Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Critics Worry over Chinese Largess in U.S. ; Money Tied to Institutes Can Result in Censorship, Some Professors Say

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Critics Worry over Chinese Largess in U.S. ; Money Tied to Institutes Can Result in Censorship, Some Professors Say

Article excerpt

Confucius Institutes are cultural outposts of the Chinese government and bring much-needed cash to American universities. But some are concerned that such largesse comes with strings attached.

Stanford University welcomed one with open arms. The University of Pennsylvania took a look and passed. Columbia University has one, and so does the London School of Economics. But last month, Dickinson State College in North Dakota became the most recent university to turn down a Confucius Institute -- a cultural outpost of the Chinese government that already has 350 branches on campuses around the world, from Paris Diderot University to Penn State, and from Argentina to Zimbabwe.

To proponents, the institutes offer a chance for greater engagement with one of the oldest civilizations in the world -- and the fastest-rising power of the new millennium. For cash-strapped university administrators, the institutes can seem like a godsend, bringing not just Beijing-trained and -financed language teachers and textbooks but also money for a director's salary and a program of public events.

"When you set up a Confucius Institute you get a ready-made partner," said Nick Byrne, executive director of the Confucius Institute at the London School of Economics, which is paired with Tsinghua University in Beijing. Tsinghua sends Chinese language teachers to London; the institute also funds a number of scholarships at Tsinghua for British graduate students.

Critics worry that such largess comes with strings attached. "There is a whole list of proscribed topics," said June Teufel Dreyer, who teaches Chinese government and foreign policy at the University of Miami. "You're told not to discuss the Dalai Lama -- or to invite the Dalai Lama to campus. Tibet, Taiwan, China's military buildup, factional fights inside the Chinese leadership -- these are all off limits." Ms. Dreyer said that Miami did not have a Confucius Institute but added that their rapid growth and potential influence was a frequent topic of discussion among China specialists.

Officials at the Office of Chinese Language Council International, better known by its Chinese acronym Hanban, failed to respond to repeated requests for comment. But the bylaws posted on the Hanban Web site state that all institutes are governed by "principles of mutual respect, friendly negotiations, and mutual benefit."

For Arthur Waldron, a professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, the key issue is academic independence. "Once you have a Confucius Institute on campus, you have a second source of opinions and authority that is ultimately answerable to the Chinese Communist Party and which is not subject to scholarly review," he said. "You can't blame the Chinese government for wanting to mold discussion. But Chinese embassies and consulates are in the business of observing Chinese students. Should we really be inviting them onto our campuses?"

The first Confucius Institute was opened in Seoul in 2004. That same year an institute also opened at the University of Maryland; most U.S. institutes are still located in state universities or regional colleges. But following President Hu Jintao's October 2007 speech to the 17th Communist Party congress, in which he said China must "enhance culture as part of the soft power of our country," the program grew rapidly in scope and ambition.

There are now 70 institutes in the United States, 14 in France, 11 in Germany, 13 in Britain, and others in Eastern Europe and Asia. The program at the London School of Economics is the Confucius Institute for Business; the institute at Southbank University, in London, is devoted to traditional Chinese medicine. According to Hong Lu, who runs executive programs at the London School of Economics institute, agreements have been reached for a program in Chinese dance at Goldsmith's College, a center devoted to Chinese theater at Sussex University, and a program in Chinese art and design at the new University of the Arts, in London. …

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