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Confucius Cafe offers culture, cuisine and conversation to campus Sinophiles

March 5, 2014

Take the elevator to the 11th floor of the Maccabees Building at noon on a Thursday and when the doors open you’ll know where to go. The tantalizing aroma of Chinese food and the merry meld of Chinese and English conversation will coax you down the hall to the Confucius Café, where a nosh and knowledge await you.

Hosted by the university’s Confucius Institute (WSU-CI), the Confucius Café is a weekly opportunity for local Sinophiles to enjoy refreshments while listening to a talk on an aspect of Chinese language, culture, politics or history. Launched prior to WSU-CI’s Grand Opening in January 2008, the Confucius Café is the institute’s oldest program and one of its most popular, with a steady turnout of 30 to 40 attendees per week.

The café recently swelled with revelers clad in red to fete the eve of the Chinese New Year. Visiting Assistant Professor Li Liang presented “The Horse in Chinese Culture” to the group – a mix of students, faculty, staff and local professionals taking their lunch hour – to drum up excitement for the Year of the Horse. Spanning the cultural and economic significance of the horse, famous horse legends, horse-inspired works of Chinese art and Chinese idiomatic expressions using “horse,” Liang’s talk offered something for everyone.

“I come to Confucius Café every chance I get to learn more about Chinese culture,” said Dean Smith, a retired MichCon executive who is taking his fourth semester of Chinese at Wayne State. “I’m studying the language, but without understanding the culture behind it it’s more difficult.”

Nolan Munce, a Wayne State senior minoring in Chinese, freely admitted that food is the big draw for him. But, he said, he enjoys talks about China prior to the Cultural Revolution of the mid-60s.

“What I like about China is the old ideas,” Munce said.

Jing Dai, a statistician at the School of Medicine, said she comes to the Confucius Café every other month. A native of China, Dai said she was initially skeptical that she would get anything from the talks.

“I thought, ‘What can I learn?’ But I’ve learned so much,” Dai said, saying she’d never heard many of the horse idioms Liang presented. “I studied math and engineering in school so I didn’t focus on history and culture and literature. I come here to learn retrospectively about my own culture.”