Confucius Institute

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Confucius Institute
Confucius Institute logo
TypeEducational Organization
FocusChinese culture, Chinese language
Area servedWorldwide
OwnerThe Office of Chinese Language Council International (also known as "Hanban")
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Confucius Institute
Confucius Institute logo
TypeEducational Organization
FocusChinese culture, Chinese language
Area servedWorldwide
OwnerThe Office of Chinese Language Council International (also known as "Hanban")
Confucius Institute
Traditional Chinese孔子學院
Simplified Chinese孔子学院
A Confucius Institute in Canada

Confucius Institutes are non-profit public institutions affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China[1] whose stated aim is to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges.[2][3]

Confucius Institutes are sometimes compared to language and culture promotion organizations such as Britain's British Council, France's Alliance Française and Germany's Goethe-Institut. Unlike these organizations, however, Confucius Institutes operate within established universities, colleges, and secondary schools around the world, providing funding, teachers and educational materials. This has raised concerns over their influence on academic freedom, the possibility of industrial espionage,[4] and concerns that the institutes present a selective and politicized view of China as a means of advancing the country's soft power internationally.[1][5]

The Confucius Institute program began in 2004 and is overseen by Hanban (officially the Office of Chinese Language Council International). The program is governed by a council whose top-level members are drawn from Communist Party of China leadership and various state ministries.[1][6] The institutes operate in co-operation with local affiliate colleges and universities around the world, and financing is shared between Hanban and the host institutions. The related Confucius Classroom program partners with local secondary schools or school districts to provide teachers and instructional materials.[7][8]


After establishing a pilot institute in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in June 2004, the first Confucius Institute opened on 21 November 2004 in Seoul, South Korea. Hundreds more have since opened in dozens of countries around the world with the highest concentration of Institutes in the United States, Japan, and South Korea.[9] In April 2007 the first research-based Confucius Institute opened at Waseda University, in Japan. In partnership with Peking University the program promotes the research activities of graduate students studying China.[10] As of 2014, there were over 480 Confucius Institutes in dozens of countries on six continents.[11][12] The Ministry of Education estimates 100 million people overseas may be learning Chinese by 2010 and the program is continuing rapid expansion to keep pace.[13] Hanban aims to establish 1,000 Confucius Institutes by 2020.[14] The rapid expansion of Confucius Institutes has led to a backlash, especially in the United States and other Western countries.


The well-known Chinese philosopher, Confucius (551–479 BC) is the namesake for the Institutes. Communist leaders throughout the 20th century have criticized and denounced the philosopher as the personification of China's "feudal" traditions, with anti-Confucianism ranging from the 1912 New Culture Movement to the 1973 Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius campaign during the Cultural Revolution.[15] In recent decades, interest in pre-modern Chinese culture has grown in the People's Republic of China, and Confucius in particular has seen a resurgence in popularity.[16] Abroad Confucius is a universally recognizable symbol of Chinese Culture, free of the controversy surrounding other prominent Chinese figures such as Mao Zedong.[17] Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese politics at the University of Sydney, notes the irony that the CCP now lionizing Confucius vilified him just four decades ago for association with patriarchal, hierarchical, and conservative values.[18]

"Confucius Institute" is a trademarked brand name. A CI chairperson explained, "Those who enjoy more brand names will enjoy higher popularity, reputation, more social influence, and will therefore be able to generate more support from local communities."[19] A 2011 crackdown protected "Confucius Institute" from preregistration infringement in Costa Rica.[20]


Confucius Institutes promote and teach Chinese culture and language around the world. CIs develop Chinese language courses, train teachers, hold the HSK Examination (Chinese proficiency test), and provide information about contemporary China.[21] The director of the CI program, Xu Lin, says CIs were started to cater to the sudden uptick in interest in Chinese language around the world. They also provide Chinese language teaching staff from the Mainland. As of 2011 there were 200 such teachers working in the United States.[22]

