The Chinese Party-State has been hard at work constructing a network of propaganda outposts — called Confucius Institutes or Confucius Classrooms – on the campuses of universities, colleges, and secondary schools around the world.
Since the first such institute opened its doors on 21 November, 2004, in Seoul, South Korea, hundreds more have been established in dozens of countries around the world, with the highest concentration of Institutes in, you guessed it, the United States of America.
At least one senator gets it.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) this week wrote a letter to a number universities and schools in his state that have accepted Confucius Institutes, urging them to immediately kick them off their campuses.
In the letters, which went to the presidents and trustees of Miami Dade College, the University of North Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of West Florida, and Cypress Bay High School, Rubio warned that these so-called “institutes” were part of China’s growing foreign influence operations in the United States.
The Senator, who with Congressman Christopher Smith (R-NJ), co-chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, wrote “There is mounting concern about the Chinese government’s increasingly aggressive attempts to use “Confucius Institutes” and other means to influence foreign academic institutions and critical analysis of China’s past history and present policies.”
Chinese Communist Party officials disagree, at least publicly, claiming that Confucius Institutes are merely innocent teachers of China’s language, history, and culture.
Privately, however, they congratulate themselves on how clever they are in using the very openness of American society and academic institutions against us.
Consider the words of Politburo member Li Changchun, who bragged in a 2011 speech at the Beijing Headquarters of the Confucius Institutes that, “The Confucius Institute is an appealing brand for extending our culture abroad. It has made an important contribution toward improving our soft power. The ‘Confucius’ brand has a natural attractiveness. Using the excuse of teaching Chinese language, everything looks reasonable and logical [italics added].”
Li, who was in charge of the Party’s propaganda apparatus at the time, went on to say that the Confucius Institutes are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.”
Now, if the CCP’s own propaganda chief says that the Institutes are all about propaganda, they probably are.
Senator Rubio certainly agrees, pointing out in his letter:
Confucius Institute instructors are almost always hired in China and trained by the Chinese Ministry of Education without any of the same employment and hiring protections that exist in the United States. Much more difficult to measure but no less insidious, however, is the self-censorship that often takes place in academic settings where there is a Chinese government presence in the form of a Confucius Institute
We know from multiple reports that topics, such as the status of Tibet and Taiwan, the fourth of June 1989 at Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, and universal human rights, are off-limits at these institutes.
The Senator’s views are seconded by the well-respected American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which noted in a June 2014 report:
Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom. Their academic activities are under the supervision of Hanban, a Chinese state agency which is chaired by a member of the Politburo and the vice-premier of the People’s Republic of China. Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature … unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China … to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate.”
The AAUP went on to recommend that “universities cease their involvement in Confucius Institutes.”
Senator Rubio closed his letter to Florida universities by making the same request.
He wrote, “Given China’s aggressive campaign to ‘infiltrate’ American classrooms, stifle free inquiry, and subvert free expression both at home and abroad, I respectfully urge you to consider terminating your Confucius Institute agreement.”
The good news is that a growing number of universities, including the University of Chicago, Pennsylvania State University, and Ontario’s McMaster University, have already cut ties with Confucius Institutes.
More will do so as the illiberal activities of these propaganda outposts of the Chinese state, so corrosive to open and free discourse, are unmasked.
As I wrote in Bully of Asia,
Do we really want Communist front organizations making panda huggers out of the next generation of Americans–including the next generation of China watchers? Do we really want Chinese language teachers chosen by Beijing sanitizing China’s brutal image, endorsing its global grab for power and, at least in some cases, gathering intelligence and information at America’s best universities?
That the mission of the Confucius Institutes is to brainwash American students into accepting Beijing’s version of modern history – that Chairman Mao was some kind of glorious revolutionary hero, and that “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” is the wave of the future – cannot be doubted.
After all, we have former Communist Party leader Hu Jintao’s word on it. In remarks made to the senior leadership of the CCP in 2011, he admitted that “through many years of effort, we have now found the way to cultivate and prepare [foreign] supporters for our Party. … Establishing and spreading the various Chinese language institutes such as Confucius Institutes around the world increases our Party’s influence worldwide.”
That’s clear enough, isn’t it?
Steven W. Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of Bully of Asia: Why China’s Dream is the New Threat to World Order.