Binghamton University Responds to NAS’s Report

National Association of Scholars

Editor’s Note: Binghamton University has responded 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. John Chaffee, a board member of the Confucius Institute and Distinguished Service Professor of History and Asian and Asian American Studies, has written to NAS to notify us of some factual corrections to our study. 

We repost his letter complete and unedited below. 


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:

  • On p. 104 the report states that Qianghua Wang and Don Boros traveled to Beijing to meet with officials from NACTA and the Hanban and prepare the Confucius Institute. In fact, the meetings that resulted in the creation of CICO occurred in April 2009 during a trip to Beijing by Qianghua Wang, whose long-standing connection to NACTA was very important, Zu-yan Chen and myself. At that point, IAAD played an important role in developing and supporting the proposal that resulted in the agreement signed in the fall of 2009. 
  • On pp. 104-5, the report describes CICO as initially being within the Theater Department with Professor Boros serving as acting director, with it subsequently being housed in DAAAS once Professor Chen took over as director. This is not true. 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. It was never housed in either the Theater Department or DAAAS. 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 (myself). For quite a few years Professor Boros served as Theater Education Coordinator for CICO educational activities, and provided valuable service in that capacity, but he was never a member of the Board.
  • On p. 105, 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.

Apart from these misstatements, I would like to make two observations about the report’s treatment of Binghamton University. First, it does not do justice to all of CICO’s accomplishments. From its inception, CICO has provided Chinese language instructors who teach first-year Chinese and significantly enhance our outstanding Chinese language program, which regularly has students winning the China Bridge competitions. Also, the NACTA instructors in theater and music, together with Ms. Zhang and, at times, outstanding students, have given Chinese opera and music concerts around the country.

Second, on the issue of intellectual freedom, there have been no incidents at Binghamton involving CICO that have any possible connection to political demands by or sensitivities of the Hanban. The disagreement over the use of “Peking Opera” or “Beijing Opera” was a personal one between Julie Wang and Zu-yan and was amicably settled. I personally have never felt constrained by our CICO connection and regularly talk about Tiananmen, Falungong, and other topics that reflect negatively on the Chinese government in my classes.

I would ask that you correct your report on the basis of what I have written or, failing that, at least publish this letter in a venue that would make it easily accessible to readers of the report.

Sincerely yours,

John Chaffee
SUNY Distinguished Service Professor
Departments of History and Asian and Asian American Studies
Director, Institute for Asia and Asian Diasporas


Image: By Evangelos Dousmanis / Binghamton University - Binghamton University Catalogue

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