Outsourced to China

Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education
Rachelle Peterson

December 14, 2019

Summary

Confucius Institutes are teaching and research centers located at colleges and universities, underwritten by the Chinese government. Since 2005, more than 100 Confucius Institutes (CIs) have opened in the United States; 103 remain in operation.

These Institutes, many offering for-credit courses in Chinese language and culture, are largely staffed and funded by an agency of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education—the Office of Chinese Languages Council International, better known as the Hanban. The Hanban also operates similarly organized Confucius Classrooms (CCs) at 501 primary and secondary schools in the United States. These 604 educational outposts comprise a plurality of China’s 1,579 Confucius Institutes and Classrooms worldwide.

Confucius Institutes frequently attract scrutiny because of their close ties to the Chinese government. A stream of stories indicates that intellectual freedom, merit-based hiring policies, and other foundational principles of American higher education have received short shrift in Confucius Institutes.

The Hanban has shrouded Confucius Institutes in secrecy. At most Institutes, the terms of agreement are hidden. China’s leaders have not assuaged worries that the Institutes may teach political lessons that unduly favor China. In 2009, Li Changchun, then the head of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party and a member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, called Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.”1

We conducted case studies at twelve Confucius Institutes—two in New Jersey and ten in New York—and asked about hiring policies, funding arrangements, contracts between the Hanban and the university, pressure on affiliated faculty members, and more. This report is the result of that investigation.

We found cause for concern in four areas.

  1. Intellectual freedom. Official Hanban policy requires Confucius Institutes to adhere to Chinese law, including speech codes. Chinese teachers hired, paid by, and accountable to the Chinese government face pressures to avoid sensitive topics, and American professors report pressure to self-censor.
  2. Transparency. Contracts between American universities and the Hanban, funding arrangements, and hiring policies for Confucius Institute staff are rarely publicly available. Some universities went to extraordinary efforts to avoid scrutiny, cancelling meetings and forbidding NAS from visiting campus.
  3. Entanglement. Confucius Institutes are central nodes in a complex system of relationships with China. Confucius Institutes attract full-tuition-paying Chinese students, fund scholarships for American students to study abroad, and offer other resources. Universities with financial incentives to please China find it more difficult to criticize Chinese policies.
  4. Soft Power. Confucius Institutes tend to present China in a positive light and to focus on anodyne aspects of Chinese culture. They avoid Chinese political history and human rights abuses, present Taiwan and Tibet as undisputed territories of China, and develop a generation of American students with selective knowledge of a major country.

We recommend that all universities close their Confucius Institutes.

If a college or university refuses to close its Confucius Institute, we recommend faculty members and administrators push for the following reforms.

  1. Provide transparency. Make available for easy download all memoranda of understanding, contracts, and other agreements between the university and the Hanban, or between the university and the Chinese partner institution. Annually disclose how much funding the university receives from the Hanban or the Chinese partner institution for the Confucius Institute, and disclose how much the host university contributes (separating in-kind contributions from real expenses). Disclose all trips, honors, and awards bestowed on university officials by agencies of the Chinese government.
  2. Ensure that all CI budgets are separate from university budgets, and that all Confucius Institute events are advertised as such. As much as possible, Confucius Institutes should be distinguished from their host institutions. Confucius Institute events should not be listed on university calendars, promoted on the university website, or used as assignments or count toward extra credit for students. The Hanban considers Confucius Institutes standalone nonprofit organizations, yet houses them in universities and benefits from the status and prestige of the university. Reduce this free-riding.
  3. Cease outsourcing for-credit courses to the Hanban. Ensure that Chinese language classes are taught by professors or instructors selected and paid by the university.
  4. Renegotiate contracts to remove constraints against “tarnishing the reputation” of the Hanban. Scholarship should be civil, but it should not be constrained by the fear of punishment for offending Chinese sensitivities.
  5. Formally ask the Hanban if its hiring process complies with American non-discrimination policies. Does the Hanban prioritize members of the Communist Party? Are members of Falun Gong still excluded? Is the selection based purely on merit? Ask the Hanban for a formal written answer.
  6. Change the wording of all contracts to clarify that legal disputes should be settled only in the jurisdiction of the host institution (in our cases, American courts). Add language specifying that in all disputes between Chinese and American law, American law takes priority. The Hanban should assume legal liability if it violates American law when operating a Confucius Institute in America.
  7. Require that all Confucius Institutes offer at least one public lecture or class each year on topics that are important to Chinese history but are currently neglected, such as the Tiananmen Square protests or the Dalai Lama’s views on Tibet. Ensure that these programs are fair, balanced, and free of external pressures.
  8. Include in orientation for every Confucius Institute teacher and Chinese director the university’s policies on academic freedom. Ensure that all teachers enjoy the same rights.
  9. Make the Confucius Institute director’s position a voluntary service position, with no additional pay, thereby reducing financial pressures for CI directors to cater to the Hanban’s preferences.

We also recommend that state and federal legislative bodies exercise oversight.

  1. Congress should open an investigation of Confucius Institutes and inquire whether American interests are jeopardized by these institutes. Congress should ask universities to turn over copies of their agreements with the Hanban and their partner Chinese universities.
  2. State legislatures should hold similar investigations on all public universities with a Confucius Institute in their state.
  3. Congress should also evaluate risks to national security. It should consider whether Confucius Institutes increase the risks of a foreign government spying or collecting sensitive information.
  4. Congress and state legislatures should also investigate the Chinese government’s use of Confucius Institutes to monitor, intimidate, and harass Chinese students. Congress should evaluate whether Confucius Institutes improperly curtail students’ freedom to study.

Our primary recommendation is that all American universities—and school districts—with Confucius Institutes or Classrooms should close these centers and end all contracts with the Hanban. We urge these secondary reforms as intermediary steps to protecting the integrity of American education and intellectual freedom.

Preface

“Confucius Institutes” are a project by the Chinese government to shape American attitudes towards that nation’s Communist government. The Institutes are housed at American colleges and universities, and there are currently more than one hundred of them. The name “Confucius Institute,” like almost everything else about the initiative, is misleading. Confucius Institutes have nothing to do with the ancient Chinese sage. They are ostensibly centers for teaching American students Chinese language and puff courses on Chinese arts. In reality, they are instruments of what Harvard University professor Joseph Nye calls “soft power.” That is, they attempt to persuade people towards a compliant attitude, rather than coerce conformity.

But even this is not quite exactly right. Confucius Institutes don’t overtly force their views on Americans, but behind the appearance of a friendly and inviting form of diplomacy lies a grim authoritarian reality. The Confucius Institutes are tightly managed from China by an agency of the government. They are staffed by Chinese nationals on short-term contracts. Their relations with their American hosts are governed by secret agreements enforced in Chinese courts under Chinese law. And many students from China studying in the U.S as well as faculty members believe the Institutes are centers of surveillance. There is no positive proof that the Institutes are also centers for Chinese espionage against the United States, but virtually every independent observer who has looked into them believes that to be the case.

The study that follows says nothing about that speculation, but not for lack of testimony. The author, Rachelle Peterson, spoke to numerous individuals who demanded total anonymity as the condition for saying anything. Their stories go unreported here because the body of this report presents only verifiable facts. In this preface, however, I am granting myself license to go beyond what we can fully verify. That’s because the off-the-record stories we collected were consistent in their portrayal of the Confucius Institutes as centers of threats and intimidation directed at Chinese nationals and Chinese Americans, and as cover for covert activities on the part of the Chinese government.

Possibly this is a collective illusion harbored by Chinese nationals and by Americans who hold hostile views of the Chinese Communist government. We cannot with certainty say whether the accusations are warranted. But it would be a failure on our part if we did not report the allegations, which form a forest of suspicion surrounding the castle of Confucius Institutes.

A major question that hangs over this report is why American colleges and universities lend themselves to serving as hosts for the Confucius Institutes. Are they unaware of the unsavory reputation of these instruments of “soft power” in the hands of one of America’s international adversaries? Are they naïve about the appearance of putting the credibility of their institutions at risk by making them subject to the whims of a foreign government that summarily rejects the freedom of expression and open inquiry that are bedrock principles of American higher education? Are they indifferent to the possible abuse of the rights of the Chinese students studying in the United States?

They are definitely not unaware of the unsavory reputation of Confucius Institutes. Within the world of American higher education, word has spread, and no college president could entertain an offer from the Hanban (the Chinese government body that orchestrates this effort) without finding out about the controversies that swirl around the Institutes.

The unfortunate answer to the other two questions is yes. The American colleges and universities that sign up are naïve, and they are generally indifferent to the consequences. What motivates the college administrators who accept these invitations is a combination of greed and vanity. The Hanban knows exactly how to play the contemporary American college president and his staff.

As Rachelle Peterson explains in the pages that follow, Confucius Institutes pay their way. Typically they enter into five-year contracts in which they pay their host universities a substantial annual fee. And they provide services, such as Chinese language instruction, that the host university need not pay for. It seldom stops there. The officials of the host university are invited to junkets in China where they lecture and are feted. And the Hanban supplies Chinese officials who hold impressive titles to speak at events on the American campuses.

The beribboned accolades go surprisingly far in turning the heads of American college presidents, but that isn’t all there is to the Chinese soft-power strategy behind the Confucius Institutes. The Chinese government fully realizes the vulnerability of American colleges and universities that lies in their financial dependence on tuition. China can turn on the tap to full-tuition paying Chinese students, turn it down, or shut it off. A college or university that becomes dependent on this flow of international students is loath to offend the Chinese government. China is now by far the largest source of international students in the U.S., comprising 31 percent of the total. In 2015, there were some 328,000 Chinese students studying in American universities.

Vulnerability to China’s control of the flow of students to the U.S. is one thing. The opportunity for American colleges and universities to their own open programs in China is another. This prospect is regularly dangled in front of American college and university presidents, and with it comes both a potentially large new income stream and international prestige.

Forfeiting a bit of academic integrity to attain such rewards must seem to many college presidents a small price to pay. Or if not “many” college presidents, at least the hundred or so who have said yes to the offer to have a Confucius Institute on campus.

There is much more to this story, but I will leave it for Rachelle to tell. She is the intrepid researcher who has ventured forth on a series of NAS projects that have taken her into counsels of groups that are not naturally friendly to the National Association of Scholars. Rachelle was the lead researcher and first author of Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism (2015); researcher and author of Inside Divestment: The Illiberal Movement to Turn a Generation Against Fossil Fuels (2015); and our observer at a Black Lives Matter training seminar. Studying Confucius Institutes proved even harder than these previous assignments. It became clear that the Chinese government did not at all welcome our attention.

A last few words of prefatory caution. We limit ourselves in the body of this report to what we know for sure. There are no smoking guns. There is instead a scrupulously clean room and a cast of very polite people who have hardly anything to say beyond banalities. Rachelle describes this eerie scene in exact detail and without shading. The reader is free to take all this at face value, in which case the report will supply only a minimalist description of décor. All nations, after all, attempt to put their best foot forward with both friends and rivals. There is no harm in that, and it is possible that Confucius Institutes are best seen as the equivalent of the Alliance Française, the Goethe-Institut, the British Council, the Instituto Cervantes, or the Società Dante Alighieri. You must be the judge of that.

Introduction

Since 2005, more than 100 Confucius Institutes have opened at American colleges and universities. One hundred three remain in operation. These centers, many offering courses in Chinese language and culture, are funded by an agency of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education—the Office of Chinese Languages Council International, better known as the Hanban. The Hanban also operates similarly organized Confucius Classrooms at 501 primary and secondary schools in the United States. These 604 educational outposts comprise a plurality (38 percent) of China’s 1,579 Confucius Institutes and Classrooms worldwide.

China’s investment in these overseas centers is increasing. In the last year, the number of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in the world rose by almost 40 percent, from just over 1,110. In the US, the number of Confucius Institutes (CIs) and Confucius Classrooms (CCs) increased by nearly 35 percent. The growing number of US Institutes and Classrooms led the Hanban to open a branch office in Washington, D.C. The Confucius Institute U.S. Center, which organizes and supports the CIs and CCs in the United States, was chartered in 2013 but only in recent months hired senior staff and recruited board members.2

In the last decade, many observers have questioned the innocence of China’s interest in operating Confucius Institutes. The Hanban, part of the Chinese Ministry of Education, has shrouded Confucius Institutes in secrecy. At most Institutes, the terms of agreement are hidden. China’s leaders have not assuaged worries that the Institutes may teach political lessons that favor China. In 2009, Li Changchun, then the head of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party and a member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, called Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.”3

The Hanban wields hefty influence in its Institutes. Confucius Institute instructors are screened, trained, and “dispatched” from China by the Hanban, which also pays their salaries and often provides housing.4 The Hanban supplies textbooks, along with annual grants around $100,000 to cover operating expenses and subsidize university staff salaries. The Confucius Institute Constitution on the Hanban’s website implies that Chinese law applies within the premises of its Institutes. Many Institutes are reluctant to criticize the Chinese government or discuss subjects censored in China, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre. Host universities have on occasion felt compelled to comply with Chinese political preferences. In 2009, North Carolina State University (NCSU) rescinded an invitation to the Dalai Lama to speak on campus. NCSU has a Confucius Institute, and local observation state that pressure from the Confucius Institue was responsible for NCSU’s about-face.

A number of professors have protested the establishment of Confucius Institutes at their universities, charging that the Institutes usurp faculty control and leave the university beholden to a foreign funder. The University of Chicago closed its Institute in 2014 after 100 professors signed a petition noting the “dubious practice of allowing an external institution to staff academic courses within the University.”5 Shortly afterward, Pennsylvania State University announced that it, too, would sever its relationship with the Hanban. Other universities have retained their Institutes to the chagrin of some professors. Professors around the country report that their university’s Institute, usually established without their knowledge, competes with their modern language department’s regular course offerings in Chinese and operates beyond the purview of the faculty.

Such concerns have led the American Association of University Professors to denounce Confucius Institutes as an arrangement that “sacrificed the integrity of the university.”6 New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith has held two Congressional hearings on the Institutes and asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate.7 University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins has documented a series of troubling occurrences at Confucius Institutes worldwide in his book Confucius Institutes: Academic Malware.8 A number of scholars of China have published and testified regarding their concerns, including Perry Link,9 Lionel Jensen,10 and Steven Levine.11

Defenders of Confucius Institutes parry that China’s outreach is friendly, or at least no worse than that of the United Kingdom, France, or Germany, all of which operate educational centers in foreign countries not least as exercises in building “soft power”—a country’s promotion of its culture and its economy as a way to extend its political influence. South Korea and Japan, such defenders aver, also provide funding for courses in their nation’s language and culture. Several administrators or professors connected to Confucius Institutes told us they thought Saudi Arabia’s increasing investment in American higher education has not attracted the same criticism that Confucius Institutes do, perhaps because of a bias against China.

