MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and Vice Minister Xu Lin of China shared their cultures, ideas and a few gifts Monday during a visit by Xu to the State Capitol and to the Confucius Institute on the Middle Tennessee State University campus.
Xu and four associates flew into Nashville early Monday following a weekend meeting at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky., attended by Confucius Institute leaders from across the United States. Xu oversees the 400-plus Confucius Institutes located in 117 countries around the world.
The delegation finished its trip with a visit to MTSU’s Confucius Institute inside Peck Hall, where they were greeted by a group of Chinese students as well as Rutherford County students and parents who have participated in recent cultural exchanges.
During the State Capitol visit, which was facilitated by state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, Xu and McPhee met with Gov. Bill Haslam, state Rep. Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, and Ketron to discuss the importance of cultural exchanges between the United States and China in areas such as education and business.
Haslam said he’s visited China in the past, though not as governor, and hopes to do so in the future. The governor asked Xu what she hopes to accomplish through the institutes, and Xu said her goal is to strengthen China’s support for Confucius Institutes, which are also located at the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
“Actually, my goal is your goal,” Xu said. “We want to become a great window for the two countries. … The Chinese government wants to pay more attention and (give) more support to the Confucius Institute.”
Xu, who also serves as director-general of the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), oversees a worldwide network of institutes that offers Chinese language and teaching resources and services, provides cultural outreach and fosters educational partnerships. The institutes are affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education.
In touting the positive impact of the cultural exchange, McPhee cited the exclusive research partnership between the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, based at MTSU, and the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants in China to accelerate the development of Western medicines from plant extracts.
McPhee noted that about 15 samples of medicinal plants are showing promise in treating certain cancers.
MTSU opened its Confucius Institute in April 2010 through a partnership with Hangzhou Normal University. The University of Memphis opened the first institute in the state in 2007, while UT-Knoxville’s opened earlier this year, with each also partnering with a Chinese university.
“It’s very competitive to get a Confucius Institute,” said McPhee, who serves as a senior adviser to the Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing. “Our goal is to get even more American students to study in China.”
Under McPhee’s leadership, MTSU has strengthened its international outreach to China as well as several other countries.
Earlier this year, McPhee led a delegation to China, which included a visit to Confucius Institute Headquarters, and facilitated a cultural and educational agreement between the Murfreesboro City Schools, Rutherford County Schools and a China education group.
Xu was given a brief history of Tennessee as she toured the State Capitol and was surprised to learn that President Andrew Jackson, who is a topic of Chinese world history courses, was from Tennessee. She also said she was impressed with the state’s rich music history, including country music.
Tour stops also included the Tennessee House and Senate chambers, where Ketron and legislative assistant Ryan Adcock answered Xu’s questions about the legislative process and how it compared to the process within the Chinese government.
Before departing Nashville, Xu presented Haslam with a book on Chinese history and culture. The governor gave her a leather-bound tablet emblazoned with the state seal and a state lapel pin.
“We’re very honored to have you here,” Haslam said.
Once in Murfreesboro, McPhee and Xu exchanged gifts at a luncheon at the President’s Residence attended by university leaders, including Provost Brad Bartel, MTSU Confucius Institute Director Guanping Zheng, Associate Director Paul Cui and Dr. David Schmidt, MTSU vice provost for international affairs.
“Our home is your home,” McPhee told Xu and her delegation, referring to Xu as “my very, very good friend” and “my oldest sister.”
Ketron, who traveled with the MTSU delegation to China earlier this year, is pleased that the relationship with China continues to broaden.
“We’re pleased to have the Confucius Institute at MTSU,” he said, “and we’ll continue to build these bridges of friendship.”
To learn more about the Confucius Institute at MTSU, visit www.mtsu.edu/cimtsu.
— Jimmy Hart (firstname.lastname@example.org)