The Economic Rise of China and the Growing Popularity of Learning Chinese

Students learning Chinese in the classroom. Some have indicated that they are studying Chinese out of interest, while others have said that Chinese can help them find better jobs.

Over the past few decades, China has experienced rapid economic growth to become the world’s second largest economy. This economic development has also led to China’s increasing prominence on the world stage both politically and culturally. One visible sign of China’s growing soft power is the rising number of foreign students and professionals interested in learning Chinese. Shanghai, as one of China’s most cosmopolitan cities located at the heart of business and finance in mainland China, has become an ideal destination for learning Chinese.

China’s average GDP growth rate hovered around 9.5% for over two decades since market reforms started in 1978. In 2010, China surpassed Japan to become the world’s second largest economy after the United States. China’s GDP also exceeded $10 trillion in 2015, second only to the US. This rapid economic rise has lifted over 850 million people out of poverty. With economic success fueling national pride, more foreigners have become attracted to learn about China’s culture, history and language.

As a financial and technological hub of mainland China, Shanghai has received an increasing influx of foreigners coming to China for business and employment opportunities. A survey conducted in 2016 showed that over 208,000 foreigners worked in Shanghai across various industries such as finance, trade, tech and manufacturing. This expatriate population is typically well-educated and interested to learn Chinese in Shanghai for both professional and personal reasons.

The Shanghai municipal government has also invested heavily in promoting the city as a global center for finance and trade. Policies such as favorable tax treatment have succeeded in attracting over 400 regional headquarters of Fortune 500 companies. To become more appealing to international talent, Shanghai has focused on improving livability standards by investing in public infrastructure, health services and public transportation systems. Such efforts have made Shanghai one of the most attractive cities for foreigners seeking to learn Chinese language and experience Chinese culture.

Demand for Learning Chinese Surges Globally

The British Council estimated over 100 million people learning mandarin Chinese worldwide as of 2022. Among foreign language learners in the US, eagerness to learn Chinese also spiked after China became the world’s second largest economy in 2010. Enrollments in Chinese language programmes at American universities surged by 20% from 2013 to 2016. Such trends signify China’s growing cultural influence and importance of Chinese proficiency for those interested in business, tourism and diplomacy.

As Shanghai continues to amass foreign capital and talent, interest in learning Chinese remains high within the city too. Local language schools reported enrollment size doubled over the past decade. The number of foreigners taking the Chinese Proficiency Test (HSK) also rose 25% in Shanghai between 2014 and 2016. English teachers and expatriates make up majority of the Test takers, citing better employment prospects and desire to assimilate as main motivations.

Economic Growth Drives Demand for Chinese Instruction

As the leading financial hub of mainland China, Shanghai holds great allure for multinational firms seeking to tap into the Chinese market. Shanghai claimed ninth spot globally among the world’s top financial centres after ranking the highest on the “Business Environment” parameter. Having surpassed cities like Los Angeles and Oslo, Shanghai also placed seventeenth in the Global Financial Centres Index in 2021.

Consequently, Shanghai continues to draw foreign capital and professionals despite challenges from the US-China trade war and the COVID19 pandemic. Shanghai garnered $19.3 billion in foreign direct investments (FDI) in 2021, the highest among all cities in mainland China. Investments mainly flowed into the tertiary sector including scientific research, tech services and finance. Continued growth of existing foreign enterprises also expanded job opportunities for those having Chinese language abilities.

The Shanghai Municipal government ambitiously envisions the city developing into an “international finance and trade centre” by 2035. Billions have been set aside for infrastructure upgrades such as the recently launched Lingang Special Area that houses Tesla’s regional headquarters. Such initiatives exemplify government support attracting foreign investment, thus driving further demand for Chinese language services.

As multinational firms rush to tap into the exponentially growing consumer market, fluency in Chinese also gives individuals an edge in securing jobs and conducting business. Chinese language proficiency has become indispensable for foreign professionals in China across sectors like accounting, law, academics and engineering. Those lacking adequate language preparation often struggle to advance their careers or effectively negotiate complex business deals.

Hence, as Shanghai continues marching towards its goal of becoming a globally influential financial and technological hub, we can expect more foreigners like entrepreneurs, managers and developers flocking into the city for opportunities. This will also ensure healthy growth in the demand for Chinese as a foreign language education over the coming decade.

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