Some directors of Confucius Institutes report that they have never felt pressure to whitewash Chinese history and have been free to use textbooks of their choice instead of the Hanban’s. Some say the hype over Confucius Institutes stems from a few high-profile, poorly understood scandals, and that China’s claim to ownership of Confucius Institutes is only paper-deep. The real authority, they argue, rests with the host university, which accepts the Hanban’s money to support its own initiatives.

Much remains murky about Confucius Institutes. Defenders and opponents have each seized on examples favorable to their case. To evaluate the place of Confucius Institutes in American higher education, the National Association of Scholars examined 12 Confucius Institutes, two in New Jersey and ten in New York. We asked about hiring policies, formal protections for academic freedom, textbooks, course offerings, funding policies, and formal and informal speech codes. Some Confucius Institutes were more open than others, and the depth of the information we were able to procure varies from one Institute to another. But put together, our case studies offer insight into the inner workings of Confucius Institutes at American institutions. Our findings also illustrate the way that Confucius Institutes exert pressure on faculty members and administrators at their host institutions.

We found that certain practices can vary from Institute to Institute. Some Confucius Institutes grant more authority to the host university and to the local faculty than do others. Institutes faced varied levels of scrutiny from the Hanban. Some reported an outright ban on discussing subjects that are censored in China; others reported freedom of speech. But overall we found that to a large extent, universities have made improper concessions that jeopardize academic freedom and institutional autonomy. Sometimes these concessions are official and in writing; more often they operate as implicit policies.

We found cause for concern in four areas.

  1. Intellectual freedom. Official Hanban policy requires Confucius Institutes to adhere to Chinese law, including speech codes. Chinese teachers hired, paid by, and accountable to the Chinese government face pressures to avoid sensitive topics, and American professors report pressure to self-censor.

Although some teachers and professors within Confucius Institutes claimed complete freedom to express themselves, others did not. Several Chinese directors of Confucius Institutes described taboos on topics that are censored in China, such as the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Formal protection for the academic freedom of Chinese teachers in Confucius Institutes is virtually nonexistent. Almost no teachers within Confucius Institutes are hired as employees of the host university with standard protections for academic freedom. Most are hired by, paid by, and report to the Hanban, which reserves the right to remove teachers who violate Chinese law—including speech codes. There is some evidence that the Hanban may provide teachers with stock answers to questions it wishes to avoid. When we asked Chinese teachers and directors what they would say to a student who asked about Tiananmen Square, several replied that they would talk about the Square’s historic architecture.

There is some evidence that the Hanban may provide teachers with stock answers to questions it wishes to avoid. When we asked Chinese teachers and directors what they would say to a student who asked about Tiananmen Square, several replied that they would talk about the Square’s historic architecture.

We also found that some professors within the university felt pressured to self-censor. Those affiliated with the Confucius Institute sensed the need to maintain a friendly relationship with the Hanban. Those outside the Confucius Institute felt pressure from the university—most immediately from their department—to protect the Confucius Institute’s reputation. In most cases the censorship was relatively mild, but ideological censorship of any kind is out of place in higher education. Some reported the temporary removal of Taiwanese flags or literature when Hanban officials visited. Others described extended debates over language calculated to sidestep political quagmires in China.

  1. Transparency. Contracts between American universities and the Hanban, funding arrangements, and hiring policies for Confucius Institute staff should be publicly available. Some universities went to extraordinary efforts to avoid scrutiny, cancelling meetings and forbidding NAS from visiting campus.

None of the 12 Confucius Institutes we examined discloses publicly its contract with the Hanban, its budget, or its funding arrangements. Many contracts include nondisclosure agreements, in which the Hanban asks the university to “treat this Agreement as confidential,” and not to share it without the Hanban’s express written consent. The director of one Confucius Institute, at Pace University, agreed to share an unsigned draft version. None of the 12 universities agreed to release signed final copies of its contracts until NAS filed requests under the Freedom of Information Law in New York and New Jersey. Through these requests, we obtained contracts from the eight public universities among our case studies.

NAS also met significant resistance to any questions about the Confucius Institutes. At only two of the 12 institutes did the director agree to speak to us. Two directors, at the University at Albany and Binghamton University, agreed to a meeting but cancelled at the last minute. At Binghamton University, director Zu-yan Chen also cancelled our meetings with members of the Confucius Institute staff. The Alfred University provost, upon learning that Rachelle Peterson had secured permission from a Confucius Institute teacher to visit her course, interrupted the class to eject Rachelle and forbid her from returning to campus.

We did find some university administrators open to conversation. At the University at Buffalo, vice president for international education Stephen Dunnett spent an hour and a half with Rachelle Peterson, but did not respond to follow-up queries or provide further information he promised during the meeting. Rutgers University chancellor Richard Edwards also agreed to a meeting, and called back a week later to give more detailed information. But in most cases, universities merely gesture at transparency.

  1. Entanglement. Confucius Institutes are central nodes in a complex system of relationships with China. Confucius Institutes attract full-tuition-paying Chinese students, fund scholarships for American students to study abroad, and offer other resources. Universities with financial incentives to please China find it more difficult to criticize Chinese policies.

Confucius Institutes are part of a growing web of connections between American universities and China. Other strands of this web include American satellite campuses in China, such as New York University’s Shanghai campus; an increase in semester-long student and faculty exchanges; and the skyrocketing number of Chinese students enrolling in American universities. According to the Institute of International Education, 328,547 Chinese students enrolled at American universities during the 2015-2016 school year—31.5 percent of all foreign students in the US.12 Those numbers are up from 62,582 Chinese students in 2005-2006.

NAS supports the exchange of ideas across countries and we welcome opportunities for American and Chinese students to visit and study in other countries. There is some cause for concern, though, that American universities have already become financially dependent on their ties to China. Foreign students, in particular, pay out-of-state tuition and become lucrative prospects for universities to recruit.13

As numerous professors and administrators at universities with Confucius Institutes reminded us, the Hanban’s funding of Confucius Institutes comes at a time of university budget cuts, making the influx of Chinese cash especially alluring. The Hanban generally requires host universities to contribute 50 percent of the Institutes’ operating budgets, but most universities fulfill a substantial portion of this requirement with in-kind contributions of classroom space and office equipment.

Confucius Institutes also play a major role in cementing relationships between American universities and China. Universities that pass the Hanban’s vetting procedures for Confucius Institutes are fast-tracked for approval in student exchanges. They also earn greater name recognition among Chinese students looking to earn a degree from an American institution. Several of the Confucius Institute contracts we examined included plans for student and faculty exchanges, scholarships for American students to study in China, and other incentives.

We do not condemn the introduction of new programs that increase students’ opportunities to study abroad. But we do note that Confucius Institutes have grown into a central node of US-Chinese academic exchanges, making it increasingly difficult for universities to withdraw from Confucius Institutes without jeopardizing other financial relationships.

  1. Soft Power. Confucius Institutes tend to present China in a positive light and to focus on anodyne aspects of Chinese culture. They avoid Chinese political history and human rights abuses, present Taiwan and Tibet as undisputed territories of China, and develop a generation of American students with selective knowledge of a major country.

Political scientist Joseph Nye coined the term “soft power” to denote a country’s ability to exercise authority by attraction, rather than by coercion. Soft power rests on the ability to shape the interests and desires of the other party to match or become compatible with one’s own.

Confucius Institutes are a textbook example of a soft power initiative. Students who attend Confucius Institutes will develop a natural interest in building professional relationships with those in China. Universities that receive Chinese largesse will find it in their interest to maintain a friendly relationship with China, and may find cause to stay silent in certain controversies such as China’s treatment of dissident professors. We support efforts to enable students and professors to learn more about China—and to share Western values of free expression—but we also note that the arrangement of Confucius Institutes grants significant authority to a party outside the university.

The positioning of Confucius Institutes on college campuses, meanwhile, is a boon to China. Securing a relationship with major American universities, including Stanford and Columbia, boosts China’s image on the world stage. It is naive to think that China’s multimillion-dollar investment in American education stems from pure generosity. We report the findings of our 12 case studies below, along with examples drawn from other Confucius Institutes. We first cover the general structure and history of Confucius Institutes, then specific topics related to intellectual freedom and the autonomy of the university, and finally offer short written accounts of the most prominent Confucius Institutes in our case studies.

The Hanban

“Hanban” is the executive body of the Office of Chinese Languages Council International, an agency under the Chinese Ministry of Education responsible for sending Chinese teachers and resources to other countries. The Hanban was founded in 198714 and opened the first Confucius Institute (in South Korea) in 2004. Confucius Institutes are one project within the Hanban, but as Confucius Institutes have grown to become the Hanban’s most visible project, the Hanban has sometimes referred to itself as Confucius Institute Headquarters. The head and key staff of the Hanban are also the highest ranking authorities of the Confucius Institute Headquarters.

The Hanban is closely tied to the Chinese Ministry of Education, though it obfuscates its relationship to the Chinese government. According to the Hanban’s website, “Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters” is “affiliated with” the Chinese Ministry of Education.15 By the Confucius Institute Constitution, the Hanban is “a non-profit organization that has the independent status of a corporate body.”16 The Chinese Ministry of Education lists the Hanban on its website as one of 34 “Affiliated Organizations” along with organizations such as the China National Institute for Educational Research, China Education Television, and China Vocational and Technical Education Society.17

But the Hanban is more closely linked to the Chinese regime than these statements indicate. Hanban’s operations are intertwined with those of the Ministry of Education. For instance, the Hanban’s published criteria for Chinese teachers include the requirement that prospective teachers “satisfy the requirements on selection by the Ministry of Chine (sic) Education.”18 The director general of the Hanban, Xu Lin, is a career government bureaucrat who worked her way up through the Chinese Ministry of Education. When we interviewed Chinese directors of Confucius Institutes, many used the terms “Hanban” and “Chinese Ministry of Education” as near synonyms.

The Hanban’s leadership is saturated with Communist Party leaders and career bureaucrats. Its governing body, the Chinese Language Council International, includes representatives from 12 Chinese state agencies. Most notable among these are the State Press and Publications Administration (which handles state-run media and propaganda), the General Office of the State Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Education. The other eight agencies are the Ministry of Finance, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, the State Development and Reform Commission, the Ministry of Commerce, the Ministry of Culture, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (China Radio International), the State Council Information Office, and the State Language Work Committee.19 The Council itself is technically a nonprofit nongovernmental organization, but in practice it is composed exclusively of high-ranking members of the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese government.

The Chinese Language Council International is the ultimate authority over the Hanban, though the Hanban has its own executive staff. The Director General of the Hanban is also chief executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters and the legal representative of the Hanban.20 Xu Lin, who fills these roles, is simultaneously a Counselor in the State Council, the 35-member top-ranking administrative arm of the People’s Republic of China. Xu has held this position since 2009.

Of the four deputy directors general of the Hanban/deputy chief executives of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, three previously built their careers in the Chinese Ministry of Education. (See Appendix II.)

Some Confucius Institute directors have also been rewarded with government jobs at the end of their terms. In November 2015, the former director of the Confucius Institute at Georgia State University (previously the director of the Confucius Institute at Arizona State University) was recommended as the sole candidate for deputy president of the Hong Kong Institute of Education.21

Why Confucius?

Confucius Institutes primarily teach courses on Chinese language, and offer a variety of traditional arts and culture events such as paper cutting, tea ceremonies, and Chinese New Year celebrations. Few teach about Confucius, so why name the Institutes after him?

Confucius, the fifth century BC Chinese philosopher whose Analects deeply shaped Chinese society, is familiar to many in the West, who see him as among the most accessible, anodyne aspects of Chinese culture. Confucianism has transcended the East to become well-known to the West, making the philosopher’s name a prime tool for cultural diplomacy. “‘Mao Institutes’ would somehow have lacked appeal,” the Economist noted in 2015, reflecting on China’s resurging interest in the philosopher.22

The rise of Confucius Institutes has coincided with a resurgence of interest in Confucianism in China. Mao Zedong rooted out Confucianism, razing temples and destroying the sage’s grave, in order to weed out ancient “feudal” ideas. But in recent years, Chinese President Xi Jinping has encouraged schools to teach children about Confucius and hired once-marginalized scholars to lead seminars for government officials and bureaucrats.23 China is finding that Mao’s demolition of ancient Chinese culture and break-neck social and economic transformation left many uprooted and disconnected from Chinese history. Mr. Xi sees an opportunity to rebuild China’s pride in its history while remaking Confucius’s image to conform to socialist dogmas. In particular, Confucius’s emphasis on “order, hierarchy, and duty to ruler and family” offer openings for appropriation by Mr. Xi’s regime.24

The Economist has noted that Mr. Xi oversaw a 2014 meeting of the Politburo, the Chinese Communist Party’s ruling committee, in which he emphasized the need to used traditional culture as the “wellspring” of the party’s values. That year, he also attended Confucius’s 2,565th birthday party, and in 2015 state media announced that the “hottest topic” in humanities research the previous year was in finding ties between Marxism and Confucianism.25

The Chinese government has invested heavily in molding Confucius’s image and projecting it to an international audience. Projects include a $3.8 million renovation of the Confucius Temple, Mansion and Cemetery in 2010, advertising Confucius’s hometown Qufu in Times Square, and building a railway station for the tiny town along the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway.26

A 2015 survey of Chinese citizens’ political opinions found that interest in Confucianism corresponded with “leftist” opinions supportive of the Communist party’s “authoritarian rule, including supremacy of the state and nationalism.” The authors, Jennifer Pan and Yiqing Xu, found that those with “support for Chinese traditions, for example advocated by Neo-Confucians,” tended to see “Western liberal political and social values” as “hostile.”27

Confucius Institutes Worldwide

The Hanban claims to sponsor 512 Confucius Institutes and 1,074 Confucius Classrooms in 131 nations, for a total of 1,586 educational outposts. We have verified the existence of 103 of the 110 Confucius Institutes the Hanban lists as existing at American colleges and universities. (We remove six Classrooms that appear on the Institutes lists and one Institute, at Dickinson State University, that the university cancelled before it opened.28)

The Hanban’s projects are clustered in English-speaking nations, particularly in the United States. The United States has more CIs and more CCs than any other nation. Its 103 CIs comprise 20 percent of all such institutes, and its 501 CCs make up 47 percent of all Confucius Classrooms worldwide. In all, 38 percent of the Hanban’s sponsored Confucius Institutes and Classrooms are located in the United States.