Political goals[edit]

Confucius Institute also has non-academic goals. Li Changchun, the 5th-highest-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee, was quoted in The Economist saying that the Confucius Institutes were “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” The statement has been seized upon by critics as evidence of a politicized mission.[23] Many foreign scholars have characterized the CI program as an exercise in soft power, expanding China's economic, cultural, and diplomatic reach through the promotion of Chinese language and culture,[24] while others have suggested a possible role in intelligence collection.[6][25] The soft power goals also include assuaging concerns of a "China threat" in the context of the country's increasingly powerful economy and military[26][27]

While Chinese authorities have been cautious not to have CIs act as direct promoters of the party’s political viewpoints, and little suggests that the Confucius Institutes function in this way, officials say that one important goal of the Institutes is to influence other countries' view of China.[28] According to Peng Ming-min, a Taiwan independence activist and politician, colleges and universities where a Confucius Institute is established have to sign a contract in which they declare their support for Beijing’s "one China" policy. As a result, both Taiwan and Tibet become taboos at the institutes, he claims.[29] This claim is in dispute, however. Michael Nylan, professor of Chinese history at the University of California at Berkeley, says CIs have become less heavy-handed in their demands, and have learned from "early missteps," such as insisting that universities adopt a policy that Taiwan is part of China. Nylan's survey of faculty and administrators at fifteen universities with Confucius Institutes revealed two reports that institutes had exerted pressure to block guest speakers, but both events went ahead anyway.[30]

The CI's soft power goals are seen as an attempt by the PRC to modernize away from Soviet influenced propaganda of the Maoist era.[31] Other initiatives include Chinese contemporary art exhibitions, television programs, concerts by popular singers, translations of Chinese literature, and the expansion of state-run news channels such as Xinhua News Agency and China Central Television.[32]


Hanban is a non-government organization,[33] though it is connected with the Ministry of Education and has close ties to a number of senior Communist Party officials. The Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing establishes the guidelines which the separate Confucius Institutes worldwide then follow. The headquarters is governed by a council with fifteen members, ten of whom are directors of overseas institutes.[34] The institutes themselves are individually managed under the leadership of their own board of directors which should include members of the host institution.[35] The current chair of the Confucius Institute headquarters council is Liu Yandong,[36] a Politburo members whose former postings include the head of the United Front Work Department. Other leaders of the council are similarly drawn from the Communist Party and central government agencies, such as the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education, and the State Council Information Office (also known as the Office of Overseas Propaganda).[1][37] The council sets the agenda for the Confucius Institutes and makes changes to the bylaws while other tasks and ongoing management of the Confucius Institute headquarters are handled by the professional executive leadership headed by the director-general.[38][39]

The Chinese Government shares the burden of funding Confucius Institutes with host universities, and takes a hands-off approach to management.[40] The Institutes function independently within the guidelines established by Hanban and the Confucius Institute headquarters. Each Institute is responsible for drawing up and managing their own budget which is subject to approval by the headquarters. Confucius Institute headquarters provides various restrictions on how their funds may be used including earmarking funds for specific purposes.[41] Institutes in the United States are generally provided with $100,000 annually from Hanban, with the local university required to match funding.[42]

In addition to their local partner university Confucius Institutes operate in co-operation with a Chinese partner university.[43] Many Institutes are governed by a board which is composed of several members from the Chinese partner school and the remainder of the members are affiliated with the local partner university.[44] At most Institutes the director is appointed by the local partner university.[40]

Hiring policies[edit]

The Hanban website stated that Chinese language instructors should be “Aged between 22 to 60, physical and mental healthy, no record of participation in Falun Gong and other illegal organizations, and no criminal record.”[45] In many universities the actual employer is the Chinese government, not the university itself.

