Bai Ying is the Chinese name of Tamara Bernal, an Ecuadoran student in China. The 26-year-old girl has been studying Spanish-to-Chinese translation and interpretation as a postgraduate.
As one of the four ancient civilizations, China has attracted with its profound traditional culture a great many foreign students to come to study and chase their Chinese dreams. Bai is one of them. Yet maybe she does not know that over 1,000 years ago, China was already a popular destination for overseas students.
"DELIGHT TO HAVE FRIENDS COME FROM AFAR"
The origin of the concept of foreign students is related to Japan. During the Sui and Tang Dynasties (AD 220-907), China, with developed economy and powerful national strength, was the economic, political and cultural center of Asia. Since the beginning of the Sui Dynasty, China started to welcome a large number of foreign students. During the Tang Dynasty, a host of foreign students were sent to China from countries including Japan, Annam, Goryeo, the Baekje Kingdom and the Silla Kingdom. Some also dispatched envoys and monks to study in China. Japan, in particular, sent the largest number of students to China at that time.
During that period, Japan was undergoing a key stage in reform and had sent, for many times, envoys to China to learn its systems, advanced cultures, as well as codes and books of the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Apart from envoys, also came to China were seamen, students, craftsmen and monks.
Among the Japanese monks studying in China, Abe no Nakamaro is worth mentioning. Born into a political family, he was smart, talented and studious as a child. In 717, Abe, less than 20 years old, was selected to study in China, owing to his excellent learning of the Chinese language. After he arrived at Chang'an, the then capital of China, he got special permission to study in the Imperial Academy, which was the highest educational institution. After years of assiduous study, the gifted Abe achieved jinshi in the Chinese imperial examinations, which was essential to candidacy for state officials.
With a Chinese name of Chao Heng, Abe was highly appreciated by the imperial court for his ability as well as outstanding literary performance. He was also an excellent poet. With a lot of research in poetry, he not only wrote poems, but also kept close contact with prominent poets like Li Bai and Wang Wei. In 770, Abe passed away in Chang'an. He was widely recognized by later generations for making contributions to spreading the civilization of the Tang Dynasty and promoting the friendship between China and Japan.
Except Abe, there were also other Japanese students that played an important role in enhancing Japan's development, exerting great influence on their country's politics, economy, language, religion among others. They also contributed to the spreading of the Tang culture.
LEARNING FROM FOREIGNERS TO DEFEAT THEM
During the mid-19th century, due to its closed-door policy, the Qing Dynasty failed to catch up with Western countries' fast development pace driven by the industrial revolution, and suffered from a series bitter, unforgettable national humiliation.
To resist the invasion by Western powers, a group of officials and scholars put forward the slogan of "learning from foreigners to defeat them." For them, it was imperative to recognize the fact that China had lagged behind and should learn the advanced technologies of the Western countries.