Chinese dignitaries and University leaders came together at the University of Michigan Museum of Art yesterday to hear and see ethnic Chinese music and performances to commemorate the official opening of the University’s Confucius Institute.

The opening of the institute comes during a recent push by University officials to strengthen the University’s relationship with China. University President Mary Sue Coleman traveled to the country in 2005 as part of the effort, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts picked China as the semester theme for the 2008-2009 school year.

The institute, one of more than 60 in the United States, aims to develop educational cooperation between the two countries and increase Chinese language education. The University’s institute will serve as the national leader of institutes across the country.

In addition, the opening culminates two years of efforts by a Confucius Institute planning committee. The institute began as an effort to pursue Coleman’s Task Force on China, which she began in 2005 to help increase ties between China and the University.

“We will showcase Chinese art and culture,” Coleman said at the event. “We will collaborate with organizations throughout southeast Michigan. We are going to share the depths of China’s rich culture.”

The all- day event began yesterday morning with a lion dance performed by students from the Chinese Ensemble of Renmin University of China. It was followed by speeches by both members of the Confucius Institute committee from the University and directors and consuls from China.

While there are more than 300 Confucius Institutes worldwide, the University’s is unique in that it draws specifically upon the musical and arts culture in China rather than just the language and culture resources that characterize many of the other institutes.

Ken Fischer, president of the University Musical Society, said that the music and arts focus mimics similar efforts on campus.

“One of the really special things about this is that being the only Confucius Institute that focuses on Chinese arts and culture meshes with the interests of organizations like mine all over the United States that are performing arts centers at major universities,” Fischer said. “Now that the University of Michigan has been identified by the Chinese government as the place they’re going to be willing to invest in, it is going to be a real opportunity for the University.”

Though there has been a recent acceleration in the University’s partnership with China, the relationship dates back to the 1880s.

“Our relationship with China goes back so far, to President (James) Angell,” Coleman said. “There’s always been a good relationship but clearly over the last decade many other opportunities have presented themselves.”

Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs, said he hopes the Confucius Institute will help with the growth and further traveling opportunities for students and student groups to get more immersed in Chinese music and art culture.

“On the China task force we made a proposal to create a Confucius Institute that would include a humanities, music and arts component,” he said. “We want to start one of these kinds of orchestras here and the best way to do that is to have students from China come here and have some kind of institute where they teach us about their instruments and music”

In addition to music, the institute also worked closely with the University of Michigan Museum of Art to make it a place to showcase Chinese art.

“We are so proud to be hosting the event,” said Interim UMMA Director Kathryn Huss. “(The) Museum of Art has been working the past two years with the Confucius Institute. We have five Asian galleries that are dedicated to Asian art and one for Chinese art. I also know we are going to be looking at other facilities to showcase the art as well.”

Following the speeches and luncheon, Martin Powers, professor of Chinese arts and cultures, spoke about the current relationship between China and the United States. He said the creation of the Confucius Institute, with its emphasis on art, will help to create an appreciation for the differences of the two cultures.

The event was private and the attendees included all members of the China task force, people affiliated with the museum, leaders at Renmin University and major University donors who showed interest in China.

The day’s celebrations concluded with a concert of Chinese music held at Rackham Auditorium last night.

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