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Confucius Institutes: China carries out a ‘long march’ through our universities

Confucius Institutes: China carries out a ‘long march’ through our universities

What could be wrong with the Chinese Communist Party setting up hundreds of so-called “Confucius Institutes” on American college campuses?

Well, everything. Do we really want Communist front organizations making panda huggers out of the next generation of Americans (including American China watchers), sanitizing China’s brutal image, enhancing its global grab for power and–not least–gathering intelligence and information at America’s best universities?

That the mission of the Confucius Institutes is to brainwash American students into thinking that Mao Zedong is some kind of glorious revolutionary hero cannot be doubted. After all, the propaganda chief of the Chinese Communist Party, a man named Li Changchun, has said so. Li, who also happens to be the 5th ranked member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo—that is, the fifth most powerful man in China—has publicly boasted that the Confucius Institutes are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” I mean, if the CCP’s propaganda chief says that the Institutes are all about propaganda, they probably are.

Those Beijing bureaucrats who actually run the Confucius Institutes are at pains to deny any subversive intent, of course. They blithely compare the Institutes to France’s Alliance Francaise and Germany’s Goethe-Institut, claiming that they exist only to promote the Chinese language and culture, and to facilitate cultural exchanges.

Neither of these comparisons hold water. Unlike Alliance Francaise, the Confucius Institutes are not independent from their government; unlike the Goethe-Institut establishments, they do not occupy their own premises. Instead, participating universities agree to provide office space in exchange for funding, and to cede academic control to the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party. In fact, the current Chairman of the Confucius Institutes is none other than Liu Yandong, who served as the head of this very same United Front Work Department from 2002 to 2007.  This is roughly like Heinrich Goebbels assuming control of the Goethe-Institut.

Remember that united front tactics were used by the Chinese Communist Party during the Communist revolution to subvert, co-opt and control other organizations. Some of the organizations co-opted, such as the Chinese Socialist Party, were allowed to continue in existence after the Communist revolution, albeit as hollow shells, in order to create the illusion of “democracy” in China. That the United Front Work Department has de facto control over the Confucius Institutes means that one of their chief purposes is to subvert, co-opt, and ultimately control Western academic discourse on matters pertaining to China.

I know from personal experience how ruthless the Chinese Party-State can be with its overseas academic critics. Following my expose of forced abortions and forced sterilizations in China’s one-child policy in the early eighties, Chinese officials put tremendous pressure on Stanford University to deny me the doctorate I had earned. Beijing went so far as to threaten to abrogate its entire scholarly exchange program with the U.S. unless I was “severely punished” for speaking out. And punished I was.

The Confucius Institutes are merely a more sophisticated means of accomplishing the same end, that is, of promoting academic discourse that praises the Chinese Party-State, and stifling dissent.

It is past ironic that Communist leaders, who for nearly a century attacked and vilified Confucius, should now seize upon the name of the ancient Chinese sage for their own purposes. But it is typical of united front tactics.  Confucius is, after all, a sympathetic, universally recognizable Chinese figure, and an institute named after him does not evoke the distaste, even revulsion, the name of the founder of the Chinese Communist Party would. How many universities–other than those in, say, North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba–would have welcomed an institute named after one of the great mass murderers of the twentieth century, Mao Zedong?

The ongoing controversies surrounding the operation of the Confucius Institute program go far beyond its name, of course.  In addition, there have been allegations of Confucius Institutes undermining academic freedom at host universities, engaging in industrial and military espionage, monitoring the activities of Chinese exchange students, and attempting to advance the Chinese Party-State’s political agenda on such issues as the Dalai Lama and Tibet, the pro-democracy movement abroad, dissent within China, and Taiwan independence. For example, Peng Ming-min, who is a Taiwan independence activist and politician, claims that colleges and universities where a Confucius Institute is established have to sign a contract in which they declare their support for Beijing’s “one China” policy. In consequence, open discussion of Taiwan and Tibetan issues is verboten.   

Add to this the fact that many of the individuals holding positions within the Confucius Institute system, aside from the chairman herself, have backgrounds in Chinese security agencies and the United Front Work Department.  Together, these agencies are responsible for a number of activities in foreign countries, including propaganda, the monitoring and control of Chinese students abroad, the recruiting of agents among the Overseas Chinese diaspora and sympathetic foreigners, and long-term clandestine operations. The Confucius Institutes provide a perfect cover for this kind of underground activity.

Because of these concerns, a number of countries have banned or restricted the establishment of Confucius Institutes. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs opposed the establishment of Confucius Institutes in universities, arguing that they were nothing more than “a Chinese design to spread its ‘soft power’ – widening influence by using culture as a propagational tool.” The Japanese government has serious reservations as well.  It is telling that of 20 or so Institutes that have been set up in Japan, all were at private colleges. Government-funded public universities have so far refused to play host to what is obviously an ideologically driven political power play.

Still, the Chinese Party-State is moving ahead with its plans.  There are already nearly 400 Institutes around the world, and that goal is to have 1,000 in operation. The biggest concentration of Institutes is in the country that China wants to overtake in power and prestige: our own.

Many American universities, like Stanford, either because of the Leftist orientation of their faculties, or because they are hungry for money, have said yes to these Chinese Trojan Horses quicker than you can say, “Mao Zedong.”  If they were truly committed to academic freedom (as all American universities claim to be), they should instead reject them.

As should we. The Chinese Party-State does not share our democratic institutions, or our commitment to open markets, nor our understanding of human rights, not to mention that it is bent on dethroning America and dominating Asia and the world. Should we really be allowing a cruel, tyrannical and repressive regime that hates everything that America stands for to educate our young people?

To read a full report — co-authored by Steven Mosher and foreign affairs expert Chuck DeVore — on the threat China poses to America and the free world, click here.


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