Confucius goes to college
The Confucius Institute model can vary, but host universities are expected to provide premises and a faculty member to serve as administrator. In return the school receives funding from Hanban that includes the facility to apply for extra money for specific projects such as cultural events; bringing language instructors from China; and teaching materials, though the UCC institute produces its own textbooks.
Hanban also funds hundreds of “Confucius classrooms” in second- and third-level institutions. The UCD institute has five Confucius classrooms that work with 43 secondary schools. The UCC facility operates three such programmes with 40 local primary and secondary schools. Both institutes have contributed to the development of Chinese-language teaching in the Irish curriculum. In 2009, the institute at UCD surveyed demand for Mandarin instruction at second level. It has also produced a multimedia teaching pack for transition-year students. The UCC institute recently drew up a proposal for a junior-cycle course in Chinese language and culture.
Concern on campus
Advocates of Confucius Institutes sometimes compare them to the British Council, France’s Alliance Française and Germany’s Goethe-Institut, all of which promote their national cultures and languages, but critics point out that the Chinese model is unique in its insistence on being located on university campuses. Several have voiced concern about the role of Hanban. A number of universities in the US have decided against accepting a Confucius Institute.
In June, Prof Christopher Hughes, a China specialist at the London School of Economics, drew the ire of Beijing’s ambassador to Britain when he questioned whether universities should host the institutes. The envoy accused such critics of “cold-war thinking”.
In response, Hughes said he was a firm believer in engagement with China. “But it has to be engagement according to our own ethical principles, or it will not be good for either side,” he argued. “Personally, I think the evidence is overwhelming that the Confucius Institute does not measure up [to the LSE’s new ethics code], because it is openly declared to be a propaganda organisation by the Chinese government, which has a poor record on human rights, and local institutes are subservient to the [headquarters] in Beijing.”
In an article published in The Irish Times in 2010, the UCD professor emeritus of politics Tom Garvin was withering in his criticism. “In UCD there is a thing called the Confucius Institute, which is an agency of the Chinese tyranny,” he wrote. “The Irish taxpayer should know that he’ll pick up the tab for this dissemination of post-communist rubbish.”
Dr Liming Wang rejects such criticism and argues his institute is avowedly nonpolitical. “I am not employed by any Chinese government agencies, and there is no direct government intervention whatsoever or instructions to me as the director of the Confucius Institute,” he says, pointing out he is a naturalised British citizen and receives no extra salary for being director of the institute.
“Our charter here says we are a nonprofit, nonpolitical organisation. Nobody could restrict our activities according to any political agenda.”
A document apparently prepared for UCD Confucius Institute staff doing interviews on the need for a greater focus on Chinese-language teaching in Ireland includes advising on how to deal with questions related to China’s human-rights record. Some of the suggested responses include: “Yes I understand why you may think that way”; “I am not an expert in human rights”; “I have been in Ireland for 20 years so my knowledge is limited”; “Given our background and history”; “Yes, there is room for improvement.”