Taiwan is set to open institutes in New York, Los Angeles and Houston in the US in October as part of a project initiated by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to establish “Taiwan Academies” worldwide to promote “Taiwanese culture with Chinese characteristics,” an official said yesterday.
The US has granted permission for the establishment of Taiwan Academies after the “misunderstanding” that fee-charging language courses would open in Taiwan’s representative offices in the US was clarified, Council for Cultural Affairs Minister Emile Sheng (盛治仁) said.
“What concerned the US most was that we planned to run Chinese-language classes at our representative offices, but that was not our plan in the first place,” Sheng told a press conference after presenting the proposal to the Cabinet.
Sheng said that promoting the study of traditional Chinese characters, a main objective of the Taiwan Academies project, would take various forms, including establishing free digital learning resources for both learners and teachers and providing learning materials for local language-teaching institutions.
Setting up Taiwanese academies overseas was a campaign promise by Ma as part of his efforts to secure the nation’s role in spreading what he called “Taiwanese culture with Chinese characteristics” and pushing the use of traditional Chinese characters, as opposed to the simplified characters used in China.
Government Information Office Minister Philip Yang (楊永明) said the establishment of the academies was not aimed at competing with China’s Confucius Institutes.
“The Taiwan Academies will not just be about learning Chinese, but also a platform to do research on Chinese classics, to learn Chinese culture with pluralistic Taiwanese characteristics and to promote Taiwanese culture,” Yang said.
The government has budgeted NT$3.6 billion (US$142.4 million) to carry out the project over four years, with plans to establish branches in Europe and Asia next year following the first three in US, Sheng said.
The project includes a combination of nine different grants and scholarships, currently worth NT$600 million annually, offered to foreign college and graduate students as well as academics to encourage them to either study Mandarin or do Taiwan-related research in the country, he said.
In past years, the Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission has run cultural centers in a number of major US cities.
Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission Minister Wu Ying-yih (吳英毅) said in a telephone interview that the major difference between the commission’s centers and Taiwan Academies is that they are targeted at different groups.
The commission provides services to Taiwanese, while the academies are aimed at foreigners and descendants of Taiwanese, Wu said.
The academies in Los Angeles and Houston will be set up at the commission’s offices, and the one in New York will be established under the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office in New York, Wu said.
Based on its own experience in providing Chinese-language instruction, training Chinese teachers and promoting Chinese language and culture, the commission’s centers can easily extend their services to foreigners, Wu said.