The Chinese government has quietly set up over 100 teaching and research centers to promote China’s point of view on college campuses across the U.S., and operates over 500 analogous programs at American K-12 schools, according to a report released today by the National Association of Scholars (NAS).
The new report, Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, details how the facilities “frequently attract scrutiny because of their close ties to the Chinese government.” According to the report, authored by Rachelle Peterson of NAS, Confucius Institutes are “largely funded by a Chinese government agency, which screens teachers and selects textbooks.” The report charges that in these facilities, “intellectual freedom, merit-based hiring policies, and other foundational principles of American higher education have received short shrift.”
For instance, according to a summary of the report, the Institutes’ curricula “avoid Chinese political history and human rights abuses, portray Taiwan and Tibet as undisputed territories of China, and tend to respect China’s censorious speech preferences.” Likewise, official policy of the Chinese agency sponsoring the facilities, known as the Hanban, requires Confucius Institutes to adhere to Chinese law. The Hanban also serves as “the conduit by which college presidents and administrators enjoy trips to and state dinners in China.”
The report profiles twelve specific Confucius Institutes, documenting “the hiring policies, funding arrangements, contracts signed by the university, [and] pressure on affiliated faculty members.” The NAS charges that the Institutes “educate a generation of American students to know nothing more of China than the regime’s official history.”
“Confucius Institutes represent a direct assault on the American norms of academic freedom and transparency. It is inappropriate for the Chinese government to free-ride on the authority and prestige of the American higher education system,” said Peterson. “U.S. colleges and universities should cease outsourcing their courses to the Chinese government and should close their Confucius Institutes.”
Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, charged that Confucius Institutes “have nothing to do with Confucius, and everything to do with advancing the interests of one of America’s global adversaries.”
The report was released today at an event in Washington, D.C., “Red Star Over Campus: How China’s Confucius Institutes Court Western Colleges and Universities.” The event also included a screening of “In the Name of Confucius,” which according to event sponsors is “the first documentary exposé of China’s multi-billion dollar Confucius Institute, a Chinese language and culture program set up in partnership with foreign educational institutions.” The Chinese have managed to place the facilities in over 1,500 universities and schools worldwide since 2004.
“In the Name of Confucius” tells the story of Canada’s largest school board grappling with the opening of the world’s largest Confucius Institute. In it, school trustees “find themselves embroiled in a growing global controversy.”
The documentary includes a former Confucius Institute instructor and defector whose discrimination complaint led to the first closure of one of the facilities on a North American campus. It also includes the charge that the Chinese consulate rallied supporters of the planned Canadian facility.
The controversy injects a new element into a roiling debate over American freedom of speech on campus, which has crested in the Trump era.
NAS recommends that “[c]olleges and universities with Confucius Institutes should either shut them down or take specific steps to distance themselves from the Chinese government,” and that “Federal and local governments should also exercise oversight to determine whether Confucius Institutes pose a threat to national security and human rights.”
Representatives for Confucius Institutes could not immediately be reached for comment.