SOAS University of London

Undergrad Wins Major Chinese Competition

12 August 2010
Stewart Johnson Winning the 9th Chinese Bridge Competition

A third year Chinese and Law undergraduate at SOAS has won first prize at the ninth Chinese Bridge competition, a prestigious contest in Chinese language and culture proficiency for non-native speakers.

Stewart Johnson competed against 106 other university students selected from 59 countries. He survived numerous rounds over several months to make it to the final, held on 8 August in Changsha,  the capital city of Hunan province in the People's Republic of China. The final was shown live on Chinese state television, and watched by an audience estimated at 200 million people.

"It has been an extraordinary adventure, and I am still very much trying to process everything that has happened," said Johnson, reached in Beijing. "I had no concept of the scale of this competition before coming to China this summer, and even less expectation of getting so far."

Each year, more than 6,000 contestants enter the Chinese Bridge competition. During the early rounds, held in the spring, competitors must deliver a speech in Chinese, answer questions about Chinese culture and demonstrate a talent associated with China, such as storytelling, calligraphy, martial arts, singing, dancing or playing a musical instrument. In the final three rounds, contestants are given a theme and must build a performance around that theme through skits, plays and debates, with help from a 'celebrity supporting act'. In Johnson's case, he performed with Zhou Weixing, a famous comedian from Hunan province.

"As one of Stewart's teachers, I am really proud of him," said Zhaoxia Pang, lector in Chinese at SOAS. "The Chinese Bridge competition is recognised as the most challenging competition in the world for university students to demonstrate their Chinese language proficiency, their understanding of Chinese culture and their talent-based performance."

In winning the competition, Johnson was also awarded a full three-year scholarship to study at a Chinese university and received the title of 'cultural ambassador'.

"I have always very proudly told my peers in China and beyond that I study Chinese at SOAS, and feel privileged to have had the opportunity to develop under the tutelage of such a strong team of teachers as we enjoy here," said Johnson. "This year we had all three UK representatives in the last 30 of the competition, something that has never happened before, and something that shows good signs for the future of studying Chinese in the UK."

He said he not yet decided how to use his three-year scholarship, but he was considering many possibilities.

"I have actually been developing an interest in South Asia at SOAS and am keen to learn Hindi," he said. "I have considered enrolling in a Hindi degree at Peking University."

For further information, contact:

William Friar
Communications Officer
Directorate of External Relations & Development
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
+44 (0)20 7898 4135 |  w.friar@soas.ac.uk