The United States possesses far more Confucius Institutes and Classrooms than any other nation. The United Kingdom, its closest competitor, has 29 CIs and 148 CCs, or about 11 percent of the Hanban’s outposts. Australia comes third, with 14 CIs and 67 CCs, or 5 percent of the worldwide total.

The Hanban also has high numbers of outposts in Italy (12 CIs, 39 CCs), South Korea (23 CIs, 13 CCs), Thailand (15 CIs, 20 CCs), Germany (19 CIs, 4 CCs), Russia (17 CIs, 5 CCs), Japan (14 CIs, 8 CCs), and France (17 CIs, 3 CCs). In keeping with its increased infrastructure investment in Africa, China has also placed Confucius Institutes or Classrooms in 38 of the 54 nations in Africa.

Each Confucius Institute partners with a Chinese university. The 103 CIs in the US are partnered with 80 different universities in China. One CI, at Pace University in New York, is paired with both a university and a publishing group. Fourteen Chinese universities are partners in more than one American-based Confucius Institute. (See Appendix I.)

Our Case Studies

We concentrate on Confucius Institutes at colleges and universities in the United States. We interviewed CI directors and teachers from Confucius Institutes across the US but focused our examination on the 12 Confucius Institutes located in New Jersey (2) and New York (10). Eleven of these 12 are housed at universities, and one is at a private organization, China Institute.

Of the 11 colleges and universities, nine are public and two (Columbia University and Pace University) are private. Both New Jersey universities are public. Of the seven public New York universities, all are part of the State University of New York (SUNY) system.

Of the 12 CIs we discuss in our case studies, the oldest one opened at China Institute in September 2005, and the second-oldest at Rutgers University in May 2008. The newest CI, at New Jersey City University, opened in June 2015.

Most of the 12 focus on teaching the Chinese language. One, the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera at Binghamton University, partners with China’s National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts to perform Chinese opera and instruct students in traditional Chinese music. The Confucius Institute for Business at the SUNY Global Center caters to professionals preparing for business trips to China. The Confucius Institute at SUNY College of Optometry works with Wenzhou Medical University to teach students about the Chinese healthcare system and traditional Chinese medicine.

Table 1 Confucius Institutes in New Jersey
American Institution Chinese Institution Confucius Institute Confucius Institute Location Date Started
New Jersy City University Jilin Huaqiao Foreign Languages Institute Confucius Institute at New Jersy City University Jersey City, NJ 6/1/2015
Rutgers University Jilin university  Confucius Institute of Rutgers University New Brunswick, NJ

5/1/2008

Table 1 Confucius Institutes in New York
Alfred University China University of Geosciences, Wuhan Confucius Insittute at Alfred University Alfred, NY 1/20/2009
Binghamton University National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera at Binghampton University Binghampton, NY 11/6/2009
China Institute East China Normal University Confucius Institute at China Institute New York, NY 9/1/2005
Columbia University Renmin University of China Confucius Institute of Chinese Language Pedagogy New York, NY 9/1/2005
Pace University Nanjing Normal University and Phoenix Publishing and Media Group Confucius Institute at Pace University New York, NY 5/19/2009
Stony Brook University Zhongnan University of Economics and Law Confucius Institute at Sony Brook University Long Island, NY  5/19/2010
SUNY Global Center Nanjing University of Finance and Economics Confucius Institute for Business at SUNY New York, NY 12/10/2010
SUNY College of Optometry Wenzhou Medical University Confucius Institute at SUNY College of Optometry New York, NY 10/27/2010
University at Albany Southwestern University of Finance and Economics Confucius Institute for China's Culture and the Economy Albany, NY 9/23/2013
University at Buffalo Capital Normal University UB Confucius Institute Buffalo, NY 4/9/2010


 

Organization

Each Confucius Institute is a joint venture between the host university, a partner Chinese university, and the Hanban. The two universities sign a Memorandum of Understanding that serves as their contract for establishing the Institute.

The host university provides a venue, a director (what the Hanban calls the “foreign director”), some portion of the funding (which includes in-kind contributions such as office space and supplies), and sometimes administrative staff. The Chinese institution grants leaves of absences to some of its professors, who serve as Chinese teachers and as the “Chinese director.” Thus there are two directors: the “foreign” or local (in our case studies, American) director, and the Chinese director.

The Hanban supplies textbooks and funds to cover operating expenses and to pay the teachers and Chinese director. Under some arrangements, the Hanban also pays a portion of the foreign director’s salary. Where we were able to obtain information on finances, we found that the Hanban’s start-up grant tends to be around $150,000, with $100,000 for subsequent years.

Most Confucius Institutes are stand-alone enterprises within the university. The Hanban, in its template contract for establishing a CI, proposes that each CI be set up as its own “non-profit educational institution.”29 Few CIs are integrated into academic departments, though some offer their own credit-bearing courses or supply the teachers for credit-bearing courses within other academic departments. More often CIs offer separate, non-credit language instruction, and seminars in Tai Chi or arts such as Chinese paper cutting and painting. Many hold public celebrations of the Chinese New Year.

Each CI is under the jurisdiction of the host university, but to varying degrees. Some measure of authority is shared with the Hanban, which retains the right to dismiss the teachers and Chinese director and to veto CI programs.30

Each year the co-directors of the CI must propose projects and courses to the Hanban, which under the CI Constitution is tasked with “examining and approving the implementation plans of annual projects, annual budgetary items, and final financial accounts of individual Confucius Institutes.” The Hanban is also responsible for “providing guidelines and making assessments to activities carried out by Confucius Institutes” and “supervising their operations” in order to promote “quality assurance.”31 The Hanban also “reserves the right to terminate the Agreements” with Confucius Institutes that “violate the principles or objectives” of the Hanban or “fail to reach the teaching quality standards” of the Hanban.32

In none of the CIs we examined did the host university’s Faculty Senate have authority or an advisory role regarding the establishment of the Confucius Institute or the development of its course offerings. (One, the University at Buffalo, does give relevant academic departments a say in which Chinese teacher to hire from among the Hanban’s nominees, and asks each department to then assess the teacher’s work.)33

A common complaint from professors of Chinese language is that the Confucius Institute classes purporting to teach the Chinese language are established without their knowledge, consent, or professional input. David Prager Branner, who was an associate professor of Chinese at the University of Maryland in 2005 when it became the first American university to open a Confucius Institute, noted that the director of the CI was a physicist who was born in China but had no professional expertise in teaching Chinese. “Even my dean didn’t know of the CI until it was announced by the president,” said Branner, noting that the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures was kept in the dark about the arrangement until it was finalized.34

Of the 12 CIs in our case studies, three have a clear institutional department to which to report. At Rutgers University, “the Institute reports directly to the Office of the Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and is overseen by the CIRU Board of Directors.”35 At Alfred University, the CI “is affiliated directly under the Provost’s Office at Alfred University.”36 At the University at Buffalo, “the Confucius Institute is housed within the College of Arts and Sciences” and “collaborates closely” with “many other departments, programs, schools, and student organizations, including: Office of the Vice Provost for International Education, Graduate School of Education, Chinese Language Program in the Department of Linguistics, Asian Studies Program, Chinese Student and Scholar Association.”37 The Buffalo CI is more closely integrated into the rest of the university than any other CI we examined.

All other CIs report primarily to their boards of directors. Most universities retain their authority over the CI’s day-to-day operations through indirect means, such as having the president or provost sit on for instance, at New Jersey City University, the director of the CI, Daniel Julius, is also senior vice president and provost.38 At Binghamton University, the chairman of the CI board is Donald Nieman, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost.39

The Board

Each CI has a board of directors that oversees its work. The board approves the Institute’s annual plans, reports for the Hanban, and its budget. The board also has a role in appointing and dismissing the foreign and Chinese directors. The Confucius Institute Constitution holds that the board is “responsible for appointing and dismissing Directors and Deputy Directors of the Confucius Institute” and that “The appointments of Directors and Deputy Directors for joint venture Confucius Institutes shall be decided upon negotiations between the Chinese and overseas partners.”40 (We discuss hiring in greater detail in subsequent sections.) CI board, or appointing a senior member of the administration as the CI director.

The Confucius Institute Constitution does not advise the number or balance of board members but defers these questions to “consultation,” presumably between the two partner universities.41 Of the nine CIs we were able to obtain information for, the average number of board members was eight. At eight of the nine institutions, the chairman was a senior administrator of the American institution and the vice-chairman was a senior administrator of the Chinese institution. Only at the SUNY Global Center was the board chairman a representative of the Chinese university (Song Xuefeng, president of Nanjing University of Finance and Economics), while the deputy chairman represented the SUNY Global Center. Pace University, according to a draft contract with Nanjing Normal University, rotates the chair every two years between a representative of Pace and a representative of Nanjing Normal University.42

The largest board size was 15 members; the smallest had six members.

At six of the nine CIs, a majority of the board members were affiliated with the American host institution, usually by one seat. The greatest difference was at Stony Brook University, where six of the seven board members held positions at Stony Brook, and only the Chinese director, Dr. Shijiao Fang from Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, represented the Chinese partner institution.43

One Confucius Institute board had a majority of members from the Chinese partner institution. At the SUNY College of Optometry, four of the seven board members were affiliated with Wenzhou Medical University.44

At two, the University at Buffalo and SUNY Global Center, the eight-member board was evenly divided between representatives of the two partner universities.

With the exception of the University at Buffalo, all board members were affiliated with one of the two partner universities. At Buffalo, one board member was president of a local business, Rich Products. Three other board members were from the University at Buffalo and four from Capital Normal University in China.

Table 2 Board Size and Composition
University Board Members from American University Board Members from Chinese University Board Members from Private Companies Total Number
New Jersey City University 6 5 0 11
Rutgers University 4 3 0 7
Alfred University 4 2 0 6
Binghamton University 8 7 0 15
SUNY College of Optometry 3 4 0 7
Sony Brook University 6 1 0 7
SUNY Global Center 4 4 0 8
University at Albany 3 3 0 6
University at Buffalo 3 4 1* 8

*Mr. William G. Gisel, Jr., chief executive officer and head of Rich Products' Executive Leadership Team, Buffalo, NY.45

Staff

The Hanban’s Confucius Institute Constitution delineates the general structure and division of authority between the two partners. According to the Constitution, the foreign (in our case studies, American) director assumes “the main responsibility for the Institute’s daily operation and administration.”46

The Chinese co-director’s responsibilities vary, but typically concentrate on writing reports for the Hanban and supervising Chinese teachers. At Pace University, the Chinese director Wenqin Wang, who previously taught English as a Foreign Language at Nanjing Normal University in China, told us she oversees the Chinese teachers, coaches them to navigate cultural differences, and handles paperwork for the Hanban.47

At the University at Buffalo, the Chinese associate director assists an American associate director “in the administration of the Institute,” prepares “Chinese language versions of plans, reports, and budgets,” and “as time allows and need arises, may provide instruction in Institute programs.”48 At the Confucius Institute for Business at the SUNY Global Center, the Chinese director is “responsible for communicating with: the [Confucius Institute] Headquarters, NUFE [Nanjing University of Finance and Economics], China’s Consulate in New York, and overseas Chinese communities.” The Chinese Director also performs a variety of administrative roles, and helps the American Director “recruit, select and train staff.”49

The teachers and co-directors from China sign short contracts with the Hanban, usually for two years. Some are professors at universities in China, and receive leaves of absence from their home universities for the duration of their stints at Confucius Institutes.50 They typically return to their previous positions in China, depending on their good service at the Confucius Institute. Some go on to another Confucius Institute, and others request and receive extensions for another year at the same CI. At Pace University, director Joseph Tse-Hei Lee planned to request a one-year extension for a teacher who had spent two years helping Pace develop an app to teach Chinese.

None of the Chinese directors or teachers we spoke to had signed contracts with the host university. Tamara Cunningham, assistant director of the CI at New Jersey City University, told us she and the other professors would prefer to hire the Chinese teachers as adjuncts, but could not under the agreement the university signed with the Hanban. Under that agreement, the teachers sign contracts with the Hanban, not the host university, and are paid by the Hanban, which declined to provide lump sums of funding for the university to use in paying the teachers itself.51

Under such arrangements, the Chinese teachers and Chinese directors answer simultaneously to the American director, the CI board, and the Hanban. The American director and Chinese director provide the most immediate oversight, though in most cases it is the Hanban that provides teachers’ salaries and evaluates their performance.

The American director answers to the CI’s board. At some institutions, he also reports to the department under which the CI is organized (see “Organization” above). In cases where his salary is paid in part by the Hanban, he may have some additional obligations to the Hanban.

Hiring, Wages, and Responsibilities

American Directors

The American Director is appointed by and retains his position at the pleasure of the CI board of directors. Because the boards of directors comprise members of both the host university and its Chinese partner, the director receives the approval of both parties, though typically the host university plays a larger role in selecting the American director.

Some universities set forth in their contracts clear guidelines for the hiring process. At the University at Buffalo, the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the Vice Provost for International Education hire the Confucius Institute director, subject to the formal approval of the Confucius Institute Board of Directors.52 E.K. Tan, the director of the CI at Stony Brook University, told us he was invited to apply for his position by Stony Brook’s Dean of International Academic Programs and Services, who chaired a search committee put together by the CI board of advisors. The board held final responsibility to formally approve Tan as director.53 Most contracts establishing CIs state only that the board of directors has the authority to “appoint” or “approve” the director.

The Director’s responsibilities include oversight of all Confucius Institute activity, though generally formal communication with the Hanban goes through the Chinese director.

Some CIs spell out the qualifications for CI directors. Five of the nine institutions that released copies or draft copies of their contracts had contractual language stipulating that the director must be a professor at the host university. One of these, the University at Buffalo, further specified that the director should be a tenured professor.54 Many contracts included similar language that the director should be one “with administrative abilities, and has been devoted to the Sino-America cultural exchange and the establishment of the Confucius Institute.”55 At Rutgers University, chancellor Richard Edwards, who oversees the Confucius Institute, told us his criteria include fluency in Mandarin, experience in managing and developing new programs, and interpersonal skills. The director at Rutgers need not be a professor, but could be appointed to a staff position, Edwards said.56

In practice, the American director is almost always a faculty member or administrator of the host university. Of the 12 CIs we studied, nine directors had other appointments within the host institution. The director of the one non-university CI, at the China Institute, had no other appointed position within the China Institute. At the SUNY College of Optometry, the director position was empty during the time we conducted our research. And at the University at Buffalo, the CI director Jiyuan Yu passed away while we were conducting our research. His position has not yet been filled.

Of the nine directors with university appointments, seven were professors and two were full-time administrators.

