Confucius Institute: State Department Directive “an Untimely End to Chinese Classes”

Main Link: Huanqiu Shibao, May 24, 2012, 03:29.

Translated off the reel, and posted right away. A link to the State-Department directive can be found under footnote 2. Links within blockquote added during translation.

A notice issued by U.S. State Department officials on May 17, to all Confucius Institutes in America, has caused great controversy. The new notice requires existing Confucius Institutes to apply for American “certification”, to become part of regular courses, and bans Chinese teachers and volunteers to teach in middle and elementary schools. A Hanban responsible, on May 23, expressed “shock” to a Huanqiu Shibao reporter, as no consultations had preceded this notice. Insiders told this reporter that to date, American officials hadn’t explained to whom the Confucius Institutes should turn for certification. U.S. “Higher Education News”1) wrote on May 21 that the notice would disrupt Confucius Institute teaching activities. “People don’t undersstand the State Department’s sudden notice. Actually, Confucius Institutes have been on American campuses for almost ten years.” An insider told the Global Times reporter on May 23 that currently, Confucius Institutes were highly successful and influential in America, that many Americans learned Chinese, and that America was somewhat worried about this. In addition, it was election year in America, and political consideration could be behind the measures taken.

The notice was reportedly issued by Robin Lerner, the State Department Deputy Secretary in charge of Educatonal and Cultural Matters and private-sector exchange. The notice says that while Confucius Institutes may be beneficial to promoting cultural exchange, its activities “need to be in accordance with the standards of exchange, and respect the relevant law and regulations”. “Professors, researchers, short-term visiting scholars or institutes, as well as students, were not allowed to teach in primary schools2). […] The notice also says that “to ensure that the Confucius Institute education corresponds with and maintains suitable regulations and standards, the Institutes must apply for American certification”, “on initial examination, it isn’t clear if the Confucius Institutes will get American certification”. The State Department allows currently teaching Confucius Institute teachers with J-1 visa to continue teaching until the end of the school year in June, but won’t renew their visas. If they wish, they can return to China to apply for appropriate exchange project visas.
据悉,签发这一公告的是美国国务院负责教育和文化事务局私营部门交流的副助理秘书长罗宾•勒纳。公告称,尽管孔子学院可能有益于促进文化交流,但其所从事的活动“必须符合正确的交流规范,遵循相关法规”。“教授、研究学者、短期访问学者或学院、大学学生不允许在公立和私立小、中学教学,否则便与有关交流访问项目法规相违。 […..] ”公告还称,“为确保孔子学院的教育符合和保持适合的规定标准,孔子学院必须申请美国认证”,“美国国务院的初步审视并不清楚这些孔子学院是否得到美国认证”。美国务院允许目前持有J-1签证的孔子学院教师继续留至2012年6月本学年结束,但不会为他们续签签证。如果他们愿意,可回中国再申办一种合适的交流项目签证。

There are Confucius Institutes at 81 American universities. The notice has caused wide-spread shock, confusion, and incomprehension. Confucius Institutes in all places said that the notice was “surprising” or “unusual”, and there were discussions everywhere as to how to deal [with the situation]. Huanqiu Shibao has learned that J-1 visas are a kind of non-immigration visas, issued to foreigners who participate in “exchange and visitor programs approved by the State Department”. An official survey concerning J-1 visa holders was carried out early this year.

A lady who had taught for Confucius Institutes in America told Huanqiu Shibao on May 23 that teachers sent by China to teach abroad were mainly government-sponsored, or volunteers. They all held visitor J-1 visas. She had been a volunteer, and a visa had been rather easy to obtain.

What people find most incomprehensible is that American officialdom requires Confucius Institutes to carry out so-called “certification”. Huanqiu Shibao has learned that to date, the State Department has not said where Confucius Institutes should turn for certification. By comparison, nothing has been heard of German Goethe Institutes, French Institutes or other cultural exchange bodies in America having received American certification. People in charge at the first Confucius Institutes established in the U.S., University of Maryland Confucius Institute and George Mason University Confucius Institute, express confusion, and say that the “certification” issue is currently being discussed. The person in charge at the George Mason University Confucius Institute hopes that the notification came without political considerations. After all, Obama’s initiative to have 100,000 students study in China was about encouraging American students to study Chinese.

According to explanations by a Hanban person in charge, made to Huanqiu Shibao, Hanban has sent a letter to university presidents, to carry out negotiations. The letter says that Confucius Institutes in America were established at American requests, and run in cooperation with Hanban and Chinese institutions of higher education. The Chinese side fully respected the esteemed universities’ powers to make their own decisions (自主权)3), and there had never been special instructions concerning the teaching and cultural-exchange activities carried out by the Institutes. The central office provided help, such as support in that it sent volunteers, as requested by the American side. The letter also says that the Chinese side respects American governmental law and regulations, but that in this process, we do not wish to see that volunteer projects get disrupted, as this would lead to many quickly-developing Chinese-language classes coming to an untimely end, resulting in losses for the schools and students.

The person in charge also said that before volunteers head for America, they get an invitation from the American schools, in accordance with the Sino-American school agreements, and apply for and obtain a visa. From 2005 on, China had developed Chinese language education to help America, and had sent more than 2,100 teachers. The project had always worked smoothly. It had been believed that once teachers received an American invitation, the application would lead to a visa, and that there would be no problems. No consultations had preceded the State Department’s May-17 notice, and this was felt to be very sudden and surprising by those in charge at the Confucius Institutes.

Many presidents [of universities with Confucius Institutes] were disgusted by the State Department notice, and had many objections, as they believed it interfered with their universities’ autonomy3). They currently contacted the State Department and negotiated. Huanqiu Shibao also learned that to address the doubts, a State-Department official was to be sent to Maryland University to have direct talks with people in charge at the university and the Confucius Institute.



1) This is my translation of 美国“高等教育新闻”网站 – the website’s real name may be different.

2) Quote:

Teaching positions in primary and secondary schools (K-12) are only authorized under the “Teacher” category set forth at 22 CFR 62.24. Teaching primary and secondary school students in public school systems or private schools is not permitted by professors, research scholars, short-term scholars, or college/university students.

(Guidance Directive 2012-06 Exchange Visitor Program – Confucius Institutes)

3) 自主权, which may be translated either as the right to make decisions of one’s own, or autonomy. The term for provincial or territorial autonomy in China, for places like Tibet, would be 自治区 (autonomous regions), and is therefore not exactly the same term.



» Three Eight-Hundreds, April 19, 2009



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