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China has fascinated the world for centuries with its many proud achievements, for example the longevity of its civilization, its four great inventions (papermaking, printing, gun powder and the compass), the resiliency of its culture, its spirited resistance to external aggression, its ability to project its influence through soft power and its emergence as a respectable world power. According to the American Historical Association, with its 3, 500 years of written history, it has the longest continuous history of any country in the world and a civilization similar to that of Europe before the Industrial Revolution and superior to it in many ways. It has been a country for 2, 244 years—since 221 BCE when the seven kingdoms of the Warring States period were amalgamated by Ying Zheng (Qin Shi Huang), its first emperor. One of the obscurest facts about it is that it has been a wealthy economy for most of its history. In his magnum opus The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith considered it to be “a much richer country than any part of Europe.” The book was published 1776—the year the United States of America just started its war of independence. Five centuries prior, Marco Polo had described the splendor and glory of the Yuan Dynasty. His description, however, was treated with scornful reserve for centuries. Its philosophers and statesmen (such as Confucius, Mencius, Mozi, Shang Yang and Sun Tzu) have influenced the organisation of society for centuries. The recent upsurge of interest in Sinology is a corollary of its meteoric rise as a world power, which was predicted in a quote widely attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte: “Let China sleep; for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” The awestruck world is responding to its rise in different ways. One such way is the expanding interest in Sinology. Scholarly interest in this emergent superpower has gone beyond the study of its language to include its history, economy, politics, culture, philosophy, etc. Many universities and Foundations have established centres dedicated to the study of this worthy aspirant to world leadership. Nnamdi Azikiwe University joined what can be called “the scramble to comprehend China” in 2008, when it established the first Confucius Institute in Nigeria. During the 2014/2015 academic session, the Confucius Institute birthed the establishment of the only comprehensive department of Chinese Studies in the country. A language and culture institute, the Confucius Institute does not address the demand for the remaining areas of Sinology. The demand for study of China beyond its language is what the department exists to address. It does not suffice to know only about a people’s language. It is equally important to know about the other constitutive aspects of their existence—their history, culture, philosophy, foreign relations, economy, socio-political dynamics, etc. This is the yearning the department seeks to satisfy. Thankfully, the department has contributed to the production of the much-needed knowledge about China.
The department of Chinese Studies exists to address the demand for a well-rounded study of China beyond its language in a century in which the country has become a major power. It is contributing to Sinology by producing graduates with eclectic profundities in not only the Chinese language but also in Chinese culture, Chinese history, Chinese politics, Chinese philosophy, Chinese economy, Chinese foreign policy, etc.
The emergence of China as a world power has its attendant benefits and challenges. The department of Chinese Studies envisages a future in which its students, who are destined to become
the first generation of African Sinologists with a profound knowledge and understanding of China, will provide the manpower and expertise Africa needs to harness those opportunities and confront the challenges.
The department of Chinese Studies, currently the youngest department in the Faculty of Arts of Nnamdi Azikiwe University and so far the only department of Chinese Studies in Nigeria, was established in 2014. Its establishment, which came after seven years of the inception of the Confucius Institute at the university, owes much to the foresight of Prof. Joseph Ahaneku (then Vice-Chancellor of Nnamdi Azikiwe University), the unstinting benefaction of Dr Ji Nengwen (then Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute) and the pertinacity of Dr Sunny Ifeanyi Odinye. (It was Dr Odinye who originated and promoted the idea to establish a department that would address the need for degree study in Chinese Studies at the university). It took off with fifteen students most of who have since completed their master’s study in China. The following were the pioneer teaching staff of the department: Prof. Nkechinyere Nwokoye; Dr (now Prof.) Alexander Anedo; Dr Ifeanyi Sunny Odinye; Dr (now Prof.) Chuka Enuka; Dr Ji Nengwen; Mrs (now Dr) Gladys Udechukwu; Mrs (now Dr) Chinenye Okoye; Mr Yang Song; Mr Wu Qunbin; Mr Xu Wei; Mr Huang Changbin; Mrs Tang Qiaohua; Ms Wang Shan. The department currently has a 20-strong teaching staff and a 6-strong administrative staff. Until the 2018/2019 session when some alumni of the Confucius Institute who had finished their master’s study in different Chinese universities joined the department, the Confucius Institute supplied 70% of the department’s teaching staff. The department has been headed by the following since its inception:
|Dr Sunny Ifeanyi Odinye||Coordinator||2014-2015|
|Dr (then Mrs) Chinenye Okoye||Coordinator||2015-2019|
|Dr Sunny Ifeanyi Odinye||Coordinator||2019-2020|
|Dr Sunny Ifeanyi Odinye||Head of Department||2020-2022|
|Dr Anas Elochukwu||Head of Department||2022-|