Of the seven professors who direct CIs, five have extensive professional expertise in Chinese language and culture. Dr. Wilfred V. Huang at Alfred University, is a professor of management, and at the University at Albany, Youqin Huang is associate professor of geography and planning. (At the University at Buffalo, where the director’s position is currently unfilled, the previous director Jiyuan Yu was a professor of philosophy.)

Table 3 Confucius Institute Directors' University Appointments
University Institute Name CI Postition University Position
New Jersey City University Confucius Institute at NJCU  Daniel Julius Director Senior Vice President and Provost
Rutgers Confucius Institute of Rutgers University Ching-I Tu Director Professor of Chinese and East Asian Studies
Alfred University Confucius Institute at Alfred University Wilfred V. Huang Director George G. Raymond Chair Professor of Management
Binghamton University Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera at Binghamton University Wilfred V. Haung Directo Distinguished Professor of Chinese Language and Literature
China Institute China Institute Confucius Institute Zu-yuan Chen Director None
Columbia University Confucius Institute of Chinese Language Pedagogy Lening Liu Director Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures
Pace University Confucius Institute at Pace University Joseph Tse-Hei Lee Executive Director Professor of History, Co-director of B.A. program in Global Asia Studies

Stony Brook University

Confucius Institute at Stony Brook University E.K. Tan Director Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies
SUNY College of Opometry Confucius Insittute at SUNY College of Optometry

The Director Postition was empty as of November 2016

SUNY Global Center Confucius Institute for Business at SUNY

Mayalice Mazzara

Director Director, JFEW-SUNY International Relations and Global Affairs Scholars Program
University at Albany Confucius Institute for China's Culture and the Economy Youquin Huang Executive Director Associate Professor of Geography and Planning
University at Buffalo UB Confucius Institute Jiyuan Yu (passed away during our research; position now unfilled Director Professor of Philosophy

Many CI directors receive some compensation for their work. Of the six CIs that provided information to us, either in person or by copies of their contracts, three directors were paid exclusively by their host university, two were paid by the host university in part with subsidies from the Hanban, and one was not paid at all. At Stony Brook University, where university policies prevent any full-time professor from receiving competing external compensation, the CI director there is appointed to an unpaid service position.

FIGURE 1 WHO PAYS CONFUCIUS INTSTITUTE DIRECTORS

Chinese Directors

Chinese directors are nominated by a Chinese partner university or the Hanban to the host university, whose CI director usually plays a role in selecting which nominee to accept.

The Hanban puts forth the criteria for Chinese directors. They should be between 35 and 55 years old, healthy, familiar with the country to which they are appointed, proficient in the local language, comfortable using computer software and the internet, and “passionate about Chinese language teaching and Confucius Institute undertakings.” Prospective Chinese directors should hold the title of associate professor or higher, have at least one year’s administrative experience and some experience studying or working in another country, and should “be a qualified leader with cross-cultural communication skills and be efficient at executive tasks.” The requirements also hold that “the nominee must abide by laws and regulations in China and the destination country.”57

The Chinese directors and teachers we interviewed reported that the application process was not particularly competitive. “Not so much,” Pace CI Chinese director Wenqin Wang said when asked if the application process was difficult. “Language is most important requirement,” she said, noting the small pool of professors with sufficient English proficiency.58 Wang said she attended the Hanban’s annual training camp in China for new Chinese directors, along with about 160 other new directors.

Shijiao Fang, at the Stony Brook University Confucius Institute, said her home university in China announced that the Stony Brook CI needed a new Chinese director and invited professors to apply. She submitted her CV to a Zhongnan University panel, which selected which professors could then apply to the Hanban for the position. She estimated ten professors applied for the Chinese director position, compared to an average of 20 to 30 for professorships at universities in China. “For this position, the competition is not very strong, because they have to come to a foreign institution” and speak English well, Fang said. But because the applicants are professors who rose to the top of a “very competitive” process to secure an academic job in China, she felt it was overall a competitive process to earn a spot teaching in a foreign country.59

Most Chinese directors’ roles center on communicating with partners in China, coaching teachers, and handling paperwork for the Hanban. Wang, at Pace University, said her “primary task is to coordinate teachers and coordinate with the Modern Language Department,” which has Confucius Institute teachers run labs for the university’s regular Chinese 101 and 102 classes. Wang also handles “lots of coordinations, and communication with Pace and other organizations” in New York City that recommend students to the Confucius Institute.

At the SUNY Global Center, the Chinese director is “responsible for communication with the Headquarters, NUFE [Nanjing University of Finance and Economics], China’s consulate in New York, and overseas Chinese communities.”60 Likewise the University at Albany Chinese director is to “be the main liaison between the Confucius Institute, SWUFE [Southwestern University of Finance and Economics], and the Hanban.”61

Some Chinese directors also handle applications to the Hanban for funds. At the SUNY Global Center, the agreement between SUNY and Nanjing University of Finance and Economics specifies that the Chinese director is “responsible for applying to Headquarters for financing such events as cultural exchanges, marketing and advertising promotion of the Institute.”62 At the University at Buffalo, the Chinese Associate Director and the SUNY Associate Director are jointly tasked with monitoring the “use of funds allocated by the Headquarters to make sure the funds are used in conformity with regulations of the Headquarters and of the Research Foundation of SUNY.”63

To whom does a Chinese director report? The authority structure is muddled. Most Chinese directors serve as co-directors with the American director, though the American director generally takes precedence. Only at the University at Buffalo was the Chinese director officially subordinate to the American director.64

Chinese directors must balance the authority of the American host institution and the American director against the authority of the Hanban and their own home institution in China. Of the nine institutions for which we obtained contracts or draft contracts, four stipulated that “the institute must accept the assessment of the Headquarters on the teaching quality,” a strong incentive for Chinese teachers and directors to take their cues from the Hanban.65

Two of the nine universities included modified stipulations that balanced the assessment authority between the host university and the Hanban. The SUNY Global Center holds that both SUNY and the Hanban “assess the teaching quality of the teachers,” each in a manner “consistent with the practices employed in the parties.”66 At the University at Buffalo, where the CI also oversees several Confucius Classrooms at local K-12 schools, “the Headquarters, the University and the host K-12 schools” each conduct an “assessment of the quality” of CI programs.67

The source of payment is another clue to the authorities at play. Chinese directors, like Chinese teachers, typically maintain contracts and formal arrangements with the Hanban and with their home institution, rather than with the American host university. New Jersey City University identifies suitable apartments for the Chinese director and Chinese teachers, assistant director Tamara Cunningham told us, but the salary, housing and transportation costs are covered by the Hanban.68 The State College of Optometry is contractually obliged to “provide apartments” to Chinese instructors, and presumably other costs are covered by the Hanban or Wenzhou Medical University, the partner university.69 At the University at Buffalo, the contracts specify that the Chinese director’s salary, health insurance, living stipend, and airfare to and from China are covered by either the Hanban or Capital Normal University, the university’s partner institution.70

Chinese Teachers

Chinese teachers, like Chinese directors, are selected by the host university from a pool of candidates nominated by the Chinese partner university and the Hanban. In every Confucius Institute on which we could obtain data, all Chinese teachers who were Chinese natives were paid by the Hanban or the Chinese partner university. Only at Rutgers, where one Chinese teacher is a full-time Rutgers staff member and former professor, does a Chinese teacher’s salary come from the American host institution.

Some university contracts with the Hanban set forth criteria for prospective Chinese teachers. Many contracts state that teachers “should be qualified in English, Chinese Culture, management and coordination abilities.”71

The Hanban has another, more detailed set of criteria, which prospective teachers must pass before they can be nominated to host universities as candidates for Confucius Institute positions. The current eligibility requirements for Chinese teachers, listed on the Hanban’s website, are that Chinese teachers must be healthy, younger than 50 (exceptions for those who speak rare languages), proficient in Chinese and the host institution’s native language, and competent in “teaching, administration and coordination.” Prospective teachers must also be currently employed as a teacher of Chinese or a foreign language, “have Chinese nationality,” and “have strong senses of mission, glory, and responsibility and be conscientious and meticulous in work.”72

Prospective Chinese teachers must meet the Chinese Ministry of Education’s selection requirements (which the Ministry updated in August 2004, just as the Hanban was launching Confucius Institutes).73 Teachers must also attend and pass a two-week training camp run by the Hanban in China.74

In previous years, observers of Confucius Institutes have noted that the Hanban’s eligibility criteria included the stipulation that teachers have “no record of participation in Falun Gong,” a peaceful religious movement banned as “heretical” in China on the pretext that it engages in terrorism.75 Language barring Falun Gong members disappeared from the English version of the Hanban’s website after a Chinese teacher based in Canada accused the Hanban of religious persecution and claimed refugee status in Canada. (See the section “Falun Gong” for more detail.)

Chinese teachers, like Chinese directors, are selected through a two-stage process by the Hanban and by the host institution. The hiring process itself has several layers. Eligible teachers apply either through the Chinese university where they work or through the Hanban, which screens all candidates and nominates prospective teachers to the host institution. There, the CI director, under the auspices of the board, makes the final decision.

In some cases, universities may simply request a teacher, and the Confucius Institute Headquarters will assign someone to fill the role. Paul Manfredi, associate professor of Chinese at Pacific Lutheran University, which does not have a Confucius Institute, requested a teacher from the Confucius Institute at the University of Washington. The university consulted with the Confucius Institute Headquarters, and “they simply found someone and appointed him,” Manfredi said. “There was no participation on our part in selecting the final applicant.” The CI teacher has taught at Pacific Lutheran University for one semester. Manfredi said he was satisfied with the CI teacher, who replaced a teacher formerly funded by the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program.76

Some people we talked to described a database of pre-screened teachers maintained by the Hanban. When a position at a Confucius Institute opens, the Hanban selects a slate of candidates from which the Confucius Institute can choose. At Pace University, director Joseph Tse-Hei Lee said the Hanban kept a “database of people who are interested in being a CI teacher,” from which a Hanban agent selects two or three resumes to send to CIs in need of staff. As director, Dr. Lee reviews the resumes, interviews the applicants in both English and Chinese, and selects one. If he is dissatisfied with the candidates the Hanban suggests, he can ask for a new set of resumes.77

Tamara Cunningham, assistant director of the CI at New Jersey City University, described the arrangement as a loan of human resources: “The director and teachers are lent by Chinese government from a partner university.”78 Hanban calls itself a “dispatcher” of teachers, a term Xiuli Yin, New Jersey City University’s Chinese Director, repeated in an interview.79 Shijiao Fang, Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute at Stony Brook University and a professor of economics at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, said Zhongnan “decided” which professors were allowed to apply to the Hanban, which then recommended candidates to the American partner institution.80

Some Confucius Institutes, such as at the University at Buffalo, also oversee local Confucius Classrooms. The Buffalo CI hosts both visiting professors from the Chinese partner university, Capital Normal University, who teach at the university, and also teachers in public K-12 schools. Both sets of teachers sign contracts with the Hanban, said Stephen Dunnett, Vice Provost for International Education at the University at Buffalo and a member of the CI board of directors there.81

Of the nine Confucius Institutes on which we obtained data on hiring practices, all Chinese teachers “dispatched” from the Hanban are paid by the Hanban. Usually, the Hanban covers rent, airfare to and from China, salary, and sometimes health insurance. Dunnett at the University at Buffalo said that the Hanban also “compensates the schools they [the teachers] leave” when they come to foreign countries.82

Only at Rutgers University was a teacher paid by the host institution. One former Rutgers instructor, Dietrich Tschanz, moved to the Confucius Institute as a full-time staff teacher, because he said he wanted to take advantage of the “perks,” such as the free trips to China, that the Confucius Institute provided him.83 Other than Professor Tschanz, every Confucius Institute Chinese teacher we know of at our 12 case studies is paid by either the Hanban or the Chinese sending university.

FIGURE 2 WHO PAYS CHINESE TEACHERS

Some directors of Confucius Institutes cited their control of the hiring process as evidence that the Hanban does not micromanage its Confucius Institutes, and as confirmation of the host university’s autonomy. The evidence for such autonomy is weak, however, given the Hanban’s role in pre-screening potential applicants and in paying teachers.

At the University at Albany, professors initially were led to believe they would be closely involved in hiring Confucius Institute teachers, said James Hargett, professor of Chinese studies. “The understanding was that we would be involved in the selection of professional teaching Chinese as a second language educators from China, but it didn’t turn out that way,” he said. “We’re not in the process of deciding who to bring. That’s been totally done from the Chinese side.”84

As noted above, we know of only one Confucius Institute teacher who is hired directly by the host university: Dietrich Tschanz at Rutgers. Some CI directors said it was impossible to hire American professors to fill the teaching roles at the Confucius Institutes. E.K. Tan at Stony Brook University cited university transparency guidelines that prevent faculty members from being paid by outside organizations. “We [the Confucius Institute cannot pay an employee on campus,” he said, noting that under Stony Brook rules, “a university professor cannot be paid by a sponsor outside.” Because the CI is funded by the Hanban, no Stony Brook faculty members are eligible for CI positions, unless they agree to take on the responsibilities with no pay, as Tan did.

Other Staff Members

Some CIs have administrative staff hired and paid by the host university. This is the case at Pace University, where the Confucius Institute has a program manager hired by Pace to manage the office, arrange programs, and oversee social media and newsletters in English.85 At the University at Buffalo, the UB Associate Director is a staff member, and therefore a public employee of the state of New York.

University at Buffalo’s contract leaves open the option of hiring a Confucius Institute visiting librarian, to be nominated by Capital Normal University, to catalogue the books provided by the Hanban.86 At Binghamton University, the Confucius Institute periodically works with an affiliated university librarian (an employee of the university) who oversees culture and arts displays in the library foyer.

CIs that have been established for at least two years with at least 200 registered students may add the position of “Head Teacher” to oversee the teachers and develop lesson plans and resources.87 The Hanban requires that the Head Teacher must meet the additional requirements of having “overall capacities such as cross-cultural communication and organizational skills,” and either two years of experience teaching at a Confucius Institute or five years of experience teaching Chinese in other settings.88

The Head Teacher, unlike the other Chinese teachers, should sign a contract with the host institution itself, which also must agree to provide health insurance and other benefits, and to share the cost of the Head Teacher’s salary with the Hanban. The host university has the authority to assess the teacher each year, but must include in its assessment the Hanban’s comments on the teacher’s performance. Both the host institution and the Hanban have the authority to fire the Head Teacher for breach of rules, including “Violation of the laws of the host country (region) or China.”89 None of the 12 CIs we examined had a Head Teacher.

