Confucius Institute - Budapest, Hungary

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Hundred Years of the ELTE Chinese Department

2023. November 20.

It was exactly 100 years ago, in November 1923, that the East Asian Institute was founded at Eötvös Loránd University, marking the beginning of the teaching of Chinese language and culture at the university level in Hungary. University and state leaders, diplomats, and representatives of Chinese enterprises operating in Hungary celebrated the anniversary together in the Aula Magna.

In his welcome speech, Rector László Borhy recalled that ELTE was one of the first higher education institutions in Central and Eastern Europe to offer Chinese language and culture at a high level. He remembered the former leaders of the East Asian Institute, including Vilmos Pröhle and Lajos Ligeti, who later produced the first generation of highly qualified Hungarian sinologists (Barnabás Csongor, Ferenc Tőkei, Ildikó Ecsedy). Sándor Józsa and Endre Galla, who later became teachers at the institute, were the first Hungarian students to study in China on scholarships in the 1950s, and then, as lecturers, they took the training at ELTE to an even higher level. Rector Borhy also highlighted the role of Ferenc Mártonfi, who placed special emphasis on the teaching of the scientific language. In the mid-1990s, economic cutbacks also had a negative impact on higher education, and in 2002 Professor Imre Hamar took over the leadership of the Chinese Department, under whose leadership Chinese education again started to dynamically develop.

Currently, 182 students are studying Chinese at the undergraduate level, 14 at the master's level, and 18 at the doctoral level.

In his closing speech, Rector Borhy praised the institute's achievements in the development of Sino-Hungarian relations and wished similar success for the next century.

László Borhy, Academician, Rector of ELTE

Gong Tao, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People's Republic of China, called the anniversary an important milestone and underlined that Eötvös Loránd University has produced many Nobel Prize, Wolf Prize, and Abel Prize winners. According to the ambassador, ELTE's strong international integration is illustrated by the fact that the university cooperates with 14 Chinese higher education institutions and currently has 322 Chinese students studying within its walls. He recalled that Hungary was one of the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1949 and one of the first countries to sign on to the ‘One Belt, One Road’ programme in 2013. Gong Tao expressed his hope that the two countries' flourishing economic, cultural, and educational ties will continue to strengthen in the future and thanked the state leaders, Chinese businesses, and academics in Hungary who have done so much to promote Chinese language and culture in Hungary.

Ambassador Gong Tao

Ádám Stifter, Deputy State Secretary for Eastern Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, recalled that Hungary and China launched a comprehensive strategic partnership programme in 2017, which, in addition to high-level diplomatic meetings, was embodied in several economic cooperation projects. Currently, four Chinese cities can be reached by air from Hungary, and the number of Chinese tourists visiting Hungary increased fivefold between 2011 and 2019. In the field of educational cooperation, he highlighted the Stipendium Hungaricum programme, which enables 200 Chinese students to pursue higher education in Hungary every year.

Ádám Stifter, Deputy State Secretary for Eastern Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade

‘The Far East Institute is the best place to provide students with relevant knowledge in a rapidly changing world, in which China's role is constantly growing’, said Viktor Eszterhai, Director of Research at the Hungarian Institute of Foreign Affairs, who himself spent ten years at ELTE as a student and researcher. ‘Hungary is in great need of highly qualified experts who can translate the knowledge gained here into practical results’, he added.

Eszterhai Viktor, a Magyar Külügyi Intézet kutatási igazgatója

Orsolya Pacsay-Tomassich, President of the Hungarian Academy of Diplomacy, stressed that both economic and cultural partnerships are based on high quality education, in which ELTE plays a leading role in Hungary, creating a good basis for long-term cooperation based on mutual respect.

Orsolya Pacsay-Tomassich, President of the Hungarian Academy of Diplomacy

Rao Wangjing, Deputy Director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), highlighted the strong literary ties between the two countries. He said that the names of Sándor Petőfi, Mór Jókai, Imre Kertész, Péter Esterházy, and László Krasznahorkai are not unknown to Chinese readers, who have gained a deeper understanding of Hungarian literature and culture through the writers’ works. Recalling the 70-year history of the CASS Institute of Literary Studies, he recalled the collaboration with sinologist Miklós Pál and expressed the hope that cooperation between the academy and the ELTE Chinese Department, as well as student exchange programmes, would further strengthen the educational and research links between the two parties.

Rao Wangjing (CASS)

According to Jia Dezhong, Vice Rector of Beijing Foreign Language University (BFSU), over the past century, ELTE has produced a number of experts with a high level of knowledge of Chinese language and culture, and BFSU and Eötvös Loránd University have cooperated in a number of student exchange programmes, research, and language training, broadening the horizons of both Chinese and Hungarian students. The vice rector urged the expansion of cooperation between BFSU and ELTE.

Jia Dezhong (BFSU)

Imre Hamar, Director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Head of the Department of Chinese Studies, and Director of the Confucius Institute, ELTE BTK, after a personal historical review, drew attention to the fact that both Chinese entrepreneurs who came to Hungary after the regime change and the Chinese investments made in Hungary in recent years have required a large number of highly qualified professionals with in-depth knowledge of Chinese language and culture, and the department has therefore continuously adapted to the current challenges with its language and language teacher training. ‘Thanks to flourishing economic relations and in response to current needs, the department's master's programme will in the future be expanded to include economic, legal, and IT skills’, he concluded.

Imre Hamar, Director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, Head of the Department of Chinese Studies, and Director of the Confucius Institute, ELTE BTK,

The speeches were followed by a colourful cultural programme, where the audience could listen to Hungarian and Chinese music performed by students of the Zhejiang Music Conservatory and learn about the two-string Chinese violin (the erhu) and the 21-string guzheng, which resembles a cetera. The Hungarian Chan Wu Association gave a traditional lion dance demonstration with the participation of Sándor Mike, winner of numerous national and international kung fu competitions, and Kristóf Kövér, European kung fu champion, and his students presented various branches of kung fu.

Photos by Ferenc Csóka