Human rights lawyers and media commentators in North America have argued that the part of the hiring policy that discriminates against Falun Gong believers is in contravention of anti-discrimination laws and human rights codes.[46][47] Marci Hamilton, Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at Yeshiva University called this policy "unethical and illegal in the free world."[47]

In 2013, McMaster University in Canada, closed its Confucius Institute because of hiring issues over Falun Gong.[48]


The curriculum of Confucius Institutes revolves around the institute's role as a language center.[28] Confucius Institutes teach simplified Chinese characters, which are standard in Mainland China, rather than the traditional Chinese characters used in Taiwan and Hong Kong. University of Chicago professor emeritus Marshall Sahlins warns that CIs exclusively teaching simplified characters denies students access to the "traditional characters in which everything was written in China for thousands of years, and in which much that is not to the liking of the regime continues to be written in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia and the many other Chinese communities beyond Beijing’s direct control."[49] Canada's Globe and Mail claims that instruction solely in simplified characters "would help to advance Beijing’s goal of marginalizing Taiwan in the battle for global influence.”[50] In 2011, in response to the spread of Confucius Institutes, the Republic of China announced plans to establish the Taiwan Academy in America, Europe, and Asia as part of its own cultural diplomacy. Taiwan's programme is designed to promote "Taiwanese-flavored" Mandarin Chinese, traditional Chinese characters, and Taiwanese topics.[51]

In response to claims that the curriculum at CIs is determined by political consideration, the CI director for the Chicago Public Schools said that "Confucius Institutes have total autonomy in their course materials and teachers."[52]


In the short time-frame of their rapid expansion the Institutes have been the subject of much controversy. Criticisms of the Institutes have included practical concerns about finance, academic viability, legal issues, and relations with the Chinese partner university, as well as ideological concerns about improper influence over teaching and research, industrial and military espionage,[6][25] surveillance of Chinese abroad, and undermining Taiwanese influence.[53] There has also been organized opposition to the establishment of a Confucius Institute at University of Melbourne,[54] University of Manitoba,[55] Stockholm University,[56][57] University of Chicago[58] and many others.

Underlying such opposition, is a concern by professors that a Confucius Institute would interfere with academic freedom and be able to pressure the university to censor speech on topics the Communist Party of China objects to.[59] An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education writes that here is little evidence of meddling from China although the same article did go on to say the Institutes were "distinct in the degree to which they were financed and managed by a foreign government."[42] After interviewing China scholars, journalists and CI directors, a writer for The Diplomat also found little support for the concern that CIs would serve as propaganda vehicles, though some of her sources did note that they would face constraints in their curriculum on matters such as Tibet and human rights.[60] A New York Times article quotes Arthur Waldron, a professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania, that 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."[61]

In October 2013, University of Chicago professor Marshall Sahlins published an extensive investigative article criticizing the Confucius Institutes and the universities hosting them.[62] Later, more than 100 faculty members signed a protest against the Confucius Institute at the University of Chicago.[63]

In December 2013, the Canadian Association of University Teachers urged Canadian universities and colleges to end ties with Confucius Institutes.[64]

