Urdu may be a bit more challenging than other languages, but a growing number of Chinese students are choosing to learn the vernacular anticipating opportunities to be offered by Chinese companies carrying out development projects in Pakistan under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The advent of Urdu in China started with the establishment of the first Urdu Language Department at Peking University in 1951. Later, universities in the Chinese cities of Xian and Guangzhou also set up Urdu departments in their campuses.
The Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) has been teaching Urdu since 2007 and till now two batches of its students have completed their degrees in the discipline, Head of Urdu Department at the School of Asian and African Studies Zhou Yuan said in an interview.
Out of the total number of graduating students, a few have received admissions on scholarships in foreign universities for higher education, while some joined different companies. Currently, the third batch ─ comprising 20 students ─ is studying Urdu, she added.
The BFSU will send its students to the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), Islamabad and Government College University, Lahore for six months during the third year of their studies to offer them a better chance at improving their speaking and writing skills.
In this regard, the university gets financial support from the Government of Pakistan and the Pakistani embassy in Beijing, Zhou Yuan ─ who has adopted the Pakistani name 'Nasreen' ─ told APP.
She added, "Besides teaching the language to the students of the Urdu department, the university organises Urdu calligraphy competitions, speech contests and cultural activities to create awareness amongst the students about Pakistan and its people."
“Such activities not only increase the interest in learning Urdu but they also enhance the standard of the Urdu language among Chinese students,” says Yuan Yuhang (Shabnam), who has been teaching Urdu at the University for the past one year after leaving her job at a bank.
Zhou Yuan noted that a large number of Chinese students are learning Urdu at different universities and institutes across the country, including Beijing.
The reasons for learning Urdu vary. Some have been romanced by Pakistan's culture, food and landscape; others by the beauty of the language itself. However, there are those who see learning Urdu as a practical approach to eventually working with Chinese companies carrying out different projects under the CPEC framework in Pakistan.
"To cope with the rising demand, several universities in Shanghai, Tianjian, Kunming, Urumqi and Inner Mongolia are considering setting up Urdu departments," Zhou Yuan said.
Today, the Urdu department at her university has a batch of 20 Chinese students, most of whom are attracted by the prospect of an affordable education which might lead up to a job.
Some of them hope to get a job with a Chinese company in Pakistan.
"Others will go on for further studies in foreign countries and avail chances of starting good jobs in Chinese universities, diplomatic service, banks, hotels and airlines etc," Yuan added.
A Chinese student ─ who goes by the name 'Rabia' ─ said she intends to become an Urdu teacher after completing her study. “I have a passion for learning Urdu and I hope to teach this language to my countrymen.”
To a student Zhang Yi (Afia), Urdu is an interesting and beautiful language. She admitted that although it is difficult to learn Urdu, it is imperative as she wants to learn more about the Pakistani culture.
Chinese students Mehtab, Mehrin and Alizeh also spoke about their interest in Urdu and vowed to play important roles in enhancing Sino-Pak friendship and economic cooperation.
Other Chinese students, Moosa, Junaid and Amer, said they are learning Urdu to further promote their cultures and connect with people.
The students observed that the number of students has been steadily increasing because of job opportunities for Chinese who can also speak Urdu well. Students can see the changing tides and expect that knowing Urdu could mean access to more job opportunities, in Pakistan and in China.
This is reflected in the numerous responses from students when they were asked about their interest in learning the language. One student said that while he is interested in learning different languages, he chose to learn Urdu as at it would help him start his own import and export business.
"The increased interest in learning Urdu means that more students from around China are interested in enlisting in the University, hence, we are considering launching a new batch to accommodate more students," Zhou Yuan concluded.