The ADDU Matteo Ricci Mandarin Program: A Center for Language and Cultural Exchange

[Address on the Occasion of its Inauguration: 8.8.2012]

In the 8th hour of the 8th day of the 8th month of 2012, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to this happy inauguration of our Matteo Ricci Mandarin Program at Ateneo de Davao University. The 8th hour of the 8th day of the 8th month is an auspiciously lucky and happy moment, especially since we also celebrate the birthday of our Program Director, Mr. Jenner Chan.

We welcome the members of the University Board of Trustees, including Mr. Benjie Lizada and Mr. Ruben Bangayan; we welcome the Asst. Dean for Humanities and Letters of the School of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Rey Pilapil, and the Director of the ADDU Language Center, Ms. Maricar Panda, and all the ADDU administrators, faculty members and students present. But we welcome especially Dr. Lourdes Nepomuceno and Dr. Zhang Shifang, Co-Directors of the Confucius Institute of Angeles University Foundation, as well as Ms. Qin Yeqian, Supervisor of the Chinese Teacher Volunteers in the Philippines. It is through the Confucius Institute of Angeles University Foundation that we now have our first volunteer teachers for Mandarin from China in Ms. Pan Li and Ms. Li Li. They too are present with us.

We welcome you all to this formal commencement of the Matteo Ricci Mandarin Program and the blessing of its initial office and work area. As was already indicated by Dr. Zhang Shifang, Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) was a great Italian scholar and scientist who travelled to China and shared with it some of the great insights of Western science. From Matteo Ricci, China learned that the world was not flat, but round.

But in the Ateneo de Davao University, which is a Jesuit university, we are happy to underscore that Matteo Ricci was a Jesuit. He was a missionary, but a missionary in a special way. Unlike many missionaries of his era, he did not presume that the Christian message of salvation in Jesus Christ was identical with European and Western culture. This allowed him to go to China, open to learn genuinely of Chinese culture as a different culture. He studied its language. He learned to read it and write it. He authored Portuguese-Chinese dictionaries. He was so admired that in 1601 he became an adviser to the imperial court of Wan Li. As a missionary, he did not force European thought on Chinese thought. Instead, he undertook to demonstrate that the Chinese had long worshipped God based on their own insight and in their own traditions, and that Christianity was but the perfection of this insight. This made him a controversial figure in Europe’s “cultural wars”, and earned him the ire and opposition of missionaries who thought otherwise. Proudly, today, we celebrate his own extraordinary insight, his openness to an “other” culture, his mastery of its difficult language and history, and his ability to find God it the genius of its own traditions.

In the Mission statement of the Ateneo de Davao University, we commit ourselves to sensitivity to cultures, to cultural diversity, and to inter-cultural dialogue. It is in realization of this university mission that we are particularly happy to inaugurate our Mandarin program. As the presence here of so many from our School of Business and Governance (SBG) attests, the importance of Mandarin for trade, commerce and entrepreneurship cannot be overstated. It is also underscored in recent political and historical controversies that have visited our relationship with China. It is my hope that through this program, we will be able to learn Mandarin as a second language well.

I consider ourselves very fortunate that we have teachers from China specially trained in teaching Chinese as a second language. We benefit from a great commitment in China today to sharing its language, culture and history with countries such as ours through such teachers as Ms. Pan Li and Ms. Li Li, and through such as the Confucius Institute in Angeles, Pampanga. The Ateneo de Davao underscores the value of learning Mandarin, and commits itself to supporting Mandarin learning in the University. Today it is being taught primarily to accountancy students in the SBG. A number of classes will also be “open” – for any interested. As the number of teachers from China increases, we will expand the Mandarin requirement in the various colleges of the University. We would also like to introduce it on our basic education levels.

As we begin this program, let me also state that we are not just interested in learning a difficult language “in the abstract” – apart from its lived culture and people. This is why I am happy this morning to encounter members of the Ateneo Filipino Chinese Community celebrating Chinese culture in dance. The Program must not only mediate language learning; it must mediate first hand experience of what his happening in China today and cultural exchange. It must mediate friendship. Isn’t it unfortunate that because of the manner in which our media is structured, we often know more about politics, sports, and cultural events in Europe and American than we know about China? I hope therefore that the Matteo Ricci institute can be very active in promoting study trips to China where our students can encounter first hand the beauty of this great country and the spirit of its extraordinary people. As I hope that it will promote friendship among Filipinos and Chinese.

There is also another reason why it is good for us to learn Mandarin. As Filipinos we are also a special people, with a special genius in living, a special ability to smile in adversity, a special resiliency that is, for the majority of us, deeply rooted in our faith in Jesus Christ. It is of this special genius that we can share in developing friendships with the Chinese.

Personally speaking, one of the rich experiences I had at the Ateneo de Naga was my friendship with Xu Shangdong. We used to go jogging together. Every morning he would eat a coconut that he would buy on the streets. He liked Bikolano food, and learned to cook it. The Philippine Daily Inquirer found out about this, and featured this Chinese-Bikolano cook on its front page. When he got married last year, he invited me to his wedding in the northern hills of Fujian Province. I was happy to go.

Recently he wrote to say that he was working very hard. But he also had a question: what is the meaning of life? We Filipinos may have a privileged insight into that based on our faith.

May the Lord bless the Matteo Ricci Mandarin Program and all who contribute to its success!

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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