Editor’s Note: On April 26, 2017, NAS published Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, a report on Confucius Institutes at American universities. The report prompted a response from John Chaffee, a board member of the Confucius Institute and Distinguished Service Professor of History and Asian and Asian American Studies at Binghamton University. Now Don Boros, an Emeritus Associate Professor of Theatre at Binghamton University who was involved in the creation of the Confucius Institute there, has offered the following letter replying to Professor Chaffee’s comments on the NAS report. We publish Professor Boros’s letter in full and unedited.
To the National Association of Scholars:
I am Don Boros, Associate Professor Emeritus of Theatre at Binghamton University (BU) with a PhD from Florida State University. I wish to comment on what are called my “misstatements” in your report on the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera (CICO) at BU. During my 37 years here, I co-created exchange programs with the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts (NACTA) and the Shanghai Theatre Academy as well as a study abroad program called The Total Art of Chinese Theatre. I have given lectures, presented papers, or conducted workshops in 16 countries, eight of which were in Asia or Oceania. China included. For years, I have studied the influence of Asian performance on western theatre. For my work, I have received the Chancellor’s Award for Internationalization and the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching, among others. Most relevant to your report, I have also played a major role in the creation and development of BU’s CICO. Therefore, please publish my reactions pertaining to your report on it.
May 15, 2017
To whom it may concern,
Professor John Chaffee sent the following response to the National Association of Scholars’ study Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, which profiled the twelve Confucius Institutes in New York and New Jersey, including Binghamton’s Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera:
“To the National Association of Scholars:
I write concerning your “Outsourced to China” report, specifically the section relating to the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera (CICO) at Binghamton University, where I teach. I have no objections to the quotes that Ms. Peterson took from me. However, there were a number of factual errors in the Binghamton part of the report that need to be addressed.
I am a Chinese historian with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago who came to Binghamton University in 1980. I was the founding director of the East Asian Studies Program in 1984, which expanded into the Asian and Asian American Studies Program in 1993, which in turn became the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies (DAAAS) in 2008. I also direct the Institute for Asia and Asian Diasporas (IAAD), which was created in 2006 to serve as a catalyst for Asian-related activities at the university. I have therefore been involved in virtually all of the major developments related to Asian studies at Binghamton, including the establishment of CICO.
Following are misstatements that the report makes concerning CICO:”
The purpose of this (my) email is to respond to some of his statements.
Claim. Professor Chaffee indicates that Qianghua Wang and I did not go to Beijing to meet with officials from NACTA and the Hanban to prepare the Confucius Institute.
Response: He is correct. Qianghua Wang and I did not travel to Beijing to meet with officials from NACTA and the Hanban. It may have been confused with founding a Chinese theatre study abroad program together in 2004 involving NACTA.
Claim. Professor Chaffee disagrees that the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera (CICO) was initially within the Theater Department with me serving as acting director, with it subsequently being housed in the Department of Asian and Asian-American Studies (DAAAS) once Professor Zu-yan Chen took over as director.
Response. This statement is debatable. The first contact about developing a Confucius Institute (CI) was made with the theatre department. Mr. Wang was notified that BU had been chosen to house a CI, which would be associated with NACTA. Mr. Wang, who had difficulty reading English, showed the invitation material to me and asked me to explain it to him. Even though we initially didn’t know what a CI was, this still sounded like a wonderful opportunity, since a more formal association, of any kind, with NACTA was highly desirable. When I studied what he gave me and discovered what a CI actually was, I was puzzled and thought we might have received the invitation by mistake since it seemed to be a program more appropriate for DAAAS because of its language instruction component. Therefore, we asked Professor Zu-yan Chen from DAAAS, whom we had known for several years, to give us his opinion. When it became evident that this particular CI wanted to expose students to Beijing Opera with NACTA as our resource, it made sense. It would be a Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera.The performance element made the Theatre Department the logical place to develop it. I presented the idea to my department colleagues, and we considered how it could be incorporated into what we were already doing. As we brainstormed ideas, I chaired all of our meetings. All questions came to me, and I was responsible for shaping what was evolving. Therefore, I was guiding the process. This was not unusual for me. It was a natural extension of what I was doing involving Chinese theatre for several years. Apart from the study abroad program, my department had hosted demonstrations and workshops done by NACTA guests. We had even done a main stage production of Romeo and Juliet in the Beijing Opera style. It involved our students and was directed by a faculty member of NACTA. For all of these events, I was the point man. Therefore, it was an obvious decision to make me our department’s acting director of this new project, internally referred to as the CICO. Then came the meeting described next.
Claim. Professor Chaffee stated that, from its inception, Professor Chen was the director and CICO was constituted as a stand-alone entity with a Board chaired by the Binghamton Provost and members from both NACTA and Binghamton.
Response. The key word here is “inception”. When did the CICO—as we know it today—actually start? It is undeniably when Mr. Wang, Professor Chen, and Professor Chaffee visited the Hanban in Beijing. At that point, representatives of BU and the Hanban actually met and the agreement to work together was made official. Professor Chen was named the director of the CICO. Consequently, that part of Professor Chaffee’s assertion is true.
Claim. The CICO was never housed in either the Theater Department or DAAAS.
Response. This is not true. Since the CICO offered classes for credit, it had to be housed within a university academic department. The CICO was a stand-alone entity as Professor Chaffee mentions, but it was and has never been an independent academic, credit-granting department. It had to be part of one. Theatre was chosen to be its home department because of the subject involved, offering Theatre Department classes, cross-listed with DAAAS. It remained that way until Theatre passed it to DAAAS years later. Professor Chen appointed me Director of Theatre Education. As such, I was responsible for all aspects of course planning and teaching. (Please see the attachment of the syllabus of one of the classes with the statement about its home department and references to how it affected its content. Also, please note the other attachment listing many of my duties as Director of Theatre Education.)
Claim. The Binghamton members of the Board were individuals representing units that had close ties to the activities of CICO: the Dean of Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, the chairs of Theater, Music and DAAAS, the director of International Programs, and the director of IAAD. I was never a member of the Board.
Response. That is true.
Claim. Quoting Professor Chaffee: “Professor Chen is said to have hired new staff, ‘including his wife, Hong Zhang, a Chinese native who is now Instructor of Chinese and Performance Coordinator at the Confucius Institute.’ Zhang, a dancer, also enjoys a prominent role in many CI musical productions.’ Ms. Zhang, a singer (not a dancer) with a long history of musical performance in China and the US, has been teaching Chinese at Binghamton since 1987, when she was hired by the then Department of German, Russian and East Asian Languages. She is currently a tenured Instructor in DAAAS whose work for CICO is a form of service; she is not employed by CICO.”
Response. It is true that Hong Zhang is a singer not a dancer. It is also true that she is not employed by CICO as “hired” implies. If the words “hired” and “dancer” are attributed to me, I don’t know why.
The remainder of Professor Chaffee’s comments do not fall within my purview. Hence, I don’t refer to them.