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Mandarin Stars Come Out to Shine

In an ultimate test of nerve, 20 finalists take to the stage to showcase their flair for Chinese language and culture


Mandarin Stars Come Out to Shine

In an ultimate test of nerve, 20 finalists take to the stage to showcase their flair for Chinese language and culture


Ten Beijing international students can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

After weeks of preparation, constant repetition and nervous pacing, 20 finalists on Sunday delivered their Chinese-only speeches in the last phase of the 4th Annual Foreign Student Mandarin Star Competition at Beijing Capital Normal University’s International College. Half of the competitors walked away with top prizes, winning over the judges with flawless Chinese skills and creative, cultural presentations.

Participants began the competition full of emotion, passionately describing to the judges and audience their experiences in Beijing––using, of course, the wide vocabulary of Mandarin they pocketed over the course of their stays. Using homemade videos for illustration, some chose to focus on their overall impressions and “newness” of living in the capital––discovering a new way of life, trying new foods, studying a new language and making new friends––but others chose to focus on a specific memorable moment that taught them something about China.

Henry Aijbe Erhauyi, a linguist from Nigeria, did just that, showing off his sixth language. On stage, he narrated a short, Chinese-style anime cartoon of himself on one challenging bus ride on Beijing. It wasn’t the huge crowds or the confusing route that gave animated Erhauyi colossal sweat drops––it was the color of his skin. Faced with a skeptical young girl, he, with the help of a wise grandmother, came a step closer to fostering understanding and acceptance between people who look different. And, as he humorously noted before professing his affection for both China and Nigeria, it was partly because the little girl loved chocolate.

Kung fu, calligraphy and soccer skills were  just some of the talents showcased at the event, before students demonstrated their knowledge of famous Chinese poetry. David Kolosov from Russia stumbled on stage with a faux bottle of liquor, amusing the crowd with a slightly garbled rendition of the poet Qu Yuan (屈原). Tina Collins from the US brandished her 15 years of acting experience with a Minzu Opera piece about a concubine who kills herself so that her lover can be fully prepared to go into battle against an army who turned on him.

“I wanted to do something funny and fun and light, but there’s really nothing in Chinese history like that,” she said about female roles.

At the end of the event, all of the competitors walked away with flowers and awards, but many agreed they weren’t the only rewards.

“I can say to myself that all of those years of studying Chinese has finally been worth it,” said Elise Ribbons, a grad student studying Peking Opera at the National Academy of Chinese Theater. “I’m a huge Chinese nerd, so I still study it. … The more you learn about the language, the more interesting it becomes.”

In fact, Alex Kislov, from Russia, thinks Chinese is one of the most interesting languages in the whole world, and he found he was able to extend beyond his comfort zone with the language as a Mandarin Star.

“I don’t think my Chinese has gotten better,” he said. “But it has upgraded my self confidence. This competition isn’t aimed at improving your Chinese, it’s aimed at your overall abilities.”

The competition saw a total of 600 applicants enrolled in major Beijing colleges and universities and was organized by the Beijing Municipal Education Commission, the Beijing International Chinese Promotion Center, the Beijing Chinese Network, the Beijing Youth Audiovisual Publishing House, and the Beijing Higher Education Institute’s Foreign Student Research Association. For further information and coverage, see the Mandarin Star Competition website.

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To find out what happened in the 5th Annual Mandarin Star Competition, click here.