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US Confucius Institutes write open letter

The Confucius Institute US Center has written an open letter to editors speaking out against negative coverage and asking them to “cover the perspective of students who value their CI programs”.

ConfuciusConfucius Institutes are regularly accused of trying to exert influence on universities. Photo: Pixabay

29 CIs out of the more than 100 in the US have been shut down over the past six years

Accusations of CIs being used to control teaching about China at institutes are well documented, with CI teachers and staff having been accused, among other things, of attempting to remove references to Taiwan in event programs and the CVs of visiting speakers.

“Usually complaints are reported without any attempt at balance or to learn more about the actual content and perspectives of CI programs”

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 29 Confucius Institutes out of the more than 100 in the US have been shut down over the past six years.

“Negative coverage of CI programs almost universally includes sweeping statements and broad conclusions about foreign policy leading to attacks on CI programs as the convenient scapegoat,” said the letter’s authors, the Confucius Institute US Center’s executive director, Gao Qing and external communications associate, Erik Eging.

“Usually complaints are reported without any attempt at balance or to learn more about the actual content and perspectives of CI programs or any discussion as to why, in this global economy, speaking Chinese or being familiar with Chinese culture could benefit students,” they continued.

“The attacks on the programs are embarrassing and frustrating for participants who know that these programs are locally run by personnel hired by US schools who also decide the curriculum.”

The letter pointed to a report published a year and a half ago on CIs by the US’s Government Accountability Office that looked into how they operate, with a particular focus on the content of contracts and agreements made with universities.

They found that university officials “cited increased resources for Chinese language and cultural programs as among key institute benefits”, but that others expressed concerns that CIs “could constrain campus activities and classroom content”.

One interviewee suggested “physically mov[ing] the Confucius Institute off campus to a separate location in the urban centre of the metropolitan area” would be one solution to address fears levelled at CIs.

“We’re there to be a resource to students to allow them to expand their Chinese language skills,” Erik Eging told The PIE News, highlighting his own experience of studying at a Confucius Institute while at university.

“I was a Chinese language major. At no point did I not learn about the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward in the classroom. But then if I needed extra help with some characters or advanced grammar, there was also a Confucius Institute,” he explained.

“If the Confucius Institute was trying to pull the wool over their eyes students wouldn’t keep showing up”

“If the Confucius Institute was trying to pull the wool over their eyes students wouldn’t keep showing up. And yet we have students who in spite of the negative rhetoric continually show up because they see the value.”

In early July, Confucius Institutes were rebranded and control of them switched from the Hanban to a group of Chinese NGOs, but that has done little to allay fears of their influence and calls for them to be banned continue.

One act related to Confucius Institutes has already passed unanimously in the senate.

Note: This article was updated to include a response from the Confucius Institute US Center. 

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