China Vice Minister Xu Lin (center) presents Gov. Bill Haslam a book on Chinese history during her visit Sept. 30, 2013, to the State Capitol in Nashville and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of MTSU News)
MTSU President Sidney McPhee and Vice Minister Xu Lin, of China, shared their cultures, ideas and a few gifts Monday during a visit to the State Capitol and Confucius Institute on campus.
Xu (pronounced SHOO) and four associates flew into Nashville early Monday following a weekend meeting at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Ky., attended by Confucius Institute leaders from across the United States.
Xu oversees the 400-plus institutes located in 117 countries around the world.
The delegation finished its trip with a visit to the Confucius Institute inside Peck Hall, where they were greeted by a group of Chinese students, as well as Rutherford County students and parents who have participated in recent cultural exchanges.
During her visit to the capitol, Xu and McPhee met with Gov. Bill Haslam, state Rep. Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) and Republican state Sen. Bill Ketron to discuss the importance of cultural exchanges between the U.S. and China in areas such as education and business.
Haslam said he has visited China in the past, though not as governor, but hopes to do so in the future.
He asked Xu what she hopes to accomplish through the institutes.
Xu responded by saying, her goal is to strengthen China’s support for the institutes, which are also present at the University of Memphis and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
“Actually, my goal is your goal,” Xu said. “We want to become a great window for the two countries. … The Chinese government wants to pay more attention and (give) more support to the Confucius Institute.”
Xu, who also serves as director general of the Office of Chinese Language Council International, oversees a worldwide network of institutes that offers Chinese language and teaching resources and services, provides cultural outreach, and fosters educational partnerships. The institutes are affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education.
In touting the positive impact of the cultural exchange, McPhee cited the exclusive research partnership between the Tennessee Center for Botanical Medicine Research, based at MTSU, and the Guangxi Botanical Garden of Medicinal Plants in China to accelerate the development of Western medicines from plant extracts.
McPhee noted that about 15 samples of medicinal plants are showing promise in treating certain cancers.
MTSU opened its Confucius Institute in April 2010 through a partnership with Hangzhou Normal University.
“It’s very competitive to get a Confucius Institute,” said McPhee, who serves as a senior adviser to the Hanban and Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing. “Our goal is to get even more American students to study in China.”
Under McPhee’s leadership, MTSU has strengthened its international outreach to China, as well as several other countries.
Earlier this year, McPhee led a delegation to China, which included a visit to the institute’s headquarters, and facilitated a cultural and educational agreement between the Murfreesboro City Schools, Rutherford County Schools and a China education group.
Xu was given a brief history of Tennessee as she toured the State Capitol and said she was surprised to learn that President Andrew Jackson, who is a topic of Chinese world history courses, was from here.
Xu said she was also impressed with the state’s rich music history, including country music.
Tour stops also included the Tennessee House and Senate chambers, where Ketron and legislative assistant Ryan Adcock answered Xu’s questions about the legislative process and how it compared with the process of the Chinese government.
Before departing Nashville, Xu presented the governor with a book on Chinese history and culture, while Haslam presented her with a leather-bound tablet emblazoned with the state of Tennessee seal and a state lapel pin.
“We’re very honored to have you here,” Haslam said.
Once in Murfreesboro, McPhee and Xu exchanged gifts at a luncheon attended by university leaders including Provost Brad Bartel, Confucius Institute Director Guanping Zheng, Associate Director Paul Cui and David Schmidt, vice provost for international affairs.
“Our home is your home,” McPhee told Xu and her delegation, referring to her as “my very, very good friend” and “my oldest sister.”
Ketron, who traveled with the MTSU delegation to China earlier this year, said he is pleased that the relationship with China continues to broaden.
“We’re pleased to have the Confucius Institute at MTSU,” he said, “and we’ll continue to build these bridges of friendship.”