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1st United Nations Chinese Language Day - 12 November 2011

On 12 November 2010, the United Nations celebrated its first Chinese Language Day as part of an initiative to raise awareness and respect for the history, culture and achievements of each of the six official languages of the world body.

"The Chinese language was designated as one of the official languages of the United Nations from its very beginning. It is one of the most ancient and widely spoken languages in the world," said Kiyo Akasaka, under-secretary-general for the Department of Public Information (DPI) and coordinator for multilingualism at the UN.

Addressing some 100 UN staff and diplomats attending the ceremony, Akasaka said he was very happy to see the strong interest in the Chinese Language Day from so many diverse UN offices and groups who work with Chinese on a daily basis.

"We are delighted to draw attention to the beauty, history and cultural importance of the Chinese language," Akasaka said.

In order to show his own appreciation of Chinese poetry, Akasaka, who is a Japanese national, surprised the audience by showing his own Chinese calligraphy.

Li Baodong, permanent representative of Chinese Mission to the United Nations, said that it is of great significance to celebrate the Chinese Language Day for the first time in the UN history.

"We sincerely hope that the celebrations will further expand the influence of Chinese as an UN official language and offer a window of opportunity for more people to meet and learn about the time-honored and splendid Chinese civilization and culture," Li said.

According to incomplete statistics, as many as 1.4 billion people in the world speak Chinese. In other words, one in every five people in the world speak the language.

"More and more institutions are studying the Chinese language, and more and more universities and middle schools have opened Chinese language courses. The 'Chinese language craze' is spreading across the world," Li said.

Also at the ceremony, the UN Singers sang a famous Chinese song "Mo Li Hua" (Jasmine) and UN students of Chinese read a poem by ancient Chinese poet Li Bai.

About Language Days at the UN

Language Days at the UN seek to celebrate multilingualism and cultural diversity as well as to promote equal use of all six official languages throughout the Organization.

Under the initiative, United Nations Headquarters – and hopefully in the future duty stations around the world – will celebrate six days dedicated to each UN official language:

The dates for the Language Days were selected by the Department of Public Information for their symbolic or historic significance in connection with each language.

  • Arabic (18 December - General Assembly designates Arabic as the sixth official language of the United Nations in 1973)
  • Chinese (20 April – Invention of Chinese characters by Cangjie)
  • English (23 April – William Shakespeare's birthday)
  • French (20 March – International Day of Francophonie)
  • Russian (6 June – Alexander Pushkin's birthday)
  • Spanish (12 October – Dia de la Hispanidad)