Hanban’s Selection Process

Defenders of Confucius Institutes say the Hanban’s role in the hiring process is simply a matter of quality control. In this reading, the Hanban’s criteria ensure that Chinese teachers have the basic skills and language proficiency to succeed, rather than filtering candidates by ideology, religion, or loyalty. In our research, we found no evidence that Chinese teachers in Confucius Institutes act as automaton promoters of the Chinese government or the Chinese Communist Party.

But there is evidence that the Hanban has included litmus tests in screening applicant teachers, for instance, excluding those who practice Falun Gong. And we found in our interviews and research that some teachers felt pressure, ranging from implicit requests to explicit demands, to avoid conversations that would embarrass the Chinese regime or undermine its credibility. (This is discussed in more detail in the “Academic Freedom” section.)

Does having a Confucius Institute make American universities complicit in China’s discriminatory hiring? Directors of the Confucius Institutes we researched rejected the premise, and generally claimed autonomy in hiring teachers. Lee at Pace University said he had complete control over the hiring. Rutgers Chancellor Richard Edwards said the same.

At other CIs, some directors acknowledged possible discriminatory behavior by the Hanban. Randy Kluver, the director of the Confucius Institute at Texas A&M University, acknowledged that China may screen its applicants, but “we really don’t have a whole lot of a role in that. That transaction never happens in the US.” He disapproves of China’s mistreatment of Falun Gong participants but rejected the idea that American universities can instruct the Chinese government how to spend its money. Forcing China to hire Falun Gong members “would be like a member of Al Qaeda working in an American Arabic program. This is banned. This is illegal. That’s how it’s seen in China.” Kluver distinguished the filtering out of certain religious sects from broader political litmus tests:

If China imposed ideological hiring criteria, I think most of us would shut down. If at any point we were being told Hanban is making these decisions based on something other than competence, we would walk away.90

Rutgers University Chancellor Richard Edwards likewise rejected the idea that the university was complicit in any Hanban discriminatory hiring policies. “If we asked that question, what are your political views,” it would be unacceptable, Edwards said. “But with the Hanban, it doesn’t come up” in Rutgers’ selection process, so “signing a contract with us is irrelevant.”91

Whether the Hanban includes a camouflaged political litmus test, in addition to a religious one, is unclear. It does appear to pressure teachers to behave as representatives of the state and to refrain from criticizing the state, usually by avoiding all political talk. Kluver acknowledged that he asks every teacher at his Confucius Institute whether they received political training, and “To a number, they all say, ‘they [Hanban] say do not talk about politics.’” Kluver attributes this reluctance to discuss politics to disciplinary humility rather than censorship. Linguists are not experts in politics, he says, and don’t care to proffer their opinions in public: “Are they directed away from politics? Yes. But it’s not censorship so much as a matter of expertise.”92

One senior professor at a British university with a Confucius Institute recommended that all universities formally ask the Hanban to share publicly its hiring criteria. He also urged universities to submit to the Hanban a list of the discriminatory criteria that are off-limits in many Western nations. “We have a legal obligation to know that all the people are appointed on the basis of merit,” he said, citing non-discrimination laws in the UK and US. “We’d say, ‘here is the questionnaire. Can you assure me that all the criteria are met?’” This professor said he knows of no hard evidence that the Hanban currently engages in discriminatory hiring, but the university should make sure it has “done due diligence,” making it to clear to the Hanban that discrimination by religion, political views, Communist Party membership, or any other non-merit factor is incompatible with university policy and local law. “We may have our suspicions, but they are not the same thing [as proof]. And if they come back and say they have complied, then I have to accept that.”93

Length of Contract

Generally, Confucius Institutes are established under five-year contracts, after which the partner universities may renew. Of the nine contracts we obtained, all nine lasted for five years, at which point universities may renew under the same contract, or renew under a modified contract. Two signed new contracts, which included stronger protections for university autonomy and faculty control (SUNY Global Center and the University at Buffalo). Three renewed by sending a letter to the Hanban, extending the original agreement for another five years (Stony Brook University, SUNY College of Optometry, and Binghamton University). At three, the original contract has not yet expired or been renewed (the University at Albany, Columbia University, New Jersey City University). And at four, it is unclear what contract currently governs the Confucius Institute (Rutgers University, Pace University, Alfred University, China Institute).

Withdrawing from hosting a Confucius Institute is a difficult task. In the template contract published on its website, the Hanban proposes that the contract automatically renew every five years unless one of the two partners withdraws 90 days before the expiration. The agreement may be cancelled before it comes up for its five-year renewal period, but only if there is “a national emergency, war, prohibitive government regulation or any other cause beyond the control of the parties that renders the performance of this Agreement impossible.”94

The host university and its Chinese partner may adapt the contract to their own purposes, but the Hanban must audit and approve the revised text first.

The template agreement provides some additional ways for the Hanban to terminate the agreement, but no other means for the host university to exit. The Hanban may close the CI at any time, if according to its assessment “the Institute has not reached the standard.” (Presumably this refers to the Hanban’s assessment of the courses, elsewhere mentioned in the draft contract.) Apart from these cases, “neither party can request for terminating this Agreement ahead of time.” Should the host university forcibly close the CI, it would be liable “for all the damages,” including “all the investment made under this Agreement, the legal expense and the indemnity for defamation.”

“Tarnishing the Reputation”

The Hanban also reserves the right to terminate contracts of universities that embarrass or undermine the Confucius Institutes system. The Confucius Institute Constitution holds that a Chinese agency can “pursue legal action” against universities that commit serious offenses, including behavior that “damages or tarnishes the reputation of the Confucius Institutes.”95

Confucius Institute contract we obtained also included language warning that any university action that “severely harms the image and reputation of the Confucius Institute” can result in the termination of the university’s contract and all funding. At Rutgers University, for instance, “Hanban reserves the right to immediately terminate the Agreement if, in its reasonable judgment, the Confucius Institute of Rutgers acts in a way that severely harms the image and reputation of the Confucius Institute.”96 Binghamton University, Pace University, the University at Buffalo, and SUNY College of Optometry include similar language.

Four universities’ contracts included slight modifications that place the university on par with the Hanban in demanding compensation for “tarnished” reputations. In these agreements, the university also has the authority to cancel the arrangement if the Hanban severely harms the university’s reputation.

New Jersey City University and the University at Albany: “If the act of one party of the Agreement severely harms the image and reputation of the other party. 97

Stony Brook University: “If the act of one party of the Agreement severely harms the image and reputation of the Confucius Institute, the [SUNY Research] Foundation, or State University of New York.”98 

SUNY Global Center: “if the act of one party of the Agreement severely harms the image and reputation of the Confucius Institute, Headquarters, the Foundation, SUNY, or NUFE.”99

What counts as a “severe” harm to the Confucius Institutes project is unclear. “It’s a subjective kind of thing, because any number of things could embarrass the Chinese government,” noted June Teufel Dreyer, a University of Miami professor of political science who concentrates on Asian politics. “Saying something nice about the Dalai Lama, much less inviting the Dalai Lama” could be enough to set off the Hanban. Dreyer said the University of Miami has rebuffed the Hanban’s offers of a Confucius Institute because it jealously guards its independence.100

Defenders of Confucius Institutes point out that the Hanban has never invoked the “tarnish the reputation” clause, and therefore claim that it is clearly not intended to strong-arm universities into compliance with Chinese sensitivities. But the Hanban’s reluctance to use the lawsuit as a means to pressure universities does not mean that it does not pressure universities by subtler methods. The clause forbidding actions that “tarnish” the Confucius Institute’s reputation is itself a warning that silences potential criticism. What counts as “tarnish”? How much tarnishing adds up to “severe harm”? The definitions are unclear, leaving colleges to feel out the limits of the Hanban’s liberality. Most, hesitant to lose Chinese largesse, will err on the side of caution. The clause’s very power to intimidate universities makes lawsuits unnecessary.

Whose Law Applies?

A number of critics of Confucius Institutes have noted that the Hanban’s website and some Confucius Institute contracts suggest the Hanban considers Chinese law to be in force at Confucius Institutes around the world. Many wonder if speech codes in force in China apply to Confucius Institutes. Others note that hiring practices in China may not comply with Western non-discrimination laws.

Every CI director we spoke to denied the force of Chinese law over the Confucius Institute, though some acknowledged that teachers and directors dispatched from China must obey Chinese law. Every Confucius Institute contract we saw included some reference to either Chinese law, or the Confucius Institute Constitution, which itself includes respect for Chinese law among its requirements. Some CI directors dismissed these texts as technical details that carry little weight in day-to-day affairs.

Legal Contractual Obligations

Six of the nine New York and New Jersey Confucius Institutes whose contracts we examined include a line taken from the template contract on the Hanban’s website: “The Confucius Institutes shall abide by the laws and regulations of the countries in which they are located, respect local cultural and educational traditions and social customs, and they shall not contravene concerning the laws and regulations of China.”101 One of these six, the University at Buffalo, added the word “relevant” (“relevant laws and regulations of the United States and China”102), though Vice Provost for International Education Stephen Dunnett said he was not sure which laws counted as “relevant.”103 He did not respond to follow-up requests for more information.

Seven of the nine Confucius Institute contracts include explicit requirements that the Confucius Institute abide by the Confucius Institute Constitution, which (repeating the language of the Hanban’s template contract) emphasizes the importance of obeying Chinese law.104 The Constitution also holds that “This Constitution and By-Laws is applicable to all Confucius Institutes worldwide.”105

The Constitution cites both local and Chinese law. What are CIs supposed to do when US law contradicts Chinese law? Neither the contracts nor the Hanban’s website offers explicit guidance. This is another case in which the Hanban has created a legally ambiguous structure that encourages American universities to defer to Chinese law.

Courts

In the case of legal disputes, the Hanban encourages partner universities to “consult each other amicably” to solve problems outside the judicial system. If disputes require legal intervention, it is unclear which nation’s courts have jurisdiction. Eight of the nine contracts we examined fail to specify which legal system should be used to resolve potential conflicts. New Jersey City University, for example, signed a contract committing it to “submit to the jurisdictional organ according to the related laws and regulations,”106 and to “submit to the jurisdictional organ of which this Agreement falls within the competence.”107 The CI director there, Daniel Julius, did not respond to questions about what “jurisdictional organ” applied in such cases.

Rutgers agreed that disputes will be “resolved according to the law of the jurisdiction where the Agreement is signed.”108 Pace University’s draft contract says,

In the event of any dispute, the Parties shall consult each other amicably. In the event such dispute cannot be resolved amicably, litigation of such dispute shall be conducted in and resolved by a court of appropriate jurisdiction.109

These universities did not respond to requests for additional information. Neither the contracts nor the Hanban’s website states explicitly which courts have jurisdiction, though the Hanban stipulates that in any dispute over funding, “all principal bodies of the various partners in cooperation shall accept the jurisdiction of the Beijing Court.”110

How Far Does the Arm of Bureaucracy Reach?

How these requirements play out on campus is murky. When New Jersey City University signed a contract with the Hanban to establish a Confucius Institute, it included language similar to that of the Confucius Institute Constitution, enjoining obedience to both American and Chinese law:

The Institute activities must be accordance with the Constitution and By-laws, and also respect cultural custom, shall not contravene concerning the laws and regulations, both in the United States and China.111

Three months later, when New Jersey City University signed another agreement, this time with its Chinese partner university, it explicitly included language that established the primacy of American law:

It is understood that New Jersey City University must abide by the policies of the New Jersey City University Board of Trustees and the laws of the State of New Jersey.112

Rutgers University’s contract with the Hanban references Chinese law obliquely, in a section on steps to resolve disputes: “the Parties agree that said dispute will be resolved according to the law of the jurisdiction where the Agreement is signed.”113 But Rutgers president Richard McCormick signed the document on July 4, 2007, while Hanban director general Xu Lin signed on June 19, 2007, apparently one in New Jersey and the other in China. The document does note that in any disputes regarding the English and Chinese versions of the contract, “Rutgers shall consider itself bound to the English construction of the provisions, since that is what the authorized Rutgers signatory will have read and understood.”114

Some directors of CIs averred that the Hanban may pay lip service to Chinese law in order to gain favor with bureaucrats in China, but it never takes the trouble to enforce those laws on its American partners. Lee at Pace University told us that the Chinese Ministry of Education claims to be “everywhere, even in different parts of the world. Horizontally it looks very impressive.” But “they don’t have the resources on the ground” to monitor each Confucius Institute’s affairs.115 Lee dismissed the importance of the Constitution and By-Laws, noting that he’d never read them, because they had never been relevant to his work.116

At Binghamton University, CI board member John Chaffee said that Chinese law was not a powerful force on campus: “For the most part, people would say no” if asked if Chinese law was applicable within the Confucius Institute. “My own feeling is that we should basically respect our own laws. I would not read it [the references to Chinese law in the contract] in terms of political speech.” Chaffee acknowledged the Hanban may “come down hard if they feel they’re directly challenged. The Confucius Institute is being funded by China.” But “on the other hand, we have the latitude of being able to do things with the Confucius Institute that are very positive– not just communication with Chinese culture, but person-to-person interactions.”117

Are all staff members held to this law? It is clear that Chinese nationals are bound to Chinese law. The application guidelines for Chinese Head Teachers at Confucius Institutes hold, as previously noted, that the Hanban can fire the Head Teacher for various infractions, including “Violation of the laws of the host country (region) or China.”118

CI directors said the Constitution applies only to Chinese nationals living abroad and teaching at Confucius Institutes, leaving American staff members free from illiberal Chinese laws. E.K. Tan, director of the Stony Brook University CI, emphasized that the CI is a nonprofit “that belongs to Stony Brook University” and is therefore accountable to American law. A Hanban teacher may be in some ways “accountable to China, but when she designs courses and teaches classes, everything goes through us,” Tan said. “Anything whatsoever she does has to abide by those rules.”119

Randy Kluver, director of the CI at Texas A&M University noted that “it’s a matter of the Chinese government having guidelines and proedures for hower their moneyis psent.” While “there’s a lot of Chinese laws I have problems with,” he said those laws have never interfered with his work. Does Chinese law apply to the Chinese teachers at his CI, restricting their freedom of speech? “Possibly. I’m not going to subject them to that or report them, but it could happen.”120

Stephen Dunnett at the University at Buffalo said, “Once they’re here, it’s US law that governs. I’m sure China would agree. Chinese law might not allow for some things that they can do here, but the law doesn’t apply extra-nationally.” Although “they can’t expect us to enforce their laws, just as they don’t enforce ours,” he acknowledged that “the Chinese have the right to recall their citizens, just as I have the right to recall an American employee.” But “In almost ten years, there has never been a teacher recalled” from the UB Confucius Institute.121

Kristin Stapleton, the founding director of the UB CI, but no longer affiliated with it, commented that Hanban director “Xu Lin is extremely interesting, very outspoken for a Chinese official.” Stapleton noted that Xu “talks openly and bluntly” and had “some incidents in China about her interference” in the affairs of some Confucius Institutes. But overall, Stapleton said that Hanban’s oversight is “not that powerful. They don’t send out accountants. It’s hard to monitor from a distance.”122

Given the pressures of self-censorship that professors described (see the section on Academic Freedom), we have cause to believe that contractual references to Chinese law produce more than mere lip service by American institutions. China may not explicitly enforce its laws at Confucius Institutes—and any attempt to do so presumably would collapse in the face of a legal challenge, since a contractual agreement cannot supersede American law on American soil. But language that holds CI staff accountable to Chinese law communicates the Hanban’s expectations as to what kinds of speech and conduct the Hanban will tolerate—and what kinds it will not.

