COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - A century ago, a succession of Chinese students came to the University of Missouri to study at the nation's first journalism school. Those foreign exchange students laid the groundwork for a new Beijing-backed language institute welcomed by leaders of the cash-strapped flagship campus.
Missouri is the latest American university to unveil a Confucius Institute, with a parade of Chinese dignitaries welcomed by Chancellor Brady Deaton and others at a recent Jesse Hall ceremony replete with traditional Chinese folk musicians from Shanghai Normal University.
The institute will offer Mandarin language courses, teacher training, business collaborations, etiquette workshops and more, thanks to a $250,000 annual gift over the next three years from the Chinese government. The program began at the University of Maryland in 2004 and has expanded to 83 American universities and hundreds more worldwide.
Handy Williamson Jr., vice provost for international programs, expects the Confucius Institute to serve not just as a cultural exchange program but also an economic engine that could boost Missouri's financial links with the emerging global power.
"Missouri's third-largest trading partner is China. Its share of imports from the state of Missouri has been increasing in recent years" he said. "Missouri has a coal-mining company that just signed a contract to mine coal in Mongolia. There are several other businesses in Missouri that are looking to expand their operations, including in the financial services industry.
"China is going to emerge either way, whether we're engaged or not," he added. "If we position ourselves to understand China, we may be in a better position to benefit from the economic growth."