An interesting debate is on in the universities of the United States. At many of these universities, the Confucian Institute, run by the Chinese government, has opened centres. Named after the famous philosopher Confucius, the institute’s aim is to teach Chinese history, culture and language. But in today’s world, the viewpoint taken even in a subject like history could depend on one’s political beliefs. These centres are being accused of spreading Chinese propaganda to mould the views of young Americans into one that supports the stand taken by the Chinese government.
Backed by huge grants offered by China, these institutes are proliferating across the United States. Observers accuse these institutes of having the hidden agenda of spreading propaganda of the Chinese government. There are demands that these institutes be closed or register themselves as foreign institutes and the university should declare what grants it gets from the Chinese government. The Chinese government, of course, claims the institutes only teach Chinese language, culture and history.
Ethan Epstein, writing in the online Politico Magazine, says these institutes are supervised by a branch of the Chinese Ministry of Education known as Hanban. He says the institutes are part of a broader propaganda initiative that the Chinese government is pumping an estimated $10 billion into annually.
Confucius Institutes teach a very particular, Beijing-approved version of Chinese culture and history: one that ignores concerns over human rights, for example, and teaches that Taiwan and Tibet indisputably belong to Mainland China.
American universities can continue to collect full tuition from their students while essentially outsourcing instruction in Chinese. In other words, it’s free money for the schools.
The instructors are paid by the Chinese government. They are also explicitly instructed to toe Beijing’s line on controversial political questions. There are no discussions of human rights in China or the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Meanwhile, three US Republican lawmakers have said they want China’s Confucius Institute centres in the United States to register as foreign agents and all US universities should disclose major gifts from foreign sources. They have introduced the Foreign Influence Transparency Act, which would require the institutes to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
Josh Rogin, writing in The News & Observer says the more important challenge is the threat the institutes pose to the ability of the next generation of American leaders to learn, think and speak about realities in China and the true nature of the Communist Party regime.
He quotes Senator Marco Rubio as saying, “Their (Confucius Institute) goal is to exploit America’s academic freedom to instill in the minds of future leaders a pro-China viewpoint. It’s smart. It’s a long-term, patient approach.”
DW.com quotes Rachelle Peterson as saying that the Chinese government uses Confucius Institutes to “entangle colleges and universities in financial relationships that compromise their independence and autonomy.”
Peterson added, “Confucius Institute classes are stocked with textbooks selected and paid for by the Chinese government and led by teachers vetted and hired by the Chinese government. It is inappropriate for a foreign power to have such control over a college course.”
She added that Confucius Institute courses ignored the Chinese government’s history of human rights abuses and authoritarianism. The end result is that students receive a remarkably one-sided portrayal of China.