Which websites do you know in China

Know China, know China

A MERICS analysis on China competence in Germany

The analysis "Know China, Know China" is an inventory of China's competence in Germany. For the study, financially funded by the BMBF and supported by the Federal Foreign Office (AA), the authors asked more than 50 representatives from politics, administration, business and social associations who come into contact with China in their work about the need for China -Competence. In background discussions and through detailed data analysis, they ascertained the importance of China in general and vocational schools, which universities offer China-related courses or have numerous partnerships with the country.

In discussions with education experts and teachers as well as by analyzing curricula and study plans, the MERICS researchers also gained an overview of the status of Chinese teaching in schools and universities. Another focus was the German-Chinese research cooperation, which has been intensified in recent years. The central conclusion of the study, which, according to the subtitle “Starting points for the expansion of China competence in Germany”, aims to provide: Existing offers for building up China knowledge at schools, universities and through stays in the country must be expanded and more strongly supported by the state.

You can read the Executive Summary of the MERICS analysis on this website. A slightly updated version of the complete China Monitor can be downloaded here as a PDF:

Expansion of China competence in Germany is a challenge

China has developed rapidly in recent decades and has long since become an important economic and political partner for Germany. Today, China is one of the largest economies in the world and is shaping global economic development through far-reaching initiatives such as the so-called New Silk Road or billions in investments abroad - including here in Germany. On the diplomatic stage, China appears self-confidently and is increasingly striving to establish its own ideas of international cooperation. By skillfully influencing political and economic elites, the media, civil society and educational institutions in other countries, it also tries to create acceptance for its authoritarian system.

Dealing with this self-confident China requires differentiated knowledge of a country whose image in Germany today is often still characterized by outdated ideas and clichés. Today, China plays an important role in solving global challenges such as climate protection, globalization or technical innovation. Chinese ideas differ in some respects from local ones, for example when it comes to freedom for social commitment and political participation by citizens.

In the face of different views on many topics, it is important to sound out again and again where there is room for cooperation with China and where a critical discussion is necessary. But only those who know the other person can bring clear and factual counter-arguments in the dialogue. In diplomacy, law and the political decision-making process, expertise is increasingly required in order to classify Chinese advances and find appropriate answers.

But what is the current state of “China competence” in Germany? The present study is dedicated to this question. It gives - without claiming to be exhaustive - an overview of the local educational offers in relation to China. By evaluating statistical data and information obtained in more than 100 individual interviews, supplemented by a small student survey, the aim is to provide an insight into the status and the existing need for China competence.

Many activities to build China competence

What actually belongs to China competence? In its China Strategy, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) defined the term as all those skills and knowledge that are crucial for successful cooperation with China. In addition to language skills and intercultural skills, this also includes a basic understanding of China's economy, politics, modern history and society as well as job-specific knowledge. Acquiring these skills is difficult: Chinese is a complex language, and learning to write, in particular, takes time, persistence and patience.

In view of the growing importance of China, people are in demand who want to deal with contemporary China and who want to acquire a deeper knowledge of this diverse country on various levels. German educational institutions are already taking this need into account: In the specialist sciences, attempts are being made to incorporate China-related content into curricula. Schools and vocational schools also increasingly have corresponding offers. However, its expansion is currently failing due to the lack of teachers with in-depth knowledge of China.

Business representatives see a great need for knowledge about China

For many companies and trade associations, China is already of great importance in their work, and contacts there will intensify in the years to come. They are increasingly dependent on employees with at least basic knowledge of Chinese, they need a basic understanding of the organizational and power structures in China as well as knowledge of government plans, funding instruments and legal frameworks. For practitioners in particular, it is also essential to get information about suitable contact persons and contacts for their branch.

In practice, the question often arises whether more attention should be paid to technical expertise or the acquisition of language skills and intercultural skills. During studies or training, it is often not possible to acquire everything at the same time.

The increased economic and political activity in China also raises social questions: If Chinese companies buy up German companies, this has an impact on corporate culture, and the need for information about China increases in the regions concerned. If Chinese educational institutions such as the Confucius Institute continuously broaden their range of courses, they could have a lasting impact on their image of China in view of the often poor prior knowledge of their German target audience.

