The Chinese government is not used to defeats but it was dealt a stinging one yesterday when the University of Chicago announced it will close its Confucius Institute, a controversial school for teaching Chinese culture and the Chinese language. Explaining the move, the university commented that it was “guided by its core values and faculty leadership in all matters of academic importance.”
[Reposted from Forbes | By Eamonn Fingleton | September 26, 2014]
The decision could have historic ramifications if it inspires other American universities to rethink their relationship with the People’s Republic. The fact is that more than ninety U.S. universities now host Confucius Institutes. In doing so, they have implicitly accepted constraints on their freedom of expression – and that is not the half of it.
Most Confucius Institutes depend heavily on Beijing for funding. Just how much money changes hands is hard to tell because, in an Orwellian touch, the Chinese Ministry of Education insists that its contracts with host universities are secret. The essence of the Confucius Institute concept, however, is that, in return for Chinese money, host universities cede control of curriculums, teaching materials, and faculty appointments. In practice most if not all key decisions are made in Beijing, and faculty are Chinese citizens selected by the Ministry of Education.
Meanwhile students and faculty at host universities are expected to censor themselves on topics considered “sensitive” by the Chinese Communist Party (not least the Tiananmen massacre, which the party continues to deny). Until recently Beijing had tried to deny that any self-censorship was involved, but all pretensions were dropped in July when the Beijing-based global head of the Confucius Institute project, Xu Lin, ordered that several pages be ripped out of the program for a European Sinology conference. The conference, partly funded by the Confucius Institute movement, was held in Portugal. The program’s offending pages bore references to Taiwan-based organizations that Xu considered “inappropriate.”
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