting, given the rise and rise of China to the point where it has the biggest economy in the Asian region, and is New Zealand’s biggest trading partner.
For New Zealanders to have a quality future they need to build up quality relationships with people from countries like China. Such connection-building needs to recognize the needs, aspirations and autonomy of the people of both countries.
The kinds of connection I think could work well for all concerned are summarised in the following (slightly adapted) copy of the email I sent to Kathryn Ryan and Rosemary Haddon. Although formulated in a New Zealand context to address some increasingly urgent New Zealand needs, the proposals here could be readily adapted to any part of the world.
Kathryn, I was perturbed to hear Rosemary say that the number of university students learning Mandarin has declined some 50% in the last 10 years. Clearly, keeping to the narrowly Anglo-Saxon cultural grooves that we have become comfortable with will not enable New Zealanders to keep earning a living, or even international respect, in the Asian region in the coming decades.
Rosemary stressed how not only was it important to learn the language, but also how to form good business relationships. I would like to add further, as a basis for such business relationships, a need for New Zealanders to understand Chinese culture and to relate comfortably and effectively to Chinese people and institutions.
So, how can connecting with people from other cultures be done effectively and enjoyably, and in a relatively short time span? Some ideas:
1. Use online technologies: For some 30 years it has seemed to me that there is an effective way to go about this. That is to use online technologies to connect New Zealand school and university students directly with counterparts in China by using the online technologies that have become available in the period. See Innovative Sister City Networking for Global Solutions
2. Utilise Sister Cities: A ready-to-hand structure for building up such connections already exists in the form of sister cities.
3. Three-way sister connection building: For various reasons, I have also proposed connecting three ways: e.g. as well as with Chinese cities, also with United States sister city counterparts, along with others in developing areas, especially in Pacific Islands. So, a school or university class in, say, Christchurch New Zealand, could take steps to create relationships with counterparts in its sister city – and technology development centre – Wuhan in China, along with counterparts in its sister city – and technology development centre – Seattle in the USA. The New Zealand class could also connect similarly with counterparts in a Pacific Island area. There are advantages in doing things this way that I have outlined in my blogs, and in a number of representations to sister city committees and officials over the years.
4. For Wellington, a capital-to-capital structure? Wellington could also add an invaluable “capital-to-capital” dimension if it could add to its sister city relationship with Beijing, one also with Washington and, perhaps, Canberra as well as with somewhere like Suva.
I have been pleasantly surprised to see the idea of using online technologies to connect with classrooms in Asia strongly endorsed by the Australian government in its 2012 white paper, Australia in the Asian Century. This document also makes reference to sister city contexts for doing this. See An open Letter to Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia for more details.
An approach like the one proposed here would help situate people to create the educational, business, development-aid, diplomatic connections and networks needed across the world to manage successfully the many great challenges that lie ahead.
Very best wishes
(aka Antipodean Blogger)
Your comments – both for and against – are most welcome