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Chinese Bridge opens new path for foreigners

By Fang Aiqing | China Daily | Updated: 2017-12-06 07:17

Contestants of the 10th Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students take photos onstage after the event lowered the curtain on Oct 28 in Kunming, Yunnan province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chinese Bridge Chinese-proficiency competitions are bringing people together and helping to build a worldwide community working for a shared future. Fang Aiqing reports.

Georgies Srour, a 25-year-old Frenchman, talks eloquently about the history of Beijing, from the traditional hutong, or alleyways, to the establishment of the new administrative area in Tongzhou district-in Chinese.

Speaking Mandarin with a slight Beijing accent, he was in high spirits when asked to talk about his understanding of Beijing's urban space, city life and social interactions during a symposium at the Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing in early November.

"The renovation of Beijing's hutong and some other Chinese cities' downtown areas is getting better now, because China has shifted its focus from merely economic growth to a more people-oriented perspective," Srour says.

He explores the city by strolling around and snapping photos. He held a solo photography exhibition titled Guess the City in Beijing in June.

He has been reading the book Chengji by former journalist Wang Jun. The book depicts half a century of Beijing's construction and examines its urban planning since the mid-20th century.

He will begin working as an urban planner in the Beijing branch of the French multinational AREP in January.

Srour started learning Chinese when he was 13.

"I watched the films of Wong Kar-wai and Zhang Yimou, and was impressed by China's vitality," Srour recalls.

Srour won the Second Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students in 2009. It was one of the Chinese Bridge competitions hosted by the Confucius Institute Headquarters.

"The Chinese Bridge is a door," he says. "There's another world waiting behind it."

He studied architecture at Tsinghua University in Beijing for a year and then interned as a reporter in France, where he got a chance in 2015 to interview Wu Jianmin, a previous Chinese ambassador to France.

He also played a small role in Jackie Chan's movie Chinese Zodiac in 2012.

Richer inner world

On the 10th anniversary of the first Chinese Bridge competition for foreign high schoolers, 17 former champions were invited to Beijing to share their life experiences since winning.

Srour says it was his Chinese-language skills that enabled him to get his forthcoming opportunity at AREP after getting his master's degree in urban planning from France's Aix-Marseille University.

Chae Woo-hyuk, champion of the third Chinese Bridge for foreign high schoolers in 2010, says winning enabled him to insist on his own choice rather than follow the life path that his parents had planned for him.

Born in South Korea in 1993, he started learning Chinese at age 7 and was sent to Nanjing, Jiangsu province, in fourth grade to improve his Chinese. He stayed for five years and then returned to South Korea.

"I thought returning to my home country was just a transitional period of learning Chinese, but I didn't know where to go and was lost until I heard about the competition."

Chae came to Chongqing for the Chinese Bridge and won. He is now a senior majoring in Chinese and political science at Sogang University in South Korea. He hopes to work as a diplomat after graduation. Chae believes "political relations between China and other countries are very important".

American Nicholas Biniaz-Harris says the competition brought a different kind of change to his life-it enabled him to overcome his stage fright.

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