Confucius Institute Introduces China to Americans

A week ago today, the University opened MinnesotaâÄôs first Confucius Institute. The nonprofit organization is part of âÄúa worldwide effort by the Chinese government to promote Chinese language and culture,âÄù Director Joan Brzezinski explains. There are currently 40 of these institutes at universities throughout the United States, and over 260 affiliated Confucius Institutes worldwide operating under The Office of Chinese Language Council International (Hanban) in Beijing. Overseen by the Chinese government, Hanban aims to establish 1,000 institutes by 2020. Like other Confucius Institutes, this one was founded with equal financial support from the Chinese government (through Hanban) and its foreign partner âÄî in this case, the University. But Hanban requires partners to âÄúaccept operational guidance from the Headquarter and follow relevant teaching standardâÄù for eligibility. Why has the University funded an educational institute paid for and ultimately run by the Chinese government, a government that still screens favorable âÄúfactsâÄù into history textbooksâÄô coverage of ChinaâÄôs oppression of Tibet, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and the Cultural Revolution? As Ge Jianxiong, director of the Institute of Chinese Historical Geography at Fudan University in Shanghai put it, âÄúQuite frankly, in China there are some areas, very sensitive subjects, where it is impossible to tell people the truth.âÄù The UniversityâÄôs decision sets a risky precedent. According to Brzezinski, âÄúThe University entered a very serious negotiation with Hanban over programming.âÄù Brzezinski explained that the institute will offer an introductory Chinese language course as well as a course on kung-fu. While these programs are politically benign, Brzezinski said that upon founding new institutes, Universities without pre-existing Chinese language programs receive curriculum formulation and teaching-plan assistance from Hanban headquarters in Beijing, which develops and provides the institutes with teaching methods and textbooks. The Confucius Institute here also has a goal to expand K-12 Chinese curricula within the state. No entity within ChinaâÄôs government with an education history so controversial should be developing and distributing teaching standards or course materials to be used in American educational settings.