What are Confucius Institutes?

In recent years a growing number of American universities have opened Confucius Institutes as part of their programs in East Asian studies.  Confucius Institutes are non-profit institutions that aim to promote Chinese language and culture and the teaching of the Chinese language, and which facilitate cultural exchanges.  But the Confucius Institutes differ from the British Council, the French Alliance Francaise, and the German Goethe Institut because they are not private organizations but operate within established universities, colleges, and secondary schools around the world, providing funding, teachers and educational materials.  They are also closely aligned with — indeed overseen by — the Chinese government.

Officially, the Confucius Institutes are a project of the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), a non-profit organization affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China and the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China. The institutes operate in co-operation with local affiliate colleges and universities around the world, and financing is shared between Hanban and the host institutions. A related Confucius Classroom program partners with secondary schools or school districts to provide teachers and instructional materials.

The rapid expansion of the Confucius Institutes has raised serious concerns about their impact on academic freedom and shared governance in the colleges and universities that host them, as well as about their role in advancing China’s “soft power” and cultural influence internationally.  The November 18 issue of The Nation magazine contains an important article by University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, “China U.” that provides perhaps the most thorough examination of the Institutes’ impact on American and Canadian universities.

There is little point in summarizing Sahlins’ troubling analysis here, since anyone with more than a passing interest in academic freedom should read the entire piece.  But here is a small sample:

Many reputable and informed scholars of China have observed that the Confucius Institutes are marked by the same “no-go zones” that Beijing enforces on China’s public sphere. In an interview reported in TheNew York Times, June Teufel Dreyer, who teaches Chinese government and foreign policy at Miami University, said: “You’re told not to discuss the Dalai Lama—or to invite the Dalai Lama to campus. Tibet, Taiwan, China’s military buildup, factional fights inside the Chinese leadership—these are all off limits.” The Confucius Institutes at North Carolina State University and the University of Sydney actively attempted to prevent the Dalai Lama from speaking. At Sydney, he had to speak off-campus, and the CI sponsored a lecture by a Chinese academic who had previously claimed that Tibet was always part of China, notwithstanding that it was mired in feudal darkness and serfdom until the Chinese democratic reforms of 1959. The Confucius Institute at Waterloo University mobilized its students to defend the Chinese repression of a Tibetan uprising, and McMaster University and Tel Aviv University ran into difficulties with the legal authorities because of the anti–Falun Gong activities of their Confucius Institutes. Other taboo subjects include the Tiananmen massacre, blacklisted authors, human rights, the jailing of dissidents, the democracy movement, currency manipulation, environmental pollution and the Uighur autonomy movement in Xinjiang. Quite recently, Chinese government leaders explicitly banned the discussion of seven subjects in Chinese university classrooms, including universal values, freedom of the press and the historical mistakes of the Chinese Communist Party; this was part of a directive to local officials to “understand the dangers posed by views and theories advocated by the West.” It stands to reason that these subjects will also not be matters of free inquiry in CIs.

To read the entire article go to http://www.thenation.com/article/176888/china-u

2 thoughts on “What are Confucius Institutes?

  1. Our College of Continuing and Professional Education (Extended Ed) at CSU Long Beach has recently arranged for a Confucian Institute to be part of our campus. This has troubled the Chinese language faculty since the Confucian Institute also teaches language and culture courses to the ‘public’ and Chinese language and culture faculty were not consulted about this new relationship between CSULB and the Chinese government.

  2. Pingback: A Quotation About Studying The Past From Confucius | Renard Moreau Presents

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