The following is a translation of an article published online by Radio Taiwan International (RTI), on January 13 this year. RTI based their article on coverage by United Daily News (聯合報), the Liberty Times (自由時報, sister to the English-language Taipei Times), and Associated Press (AP).
I haven’t checked upon mainland coverage of these issues yet (RTI mentions Huanqiu Shibao, for example), but might do so next week.
As for Astrid Soderbergh Widding, the Stockholm University vice-chancellor quoted by RTI, the South China Morning Post quoted her in January as saying that “establishing institutes that are funded by another nation, within the framework of a university, is rather a questionable practice”.
Links within blockquotes added during translation.
Mainland China’s Huanqiu Shibao reported on January 12 that Stockholm University has announced the termination, by the end of June, of its cooperation with the Confucius Institute in Stockholm – the first Confucius Institute founded in Europe, in 2005. The reason was that given the expansion of bilateral cooperation, this form of co0peration was no longer in step with the times. Before that, two American universities also said that they would not renew their contracts with the Confucius Institutes. These decisions reflect the concerns that the role of Confucius Institutes in the respective countries have caused.
To alleviate doubts, Beijing promotes soft power
Supported by its economic power, mainland China’s international political status has risen, Beijing’s rise received high global attention, and it also led to some doubts: to highlight China’s rise as a peaceful one, and to strengthen mainland China’s international influence, Beijing set out from the cultural level to actively promote soft power, and the establishment of Confucius Institutes abroad was what caught most attention among the promotional measures.
In November 2004, the first Confucius Institute put up its name plate in Seoul, and since, Confucius Institutes have also been established in countries in Asia, America, Europe, and Africa.
By September 2014, 123 countries worldwide cooperated with mainland China, having set up 465 Confucius Institutes and 173 Confucius Classrooms. In America alone, 100 universities took part in such programs.
Confucius Institutes lead in funding
The Confucius Institutes are usually set up right within the foreign universities that sign contracts with Beijing, but the [central] government in Beijing provides funding, chooses the staff that teaches abroad, and specifies the teaching material. This has caused quite some controversy.
It is [sometimes] said that Confucius Institutes operating within universities have some influence on the curricula of those schools and could endanger the schools’ integrity. These commentators believe that Confucius Institutes pose a threat to academic freedom.
Stockholm University vice-chancellor Astrid Söderbergh Widding says that when institutions within universities are funded by governments of other countries, the approach does indeed pose problems.
斯德哥爾摩大學副校長維丁(Astrid Soderbergh Widding)就表示，大學內設立的機構是由另一個國家政府提供經費，這種作法的確有問題。
The ways Confucius Institutes operate have also attracted the attention of foreign governments. Indian and Japanese officials have questioned that Confucius Institutes only teach the Chinese language – [suggesting that] they also spread ideological attitued, and deliberately influence countries’ assessments of mainland China.
A report published in October 2013 by American think tank “Project 2049 Research Institute” pointed out that while teaching Chinese, Confucius Institutes also inculcate ideological attitudes, thus influencing foreign circles’ judgment of Beijing.
To promote academic independence, American scholars demand end to cooperation
Nevertheless, Beijing’s strategy of promoting soft power by the establishment of Confucius Institues in numerous countries worldwide has seen growing resistance in recent years. Besides Stockholm University, universities and schools in America and Canada have terminated or suspended cooperation with Confucius Institutes.
When the University of Chicago established a Confucius Institute in 2009, 174 professors of the university jointly opposed. Last year in April, 108 University of Chicago professors jointly demanded that after the cooperation term expire, cooperation with Beijing should be terminated, and the Confucius Institute no longer be allowed on the campus. They believed that the lecturers employed by Beijing had received special training to avoid or neglect politically sensitive topics such as “June 4” or Taiwan. They believed that with Beijing’s control of the lecturers employment and training would earn the University of Chicago’s academic program political mainland official management and control of political speech and influence on freedom of religion.
On September 25 last year, the University of Chicago announced that the five years of cooperation with the Confucius Institute would not be renewed after September 29.
Shortly afterwards, on October 1 2014, the Pennsylvania State University announced that they would terminate their five years of cooperation with the Confucius Institute.
Beijing’s method of transmitting ideology needs to be corrected
American paper Wall Street Journal wrote that the professors’ dissatisfaction with the Confucius Institutes came from lacking teaching skills and a refusal to accept some negative chapters in Chinese history*).
In June last year, the American Association of University Professors called for 100 U.S. universities cancel or renegotiate their contracts with the Confucius Institutes, because the Confucius Institutes were propaganda branches of mainland Chinese, particularly dissimenating the mainland authorities ideological attitudes, in violation of academic freedom.
Even earlier, in June 2013, the Canadian Association of University Teachers called on Canada’s universities and schools to terminate relations with the Confucius Institute, because allowing governments of totalitarian states to guide curricula content, teaching material and the topics in classroom dialogue would harm the integrity of all universities.
The University of Manitoba, and the Toronto District School Board refused or suspended the establishment of Confucius Institutes last year, their main concern being that Confucius Institutes could interfere with academic freedom at the schools.
加拿大曼尼托巴大學(University of Manitoba)和多倫多教育局已於去年先後拒絕或暫停設立孔子學院，主要的顧慮就是孔子學院會干涉學校的學術自由。
But is the gradual termination of cooperation with Confucius Institutes by European and American countries purely based on concern about academic freedom, or does it represent an outbreak of fear of mainland China? Future developments will be worth continued observation.
*) If RTI referred to this WSJ blogpost, hiring practice rather than lacking skills were the source of dissatisfaction: the institutes’ hiring practices and refusal to acknowledge unflattering chapters of Chinese history.
» Unobtrusive and Imperceptible Moral Influence, Jan 7, 2012