Aloysius Attah, Onitsha

It was a sunny afternoon. Young men and women gaily dressed in different costumes, including native Igbo dresses, flowing Chinese attires like the Hanfu, Tang Suit, Qipao, Zhongshan suits, were in celebratory mood as one could easily perceive the excitement in their faces. Soft tunes of Chinese music wafted from the loudspeakers while the red carpet and backdrops on the stage also in red colour, were beautifully arranged.

It began with two youngsters, male and female, strolling into the stage; they spoke in Chinese with another voice trailing behind in Igbo and English, interpreting immediately.  A group of young men in another Chinese costume stormed the stage immediately. With a rich display of Chinese Kongfu, it was like a scene in a Chinese karate film but that was happening live at the Confucius Institute, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and the ceremony was the spring festival of the Chinese Government.

Since 2008, when the university signed an agreement with Hanban, China for the establishment of the Confucius Institute at Unizik, it has been harvest of opportunities.

The vision to promote language and cultural interchange between China and Nigeria has been growing with time. With Chinese teachers who bear Igbo names, speak Igbo language, dress in Igbo attires and eat Igbo foods and delicacies, Igbo students who enrolled in the programme also learn Chinese language and culture and many have excelled in various fields of endeavours including a large number of them now studying and working in China.

This year’s celebration of Chinese Spring Festival also known as Chinese New Year in the Confucius Institute presented an opportunity for the students to showcase their skills, so far.

Call it fusion of Igbo and Chinese cultures and one is not far from the reality as both the Chinese and the Igbo mingled and presented various entertaining stuffs to the admiration of the audience.   

The Vice Chancellor, Prof. Joseph Ahaneku, a titled Igbo chief also showcased the Igboness in him as he spoke in Igbo language and also performed the traditional kolanut ritual only done in Igbo.

The Chinese did not only cherish the ritual but also ate the kolanut and took some home too as required in Igbo culture. Rendition of both Nigerian and Chinese national anthems to signal the commencement of the ceremony evoked spirit of nationalism and brotherhood among both nationalities.]

Ahaneku, flanked by the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic and Nigeria Director of the Institute, Prof. Charles Esimone, had in a speech at the occasion noted that 11 years down the line, the symbiotic relationship between both Igbo and Chinese cultures in the university had blossomed.

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While wishing the Chinese a blessed new year, he noted that the Confucius Institute in Nnamdi Azikiwe University serves as the headquarters, overseeing other teaching centres in the South East.

He disclosed that apart from language and culture, the relationship has pursued other areas of human endeavour noting that students studying in China presently under the programme have represented not only the Igbo well but the entire Nigerian nation.

“We just came back from Lagos for an event organised by the Chinese Embassy and in the meeting, we showcased the rich extent of our relationship over the years. In December when we went for a global competition in China, we saw the face of an African who dazzled the world during the competition. Fortunately for us, the young African face was the face of Nnamdi Azikiwe University.

“Today, many of our people are presenters in CCTV, China and in the about 700 Nigerian students in China under this arrangement; about 500 of them are from Nnamdi Azikiwe University.

“The Artesunate tablets we take today as anti-malarial was developed from herbal products in China and our people there are involved in such researches today. The Confucius Institute can represent the African dream, Nigerian dream and the dream of the youths of this country. There is no better way to open the broad spectrum of knowledge space and technology, medical research and entrepreneurial skills other than this. So, take advantage of this offer,” he said.

The Chinese Director of the Institute, Prof. Job Yu who talked about the programme including their achievements so far; after prizes were awarded to those who excelled in the HSK exams, disclosed that they have 13 Chinese teachers, seven volunteers and three local teachers including one martial arts teacher at the Awka Institute.

Aside the headquarters of Confucius Institute, he said the institute has seven subordinate teaching points/Confucius classrooms in four centres in the South East with more than 3,000 students.

According to him, during this year’s Spring Festival, certain persons were honoured; including the 49 students who got full marks in HSK Level 2; which represents 99 per cent of the total number of candidates in Nigeria; 20 students who got full scores in HSK Level 3, which covers all numbers in Nigeria. 

“We hold two world records; one in the number of students who passed the HSK Advanced Level; the other in pass rate,” he said.

Some of the cultural and music presentations by the students included “a state of courtesy”, Tai Chin performance, “I Love you China” and “We are family,” among others.