Many Americans are starting to take their Chinese studies seriously. Today, more than 600 U.S. colleges and universities offer courses in Mandarin. It's a trend educators say will continue to grow as China's economic influence spreads. And for students, it's a gateway into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. VOA's Steve Mort reports from Rollins College in Florida, one of the many schools that are building closer ties with China.
Rollins College in Florida might be a small institution, but its view is increasingly global.
Professor Teng Jimeng from Beijing's Foreign Studies University is one of many Chinese scholars invited to teach here. "China and the United States are going to be the powers and going to be the most important players in the international arena, and I think there should be more understanding between the two countries."
The China Center at Rollins offers around 20 classes in arts, culture and economics.
Rollins is working with U.S. and Chinese colleges on educational and cultural exchanges -- and students like Jeff Joseph seem impressed. "A lot of people are beginning to take Mandarin (studying Mandarin Chinese) so that they can have better opportunities to go into business in China, or to join American companies that have joint ventures in China," said Joseph.
Dozens of Rollins students, faculty and staff members visit China each year, and college director Lewis Duncan says cutting-edge technology is also helping build links. "A classroom in Shanghai and a classroom here at Rollins can be linked together in a way that the faculty member that is teaching our China history class may be a Chinese professor in Shanghai, teaching in real time a class here at Rollins."
The Chinese government and the U.S. State Department back the work of colleges like Rollins.
More than 30 American educational institutions are operating in China.
At the same time, Beijing's so-called "Confucius Institute," named for the famous Chinese thinker, promotes Chinese language and culture in 23 countries.
Professor Teng Jimeng says China, like the U.S., is using "soft power" to spread its influence. "It is through these means that we can build a bridge. I mean, it's not the kind of a bridge [or link, through which] people get to know each other economically or in a business fashion, but it's almost like a heart-to-heart. It's almost like a heart-to-heart conversation between the two people, which must start from the younger generations -- the students, per se, on the campuses."
For Rollins and other colleges, developing links with China is part of a broader effort to go global.
Rollins is based in Florida, a state with much stronger ties to South America than Asia. But of the 1,700 students here, more than a hundred are taking courses at the China Center -- a sign that American students, like American businesses, recognize China as a serious power on the world stage.