Chinese Law Prof Blog

Editor: Donald C. Clarke
George Washington University Law School

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

More on the debate over Confucius Institutes

On February 14th I posted what was definitely not a valentine to Confucius Institutes written by University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, as well as a response written by my colleague Ed McCord. Sahlins has now written a rejoinder, and McCord in turn a surrejoinder (I think that's what it's called - if the debate goes on any longer I will run out of vocabulary).

This is an important debate to have. I think Sahlins is right to be concerned, even seriously concerned. If Confucius Institutes did not exist, would anyone not in the Chinese government have proposed them as a model for promoting China studies around the world? At the same time, I know Ed McCord to be a scholar of integrity and sound judgment, who has not hesitated to offend the PRC government in the past when his principles called for it. Both perspectives need to be heard.

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We really need to keep in mind the Party's track record on matters like this- think about it this way: If they have a tool like this, which extends into classrooms across the world, do you really think they wouldn't use it to try to suppress discussion of Tibet, Taiwan, the grimier aspects of PRC history, etc? This is one time where giving someone the benefit of the doubt doesn't make sense, because we've seen how the Party works every single time.

Posted by: J | Apr 9, 2014 12:05:04 PM

Why are these debates always pretending that the CI are the first state-sponsored 'soft-power' institutions teaching language and culture in other countries? Why have there not been any serious comparisons between the CI and:
- The British Council
- The Goethe Institut
- The Instituto Cervantes
- The Alliance Francaise

While objections to the political views of the CCP and the Chinese government are definitely warranted, these objections should have little to do with this debate about who controls what happens in the CI (regardless where they are). Religions fund schools and have very specific ideas about acceptable staff. German International Schools have to accept teachers sent out to them by the German State...

Somehow, I think this whole debate is not quite careful enough in dissecting the issues.

Posted by: David | Apr 11, 2014 2:07:54 AM

David, you are missing what is a central point, the crucial difference between British Council/Goethe/Cervantes institutes etc. and the Chinese institutes: Those other institutes are downtown, set apart and recognizable for all, but the Chinese instead purposefully implant the institutes into host institutions, paying (bribing) their way in.
Nobody has objected to China's government renting a building downtown for its "information" purposes. But China's government is engaged in a more precisely targeted effort, in inserting these implants. The purpose is of course includes to gain control over China-related teaching, hirings, events agendas, and such, at those in-country institutions, and the broader purpose is to achieve control how 'China' is presented to students and others in the name of that US or other institution, as part of a global agenda to control what can be said about Chinese actions in the world -- to extend the severe censorship and harsh oppression of freethinkers that they have at home, to the world beyond.
When you go to the British Council etc etc you'll know it's British government-sponsored. No ambiguity. But, when you go to Stanford? U Chicago? GWU?, to hear about China or study Chinese at an implanted outfit paid for by the Chinese government? Then what?
Clearly, the integrity of those US and other universities has been badly compromised already -- whether or not the CIs actually achieve any such direct influence already (stopping criticism of China before it even can take place, rejecting hires, providing "clean" textbooks where anything critical is whitewashed etc.)
--Sadly but inevitably, having "sold out" for a few hundred thousand dollars, those US universities have lost their integrity. They will henceforth inescapably be suspect, even though the naive cash-strapped administrators and others who went for these deals may try to keep up the appearances The damage is done.

Posted by: Knutte | Apr 12, 2014 4:47:25 PM

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