China Today. It’s all about China isn’t it? The latest very superficial Memorandum of Understanding to be signed with what Saviour Balzan in his infinite wisdom terms a “former communist giant” was the subject of discussion in parliament tonight. The opposition raised some valid questions about a number of matters mentioned in the Memorandum – o as the case may be, about a number of matters not mentioned in the memorandum. One matter that both parties seem to be warm about is the benefits of cultural exchange with the global behemoth – in particular the setting up of the Confucius Institutes. Many seem to labour under the impression that this kind of centre of cultural enlightment has the same value as, say, the Alliance Francaise or the Istituto Culturale Italiano. Only it doesn’t does it?
Confucius Institutes have been set up the world over by China in an effort, true, to spread its cultural enlightenment to the world. These institutes though are not totally bereft of controversy and this mainly because of the very nature of their backer. Alas Chinese culture includes a dark void in such subjects as democracy and human rights. Don’t expect the institutes to be a shining example or learning center where these subjects are concerned. Last year a number of Canadian Universities were up in arms and sought to eliminate all ties to their Confucius Institutes precisely because of behaviour that was not fitting for liberal democracies:
Here’s The Times’ educational supplement (no not the Times that accepted the trip to be part of the Potemkin group selected by Muscat – the real Times):
The most recent controversy over the Confucius Institutes has flared up in Canada, where one university is shutting down the programme on its campus because of a human rights complaint and two more have declined to serve as hosts.
McMaster University in Hamilton, near Toronto, will close its Confucius Institute when the current term ends this summer, citing the institute’s requirement that its instructors have no affiliation to organisations that the Chinese government has banned, including the spiritual movement Falun Gong.
In the past few years, too, the University of Manitoba and the University of British Columbia have turned down proposals for Confucius Institutes to open on their campuses.
The Confucius Institutes are under the control of Hanban, a branch of China’s Ministry of Education. They supply money, teachers and Chinese- language instruction to universities.
The network has grown from one campus in Seoul in 2004 to more than 400 today, including 11 in Canada, 70 in the US and 11 in the UK. According to reports in the Chinese media on 11 March, the head of the Confucius Institutes, Xu Lin, has said the institute plans to expand to 500 branches worldwide by 2020. (Link)
There’s more in this article in the New York Times also highlighting all the strings that are attached to setting up a China funded institute within a Western University. In the article the difference between Confucius Institutes and the Alliance Francaise is stressed:
The British Council currently operates in more than 100 countries; the Alliance Française and the Goethe Institute, in Germany, all run on similar lines. And though the United States Information Agency library program has wound down considerably with the end of the Cold War, the State Department still makes an effort to promote American culture overseas.
However, none of these programs are based on university campuses. And according to Mr. Davidson, none adopt the same homogenous approach to their native cultures found in Confucius Institutes. “No one would regard Zadie Smith or Grayson Perry as someone controlled by the British Council,” he said.
“The Chinese are very clear on what they are trying to achieve,” said Mr. Davidson. “They want to change the perception of China — to combat negative propaganda with positive propaganda. And they use the word ‘propaganda’ in Chinese. But I doubt they have to say, ‘We’ll only give you this money if you never criticize China.’ The danger is more of self-censorship — which is a very subtle thing,” Mr. Davidson said.
Wikipedia, the site censored in the People’s Republic, has an article dedicated solely to Criticism of Confucius Institutes - such is the extent of controversy surrounding these units of Chinese propaganda abroad. Academics find the idea of the institutes abhorrent because they symbolise the stifling of academic freedom – and they insist on being intrinsically linked to university campuses. Their use as a tool of propaganda while censoring controversial parts of the Chinese story (the three T’s are blacked out: Tiananmen, Tibet and Taiwan) makes them stick out like ugly warts within the Western concept of liberal seats of learning that is supposed to underlie the very basis of academic development.
On March 28, 2012, the United States House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on “The Price of Public Diplomacy with China,” focusing upon Chinese propaganda efforts in the U.S., including Confucius Institutes on university campuses. Representative Dana Rohrabacher said, “The two pillars of America’s status as an open society are freedom of the press and academic freedom. Communist China, which does not believe in or allow the practice of either type of freedom, is exploiting the opportunities offered by America to penetrate both private media and public education to spread its state propaganda.”Steven W. Mosher testified, “there have been allegations of Confucius Institutes undermining academic freedom at host universities, engaging in industrial and military espionage, monitoring the activities of Chinese students abroad, and attempting to advance the Chinese Party-State’s political agenda on such issues as the Dalai Lama and Tibet, Taiwan independence, the pro-democracy movement abroad, and dissent within China itself.”Responding to Mosher’s testimony, Rohrabacher argued, “It appears as though Beijing is able to expand its campaign against academic freedom from China to America when U.S. universities value Chinese favors and money more than truth and integrity.
That’s it really. It’s not just the US universities. Dealing with China means that sacrifices have to be made and reaching ugly value conclusions. Dealing with China brings in Chinese favors and money but the ultimate result is that what suffers are truth and integrity.
The object of the superior man is the truth. – Confucius