Academic programs within U.S. universities are being shaped and censored by a secretive body, controlled by China’s ruling Communist party, that aspires to expand the regime’s soft power, a new report suggests.
Asked if the University of Chicago’s Confucius Institute had ever organized events on such controversial issues as Tibetan independence or the status of Taiwan, Ted Foss, the associate director of its Center for East Asian Studies, concedes, “I can put up a picture of the Dalai Lama in this office. But on the fourth floor, we wouldn’t do that.”
“The reason is that the Confucius Institutes at the University of Chicago and elsewhere are subsidized and supervised by the government of the People’s Republic of China,” says Marshall Sahlins, a Professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.
The CI program was launched by the PRC in 2004, and there are now some 400 institutes worldwide as well as an outreach program consisting of nearly 600 “Confucius classrooms” in secondary and elementary schools. …. But whereas the Goethe-Institut, like the British Council and the Alliance Française, is a stand-alone institution situated outside university precincts, a Confucius Institute exists as a virtually autonomous unit within the regular curriculum of the host school—for example, providing accredited courses in Chinese language in the Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.
“There’s another big difference: CIs are managed by a foreign government, and accordingly are responsive to its politics,” Sahlins writes for The Nation.
Is this even legal?
The institutes’ constitutions and bylaws are supervised by the Beijing headquarters of the Chinese Language Council International, commonly known as Hanban, “an instrument of the party state operating as an international pedagogical organization,” he notes:
In larger universities hosting CIs, Hanban assumes responsibility for a portion of the total Chinese curriculum. In the more numerous smaller hosts, most or all of the instruction in Chinese language and culture is under its control. Hanban has the right to supply the teachers, textbooks and curriculums of the courses in its charge; it also names the Chinese co-directors of the local Confucius Institutes. Research projects on China undertaken by scholars with Hanban funds are approved by Beijing…..
Hanban operates under Chinese laws that criminalize forms of political speech and systems of belief that are protected in the United States by the First Amendment, making it likely that by adhering to Article 5, American universities would be complicit in discriminatory hiring or violations of freedom of speech. And because the constitution of the Confucius Institutes stipulates that it and its bylaws are “applicable to all Confucius Institutes,” the officers of host universities must accept the Chinese control of academic work in their institutions and agree to keep this arrangement secret. Is this even legal?
According to Communist party politburo member Li Changchun, the Confucius Institutes are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up,” Sahlins observes:
A 2011 article in The People’s Daily, the organ of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, declared as much, boasting of the spread of the Confucius Institutes (331 at the time) alongside other indices of China’s ascent to world-political prominence, such as its annual growth rate of 8 percent, its technological and military accomplishments, and its newfound status as the second-largest economy in the world.
“For all the attention that the Confucius Institutes have attracted in the United States and elsewhere, there has been virtually no serious journalistic or ethnographic investigation into their particulars,” he writes.