Elite debaters from Asia and Australia argued their way into an all-expenses paid trip to Sydney, a global television appearance and a slew of awards over the weekend.
The first Great Asian Debate at the University of New South Wales pitted two Australian teams against Asia's best verbal duellists - arguing in Mandarin. The two day contest was televised by Hong Kong's Phoenix TV, with a global audience of some 1.2 billion. An extended documentary is to follow, along with a peep "behind the debate" program.
Teams from UNSW and the University of Melbourne bowed out in early rounds against elite debaters from China and around the region, but not before impressing the visitors. The University of Melbourne's Western team took out the "courage" award, proving it is not only the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who can engage with the region in Chinese.
With the two leading teams - the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Malaysia's University of Malaya - only two points apart after the final rounds a surprise "debate-off" was announced.
Their extra topic: can greatness be achieved in a second language? Hong Kong won the cash prize by arguing that language, although important, wasn't a real barrier to success, and one of the examples they used was the Aussie students who managed to debate in Chinese.
"This championship is really hard to win, all the universities are very skilled, they are the best from the region," said the Hong Kong team's Cheng Yandi, a 19-year-old accounting student.
So tough was the competition that the Hong Kong team stayed up preparing all Saturday night until 6am, only taking a short nap before the TV cameras began rolling again at 9am on Sunday.
"The surprise last debate topic was whether you can be successful in a language which is not your mother tongue. The Australian students proved that they could get good results in another language," Cheng said.
Debating emerged as a popular TV "sport" in China in the 1990s. The Great Asian Debate is now likely to become an annual TV event, giving Australian teams a very sophisticated platform for testing their Asian language skills.
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