In order to analyze such developments and develop strategies for dealing with them, experts with in-depth knowledge of China are needed.

China remains a marginal issue in schools

For the majority of the roughly eleven million students in Germany, China has remained a marginal issue so far. A look at the education and curriculum shows that the confrontation with China has only rarely been explicitly provided for. Even in subjects such as geography, history, or economics, China rarely appears.

Whether and to what extent China finds its way into teaching in general education schools or is incorporated as an example still largely depends on the previous knowledge and inclinations of the teachers. However, since most teachers only have a basic knowledge of contemporary China and there is a lack of up-to-date teaching materials, the expansion of China activities at German schools is stagnating.

It looks similar at vocational schools. Officially, there is not much room for China-specific content here either. Individual schools have expanded their range of language courses and intercultural training in recent years. Often this was due to regional initiatives and the commitment of individual teachers. Individual examples in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia (training to become a China businessman) show that specific additional offers met with a great response.

Recommendations for action for the development of China competence in schools and vocational schools

China scholars should be regularly consulted by school authorities or ministries when developing knowledge offers and should also contribute to imparting knowledge of China through lectures at schools.

  • A central website of education and culture ministries or online offers from school book publishers should make information about China accessible to teachers.
  • One to two-day training courses on contemporary China should be included in existing teacher training programs.
  • Using China as an example, many interrelationships in global development can be clearly seen. It is therefore advisable to treat China as a focus topic in upper school seminars or in project weeks.
  • Active financial support for teacher training courses on language, intercultural and specialist knowledge could make an important contribution at vocational schools to establish high-quality offers for teaching China skills.
  • Trade associations and sole proprietorships should encourage trainees to spend time in China. The acquisition of additional qualifications for working with China should receive more financial support.

Chinese is only slowly establishing itself as a language offer in schools

Chinese lessons at German schools have developed from an additional offer in many places into an integral part of the regular lessons in German schools over the past 20 years. The offers differ considerably depending on the federal state, but overall a clear professionalization of the subject can be observed. In addition to the revision of curricula, university training for Chinese teachers in particular is being set up. Since 2011, the “Chinese for Teaching” courses at German universities have been continuously expanded.

So far, among the estimated 120 teachers, mainly lateral entrants have been teaching: Sinologists and Chinese Germanists who were subsequently granted a teaching qualification. In addition, 20 to 30 so-called foreign language assistants (FSAs) from China and Taiwan assist in Chinese lessons every year.

The future demand for Chinese teachers with state exams is difficult to predict. In Germany, the number of Chinese students is currently stagnating at around 5,000 per year; in some federal states they have even been falling significantly since around 2014. A look at the European neighbors Great Britain and France shows that there are many more students learning Chinese: In France, at around 38,000, this is around seven times as many as in Germany.

Recommendations for action for the expansion of Chinese lessons in schools

  • Schools are the ideal starting point for the expansion of China-wide competence. Long-term, competence and standards-oriented, i.e. fully integrated and established Chinese lessons at school create important prerequisites for more China competence.
  • Establishing Chinese as a regular subject in every state would increase the importance of the subject.
  • More schools should offer Chinese as a second or third foreign language as early as possible. In this way, the subject could be better integrated into everyday school life and would not pose an additional burden for students.
  • Consistent support of the subject at the political and administrative level should be expressed in better funding (e.g. in the form of fixed-term contracts for teachers and investments in new teaching material and digital infrastructure).
  • The Confucius classrooms, which are funded by the Chinese government, can be a useful supplementary offer, despite Beijing's obvious self-interest in conveying a positive image of China. In principle, however, Chinese lessons in schools must remain the responsibility of the German state.
  • Digital writing has the potential to defuse the character problem.

At universities, China can be approached in various ways

China has assumed increasing importance at German universities since the mid-1990s. The discussion about China does not only play a role at the currently 18 institutes and departments for Sinology. The German-Chinese university cooperations between the technical universities and the technical colleges also offer great opportunities to sustainably strengthen the development and expansion of China competence. At the same time, their implementation also requires employees who have a deeper knowledge of China.

