Tap Taiwan to learn MandarinMore Indians must learn Mandarin without falling into China's propaganda and influence


Author: Naina Singh
(The writer is a PhD Candidate at the Graduate Institute of International Politics at National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan. She is also interning as a Research Assistant with Taiwan Nextgen Foundation, Taipei)


Confucius Institutes (CI), an integral part of the Chinese Ministry of Education-backed initiative to ensure global outreach of Chinese language and culture, are seen as the Chinese Communist Party’s propaganda, detrimental to the academic freedom of partner institutes with their overwhelming ideological influence and silencing effect. Last year, the US designated CI as ‘foreign mission.’ India’s Ministry of Education also sought to review their agreements or educational activities with Indian institutions. The government went further to discourage learning of Mandarin at both secondary school and higher education levels to dampen Chinese influence.

But, with an ever more consequential Chinese leviathan, the need of the hour is not to remove Mandarin as a foreign language, but to find a more secure way to grow cohorts that speak the language and understand the Chinese mind. The answer is obvious: cooperation with Taiwan.


Taiwan is multilingual, with indigenous languages Hokkien and Hakka being the mother tongues of a majority, but Mandarin Chinese has been a national language on the island since 1945. Taiwan has not only held on to the traditional Chinese characters but also utilized Zhùyīn fúhào, a phonetic transliteration to help young learners of the language. Taiwan is increasingly sought out as a prominent destination for advanced Mandarin training by both professionals and students.


Currently, there are 62 Mandarin Chinese language centres affiliated with universities across Taiwan. In 2020, more than 32,000 international students came to Taiwan to learn Mandarin. Huayu Enrichment Scholarship Program, the financial support extended under Taiwan’s Education Ministry, has almost doubled the number of international students thus enrolled over the past decade.


To cater to global demand, Taiwan has strengthened its training and capacity of language professionals and institutions under its Eight-year Chinese Language Education Promotion Plan (2013-2020). It has also made an active decision to enable international students studying in Taiwan to stay for work after graduation.


Under the New Southbound Policy, the grand strategy to network Taiwan to India and the ASEAN states, many Taiwanese universities have actively approached India to develop a durable Mandarin exchange environment. At present, there are 18 Taiwan Education Centres (TEC) across India. Most of them were founded through bilateral partnership between Indian universities and their Taiwanese counterparts while others were sponsored by Taipei Economic and Cultural Centre in India. The National Tsinghua University of Taiwan, a research university ranked among the top 200 in the world, has established TECs in eight universities of India, including IIT Madras and Mumbai. National Chung Hsing University, the best educational institution in agriculture and environmental studies in Taiwan, is initiating TEC programmes with partner universities in Assam and Mizoram. These centres do not just provide courses in Mandarin Chinese but also serve as a platform for facilitating India-Taiwan research collaborations.


The China Studies community in India has long believed that it is necessary to build up an indigenous stronghold in Mandarin training to better grasp Chinese politics and decipher Chinese actions. The CCP’s institutions of internationalisation of Chinese culture are not the only representatives of Chinese culture and a peek at Taiwan’s rich Mandarin training culture is an example of that. As a young democracy committed to maintaining an open society, Taiwan is an ideal partner to mutually develop language training and cultural courses. Taiwan’s Sinophone is broader and better than the CCP version.


To prompt such a development, the role of political elites, government institutions and policy itself become inevitable in ensuring financial resources and public interest in learning Mandarin in India. A rather neglected feature of NEP 2020 is the states’ autonomy in allotting resources and time to both local and foreign languages. In this globalised era, state governments need to branch out and capture this ‘Taiwan moment’. The inclusion of Taiwanese universities under the Education ministry’s Scheme for Promotion of Research Collaboration (SPARC) is a positive step but the opportunities for long-term language training is skewed under its project-based collaboration.


To become and act as a global power, India has to start thinking like one. India needs Mandarin professionals trained in a democratic and rigorous environment. Thinking long-term, it has to not only introduce a comprehensive Mandarin training framework, but also introduce all-inclusive scholarships and initiatives for it not limited to military professionals and civil servants. If we are to go by Kautilya’s Arthashastra, is it not that your neighbours’ neighbour is your friend. New Delhi does consider China to be a competitor; so, knowing China better should be a strong objective. India needs more China experts with formal Mandarin Chinese training. And Taiwan is the key to that. Discouraging inclusion of Mandarin from the language curriculum is not in India’s interest; encouraging cooperation with Taiwan is.


Article Source: Deccan Herald (an Indian English language daily newspaper)

JUL 28 2021, 00:37 IST UPDATED: JUL 28 2021, 01:38 IST