The Hanban appears to have no legal power to compel American staff of Confucius Institutes to follow Chinese law. But it can impose a wide variety of penalties on these staff members: withhold privileges such as all-expenses-paid trips to China, delay or reject applications for new projects, mark down staff or entire Institutes on performance reviews, or deny or decrease funding. On the other hand, the Hanban can reward acquiescent staff with extra funding, more teachers, extensions on current teachers’ contracts beyond the initial 1-2 years, trips to China, scholarships for students to visit or study in China, visits by high-ranking officials, and recommendations that Chinese students study abroad at the CI host university. Again, since the Hanban exercises strategic ambiguity as to what portions of Chinese law most concern it—the mundane professional contracts or the laws that sustain the Communist Party’s dictatorship—universities are encouraged to err on the side of respecting Chinese preferences across the board.

Teaching

Most Confucius Institutes offer classes in Chinese language and in Chinese cultural activities such as Tai Chi, paper cutting, or tea ceremonies. None of our twelve case studies offers courses in Chinese history, politics, or economics, though one (Rutgers) until recently offered a series of Advanced Chinese Media courses that involved reading Chinese news and media sources on topics that include “economics, politics, foreign relations, people’s livelihood, food, culture, tourism.”123 Several have offered one-time lectures on similar topics.

The Hanban says its CIs are interested strictly in Chinese language and culture, and that they avoid political discussions. Defenders say this policy promotes harmony by steering clear of divisive topics. Others say the Hanban thereby whitewashes Chinese history by editing out unpleasant episodes and effectively foreclosing discussions of topics such as China’s human rights violations or its disregard for freedom of speech and religion.

The Confucius Institute Constitution requires that “Confucius Institutes shall not involve or participate in any activities that are not consistent with the missions of Confucius Institutes.” Mission-sanctioned activities include those “enhancing understanding of the Chinese language and culture”; “strengthening educational and cultural exchange and cooperation between China and other countries”; “deepening friendly relationships with other nations”; “promoting the development of multi-culturalism”; and perhaps most interestingly those that “construct a harmonious world.”124

We examined the 72 courses that are listed at the 12 CIs in our case studies. Forty-eight (67 percent) teach the Chinese language. Sixteen (22 percent) discuss traditional Chinese arts and culture, such as the “Guqin Music Appreciation Class” that Pace University has offered125 or the course in “Beijing Opera Face Painting” taught at Binghamton University.126

No classes focused on Chinese politics, history, economics, or religion. The courses coming closest to these topics were Rutgers University’s “Advance Chinese Media” courses on Chinese news media, and a set of two courses on contemporary Chinese society. One, “Contemporary China: Social, Economic and Cultural Perspectives,” offered an “interdisciplinary” look at China’s “contemporary social, economic and cultural transformations.”127 Another, “Women and Chinese Contemporary Society,” examined women’s “contributions to contemporary Chinese economy, entrepreneurship, politics, education, science, social movements, religious revival, literature, arts, and popular culture.”128 Rutgers also offered students the option of completing an independent study on a topic of their choosing within “Chinese studies.”129

For a full list of all courses offered by these Confucius Institutes, see Appendix IV.

Table 4 Confucius Institute Course Topics
Course Topic Number of Courses
Chinese Language 48
Traditional Chinese Arts and Culture 16
Confucianism 2
Chinese Literature 2
Modern Chinese Culture 2
Language Pedagogy 1
Independent Study 1

Figure 3 Confucius Institute Course Topics

Courses Offered for Credit

Most courses at Confucius Institutes are offered as non-credit courses. But about 31 percent (22 of the 72 courses in our case studies) were offered for credit. The CIs at Alfred University and Binghamton University offered all of the courses listed on their websites for credit. Alfred University has a three-course series of Chinese 101, 102, and 201, all offered to students for credit and at the regular course fee. Binghamton University, which houses the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera, has offered ten courses on Chinese opera and music, such as “Beijing Opera Combat” and “Beijing Opera Face Painting,” for two credits apiece. These courses are given regular course codes and are included in students’ regular tuition. (Both “Beijing Opera Combat” and “Beijing Opera Face Painting” are cross-listed under Asian and Asian American Studies and Theatre.130)

The University at Albany’s Confucius Institute lists one course available for three credits, “Advanced Chinese III”; another, “Chinese Characters and Penmanship,” has no credit but is available for free.131

Eight of Rutgers’ 24 listed courses have been offered for credit in the last year. Four qualified as satisfying some of Rutgers’s core distribution requirements. (“Women and Chinese Contemporary Society” counted toward 21st Century Challenges, Historical Analysis, or Writing and Communication. “Philosophical Themes in Chinese Literary Writings,” “Special Topics in Modern Chinese Literature and Film,” and “Confucianism and East Asian Modernities” each fulfilled the requirement in Arts and Humanities or in Writing and Communication.)

During summer 2016, the Rutgers website announced that all Confucius Institute courses for the 2016-2017 school year would be indefinitely cancelled.132 Chancellor Richard Edwards told us he suspended all credit-bearing courses because teaching for-credit courses “isn’t the focus” of the CI and “was not high on the agenda for the Confucius Institute.” He noted that Rutgers already has a School of Arts and Sciences and an Asian Studies department, and he “wanted the teaching there.”133

Dietrich Tschanz, a teacher at the Confucius Institute and part-time lecturer at Rutgers, said faculty members objected to the CI offering credit-bearing courses, particularly after their own. Enrollments dropped. The CI had “tolled the classes to count for core requirements,” he said. As the CI began attracting students away from Rutgers’ regular courses in Chinese language and literature, professors started complaining.134

At Pace University, CI teachers do not offer for-credit courses but do teach language labs for the university’s regular Chinese classes. In exchange Pace has made its Chinese classes worth four credits rather than three, CI director Joseph Tse-Hei Lee told us. Dr. Lee said that “Under the exchange agreement, CI instructors are visiting, and not allowed to teach accredited programs.” He said these restrictions came from Pace University, which has “university curriculum rules” that blocked CI teachers from offering their own for-credit classes.135 The Confucius Institute does offer its own non-credit language courses, which tend to draw local adult learners and some students looking for extra practice.

At New Jersey City University, CI assistant director Tamara Cunningham said NJCU’s arrangement also specified that CI teachers should not offer credit-bearing classes, in deference to “faculty unions.”136 Stony Brook University CI director E.K. Tan emphasized that his CI will not offer credit-bearing courses because “it is important to work with the expectations of the university,” which has “certain requirements – like you have to be certified” to teach in New York State. Tan said the CI will “keep our classes strictly noncredit to not interfere with the Chinese classes” offered by the university.137

China Institute, the only non-university among our case studies, offers one non-credited class in language pedagogy for Chinese teachers. It also offers a summer Chinese course, “Mandarin for Future Mandarin Teachers,” in Shanghai that comes with 12 graduate-level credits from East China Normal University.138

Table 6 shows the number and percentage of courses listed online as offered for credit at each Confucius Institute in our case studies.

TABLE 5 Confucius Institute Courses Offered for Credit

TABLE 5 Confucius Institute Courses Offered for Credit
University Number of Courses Offered Through Confucius Institute Precentage Offered for Credit
Alfred University 3 100%
Binghamton University 10 100%
China Institute 2 50%
Columbia University 0 0%
New Jersey City University 0 0%
Pace University 14 0%*
Rutgers University 24 25%
SUNY Optometry 5 0%
Stony Brook University 3 0%
SUNY Global Center 6 0%
University at Buffalo 3 0%
University at Albany 2 50%

* The Confucius Institute at Pace University does not offer any of its own courses for credit, but its teachers do participate in some credit-bearing courses. The Confucius Institute teachers run language labs for students in Pace University’s regular elementary Chinese courses, in exchange for which Pace has added an extra credit hour to these courses.139

Graduate Work Through the CI

Of the for-credit offerings of Confucius Institutes, most are undergraduate-level courses. Of our case studies, only the China Institute arranged for graduate-level work: “Mandarin for Future Mandarin Teachers” with 12 credits from East China Normal University.140

Stephen Dunnett at the University at Buffalo said he has been working on an MA program in teaching Chinese as a foreign language through the university’s Confucius Institute. The Hanban will fund the first four years of the program, after which UB will assume financial responsibility. Dunnnett’s goal is “to turn out vertified teachers to NY State” and “replace the Hanban with certified Americans.” He said the Hanban initially “was taken aback” by his request, but Xu Lin, director of the Hanban, ultimately told him, “we may not be able to do this (fund Confucius Institutes) forever, our government may not be behind it forever,” and agreed that it would be wise to train American teachers.141

Chinese Instruction Outside the Confucius Institute

At four of the 12 Confucius Institutes in our study, all Chinese instruction is run through the Confucius Institute. There are no other courses in Chinese language, culture, and history at those universities. At another four CIs, Confucius Institute teachers or staff teach some of the university’s regular courses in Chinese.

TABLE 6 University Courses in Chinese Outside the Confucius Institute
American Institution Non-Confucius Institute Courses on China Avaliable Confucius Institute Teachers Teach University (Non-Institute) Courses
New Jersey City University No. No.
Rutgers University Yes. Chinese Major with 54 courses offered through the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures. No, though some CI courses at Rutgers have been offered for credit.
Alfred University  No. All Chinese language courses are taught by CI. "Instructors for these courses are from the Confucius Institute at Alfred Univversity (CIAU). They are native speakers of Mandarin Chinese."142 No.
Binghamton University Yes. Chinese Studies Major and Minor through Asian and Asian American Studies.144 Two professors in the Chinese Studies Major are Confucius Institute teachers from the Hanban, while four other Confucius Institute teachers are visting professors at Binghamton University.143
China Institute Yes. No.
Columbia University Yes. Chinese Language Program.144 Indirectly. The Director of the Confucius Institute, Lening Liu, is simultaneously director of Columbia's Chinese Language Program. 145
Pace University Yes. Minor in East Asian Studies (7 courses in Chinese language, culture, literature, and history).146 Yes. CI teachers lead credit-bearing language lab for regular Chinese courses.
State College of Optometry No. No.
Stony Brook University Yes. Minor in China Studies in Department of Asian and Asian American Studies. 147 No.
SUNY Global Center No. No.
University at Albany Yes. Major in Chinese studies. Yes. One Confucius Institute teacher is simultaneously appointed as a professor at the university during his stay. The founding director of the CI (no longer associated with the CI), Anthony DeBlasi, is Associate Professor of Chinese.148
University at Buffalo Yes. Chinese Program offered through the Department of Linguistics. 149 No.

Course Fees

Most Confucius Institutes charge nominal fees to students who enroll in their courses. The CI template agreement suggests that Confucius Institutes should eventually become self-sustaining, and many of the CI contracts we examined included similar language. To our knowledge, none of the CIs in our case studies funds its operations solely or even primarily from student course fees.

Seventy-one percent of the CI courses we examined came with some type of fee. Of 72 courses, 51 charged students to enroll. Of these 51, 20 were for-credit courses whose fees were included in students’ regular tuition; 31 were separate, non-credit bearing courses with independent fees that students paid directly to the Confucius Institute. Seven courses were completely free (10 percent), and at 14 it was unclear whether students paid fees.

Figure 4 Changes for Confucius Institute Courses

Sixty-seven percent of our case studies charged for at least some courses. China Institute charges for its Chinese language pedagogy program, “Plan for Better Teaching,” at $180 for members and $200 for non-members.150 But its “Mandarin for Future Mandarin Teachers” program, which takes Chinese teachers to China, is free to admitted students.151 At the State College of Optometry, three Chinese language classes come with some fees ($50 for members of the public, free to all enrolled students and staff), though two online courses in “E-Mandarin for Healthcare Providers” are available for free to all.152

At the University at Albany, one class, “Chinese Characters and Penmanship,” is available for free, but another, “Advanced Chinese III,” comes with three course credits and is available at the university’s regular tuition rate.153 Rutgers University has some charge associated with all Confucius Institute courses, but six were offered for credit and charged as regular tuition, and 18 were not-for-credit, at a separate fee.154

Table 6

Figure 5 Confucius Institute Course Prices

Who Are the Students?

Confucius Institutes attract a mix of traditional enrolled students and outside community members. Typically for-credit courses attract traditional students, and non-credit courses attract community members. At Pace University, director Joseph Tse-Hei Lee said most students are adult learners interested in Chinese. Of Pace University students who attend CI events, most come for the language labs, or take the CI courses for extra practice.

At Stony Brook University, where none of the CI courses count for credit, Chinese director Shijiao Fang said most students were “people from the community” who had personal, not academic, reasons to learn about China:

Some have a Chinese girlfriend and want to communicate with her. Some have a son in China going to marry a Chinese girl. Some – we had a student almost 80 years old, he heard that Chinese language is very complicated, and wanted to challenge himself and avoid dementia.155

E.K. Tan, director of the Stony Brook CI, said about half the students tended to come from within the university, and half from outside.

Table 9 Types of Students

* Until recently, the Rutgers CI offered for-credit courses that did attract significant numbers of Rutgers students.

Figure 6 Types of students in Confucius Institute Courses

A significant number of students in courses at many CIs are Chinese nationals studying abroad in the United States and Americans of Chinese descent. Tan said the CI was very important to Stony Brook University’s mission of fostering diversity, because it provided a cultural home for students of Chinese descent. “The school would like us to continue because the university likes cultural centers,” he noted.156

At Binghamton University, the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera also attracted predominantly Chinese students. Initially the Theatre Department provided the CI’s academic home, but when it became clear that few theatre students signed up for Chinese Opera courses, the department asked Asian and Asian American Studies to take on the Confucius Institute. “At the beginning, our [theatre] students made up probably a third of the enrollment of the classes,” said Don Boros, a former professor of theatre and one of the founding members of the Confucius Institute at Binghamton. But “that gradually changed to have none of our students involved in these Confucius Institute classes,” primarily because the theatre students had few open electives, he said. “When the classes were occupied only by enrollees who were of Chinese descent and international students without our own [theatre] students, it didn’t make sense anymore for our department to be involved in the way that it had been.”