In addition to studying Sinology as a major, there are numerous other opportunities to deal with China during your studies. Proven formats range from Chinese studies as a minor to interdisciplinary courses with a focus on China, additional offers and certificates, to German-Chinese study programs and double degrees.

However, only a few German students currently achieve a level of being able to communicate spontaneously and fluently in Chinese and to understand more complex texts. Visits to China would also be very important for intensive language acquisition. Unfortunately, the number of German students who are interested in studying China and staying in the country for a longer period has stagnated for several years. Subject-related courses in China - for example for economists - are particularly popular if they are offered in English and are credited in Germany. Recognized double degrees are also attractive for students in China and Germany. But such offers are currently still the exception due to legal hurdles.

German universities are facing considerable challenges in finding suitable institutional partners on the Chinese side, in initiating and contractually establishing cooperation. There is a lack of regularly updated, centrally prepared information about Chinese universities and their quality.

Recommendations for action for the development of China competence at universities

  • The establishment of double degree programs should be financially supported by the state and - where necessary - flanked politically. Best practice models could serve as a point of reference for German universities.
  • The contents of such programs should take into account the needs of the students in order to attract them for half-year to year-round stays in China.
  • An exchange of experiences between representatives of different universities on teaching, administration and legal issues could significantly relieve the teachers and administrative staff involved in the cooperation with China.
  • Administrative staff at universities should also be trained in workshops to familiarize themselves with issues relating to the setting up, completion and support of cooperations. It would be desirable to develop generally accessible information and training materials.

Stays in China are an important prerequisite for deepening knowledge

Stays in China are an indispensable prerequisite for building comprehensive China expertise. There are now well over 100 funding programs that support stays in China of different lengths. Various actors - from federal ministries, non-profit organizations such as public and private foundations to private companies - are involved. Recently, Chinese actors such as the China Scholarship Council have also increasingly made funds available. The target groups of the various projects include schoolchildren, students, graduates, volunteers, scientists and young professionals.

Since 2011, the number of students who choose to stay in China for a longer period has been falling. The number of applicants for short-term stays as part of the PASCH initiative has therefore also declined and is stagnating. Interest in direct contact with China is only increasing among vocational students and trainers. Overall, the growing number of offers seems to exceed the demand of qualified applicants in the longer term.

Various reasons could be responsible for this development - which is not conducive to the development of China competence: In addition to visa problems, critical media reports about China, the perceived lack of quality of life in Chinese cities and the high level of air pollution deter potential candidates. Schoolchildren, students and graduates are more interested in short stays in China than they were a few years ago. However, these are not enough to acquire in-depth knowledge about China.

Recommendations for action to promote stays in China

  • Programs must be provided with funds that enable stays in the country as part of training.
  • Better information is needed about what those interested can hope for from such stays and how their needs can be met.
  • In the case of group stays - for example by students - options for a simplified application, implementation and documentation must be determined. Simplifications could significantly reduce the workload, especially for teachers.
  • The establishment of a central website with information on funding opportunities for stays in China would be urgently recommended. At the same time, testimonials from participants could be posted there to arouse interest in a stay in China.

Research cooperation offers opportunities to deepen China competence

In the research area, China is now one of Germany's most important partners.In recent years, China has caught up in almost all scientific disciplines and has become more interesting as partners for institutions such as the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Max Planck, Leibniz and Helmholtz Associations, as well as the Fraunhofer Institutes and individual universities . Many of the institutions mentioned now have their own offices in China.

With the importance of China in research, the need for German scientists to grapple with the country increases. In a global comparison, China was the most popular destination country after the USA in 2015: 704 scientists went to the People's Republic for research purposes this year. Linguistic and cultural differences, however, often represent a major hurdle in research cooperation.

The assessments of the necessary language skills were very different. In general, scientists who do not speak any Chinese rate it as significantly less important than those with little to very good language skills. The majority of the researchers with knowledge of Chinese, in turn, described this as indispensable for a successful cooperation. At the same time, it is noticeable that many German scientists bring Chinese native speakers into their teams instead of developing language skills themselves.

