Chinese Bridge competition: participants share their memories

Chinese Bridge competition © Lucrezia Botti

Chinese Bridge is a contest of Chinese language proficiency for students from colleges outside of China.

Since the first contest in 2002, the competition has grown into a national phenomenon, and has hosted over 1000 contestants from over 100 countries at its televised finals in China, amongst which have been a large number of students from SOAS University of London.

Connor Walsh

SOAS alumnus Connor Walsh (BA Chinese, 2002) was something of a ground-breaker when he took part in the first ever Chinese Bridge competition.

“I took part in the first ever Chinese Bridge, back in 2002.  Back then, it was so new, there wasn’t even a national competition, so by default I got to take part as one of the two students representing the UK.  I can’t quite remember how I did.  I was awarded a ‘third place prize’, by dint of finishing, I think, tenth, or maybe eleventh.  I was desperately nervous on the night, quivering inside my suit, and I suspect spoke some nonsense…

“My short speech at the Chinese Bridge in 2002 led to my first proper job in China.  I spoke about how listening to China Radio International (CRI) as a teen had influenced my interest in China (and thus my attending SOAS).  Sixteen months after the Chinese Bridge, I had a job in China Radio International.  However, within my first year there the ethical balance, as I experienced, changed.  I was broadcasting in English to China and overseas, but felt more an agent of censorship than I was comfortable with.  I left the broadcaster and China.  Within a year I was back in London, and on the other side of the censorship: The BBC World Service’s Chinese Section was home for a year and a half.

“I revisited the Chinese Bridge a number of times, making a number of radio reports on it.

“In the years since, the Chinese Bridge has grown to mind-boggling proportions: countless countries, labyrinthine pre-competitions, social media votes, their own TV studios; it is as much like a Eurovision song contest as anything academic.  And, truth be told, with my level of Chinese, I don’t think I would qualify to take part!  The competition has grown and the level of Chinese spoken by university students globally has too.

“In 2015-16 I returned to education, to take an MSc in Conservation Science at Imperial College London.  I found a way to apply my classical Chinese to this, researching historical references to the Hainan gibbon (the world’s rarest primate), and took every chance I could to use the SOAS library.  Every visit back to SOAS excited me.  I distinctly remember muttering to myself: ‘Oh, SOAS, you’re everything Imperial isn’t!’.”

Steve Lipscombe

Steve Lipscombe (BA Chinese – Modern and Classical, 2010) took part in the competition in 2009.

“Chinese Bridge was great fun.  I wrote a Chinese pop song and ended up playing it every now and again on Chinese TV.  The whole experience culminated in me meeting Gordon Brown (then PM) and Wen Jiabao (then Chinese Premier) after the embassy heard about what I had been up to.

“More broadly, SOAS has massively played a formative role in my career.  Although I don’t work on anything directly China-related, my time at SOAS sparked an interest in international development, and I work for the BBC’s international development charity, BBC Media Action, as a Senior Project Manager.  Most recently, I’ve been involved in setting up a ‘Lifeline’ radio broadcast programme in Nepali across Nepal after the Nepal earthquake, giving affected people the information they need and can still receive over radio when so many other services are affected.  I also work on a really interesting project called Hay El Matar,  a radio drama for Syrians broadcast in Arabic across the region, which recently crossed over to Radio 4.”

Freddy Gelati-Meinert

Freddy Gelati-Meinert (BA Chinese – Modern and Classical, 2015) reached the finals in the 13th Chinese Bridge.

“Chinese Bridge was a crazy but wonderful experience.  How many people can say they have danced to a Chinese cover of Bruno Mars dressed as the pope on a prime-time show on Chinese national television?

“It gave me huge confidence to work in the media industry, which is what I am doing now.  When I’m not working as a translator, I run a community cinema and also promote various arts events and festivals, as well as acting as a programming advisor for Chinese film at a major online distributor.

“I also got a scholarship to do a Master’s in Chinese at Oxford, which I probably wouldn’t have got had it not been for the confidence and work ethic I developed by entering myself into Chinese Bridge!”

SOAS’s roll call at Chinese Bridge

SOAS alumni and current students who have competed at Chinese Bridge include:

  • 2004: Callisto Searle (BA Chinese – Modern and Classical, 2005)
  • 2005: Rosalind Holmes (BA Chinese and History of Art/Archaeology, 2006)
  • 2006: Iacob Koch-Weser (BA Chinese and History, 2007)
  • 2007: Marshall Craig (BA Chinese – Modern and Classical, 2008)
  • 2010: Stewart Johnson (BA Chinese and Law, 2011)
  • 2011: Alexander Odahara (BA Chinese and Korean, 2012)
  • 2011: James Bilbow (BA Chinese and Management, 2011)
  • 2011: Maximilian Sleigh-Parrott (BA Chinese – Modern and Classical, 2012)
  • 2012: Owen Churchill (BA Chinese and Music, 2013)
  • 2013: Anna Fay Brunner (BA Politics and Social Anthropology, 2014)
  • 2013: Richard van der Geest (BA Chinese and Economics, 2014)
  • 2014: Arianna Guarnieri (MA Chinese Studies, 2015)
  • 2014: Anna Zech (MA Chinese Studies, 2015)
  • 2015: Bruno Narotzky
  • 2016: Jackson Swinhoe
  • 2016: Laurence Heyes

Anyone we’ve forgotten?  If so, please send us an email and let us know.  We’d love to hear your memories.

Learning Chinese at SOAS

SOAS students have provided two global Grand Prize winners and five second-prize winners in the finals of Chinese Bridge in China.  This second-to-none achievement demonstrates the strength of Chinese Studies at SOAS.

SOAS offers undergraduate degree programmes in BA Chinese (Modern and Classical); BA Chinese Studies; BA Chinese (Modern and Classical) and…; and BA Tibetan and…  Additionally, it runs postgraduate programmes in MA Advanced Chinese Studies; MA Chinese Studies; MA Sinology; MA Taiwan Studies; and MSc Contemporary China Studies.

Find out more


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