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Seventh meeting of the study group on German and Chinese law

Father Johannes Siebner, director of the St. Blasien Kolleg, explains why his school introduced a Chinese course into its curriculum (as the first private "Gymnasium" in Germany) and has upheld a vivid exchange with Chinese schools since 1997.

- Johannes Allmendinger-

The guest speaker of the seventh meeting of the study group was Father Johannes Siebner, director of the St. Blasien Kolleg, an officially recognized, Catholic boarding school in the southern Black Forest, that, as the first private "Gymnasium" in Germany to do so, has introduced a Chinese course as an elective in grades 11 through 13.

In the beginning, the reasons motivating the Kolleg to add this unusual component to its curriculum were mainly the geopolitical and economic importance of China: students were to be given the chance to distinguish themselves in an increasingly difficult job market. By contrast, Father Siebners main concern today is to confront students with the great culture and language of China, presenting them with a unique challenge: the study of a tonal language and the insights into Chinese calligraphy, studies of the country and its culture and history enrich the students far beyond the utilitarian aspect of the imparted language skills.

A study group for Mandarin in grades 10 and 11, as well as, an elective course in grades 12 and 13 were already offered in the scholastic year 1995/96. A first contact with a Chinese school was forged in 1997 with the city of Qingdao (Shandong) - formerly colonized by Germany. 1999 a partnership with a secondary school in Jiangyin (Jiangsu) took the place of the link to Qingdao - the contact was made by a businessman, a germanophile who readily agreed to establish an exchange between the Kolleg and his own former school. Since then, a vivid exchange between both students and teachers - based on the principle of reciprocity - is cultivated.

In 2003 the "China-Project" was raised to the new level with the secondary school of Tongji in Shanghai. This school has begun to study German with as much enthousiasm as St. Blasien brings to its Chinese course. Furthermore, the high school of Tongji has made it possible for German students to take part in in-country instruction in Chinese: in February of 2005, 7 students of the Kolleg went to China for three months to participate in a language course at the Tonji secondary school. Before, there had only been shorter class trips of a more touristic nature - partially organized and financed by the Chinese partner school - to the "Middle Kingdom". As Father Siebner noted, however, travel remains an important component of the exchange. In addition, students are encouraged to study mathematics three times a week so as to remain at the level of their class until their return to Germany.

At the beginning of the scholastic year 2005/06, after 10 years, the "project" finally became a cornerstone of the school: Chinese received the status of a regular core subject with 4 hours of instruction a week and can now be chosen as third language in 9th grade - after G8 reform - in 8th grade - (around 300 characters per schoolyear). In 1999 the first German student took a final exam (for graduation) in Chinese; in the meantime, more than a dozen have done so.

Chinese students that come to St. Blasien stay at least a year and often graduate in Germany, some of them returning to study as regular students at German universities. The language of instruction is German in most subjects, which, according to Father Siebner, presents a special challenge. In addition, the students have first to become accustomed to the culture and their new environment: Father Siebner cited the examples of the slicing of the bread for supper and of the quietness, that in calm St. Blasien is perhaps more pronounced than in other areas of Germany. Because of the considerable tuition fees, the exchange students are mainly children of wealthy Chinese families - however, with their aid, the Kolleg is also able to extend the invitation to its school to students from less affluent backgrounds. The selection of the students is always entrusted to a school committee after Father Siebner has had the opportunity to form a personal impression of the applicants in China. A pre-selection by the director of the Tongji-school in Shanghai or the school in Jiangyin, respectively, has already been conducted at this point. The Kolleg of St. Blasien only accepts three to four students a year to encourage their integration into the student body. Still, Father Siebner sometimes sees tendencies of isolation among the exchange students. When problems or difficulties arise from time to time, Father Siebner does not hesitate to contact the parents of the students.

At a Catholic school, led by Jesuits, the Chinese students are, in addition, confronted with the Christian orientation of the Kolleg, that finds pronounced expression in the attendance of masses on Sunday or in religion classes. The religious character of the school is also emphasized in the exchange with its Chinese partners. However, a dialogue on Catholicism is, at least at an official level, not yet possible - for which reason Father Siebner also chooses not to wear the insignia of the Jesuit Order during official appearances in China. Apart from the tensions existing between the Chinese government and the Catholic Church in Rome, he also sees the current situation as constituting the relatively normal fate of a religious denomination in what he considers to be "the most secular country of the world". In his view, the process of reconciliation between church and state poses considerable difficulties, but is not a hopeless cause: for instance, in the future only such bishops are to be anointed as are acceptable both to Rome and to Beijing.

Meanwhile, Father Siebner gives himself an unconcerned air with regard to the political "Ice Age". On his visits to Shanghai, he regularly meets the Catholic bishop of the metropole  - masses celebrated by both priests together are, then, no rarity. In addition, he has found a second spiritual home in the Shanghai. His grandfather, a Jew, had emigrated there during the Holocaust and spent the rest of his life in the city. With the help of the Tongji school, Father Siebner located the former Jewish quarter, a synagogue, as well as, a commemorative monument to the Jewish fugitives. The former Jewish quarter still looks today as it did on the pictures his grandfather sent home.

The study group thanks Father Siebner for his engaging presentation.