In June 2014, the American Association of University Professors issued a statement urging American universities to cease their collaboration with Confucius Institutes unless the universities can have unilateral control of the academia affairs, that the teachers in Confucius Institutes can have the same academic freedom enjoyed by other university faculty members, and that the agreements between universities and Confucius Institutes are available to the community.[65] The AAUP statement was widely noticed by US media and prompted extensive further debate in the US.[66][67][68][69]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Sahlins, Marshall (October 29, 2013). "China U.". The Nation. Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  2. ^ Penn, Brierley. "China Business:A broader education". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  3. ^ Mattis, Peter (August 2, 2012). "Reexamining the Confucian Institutes". The Diplomat. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  4. ^ 'Has BCIT sold out to Chinese propaganda?', The Vancouver Sun, 2 April 2008.
  5. ^ The Economist, China's Confucius Institutes: Rectification of Statues, 20 Jan 2011.
  6. ^ a b c Fabrice De Pierrebourg and Michel Juneau-Katsuya, “Nest of Spies: the starting truth about foreign agents at work within Canada’s borders,” HarperCollins Canada, 2009. pp 160 – 162
  7. ^ "Introduction to the Confucius Institutes". Retrieved 2 July 2011. 
  8. ^ Jianguo Chen, Chuang Wang, Jinfa Cai (2010). Teaching and learning Chinese: issues and perspectives. IAP. pp. xix. 
  9. ^ Simon, Tay (2010). Asia Alone: The Dangerous Post-Crisis Divide from America. John Wiley and Sons. p. 42. 
  10. ^ "Signing of Waseda University Confucius Institute Agreement Established as the first Research Confucius Institute in collaboration with Peking University". Waseda University. Retrieved 11 July 2011. 
  11. ^ "Confucius Institutes Worldwide". UCLA Confucious Institute. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ China to host second Confucius Institute Conference, Xinhua, 6 December 2007.
  14. ^ Confucius Institute: promoting language, culture and friendliness, Xinhua, 2 October 2006.
  15. ^ Starr (2009), p. 68.
  16. ^ Melvin, Sheila (29 August 2007). "Yu Dan and China's Return to Confucius". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 July 2011. 
  17. ^ "China’s Confucius Institutes Rectification of statues". The Economist. 20 January 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2011. 
  18. ^ Kerry Brown, The case for eliminating Confucius from China's Confucius Institutes, South China Morning Post, 2 June 2014.
  19. ^ Starr (2009), p. 69.
  20. ^ Zhou Wenting, Trademark infringement continues despite crackdown, China Daily 29 July 2011.
  21. ^ "About Us". Confucius Institute Online. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  22. ^ Linda Tsung and Ken Cruickshank (2011). Teaching and Learning Chinese in Global Contexts. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 151. 
  23. ^ A message from Confucius; New ways of projecting soft power,, 22 Oct 2009.
  24. ^ Peter Schmidt (2010b), At U.S. Colleges, Chinese-Financed Centers Prompt Worries About Academic Freedom, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 September 2010.
  25. ^ a b Janet Steffenhagen, 'Has BCIT sold out to Chinese propaganda?', Vancouver Sun, 2 April 2008.
  26. ^ French, Howard W. (11 January 2006). "Another Chinese Export is All the Rage: China's Language". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  27. ^ Xiaolin Guo (2008), Repackaging Confucius, Institute for Security and Development Policy, Stockholm, Sweden, July 2008.
  28. ^ a b The Economist, China’s Confucius Institutes: Rectification of statues, "Asia Banyan", January 20, 2011.
  29. ^ Peng Ming-min 彭明敏 (2011), China picks pockets of academics worldwide, Taipei Times Tue, May 31, 2011, p. 8.
  30. ^ Golden (2011).
  31. ^ Brady 2011, 81
  32. ^ James F. Paradise (2009), China and International Harmony: The Role of Confucius Institutes in Bolstering Beijing's Soft Power, Asian Survey 49.4: 648–649.
  33. ^ Sun Shangwu, Zhao Huanxin and Tang Yue (2013-09-13). "Hanban offers a wider choice". China Daily. "...Hanban, the nonprofit agency that administers Confucius Institutes worldwide." 
