The numbers are impressive: China’s government-sponsored Confucius Institutes (CIs)— first opened abroad a decade ago — are now located in 126 countries. They comprise 475 institutes and 851 smaller “Confucius Classrooms” (CCs), and in 2014 alone, 35 CIs and 205 CCs opened their doors across the globe (list).
Confucius Institutes are founded primarily to promote Chinese language and culture, and in many ways are similar to Britain’s British Council, France’s Alliance Française and Germany’s Goethe-Institut. According to Wikipedia (Confucius Institute), however, unlike these organizations:
. . . Confucius Institutes operate within established universities, colleges, and secondary schools around the world, providing funding, teachers and educational materials. This has raised concerns over their influence on academic freedom, the possibility of industrial espionage, and concerns that the institutes present a selective and politicized view of China as a means of advancing the country’s soft power internationally.
At a time when universities in the West are slashing budgets for humanities and foreign language teaching, such China-sponsored largesse has obvious appeal.
Seen as a “Trojan Horse” by some, the Confucius Institute practice of “embedding” itself in universities has alarmed some academics in the US and Canada in particular. According to the BBC:
Last December the Canadian Association of University Teachers called on all universities currently hosting Confucius Institutes to cease doing so.
And in June this year the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) made the same call to US universities.
Whatever strengths the Confucius Institutes bring to the table, on-camera PR is apparently not one. You might want to check out Hard Side of China’s Soft Power, which includes a filmed interview by the BBC with the head of Hanban (汉办), the government agency that runs the international network of Confucius Institutes. Some of the questions seem a bit obnoxious, admittedly; but someone needs to send China’s spokespeople back to school to learn about how to deal with ornery Western reporters. Insisting the BBC delete portions of its live interviews, for one, is not a strategy likely to win friends and influence people.
Ah, yes. And the official site: Confucius Institute Online