Last 19 December 2019, the Ateneo de Davao University, joined by representatives of Huaqiao University of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), inaugurated the Confucius Institute on the second floor of the Finster Hall, Jacinto campus. This institute is the first Confucius Institute in Mindanao, and outside Luzon. In partnership with Huaqiao, the Matteo Ricci Mandarin Program in AdDU led the inauguration of the Confucius Institute, which has been long in the making.
This inauguration came a year after Ateneo de Davao University President, Fr. Joel E. Tabora, S.J., signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) and the memorandum of agreement (MoA) with Huaqiao University President Prof. Xu Xipeng last November 2018. Titled “Jointly Establishing Confucius Institute Between Huaqiao University, China, Ateneo de Davao University, Philippines,” the agreement signed by the two presidents formally laid the groundwork to establish the Institute in Davao City. Further, the agreement aimed “to enhance Sino-Philippine friendship, cultural and educational exchanges between the two countries, meet the needs of the local communities to learn Chinese language and culture in the Philippines and promote Chinese teaching.” The institute itself will “actively promote the learning of Mandarin and Chinese history and culture in Mindanao,” and will “promote cultural exchanges and tours between China and the Philippines.” Part of this is reminding the people of Davao City of their rich historical connections with China, of helping them renew their understanding and appreciation of the cultural heritage of China in the Philippines, and for some, their own familial roots in China.
The timeliness of the Confucius Institute was not lost on President Tabora. Establishing the institute was not only a response to “the need for enhanced instruction in ‘Mandarin,’ the common Chinese language,” and to “the increased appreciation of Chinese culture in Davao City and in Mindanao,” but also a decisive response to the climate of uncertainty and anxiety characterizing the relationship between China and the Philippines, mainly due to territorial disputes between the two countries. But the reality is that the relationship between the Philippines and China has been steadily developing, all the same. As Fr. Tabora mentions in his address at the inauguration ceremony, the Confucius Institute aims to meet the “demand of the growing cultural, social, and political and commercial interaction between China and the Philippines, especially here in Mindanao.” Thus the Ateneo de Davao University joins the initiative of the Davao City government through City Mayor Sara Z. Duterte, as it has also come to an agreement with the Municipal City of Jinjiang, in the PRC, to create a bond between the two cities as sister cities. With the Confucius Institute, the Ateneo de Davao University contributes to the improvement of the “bilateral cultural and economic exchanges between Davao City and Jinjiang City, and China and the Philippines.” The institute, and its cultural exchange and Mandarin instruction programs, signifies the University’s sincerity and efforts to “reach out to its Asian neighbors,” to “help build the stockpile of knowledge and expertise in Mindanao for further service to its diverse peoples.”
In Ateneo de Davao, the Matteo Ricci Mandarin Program started the work to further relationships with China. Named after a Jesuit scientist and theologian who traveled to China in 1582 during the Ming Dynasty, the program was established in August 2012 and worked closely with the Confucius Institute of the Angeles University Foundation (CI – AUF) to promote Chinese Language and culture locally. According to Fr. Tabora, the Matteo Ricci program offers an average of 13-15 Mandarin classes at 20-25 students per class and four summers of Mandarin classes.
Ateneo de Davao University alumni who have been taught Mandarin through the program developed the competence to work at the Chinese Consul Generalate Office. AdDU alumni who can speak Mandarin pride themselves in their linguistic edge as they find gainful employment in the business sector, in banks and business establishments. They are also afforded the choice to participate in higher Mandarin education courses in China. Currently, Mandarin is a required class in many courses in the School of Business and Governance and certain courses of the School of Arts and Sciences.
Learning Mandarin is also not restricted to students, but is now extended to working professionals as well, thanks to the cooperation between the Matteo Ricci program and the Ateneo de Davao Academy of Lifelong Learning (ADD-ALL). The latter has offered short-term courses for adults in conversational and business Mandarin, designed for professionals and business people who wish to learn Mandarin as a practical foreign language. The program has also gone as far as sending a group of adult learners to Jinjiang, China, as part of a study and cultural tour, fulfilling one of their course requirements for their Mandarin language and Chinese culture modules. Now, with the establishment and inauguration of the Confucius Institute, more Mandarin classes and cultural visits to China are being eyed for interested learners. Its help is also already being sought by other schools; for example, Huaming in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, has reached out to the Confucius Institute for trained teaching personnel.
Fr. Tabora’s inaugural address outlines clearly the multi-pronged goals of the Confucius Institute, which it hopes to achieve with the help of the University’s partners in Huaqiao University and the Hanban. Mindanao’s first Confucius Institute aspires to:
- Strengthen [Ateneo de Davao’s] instruction in the Mandarin language in our higher education courses both on the undergraduate and graduate school levels;
- Continue to serve local government units like the provincial government of Davao de Oro in their desire to learn Mandarin;
- Serve the Davao business community, especially the Filipino members of this community with Chinese blood and heritage, who wish urgently to learn Mandarin;
- Support the teaching of Mandarin in the basic education level, first, at Ateneo de Davao, second, at public schools, in Davao, at other public and private schools in Mindanao and in the Visayas;
- Serve interested government units in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), the Philippine National Police, the Military and the Immigration Services;
- Encourage the participation of our students in the Summer and Winter Camps of the Hanban as well as to organize cultural and educational visits to China;
- Work closely with the Hanban in order to establish appropriate standards of external quality control for our teaching programs;
- Consider seriously in partnership with Huaqiao University the establishment of a bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education, major in teaching English and Mandarin, in AdDU, in order to begin developing our own teachers in Mindanao;
- Identify scholars whom we might recommend to Huaqiao university for a four-year scholarship for a Master’s degree in Teaching the Chinese Language;
- Act as a safe space for dialogue between academicians and experts to discuss issues of common concern towards the establishment of deeper friendship, understanding, complementary prosperity, and peace between our countries.
As Mayor Duterte says in her address at the inauguration, “the establishment of the Confucius Institute is another testament to Davao’s growing relationship with China.” As the first Confucius Institute in Mindanao, it bears a special responsibility to its people: it should “open…gateways to effectively promote Chinese history and culture in Davao City and in the entire Mindanao.” In this way, the institute also complements the city government’s collaborative efforts with the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, which provides scholarship grants for people to study in China, accessible to the citizens of Davao City through the Educational Benefits System Unit (EBSU) of the city government.
The Confucius Institute welcomes the challenge of supplying Mandarin teachers to schools and Mandarin programs in the Visayas and Mindanao. This is by hosting Mandarin language programs, Mandarin proficiency exams (HSK), and certifications, by creating spaces for Filipinos to engage with China through the Mandarin language, and by engaging with the lived experiences of the reality of China, through cultural camps. This institute, owing to the strategic location of AdDU in Davao City and its influence in charting the course of Philippine education, “shall become a dynamic hub for the promotion of Chinese language, culture, and arts” not only for Mindanao but for the entire Philippines.
Photos courtesy of the Institutional Communications and Promotions (ICOMMP) Office, Ateneo de Davao University