Zhao Lingmin: Confucius Institutes, and the Three Layers of a Country’s Image

Kungfu, Bremen-Hemelingen (archive)

A Kungfu Institute, for starters (Bremen-Hemelingen – archive)

Nanfang People Weekly (南方人物周刊) is one of the papers published by the Nanfang News Media Group, or Southern Media Group. Other well-known papers would be Nanfang Weekend (Southern Weekend (南方周末), or – daily rather than weekly – Nanfang Ribao. The Nanfang / Southern Daily is an organ of the CCP, on Guangdong’s provincial level, according to Baidu Baike. It was founded on October 23, 1949, and was given the role as the provincial party organ in 1955. Also according to Baike, it has been, for seventeen years in a row, the paper with the highest cirulation among all provincial party papers, with 850,000 copies.

When compared with other papers of its kind – and arguably many commercial papers nationwide, too -, the Nanfang papers reflect the “Guangdong way” – a political approach which the Economist, in November last year, referred to as beguilingly open.

But obviously, even this relative editorial independence doesn’t go without saying. Caixin Media, as quoted by David Bandurski of China Media Project, broke news in early May this year that Yang Jian (杨健), an established propaganda cadre, had been appointed party secretary at the Nanfang Media Group. Papers as attractive as Nanfang Daily and its sisters apparently need to be harnessed for the higher good of cultural production, to defend [the public] against the West’s assault on the country’s culture and ideology. If the lively Nanfang family should die in the process (i. e. become more correct in its public opinion guidance), they will have become martyrs.

In China, soft power is not only about nation branding, but nation building as well. Through using soft power narratives, China is encouraging a domestic cultural revitalization attempting to win the hearts and minds of Chinese diaspora communities and promote national cohesion between dominant and minority groups in the country,

Imran Arshad suggested earlier this year. And as the Nanfang Group, from the CCP perspective, may need to do some long-neglected homework in this field anyway, its specially-appointed contributor Zhao Lingmin (赵灵敏) – specially appointed probably because he reportedly lost his official function at Nanfang Chuang, another Nanfang paper, in 2011 -, studied soft-power’s relationship with the Confucius Institutes, in an article published by Nanfang People Weekly on June 1.

Links within the following blockquotes were added during translation – JR
Main Link: Nanfang Renwu Zhoukan, June 1, 2012

Confucius Institutes and Soft Power

June 1, 2012

Soft Power’s “Softness” and Bounteousness, with Hard Sell Blossoming Everywhere, is Inopportune

The article first notes that while a U.S. State-Department notice concerning Confucius-Institute teaching staff’s visa had since been corrected, the controversy centering around the Confucius Institutes was far from over.

On November 21, 2004, China’s first overseas “Confucius Institute” put its store sign up in South Korea. By the end of August, 2011, 353 Confucius Institutes and 473 Confucius Classrooms had been established in various countries – a total of 826. In America alone, there are 81 of them. To carry the work of the Confucius Institutes out even better, the Confucius Institutes headquarters were established in Beijing, in 2006. The “Confucius Institutes” are seen as embodiments of China’s government to promote soft power globally.
2004年11月21日,中国第一所海外“孔子学院”在韩国挂牌。截至2011年8月底,各国已建立353所孔子学院和473个孔子课堂,共计826所。 仅美国就有81所孔子学院。为了更好地运作孔子学院,2006年,孔子学院总部在北京成立。“孔子学院”被视为中国政府向世界推广“软实力”的体现。

Currently, every sixth day will see the birth of a Confucius Institute somewhere on the globe. A German organization which is similar to the Confucius Institute, the Goethe Institute, founded in 1951, currently has 144 institutes, and adds only three more annually, on average. Spain’s Cervantes Institute was founded in 1991, and has only thirty institutes so far, adding only two annually, on average. According to official reports, the foundation of each Confucius Institute costs 500,000 US dollars, and each Confucius Classroom comes at 60,000 US dollars. Mr Xue Yong (薛涌) estimates that a Confucius Institute established in America costs at least several million US dollars. After the Confucius Institutes’ and Classrooms’ establishment, these also need to be operated. The [expected ? – 光] budget for Confucius Institutes reached 1.6 billion in 2008; a number which is likely to have risen since, year by year. According to domestic logic, it would seem as if the tasks of building this or that number of schools had been completed already, and that China’s values had already been transported. But that isn’t necessarily so.

According to the Hanban’s terminology, all Confucius Institutes were founded on foreign universities’ own requests. The procedure is that applications are written to Hanban, that China’s hanban would provide assistance and operation. Therefore, “Confucius Institute” deans are, without exception, foreigners. Most of them are foreign university Sinology faculty directors, or people of similar backgrounds. Isn’t it easy to see why, given their titles as “Confucius Institute deans”, they’d take up the mission of promoting the Chinese language, and spreading Chinese culture? What the director of Düsseldorf’s Confucius Institute, [Hahebao – this should be a German name – JR], says may be indicative: “At the current stage, China amounts to spreading money to the entire globe, and that’s why local universities cooperate with the Confucius Institutes – mainly to get these fundings. After taking the money, they themselves will operate language classes and lectures, etc. Most of them have no long-term educational plan, and nobody seems to be sure what the hanban’s actual goals are.”

A fundamental error lies in just the [Confucius-Institute] and other foreign propaganda activities which spare no expense, believing that China’s current image isn’t satisfactory because the degree of propaganda weren’t sufficient – that therefore, propaganda needed to be intensified, so that when power and influence are great, when the reports are many, and translated into several foreign languages, the image will be good. This is a typically Chinese way of thinking, [but] in Western societies, where information is amply revealed, this won’t work. A country’s image includes three layers: what you say, how you say it, and the gap between what you say and what you do. An insufficient degree of propaganda is the second layer, and would be comparatively easy to correct. The bigger problem is the gap between words and deeds.

According to Joseph Nye, soft power is about inspiration and attractiveness, which means that you “subdue the enemy without fighting”. The “softness” and unsparing expenses of soft power, with Hard Sell Blossoming Everywhere, is Inopportune. America is the strongest country worldwide, in terms of soft power, its global cultural influence reaches everywhere. Many people want to go to America, no matter the cost, no matter the risks. But America has no propaganda department, no Culture Ministry, and certainly no organizations like the Confucius Institutes, to promote its culture and values, but relies on the attractiveness that comes from within American culture, which are automatically chosen by people.

Therefore, things aren’t as simple as to “increase propaganda” in order to increase soft power. What matters more is what is actually propagandized. Without original thought, and mere recitals of some doctrines, the effects will rather probably be counter-productive. Years ago, Margaret Thatcher frankly stated that “China won’t become a superpower, because it doesn’t have that doctrine that could promote China’s power, and weaken the spread of our Western doctrines. China only exports television sets, and no ideas“. This is probably China’s biggest obstacle in raising its soft power and its image.

To a certain degree, China’s citizens will shape its image. Governmental PR and remarks can’t replace citizens’ individual behavior, and won’t be able to shape the image of the individual. A person’s understanding of the outside world is inevitably overgeneralized, and general judgment will come from specific people and issues. Therefore, every individual’s interaction with the outside world participates in shaping our national image. When you come to a country and find fresh air, an intact environment, and amicable people, these perceptions will create a good impression of that country [in your mind]. It may take nine travel groups who leave a good impression, to correct the bad impression left by one travel group. In that sense, the fundamentals for improving an image abroad are within the country.



» Soft Power starts at Home, Jan 21, 2012



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