China is casting such a huge shadow on the United States that many Americans are scrambling to learn the Chinese language in a bid to retain their competitive edge.
A woman finds quiet solitude from the balcony atop Beijing's Drum Tower to practice her oral English. China is casting such a huge shadow on the United States that many Americans are scrambling to learn the Chinese language in a bid to retain their competitive edge.
"Interest in learning Chinese among American youth and their parents has grown dramatically in the past five years," said Vivien Stewart, vice president at the Asia Society, a US group trying to bridge the gap between Americans and the peoples of Asia and the Pacific.
China's dramatic rise to near superpower status and its telling effects politically, economically and culturally are driving the interest to learn the language, experts say.
From kindergartens to high schools, studies by the Asia Society show, there is a "rapid rise" in interest among pupils to study the Chinese language.
"The Chinese rich cultural traditions and blossoming economy mean that is now essential for all of our students to be better prepared to engage them and seize opportunities together," said Michael Levine, Asia Society's executive director of education.
A 2004 College Board survey found that 2,400 high schools -- an incredibly high number -- would be interested in offering the Advanced Placement (AP) courses in Chinese language and culture when the courses become available in 2006.
China, the world's most populous nation, is critical to the United States because it is a leading trader, consumer and investor. Its political influence is also rising across the globe.
It has replaced the United States as the world's largest consumer and could become the second largest economy in the world, after the United States, in the next two to three decades.
America's huge budget deficit, economists say, is being bankrolled by China to the tune of one billion dollars per day through its purchase of US Treasury bills -- 200 billion dollars last year and possibly as much as 300 billion dollars already this year.
Even though the US State Department has designated the Chinese language "critical" to national prosperity and security, the "current infrastructure to support recruitment of students and teachers as well as the growth of high quality programs is woefully inadequate," an Asia Society study says.
The Society has set a target of having at least five percent of American high school students learning Chinese by 2015.
"Millions of Chinese are learning English, but only 24,000 Americans are learning Chinese," said Andrew Corcoran of the San Francisco-based Chinese American International School, the oldest Mandarin "immersion" program in the country.
The most popular languages after English in US schools at present are Spanish and French. Japanese is the most-sought-after Asian language.