CHINA WATCHControversial Confucius Institutes, Under New Name, Returning to U.S. Schools

By Lin Yang

Published 28 June 2022

Confucius Institutes, the controversial Beijing-backed language and cultural learning centers, are rebranding and reopening. Most of the 118 Institutes which operated in the U.S. were closed in June 2021 after being designated as a “foreign mission” by the State Department.

Confucius Institutes, the controversial Beijing-backed language and cultural learning centers — most of which were closed throughout the United States after being designated a foreign mission by the State Department — are rebranding and reopening, according to a report by the National Association of Scholars.

Of the 118 Confucius Institutes that once existed in the United States, 104 were closed as of June 21 and four are in the process of shutting down, according to the report.

Of these, “at least 28 have replaced their Confucius Institute with a similar program, and at least 58 have maintained close relationships with their former Confucius Institute partner,” according to the report.

Perry Link, professor of Chinese language studies at the University of California Riverside, said he was shocked after reading the June 21 report, which updates a March 2018 report.

Link told VOA Mandarin that he was struck first by “how many Confucius Institutes have been shut. I didn’t expect the rate of closures to be so high. Second, they still exist in another way with another name. I think this is expected. I just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.”

VOA contacted the Chinese embassy in Washington for comment on the rebranded Confucius Institutes but did not receive a response.

The Chinese state-owned Global Times published an article in October 2021 citing the spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in Germany as saying “China firmly opposes the politicization of academic and cultural exchange activities.”

Important to China
In April 2007, Li Changchun, then chairman of the Central Guidance Commission on Building Spiritual Civilization under the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, said in a report by Xinhua, the Chinese state-run newspaper, that Confucius Institutes were an “important part of the CCP’s external propaganda structure.”

Confucius Institutes had many requirements for their partner Western universities, such as confidentiality agreements that meant schools could not disclose the amount of funding Confucius Institutes provided, according to the association report.

Critics saw the institutes as an overseas propaganda machine for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as well as a tool to monitor and interfere with speeches and activities on campuses. For example, in 2009, North Carolina State University canceled its plan to invite the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, to speak on campus after objections by the Confucius Institute.