By Skyler Magnoli
For the month of September, Central Connecticut State University is presenting the art exhibit “Confucius – A Life Journey in Pictures” in the Elihu Burritt Library.
While the exhibit features portraits and teachings of Confucius, it also represents the debut of the Confucius Institute at Central.
“One of the things our Confucius Institute is going to be doing, is we are really looking to engage faculty and students here on campus to really help provide a broader experience with China,” said Steve Kliger, the director of the Confucius Institute.
Since 2004 the exhibit has traveled around to different Confucius Institutes in the country. All of the artworks are photographic reproductions of the original silk paintings that are located in the Shandong Providence in China. The original paintings are too fragile to even show in public, with some of the pictures being over 500 years old.
“They are so rare and so fragile that not anyone can just go in and take photos of them,” said Erik Cronqvist, the director of the US-China Center at Central. “So this is a specific program that they had to put together for this exhibition.”
The exhibition is usually much larger, but the institute chose specific pieces to show at the university. Cronqvist said the exhibition is separated in to two parts. The first section of the exhibit are all portraits of Confucius, the second section are paintings of the stories and teachings of Confucius’s life.
Cronqvist along with Kliger hopes students will come to the exhibit and see something that interests them, and that the artwork will encourage them to learn more about Chinese culture, history, or philosophy.
“I really like the art, that’s why I stopped by today,” said Susan Jensen, a student at Central. “I must have heard his name through Buddhism, but I don’t really know anything about him.”
There are currently 90 Confucius Institutes in the United States and the one located inside Central’s Library is the only one located in Connecticut. It has taken nearly three years to get the program up and running. At CCSU, the Confucius Institute seeks to promote Chinese language skills, study abroad opportunities, and Chinese-American cultural exchange for students.
Since receiving its start up funding for the program in the spring of 2013, the Confucius Institute has been able to set up two Chinese language after-school programs in local New Britain schools. The institute has helped sponsor dragon boat racing on the Hartford River, and cosponsored the Chinese New Year’s gala at Central.
Along with the exhibition the institute will do a mid-autumn moon festival, host a lecture on Chinese painting and have a concert with a Chinese instrument called a qin. Currently the institute is planning its opening in the spring and hopes to have people from Central’s sister school in China come.
“We are new, but in a very very short time we have a lot of programs going on,” said Kliger. “From when we started it was a long and arduous process.”
A major aspect that the institute wants to help students with is to have a more global perspective and to be able to succeed in today’s job market. Kliger explains that with exchange programs at Chinese universities they will have 300 students who speak English and want to come to Central, but here it is difficult to find students who speak Chinese.
“Generally I think also that there is the fact that there is an imbalance of knowledge between the US and China,” said Cronqvist. “Chinese students usually know a lot about the United States, where as students here might not know as much about China.”
Cronqvist and Kliger agree that having Chinese language skills will help students in the future, especially with the global market. By developing short term language programs at Central, they hope the institute will give students a competitive edge in the job market.
“Our goals are really to develop a vibrant Chinese language program in New Britain, and at CCSU,” said Kliger.