Boros noted that by the end of his involvement with the CI, “at least 95 percent” of course-takers were Chinese or Chinese-Americans. Eventually, he said even courses that were not on the Chinese language “were conducted in Chinese,” along with “an English interpreter when there were people who didn’t understand Chinese.”157 The Confucius Institute’s new academic partner at Binghamton University is now the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies.

Textbooks

The Hanban and Chinese partner universities provide Confucius Institutes with textbooks, lesson plans, audio-visual guides, and other materials for use in teaching students the Chinese language and culture. Some Confucius Institutes use additional textbooks and one of our case studies, the Confucius Institute at Pace University, has developed its own textbook.

The standard promise from the Hanban is for 3,000 books. Every Confucius Institute we visited prominently displayed rows of bookcases filled with these volumes. Some universities include in their formal agreements stipulations about the materials the Hanban requires. Rutgers University’s agreement with the Hanban holds that the Confucius Institute Headquarters will provide “approximately 3,000 volumes of books, audio-visual, and multimedia materials.”158 The State College of Optometry’s contract holds that the Hanban will provide “3,000 volumes of Chinese books, teaching materials, and audio-visual materials for the first time.”159

In some cases the partner universities deliver the materials. Pace University’s draft contract specifies that Nanjing Normal University will “assist the Confucius Institute Headquarters of China to provide textbooks, books and materials, reference materials, audio-visual equipment and the supplies, and some teaching equipment if possible.”160 In its CI partnership with the University at Albany, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics promised “to provide textbooks, reference materials, and audio-visual materials.”161

The quality of the Hanban’s books has been a topic of much discussion. Given the censorship and suppression of scholarship on some topics in China, many in the Western world have expressed concern that textbooks published by a Chinese agency present selective accounts of China’s cultural heritage. For instance, in 2011, when the International Campaign for Tibet asked a Confucius Institute near Washington DC for materials on Tibet, the group found the materials one-sided and inappropriate for use in higher education. Matteo Mecacci, president of the International Campaign for Tibet, said the CI sent him materials “giving the Chinese narrative on Tibet” published by an organization “whose main function is to produce propaganda products.”162

We asked various people connected to or familiar with Confucius Institutes to comment on the textbooks provided by the Hanban. Stephen Dunnett, Vice Provost for International Education at the University at Buffalo and a member of UB’s CI board, said the university took care to see that “all materials are selected by us.” He rebuffed concerns that the Hanban’s material was one-sided and said the Hanban’s books were much better than those the United States published for use when he taught English abroad early in his career:

I wish you could see the materials I used teaching overseas, funded by the State Department. It was blatant propaganda. You would think everyone was white, middle class, and lived in the suburbs. No black people appeared in the books. This was 50 years ago. I don’t see that in China’s materials. The charge of a stealthy spread of Communism in schools is absurd.163

James Hargett, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University at Albany, said he has not been personally involved with the Confucius Institute, but has observed its activities. Of the books he had examined, he said they looked fine, though “geared toward life in China” with examples of activities such as “going to the market, going to karaoke” rather than activities familiar to students in the United States.164 He said he used separate textbooks for his own classes.

June Teufel Dreyer, a professor at the University of Miami, had a less sanguine judgment of the Confucius Institute’s materials. She identified as problematic several videos that the Confucius Institute Headquarters previously had posted on its website as recommended resources. One, The War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea, blamed the United States for starting the Korean War. As animated guns fire and paratroopers drop from the sky, the narrator intones a remarkably partial history of the war. The English subtitles at the bottom recount that “the US manipulated the UN Security Council” to approve an army “consisting mainly of US troops,” who worked “to enlarge the aggression against Korea.” The video then explains that China rallied “to resist the US, aid Korea, and protect our motherland,” pushing UN troops below the 38th parallel.165 Absent from the film are complications such as the initial North Korean invasion of South Korea or the horrendous Chinese POW camps for Western prisoners—which a college-level treatment of the Korean War ought to include.

The Hanban apparently misrepresents other episodes in China’s history. Teufel found that other videos offered a “total misrepresentation of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95,” by implying that the Japanese were “evil” to bomb a Chinese ship. Teufel noted that a more impartial account might acknowledge that “for God’s sake, that’s what you do in a war.”166

In Pace University courses, CI director Joseph Tse-Hei Lee noted that “Pace chooses the textbooks,” which are typically published by the university presses of Princeton or Columbia. The CI itself does receive “a lot of textbooks from China” via the Hanban, but Lee found the CI “can only use them for the beginning level, because the quality is varied.” Many of these books remain in display cases in the CI office.

Instead, the CI at Pace has created its own textbook and a textbook app with Nanjing Normal University and Phoenix Publishing Group, the CI’s second partner. Lee said the CI was working to make the new textbook app available on the Apple store. He had alerted the Hanban to this new textbook, but he said the Hanban took little notice and did not publicize the new app.167

Others found the Hanban’s textbooks more alarming. Terry Russell, an Associate Professor of Asian Studies at the University of Manitoba who led an effort by Manitoba professors to block the establishment of a Confucius Institute there, said the books he saw included mildly inappropriate political messages. “The textbook I saw was fairly political—not terrible, but if you’re sensitive to the message they’re trying to get across, it is fairly political.” In particular he remembered the treatment of “Taiwan and the relationship of China to the Chinese people in general” as problematic. Russell was also disappointed that the textbooks taught only Mandarin at the expense of other dialects, making the books “monocultural.”168

Binghamton University has a dedicated Asian and Asian American Studies Librarian, Julie Wang, who has worked closely with the university’s Confucius Institute on several projects, including a large display of Chinese opera costumes in the library lobby. Wang said the Hanban was “very generous” with book donations. “They say they have a limit, but every year you could request again,” giving the library the option of accumulating several thousand volumes at no cost.

But Wang found that the Hanban’s offerings were of limited use. “There was not a lot I could add for academic” purposes, she said. Some books were “really good for language teaching purposes,” but other than a few movies on martial arts and some books on Chinese medicine, she found the books were “not very strong for academics.” She preferred the Korea Foundation’s grants to the library, because the foundation will “give you money and whatever you want you can purchase. It’s not trying to control when you’re using their money.” 169

Wang said she was disappointed to see important events in Chinese history excluded from the Hanban’s books. Wang, who was born in China and who had a friend present at the Tiananmen Square massacre, keeps a photo of Tank Man in her office. “This is my scar,” she said, pointing to the photo.

This is my scar here. I can certainly see that a lot of the students [from China] don’t know [about Tiananmen Square]. I purchase as many books as possible on it – the student movement, all of it. When Chinese scholars come here, I give them a tour of the library and show the books. There’s censorship in China. I tell them, you can take the opportunity to read here. Some are shocked, I can see, by Tiananmen Square and [the] Cultural Revolution.

Wang was disappointed that the Confucius Institute did not take the opportunity to teach visiting Chinese students about their country’s mottled political history.170

Teaching Quality

Some professors of Chinese noted the mixed quality of instruction in Confucius Institutes. One professor at the University at Albany initially felt relieved to have additional Chinese teachers to meet the growing demand for Chinese courses. But the first teacher dispatched by the Hanban was unable to speak English, he said. The university assigned this teacher to run an independent study with the two most advanced Chinese language students. “He was a very nice guy, very knowledgeable” this professor noted. But the university “had to work around his shortcomings rather than plug him into where we needed.”171

One Binghamton University professor also reported that the first Chinese teachers selected by the Hanban had “some quality issues” and “weren’t as well trained.” Over time he said, the quality of the instructors had improved: “increasingly we’ve been getting people who are well-trained, and they quickly acclimatize and get used to our approach to teaching Chinese language.” A lingering concern, though, was that “it’s explicitly stated that they can’t be critical of the government and its politics—that all has to be pretty much out. None of the money can be used for anything that might involve criticism of the regime or its action in the present or past.” He said other faculty members had voiced concern that a “critical mass of people” in the Confucius Institute were presenting a selective version of Chinese culture that could “influence the character or nature of Chinese studies at Binghamton.”172

Another professor noted that some teachers within the Confucius Institute inflated grades so that nearly every student received an A or A-. He also found in his visits to the Hanban’s office in China that some teachers appeared to be appointed based on their personal connections to the Hanban, rather than for their expertise.173

These people declined to be identified. We were unable to reach the Confucius Institute teachers for comment, as the Binghamton University CI director, Zu-yan Chen, declined to meet with us and cancelled all meetings we had arranged with the CI staff and teachers.174

Funding

Typically new Confucius Institutes receive $150,000 in start-up funds from the Hanban, and $100,000 in subsequent years.

Host universities are supposed to match the Hanban’s investment. The Confucius Institute Constitution explains, “The funds for its annual projects shall be raised by individual Confucius Institutes and the Chinese Parties together in a ratio of approximately 1:1 commitment in general.”175 Many host universities meet their contribution requirements through in-kind contributions such as office and classroom space, furnishings and computers, and staff time.

At Pace, the CI director, Lee said the university “contributes equally” with the Hanban, by providing “space, electricity, water, some of the salary of the staff” and permission to use the classrooms and the theatre for large events. The Hanban “covers the salary for visiting professors who come, and contributes funding to some projects like lectures.” The exact amount varies slightly, but Lee estimated that it was around $100,000 annually. The Hanban requires that the CI submit a plan for the upcoming year and awards funding based on the projects proposed.176

Tamara Cunningham, assistant director of the New Jersey City University Confucius Institute, said the Hanban awards “up to $150,000 per year” to fund “the office space renovations, library, conference room, classroom, and the cultural exhibition to show different items from China.” The Hanban also pays and houses each of the teachers, Cunningham said. Each teacher is given an apartment according to Hanban guidelines, which are based on seniority, she said. New Jersey City University provides about $300,000 for the Confucius Institute, she said, “mostly in kind, a percentage of staff salaries, the space, etc.”177

Stephen Dunnett at Buffalo said “the funding is 50 percent” from each partner. He denied that funding from China could influence the university: “It has been implied that the US universities get tons of funds, but that’s not the case. It’s implied that China can do what it wants. If it did, we wouldn’t have a Confucius Institute.”178

Dunnett did not know the Confucius Institute budget off-hand but said it was “erroneous” to assume the funding from China was significant: “I wish the Chinese shoveled money in here. There are other things we could do with that money [University at Buffalo’s contribution] but we believe in the mission” of the Confucius Institute. He emphasized that he considered the university’s in-kind contributions significant:

It has real costs to us. We provide the space. We invested in quarters that don’t belong to us, and we have to pay rent for the Confucius Institute space. We also use classrooms in other buildings; we provide some paid staff. The functional associate director is a UB employee, a civil servant, who runs the day-to-day operations. We provide some TA graduate assistants. They probably come out of a different department, and we call that in-kind but that is a real cost. We have an immigration attorney; he provides services for teachers brought in to teach at the CI. We don’t charge for that. The split between real cost and in-kind cost – I can find out, but it is probably 40 percent real and 60 percent in-kind.

Dunnett did not respond to follow-up requests for more details on the Confucius Institute budget.

At Binghamton University, CI board member John Chaffee said the CI’s annual budget was “over $100,000” but he could not provide specifics. He said Binghamton University and the Hanban used “sharing formulas” to determine how much each party paid. The Hanban paid each Chinese teacher, and also paid the Chinese university to buy out the professors sent to the Confucius Institute.179

Rutgers University chancellor Richard Edwards said the annual Confucius Institute budget was about $360,000, which he said constituted “a teeny thing.” That amount “is not much” compared to the university’s annual operating budget, he said. “We could walk away from it in a second.”180

The Need

Multiple professors of Chinese, board members of Confucius Institutes, and others close to Confucius Institutes emphasized universities’ financial need to attract external funders. Some noted that these financial pressures made the Hanban’s investment especially attractive.

One professor at the University at Albany noted that the “university administration loves to have external money coming in, especially in the arts and humanities.” He said the university initially received half a million dollars from the Hanban: “That’s big money for a humanities department like us.”181

David Stahl at Binghamton University noted, “I think actually, given the terrible state of state funding for SUNY, it’s benefited us greatly. I wish some of the money could come to us in another form, but a lot of the classes are being taught and paid for by the Chinese government,” relieving real budgetary pressures.182

Stephen Dunnett at the University at Buffalo called on New York state to provide more funding to the SUNY system and the K-12 public school system, where some of UB’s Confucius Classrooms are placed:

It’s shameful that the only way we can offer Chinese in the Buffalo school district – which is almost bankrupt– is that we have to ask the Chinese. It’s sad. Did we beg from France? Thanks to the Chinese taxpayers, 3,000 school children are learning Chinese. There is no way for them to learn Chinese if not for this program.

Dunnett said state funding for university-level language instruction was also too little: “If the state of New York would fully fund study abroad, then we wouldn’t have a need,” though with such funding “we would do something like [what the Confucius Institute does now].”183

David Prager Branner, formerly a professor of Chinese at the University of Maryland when the university became the home of the first American Confucius Institute in 2005, noted that “the CI budget was reputed to be half a million in 2008. My budget for a credited Chinese program was $300,000.”184 He said the disparity in funding gave the Confucius Institute abnormal sway in the university.

Sometimes, in a time of tight budgets, enrollments vary too much for a university to invest in hiring new faculty members, making the prospect of a short-term, free teacher especially appealing. Paul Manfredi said Pacific Lutheran University had “struggled in recent years to grow our student enrollment” in Chinese language classes, particularly because the university has no foreign language requirement. For several years, the university used the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Assistant Program to take on Fulbright-funded Chinese teachers. After the program expired at Pacific Lutheran, Manfredi said he “was looking for alternatives” and found the Confucius Institute was ready to provide a free teacher. The university pays nothing but with the help of the CI teacher is able to offer another section of Chinese 101.185

One senior professor at a SUNY school noted that the funding brought in by Confucius Institutes gave CI directors special status in the eyes of administrators:

I don’t think Confucius Institute directors would have the ear of the administration, or any leverage to influence the administration’s opinion of faculty and curriculum, if they didn’t represent the Confucius Institute. The university-based administrators of the Confucius Institutes have access to the university administration. They can use the money that their programs are bringing in—free programming, free faculty, free curriculum, etc.—as leverage to nurture relationships with the higher-ups and influence administrative perspectives on and decisions involving their [CI administrators’] colleagues.186

Funding from the Hanban can free up other funds to fill real needs in a college, June Teufel Dreyer noted.

