Engineering Nebraska, Summer07
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Lou to Lead Chinese Culture Program

Professor David Lou

David Lou, professor of mechanical engineering, has been named director of the Confucius Institute, a program that will allow the University of Nebraska–Lincoln to offer for-credit courses in Chinese language beginning this fall.

Confucius Institutes are supported by the Chinese government’s National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language, known as Hanban. The nonprofit institutes are located worldwide and are charged with promoting Chinese language and culture and supporting local Chinese teaching. Chancellor Harvey Perlman signed the agreement during a visit to China in March.

The institutes are named for Confucius, who lived from 551-479 BCE. He is recognized as a thinker, educator, political figure and scholar whose philosophy and writings are the foundation of Chinese culture.

There are more than 75 other institutes worldwide, including institutes founded in 2006 at the universities of Iowa, Kansas and Michigan State. Hanban launched the programs in 2005.

Perlman said the institute will become a resource for UNL “related to better understanding China and its people and to extend that to our community. The Chinese understand they will be increasingly interacting with Western world, and we will be interacting with them. There are many mutual benefits.”

Lou said UNL will be the 20th U.S. institute, and in some ways “leapfrogged” ahead of about 38 other U.S. schools vying for institutes because the university had a strong proposal that impressed Chinese officials who visited last year.

“Our administration was very active and engaged a full effort to pursue the institute,” Lou said. “The Chinese embassy officials were very impressed and wrote a positive report to Hanban.”

UNL is working with a partner university in China, Xi’an Jiaotong University. Lou has had working relationships with Xi’an Jiaotong; additionally, other faculty at UNL have worked with Chinese scholars, so UNL had experience in international partnerships.

“Lincoln seemed to Hanban to be a small city with little net impact for China,” Lou said. “But we turned what looked like weakness into strength. We have good academics, we are committed to finishing a job, we have a population that needs and is interested in the information, and we have the ability to reach out regionally.”

For instance, he said, San Francisco has many native Chinese speakers, so there is a less critical need to train new speakers there.

Lou said the people at Xi’an Jiaotong are similar to American Midwesterners—hardworking people of high integrity with dedicated and respectful students. “They sensed that in us,” Lou said. “They have a good understanding and impression of what UNL is.”

Plans call for renovation of space in Nebraska Hall to temporarily house the institute, although Lou hopes that a more visible place eventually is found.

Full-credit Chinese language courses will be offered this fall through the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, Lou said. Also planned are non-credit courses aimed at UNL students, high school students, interested members of the public, business people who hope to trade in China and to families with adopted Chinese children. Lou said there are more than 100 such families in Lincoln alone. Fees will be nominal.

Hanban supplies the teachers for these programs. “They have a very efficient way of teaching spoken Chinese,” Lou said.

“My hope,” Lou said, “is that it gets beyond continuing education efforts and really contributes to UNL’s academic programming. Teaching Chinese culture is important and we hope to be able to bring prominent scholars and lecturers to talk about culture, literature, politics, government, economics, art, music. There is so much.”

Lou said he had not envisioned becoming so deeply involved in the project; his first interest was to simply help UNL get the institute. “I just want UNL students, Nebraskans, to be better informed individuals. That’s the final goal.”

Raised and educated in Taiwan, Lou joined UNL’s faculty 13 years ago. He said his own grounding in Confucian philosophy has played a deep role in his life. That thinking, he said, urges people to be good individuals, and work to spread positive values to one’s family, neighborhood, city and country. It’s a timeless philosophy that still has meaning, Lou said.

—Kim Hachiya,
University Communications