  34. ^ "Steven Knapp Named to Council of the Confucius Institute Headquarters". June 3, 2013. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  35. ^ "Constitution and By-Laws of the Confucius Institutes". Hanban. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  36. ^ "VP calls for development of Confucius Institute". Xinhua. 2013-12-07. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  38. ^ "Leadership". Hanban. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  39. ^ "Confucius Institute Headquarters". Hanban. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  40. ^ a b "A message from Confucius: New ways of projecting soft power". The Economist. 22 October 2009. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  41. ^ "Regulations for the Administration of Confucius Institute Headquarters Funds". Hanban-News. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  42. ^ a b Schimdt (2010b).
  43. ^ "Confucius Institute at Talinn University". Talinn University. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  44. ^ "Board of Directors". University of Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 3 July 2011. "Governing and Advisory Boards". Regents of the University of Minnesota. Retrieved 3 July 2011. "Our Board". Confucius Institute at the University of New South Whales. Retrieved 3 July 2011. 
  45. ^ Hanban, ‘Overseas Volunteer Chinese Teacher Program’, accessed 16 Sept 2011.
  46. ^ Macleans, Confucius Institutes break human rights rules:Profs working in Canada 'must have no record of Falun Gong'", 10 August 2011.
  47. ^ a b Matthew Robertson, US Universities, Confucius Institutes Import Discrimination”, The Epoch Times, 24 Aug 2011.[unreliable source?]
  48. ^ McMaster closing Confucius Institute over hiring issues , The Globe and Mail, 07 Feb 2013.
  49. ^ "China U: Confucius Institutes censor political discussions and restrain the free exchange of ideas. Why, then, do American universities sponsor them?" By Marshall Sahlins. The Nation, November 18, 2013
  50. ^ Beijing uses Confucius to lead charm offensive. By Geoffrey York, The Globe and Mail, 9 September 2005. Quoted by Sheng Ding and Robert A. Saunders (2006), "Talking up China: An analysis of China’s rising cultural power and global promotion of the Chinese language," East Asia, 23.2, p. 21.
  51. ^ Soft Power Smackdown! Confucius Institute vs. Taiwan Academy, The Wall Street Journal 12 August 2011.
  52. ^ The language of Chinese soft power in the US. Will Watcher, Asia Times.
  53. ^ Don Starr (2009), Chinese Language Education in Europe: the Confucius Institutes, European Journal of Education Volume 44, Issue 1, pages 78–79.
  54. ^ Geoff Maslen (2007), Warning – be wary of Confucius institutes University World News, 2 December 2007.
  55. ^ Profs worry China preparing to spy on students,, 27 April 2011.
  56. ^ Starr (2009), p. 6.
  57. ^ "i Kina är tio miljoner barn utan en ordentlig skola" Riksdagens snabbprotokoll 2007/08:46 (in Swedish)
  58. ^ Peter Schmidt (2010a), U. of Chicago's Plans for Milton Friedman Institute Stir Outrage on the Faculty, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 1 June 2010.
  59. ^ Guttenplan, D. D. (March 4, 2012). "Critics Worry About Influence of Chinese Institutes on U.S. Campuses". New York Times. 
  60. ^ Ulara Nakagawa. Confucius Controversy, The Diplomat.
  61. ^ D. D. Guttenplan (2012), Critics Worry About Influence of Chinese Institutes on U.S. Campuses, New York Times, March 4, 2012.
  62. ^ "China U: Confucius Institutes censor political discussions and restrain the free exchange of ideas. Why, then, do American universities sponsor them?" By Marshall Sahlins. The Nation, November 18, 2013
  63. ^ Rejecting Confucius Funding Inside Higher Ed, April 29, 2014. By Elizabeth Redden
  64. ^ Universities and colleges urged to end ties with Confucius Institutes" Canadian Association of University Teachers, December 17, 2013
  65. ^ "Our Partnerships with Foreign Governments: The Case of Confucius Institutes". American Association of University Professors. June 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-21. 
  66. ^ US professors urge Western universities to end ties to China's Confucius Institutes By Peter Foster, Washington. The Telegraph (London), 18 Jun 2014.
  67. ^ AAUP Rebukes Colleges for Chinese Institutes, and Censures Northeastern Ill Peter Schmidt, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 15 June 2014
  68. ^ US Professors Troubled by Confucius Institutes Carolyn Thompson. 24 June 2014.
  69. ^ The price of Confucius Institutes Washington Post, Editorial Board June 21, 2014

External links[edit]