NPR

In Pakistan, Learning Chinese Is Cool — And Seen As A Path To Prosperity

China's billions in infrastructure investment have led to growing number of Pakistanis eager to learn Mandarin and study in China. Beijing is giving thousands of scholarships to Pakistanis.
Abbas' family has invested heavily in his education, hoping that eventual fluency in Mandarin will lead to a good job that will allow him to help finance the education of his younger siblings. Source: Saiyna Bashir for NPR

Saleem Abbas is the kind of student who sits in the front row. He's the first to try to answer a question. He eagerly repeats the Mandarin expressions that his teacher throws at the class: "Is this your family or not?" he repeats after the teacher. Then: "I have a mother."

These lessons mean a lot to Abbas, a 17-year-old from a village deep in the Pakistani Himalayas. His father is a retired soldier, and his pension isn't enough to go around. Abbas, one of five siblings, lives with his uncle in a gritty town outside Islamabad, in a room that only contains a thin mattress, where he sleeps and studies. He calls his mother once a month — there's no Internet back home.

"Every month, I ask my mother about her health," he says in broken English. "She cries, but I don't cry."

His family has staked what little money they have on him. If he masters Mandarin,

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