Eleanor Young approaches a door amid a row of storefronts on a Singapore street wearing oversized sunglasses. She enters a large room crowded with tables to the sound of clacking tiles echoing in the hall. Seated groups of four at these tables are playing a fast-paced game involving these small tiles.
This describes the beginning of a crucial scene in this summer’s blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians, in which the film’s protagonist, Rachel Chu, matches wits with her boyfriend’s disapproving mother, Young. At the root of the tension lies the difference of the Chinese Young and Chinese American Chu.
If you are among the many theatergoers that have seen this movie, maybe you are curious to learn that this tile game is of Chinese origin called Mahjong. As a game of speed, strategy and cooperation, understanding the nuances of the game creates extra meaning within the context of the scene. You may feel interested in other aspects of Chinese culture that are touched upon without much explanation in the movie. The University of Akron offers several student organizations and on-campus programming to learn about cultures that may be unfamiliar to us. For Chinese culture specifically, one such organization is the Confucius Institute.
The Confucius Institute partners The University of Akron with Henan University in Kaifeng, China. The institute offers many opportunities to foster learning the Chinese language as well as cultural exchange. Yang Lin, Ph.D., is the Director of Confucius Institute at The University of Akron. He observes that Americans are often surprised that there is so much to learn about Chinese culture.
Dr. Lin shares that the mission of the institute is to “promote teaching and learning of Chinese language and culture, to support scholarly research on China, to expand educational cooperation between China and the United States, and to enhance mutual understanding between peoples of China and the United States.”
Fostering meaningful relationships across cultures is an important facet to being a citizen of the world. It is increasingly vital when the world is more interconnected than ever thanks to globalization. Dr. Lin sees the benefits of the Confucius Institute at an institutional and individual level. Cooperation between The University of Akron and Henan University has crossed several disciplines, including Education, Business, Sociology, and Engineering, among others. Students and faculty from both universities have participated in a variety of exchange programs.
As a great resource to students interested in China on campus, Dr. Lin says the Confucius Institute “has provided numerous scholarships for UA students to study or visit China. Some of the scholarships cover all the expenses including airfares, room and board, tuition fees, and basic health insurance for one semester or a full year.”
The Confucius Institute’s outreach includes events for UA students, staff, and faculty as well as local schools. Free events for this fall at UA included Kite Flying during Diversity Week on Sept. 19 from 5 p.m.-7 p.m.
The WuLin HanYun Performance Troupe will be at E.J. Thomas Hall on Oct. 27 at 7 p.m., sharing music and martial arts from China. The Akron-Kaifeng Forum meets weekly on Tuesdays for live conversations with college Chinese students in China via the internet beginning Oct. 9.
During the spring semester, The Confucius Institute hosts an annual Spring Festival to celebrate the Lunar New Year. People are invited to purchase tickets to the event, with performances held at Akron Public Library and a dinner at The Akron Museum of Art.
Many more weekly events and programs are held, and Dr. Lin encourages participation. These events bring a taste of China to Akron and just maybe you can find someone willing to teach you Mahjong.