In December 2001 when they joined the World Trade Organization, China was the sixth biggest economic power in the world. In 2013, China is the second world power and will soon reach the first place according to some economists’ forecasts.
In twenty years’ time, China has gained international recognition for being a technological and commercial super power. Its rapid and sustained growth has allowed the emergence of an estimated 400 million middle-class people. The country’s development and its gradual opening to international trade have made it an attractive market for an increasing number of big companies as well as foreign SMEs. As it was long considered the “world’s factory”, foreign companies have benefited from low production costs in China to then export their products to more developed markets. The Middle Kingdom now attracts actors who do not only wish to produce in China but to penetrate the market to sell to Chinese consumers. A good understanding of the Chinese market, its rules and its actors has therefore become a major asset and a guarantee of success. More generally, a knowledge of the Chinese culture as well as a good command of Mandarin are necessary prerequisites to establish commercial links with China.
Increase in students learning Mandarin
China’s development goes hand in hand with the development of the Chinese language: learning it is becoming an international requirement. The Chinese language is taught in every single country.
Mandarin is developing very quickly in Asia. A memorandum of understanding has thus been signed between China and Thailand in order to promote the teaching of Chinese and 800,000 Thai students are learning Chinese. Japan, Singapore and India are developing their Chinese courses.
Learning Chinese is becoming a global business. According to Joël Bellassen, the French Ministry of Education’s General Inspector for Chinese, 34,000 French students (+13% compared to 2011) are learning Chinese at school in 2012, for 9,000 in 2004-2005. At Harvard University or Princeton University in the US, Mandarin is the second foreign language most studied after Spanish and before French. In certain Italian universities, learning Chinese is becoming more common than learning French. The proliferation of Confucius Institutes, the main conveyors of the Chinese culture and of Mandarin overseas, is expanding rapidly: 10 years after the opening of the first Confucius Institute in Seoul in 2004, there are more than 320 of them in 93 countries in 2013!
Chinese is therefore becoming a major international language.
Progress in the HSK
Foreign companies are settling in China, and Chinese companies are settling on the five continents. Learning Chinese is an asset in face of these developments. China’s Ministry of Education created the HSK, an exam aiming to test your Chinese level objectively which has now become an international standard in the same way as the TOEFL and TOEIC tests.
According to Joël Bellassen, the HSK’s progression curve in its first 10 years can be compared to the TOEFL’s. Language tests are becoming a must and two million candidates have already taken the HSK. Their number triples every year.
According to Project Atlas, there were over 292,000 international students in China in 2011. Numerous executives also wish to develop their skills in Asia and particularly in China. Before this development of the Chinese culture amongst students and executives, achieving a good HSK level is crucial for students to get into university and for executives with employment perspectives in or related to China.