Exact knowledge of the Chinese research and university system is essential for successful and sustainable research collaborations. In particular, umbrella organizations in the German research landscape - such as the DAAD and DFG - follow current developments in this regard and serve as a contact point for researchers looking for contact with China. So far, however, there has been no overarching coordination and regular exchange of information about experiences from existing joint projects with China.

Recommendations for action for the expansion of China competence in research cooperation

  • Research-related legal questions (e.g. patent rights, protection of personal data) and questions about how to deal with political influence on research projects occupy many researchers in cooperation with China. A central contact point that systematically evaluates information about difficult cases could significantly relieve scientists and administrative staff at research institutions.
  • Individual research organizations are often unable to solve some problems relating to cooperation with Chinese partners on their own. The political flanking by ministries such as BMBF, AA or other higher-level authorities, which is already often practiced, should be reinforced.
  • We recommend an exchange about the challenges of cooperation with China and the discussion of best practice models in the context of regular workshops. Compact seminars could help young academics participating in a project related to China to find out more about China's research system or legal issues.
  • An “online guide”, located in a central location, could provide practical information on the subject of research cooperation with China. A possibly password-protected information pool could, for example, provide the legal framework for German actors in China, standard content of cooperation agreements with Chinese partners or information on developments in individual research areas in China.

Conclusion: Knowledge of China arises on different levels

In order to be able to interact with China constructively and without frictional losses, a larger pool of experts will be required in the future who cover various fields of knowledge about the country. As this research project shows, one of the greatest challenges in developing China competence is that it can hardly be realistically acquired in parallel to specialist training. In order to resolve this dilemma, it is advisable to establish offers for acquiring knowledge of China at various levels and levels of training. Knowledge of Chinese, socio-cultural knowledge about China and intercultural competence should be central components of these offers.

Overarching recommendations for action

  • The contact with the Chinese language should take place as early as possible, so that inhibitions are broken down and a differentiated approach to the country is made easier.
  • Encounters within the framework of exchange and Partnerships with consistent content and didactic concepts promote interest and motivation to learn.
  • Exchange and cooperation between Chinese and German partners require mobility in both directions. Difficult visa conditions are often an obstacle at the moment.
  • Educational offers from Chinese providers are a useful addition. Overall, offers to increase China skills should be specifically accompanied and promoted by the German government.
  • An independent “China Competence” service point could help to systematically network and bundle existing China expertise.Information on this is currently often available on a decentralized basis and is sometimes difficult to find for those interested. This position should be set up outside of existing structures in order to act with high visibility.
  • Annual surveys of the offers for imparting China competence could provide information about how their expansion is developing. Responsibility for this could be transferred to the aforementioned central service point.
  • Short-term workshops on current developments in China could give schools, universities and other educational institutions recommendations. The thematic focus could be the exchange of best practice examples and approaches in dealing with Chinese partners.
  • Central website for educational offers for building competence in China: This could contain an interactive map of Germany with schools that offer Chinese as a foreign language. A database with all offers for China scholarships, information about China and important actors such as ministries, funding institutions or - for the economy - chambers of commerce with specialized China departments would be useful.
  • "China Roadshows": In cooperation with the regional centers for political education and China experts from universities and business, events in medium-sized German cities could provide information about offers on China.
  • Annual meetings of schools with Chinese as a foreign language: In order to promote Chinese as a foreign language in schools, an annual meeting with representatives of schools offering Chinese should be organized in cooperation with partners such as the Chinese Association. . In order to underline the importance of the event, it should take place under the patronage of the Secretariat of the Conference of Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs and the BMBF.
  • Recourse to the knowledge of China experts: A China alumni platform that brings together scholarship holders from various programs in the regions and beyond could help to intensify the exchange on current China topics. This measure can be directly linked to the DCHAN initiative (German-Chinese alumni networks) funded by the BMBF.

Here you can download a slightly updated version of the complete China Monitor "Know China, China Can" as a PDF:

You can also download the online appendices 1 and 2 for the China Monitor "Know China, China can" as PDF files.