Liberal arts colleges are very, very financially vulnerable. So if someone comes along and says, “we can fund you to $50,000 a year,” that means $50,000 to pay the electric bill and repair the roof, or hire new faculty, maybe not in Chinese, but perhaps in math. If you take that away, that will make a severe hole in their finances.187

Terry Russell from the University of Manitoba in Canada similarly noted, “The appeal of the money is always going to be there. Universities need money. If they can get some from outside to teach things they wouldn’t ordinarily have extra cash for, they feel like, ‘why not?’”188

The Draw

Several professors noted the possibility that funding might buy silence from some American academics, persuading them or pressuring them to avoid criticizing China or teaching students the extent of China’s human rights abuses.

“I have some problems with the Chinese government and money flowing from the Chinese government to American institutions of higher education,” said one professor at the University at Albany. “I have an issue with the government and the Chinese Communist party – they’re one and the same. The idea of taking their money….” he trailed off. “Really the CI is a foreign policy tool of the Chinese government.” While the professor acknowledged that “the US has its foreign policy tools abroad as well,” he stipulates that “I’m not opposed to foreign policy tools, but I’m opposed to them when they come from China.”189

Perry Link, emeritus professor of East Asian Studies at Princeton, noted, “The ideal American comeback to the offer of a CI would be to say yes, Americans don’t know Chinese, we need to study your country more, send us funds and we’ll do our best.190

Transparency and Accountability

Few Confucius Institutes publicly disclose their contracts with the Hanban or with their partner universities in China. Neither do they disclose their budgets, reports on funding amounts and sources, or hiring policies. No Confucius Institute we contacted provided copies of audited financial statements, draft budgets, or any other financial materials. Only Pace University provided a draft copy of its contract with the Hanban. The eight public universities in our study turned over copies of contracts only after we filed requests under state Freedom of Information laws.

Financial Accountability

Four SUNY schools use external university research foundations to receive and oversee the use of funds. A representative of the research foundation is a signatory on the contracts establishing the Confucius Institute.

In its contract with Binghamton University, the Hanban agreed that

Funds from the Headquarters are to be transferred to the Binghamton University Research Foundation for deposit into a sub-account specified for the Institute. No indirect costs will be assessed to these funds.191

The SUNY Global Institute, in its first contract with the Hanban, arranged for the SUNY Research Foundation to receive and disburse to the CI the Hanban’s funding. In the renewal agreement, SUNY removed language explicitly detailing the Research Foundation’s role but continued to refer to it as a partner in the Confucius Institute. The operations manager of the Research Foundation, Patrick Ryan, was one of two SUNY representatives to sign the contract renewing the Confucius Institute in January 2016.192

At the University at Albany, the agreement between the university, the Research Foundation (RF), and the Confucius Institute Headquarters specified that funds should be “deposited into a project account of the RF. The RF will open a project account and provide financial oversight of the Confucius Institute.”193

The University at Buffalo also uses the Research Foundation to receive funds from the Hanban. UB’s renewal agreement specifies that funds must be

deposited into an account of the Research Foundation of SUNY and administered by the Research Foundation. The Research Foundation is a private, non-profit educational corporation that, by New York State law, administers all UB projects funded by federal, state or foreign government agencies.194

Kristin Stapleton, Associate Professor of History at UB and the founding director of Buffalo’s CI, said she agreed with Marshall Sahlins that “all external money should be scrutinized,” but that “as long as there is proper oversight, taking it from China is not different” from accepting grants from other organizations. She emphasized the importance of due diligence, “making sure the interests of students, faculty, and the people of New York are satisfied.” She thought the University at Buffalo “has a problem in general” with oversight—the “UB Foundation pretty much operates as a closed shop.” But she had no “quality concerns” about the management of the CI.195

Three other Confucius Institutes have contractual language specifying how the Hanban’s funds should be stored. New Jersey City University, Stony Brook University, and the State College of Optometry are all obliged “to open the special account for the Confucius Institute in the local Bank of China or other bank approved by the Headquarters.”196

Openness to Outsiders

On the whole, we found Confucius Institutes suspicious of outsiders and extremely hesitant to speak to external researchers. When we tried to arrange interviews with directors of Confucius Institutes, they frequently refused, failed to respond, or else initially agreed but repeatedly rescheduled or canceled.

The directors of the Confucius Institutes at both Binghamton University and the University at Albany consented to meet for interviews but inexplicably cancelled just before Rachelle Peterson visited. Binghamton CI director Zu-yan Chen emailed a note saying that suddenly he and his entire staff had become “extremely busy.” Though we had called ahead to get permission to visit a Binghamton CI class on the Chinese flute taught by Professor Shijun Cheng, Dr. Chen cancelled the class visit. He wrote that “our teachers have also expressed that they feel a visit during class time would distract their students, and divert attention, on both the part of the teacher and students, from valuable class time.”197 He directed all questions about the Confucius Institute to the university’s legal office. When Rachelle arrived on campus, she found the Confucius Institute locked with the lights off.

At the University at Albany, the founding executive director Anthony DeBlasi put off conversation during spring 2016, objecting that his term as director was nearly over and he preferred we interviewed the new director. Months later, the new director Youqin Huang, associate professor of geography, initially agreed to meet alongside Chinese director Cao Dejun. Four days before our scheduled meeting, Professor Huang claimed that because the university had already released copies of the Confucius Institute contracts in response to our legal requests, there was no additional information to share, and she had become too busy to meet:

In addition, my schedule has just changed this week and I have to be out of the town. Thus I like (sic) to cancel our appointment on Friday, as well as your appointment with Prof. Cao Dejun.198

As with Binghamton University, at her visit to the University at Albany Rachelle Peterson found the Confucius Institute dark and locked.

At New Jersey City University, Confucius Institute director Daniel Julius rescheduled or cancelled our meeting four times. We have never spoken. His assistant director Tamara Cunningham agreed to a meeting, alongside Chinese director Xiuli Yin, but attempted after the meeting to claim that her comments had been off the record.

At Columbia University, CI director Lening Liu agreed to answer questions by email but never responded to multiple follow-up calls or emails. When Rachelle Peterson suggested they meet during Liu’s regular office hours and arrived at Columbia and then arrived on campus, she found his office closed and locked.

Alfred University, one of the private universities in our case studies, displayed the greatest secrecy, going to extraordinary efforts to block our research. We called the Alfred University Confucius Institute and spoke to a Confucius Institute teacher, Lanfang “Haley” Gao, who granted permission to visit her Wednesday night Chinese 101 class. At the beginning of class Rachelle Peterson introduced herself to Professor Gao, who proceeded to lead her students in a lively reading of classical Chinese poetry.

Midway through class, Alfred University provost Rick Stephens, clad in a hooded sweatshirt and basketball shorts, interrupted class to call Rachelle outside. Citing worried phone calls he’d received from the Confucius Institute director, who had learned Rachelle was on campus, Stephens ordered Rachelle to leave “right now.” Provost Stephens and a Confucius Institute teacher escorted Rachelle, one on each side, directly to her car a few blocks away and stayed to watch her unlock it. In parting, Provost Stephens banned Rachelle from returning to campus and instructed that she should email him alone with future questions. He would decide “if it was worth the time” to answer. Rachelle sent an email to the president of Alfred University, Mark Zupan, requesting him to explain Alfred University’s behavior. He never responded.

Pace University displayed the most openness of any Confucius Institute we examined. The director, Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, permitted us to attend multiple CI events, sat down for an hour-long interview, and arranged for us to interview his Chinese co-director, Wenqin Wang. Lee also provided a draft copy of Pace’s contract to establish the Confucius Institute. We found that Pace University’s Confucius Institute demonstrated the most welcoming treatment of outside researchers and made the fewest efforts to strong-arm reporters to tell the story from its perspective.

Stony Brook University also displayed some willingness to work with us. Director E.K. Tan and Chinese director Shijiao Fang met with Rachelle Peterson together, while their student assistant circled the meeting, filming it on his phone. Tan answered several follow-up questions by email, but declined to provide a copy of the university’s contract with the Hanban, writing by email, “Unfortunately, those are university confidential documents. We do not have to right to show them with you.”199 We later retrieved the documents by submitting a formal Freedom of Information request to the university.

On the whole the extraordinary secrecy of the Confucius Institutes gives the impression that either CIs have something to hide, or that they are entirely indifferent to American norms of transparency.

Free-Riding on the University’s Reputation

Confucius Institutes’ location on college and university campuses is unique. While other nations have centers devoted to teaching about and promoting their culture, these are sited off-campus as stand-alone entities.

The British Council, for example, an entity created in 1934 to promote the English language and British culture in other nations, operates independent centers in over 100 nations, providing lessons and services that promote the United Kingdom. The British Council, like Confucius Institutes, is clearly interested in developing the soft power of its nation. But unlike Confucius Institutes, the British Council is open about its goal, and keeps its work separate from impartial, disinterested academic study. For instance, the British Council’s website prominently displays a quote from its 1940-41 Annual Report:

The Council’s aim is to create in a country overseas a basis of friendly knowledge and understanding of the people of this country, of their philosophy and way of life, which will lead to a sympathetic appreciation of British foreign policy.200

The British Council boasts that “The UK is recognised as one of the world’s most adept soft-power states,” and notes that the UK frequently ranks among the top three countries for use of soft power.201 The Council rightly locates these nodes of soft power in standalone centers separate from the higher education system.

Alliance Française, which operates 850 French-promoting centers in 136 countries, likewise positions its centers apart from universities,202 as do Germany’s Goethe Institues.

Another key difference is that the British Council, Alliance Française, and Goethe Institutes are non-governmental organizations. They tend to promote their nations’ policies, but, unlike Confucius Institutes, they are not directly managed by the government. Each Alliance Française center, for instance, operates as an individual not-for-profit organization. Germany’s Foreign Office formerly operated the Goethe Institutes, but signed a general agreement in 1976 that made the Goethe Institute “an independent cultural organization.”203

Many professors of Chinese see a problem with China placing its Confucius Institutes at universities. “A proper academic event, organized by a respected school in a respected university, enjoys credibility, a credibility that the Confucius Institute and the Chinese government do not otherwise enjoy,” said one senior professor of political science at a UK university with a Confucius Institute. He said that Confucius Institute events and classes should be strictly separate from university programs. “Otherwise you have students and outside guests coming to an event funded by the Confucius Institute, but they thought it was an event organized by the school.” Universities with Confucius Institutes offer the Chinese regime “a platform to function in the university, and allow the ambiguity [of their relationship to the university] to give them credibility.” This professor said there was no problem with China attempting to promote itself, but that free-riding on universities’ credibility jeopardized the independence of the university:

I don’t think any university should have any Confucius Institute, period. They should be separate. They should be their own freestanding institutions paid by and answerable to Hanban. I don’t have any problem with that. But the Confucius Institute being on site in universities and sometimes being seen as part of the university is problematic.204

Charles Laughlin, chair of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Virginia, said he did not mind aspects of the Confucius Institute’s work, but he was concerned with their location on university campuses. “People have observed that although the Confucius Institutes are modeled on the Goethe Institute and similar institutes from other countries, they are unique in insisting on establishing themselves in institutions of higher education, as opposed to independent nongovernmental organizations,” Laughlin said. “That gets to the heart of the problem. By insisting on entering into university, it is a kind of encroachment that is considered invasive and a threat to academic freedom.”205

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom has been a key issue for a number of faculty members concerned that Confucius Institutes may be islands of illiberalism in a sea of academic freedom.

Confucius Institutes are constitutionally bound to avoid embarrassing the Confucius Institute project and the Hanban. Each CI has “the obligation to uphold and defend the reputation and image of the Confucius Institutes.”206 As described earlier, the Hanban can pursue legal action against a Confucius Institute that “damages or tarnishes the reputation of the Confucius Institutes.”207 Exactly what counts as “tarnishing the reputation” is unclear, but it is not hard to imagine that public criticism of the Hanban or the Chinese government would count as a step toward tarnishing the CI project, putting legal pressure on CI directors to guard their speech regarding China’s goals and the Hanban’s work.

Other conduct also subject to legal action includes “any activity conducted under the name of the Confucius Institutes without permission or authorization from the Confucius Institute Headquarters.” The Hanban reserves to itself the right to sue any directors or teachers in Confucius Institutes who develop lessons or lectures without clearing them with the Hanban first. The Constitution adds that each CI must observe its “obligation to accept both supervision from and assessments made by the Headquarters.”208 Some universities have removed such language from the agreements they sign with the Hanban and with Chinese partner universities, though all contracts call on Confucius Institutes to uphold the Confucius Institute Constitution.

Concerns From the American Association of University Professors

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has urged universities to treat Confucius Institutes with caution and to examine closely all formal documents and policies surrounding them. In June 2014, following faculty members’ concerns that universities with Confucius Institutes outsourced important functions of the university to a foreign government, the AAUP released an official statement criticizing Confucius Institutes. The AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure recommended that universities “cease their involvement in Confucius Institutes” unless they can renegotiate contracts to allow more transparency and to protect faculty control of the classroom more carefully.

The AAUP noted the increasing numbers of universities that have “welcomed involvement of foreign governments, corporations, foundations, and donors on campuses in North America.” It found that most international relationships were “beneficial,” but singled out Confucius Institutes as exemplary of “partnerships that sacrificed the integrity of the university and its academic staff.” The AAUP concluded that Confucius Institutes threatened academic freedom:

Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom. Their academic activities are under the supervision of Hanban, a Chinese state agency which is chaired by a member of the Politburo and the vice-premier of the People’s Republic of China. Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China. Specifically, North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate.209

The AAUP concluded, “Allowing any third-party control of academic matters is inconsistent with principles of academic freedom, shared governance, and the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities.” It set forth three criteria that universities should meet before they agree to house a Confucius Institute: 1) renegotiate the contract to ensure the university enjoys “unilateral control” over “all academic matters, including recruitment of teachers, determination of curriculum, and choice of texts”; 2) ensure that Confucius Institute teachers enjoy the same academic freedom rights as all other faculty members; and 3) make the university’s agreement with the Hanban “available to all members of the university community” in order to promote transparency.210

Concerns from the Canadian Association of University Teachers

The AAUP’s 2014 statement on Confucius Institutes echoed a December 2013 statement from its Canadian counterpart, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). The CAUT took an interest in Confucius Institutes after McMaster University in Ontario closed its Confucius Institute following allegations that the Hanban practiced religious discrimination against members of Falun Gong.

The CAUT members passed in December 2013 a resolution that urged colleges and universities “to sever their ties with institutes subsidized and supervised by the authoritarian government of China.”211 CAUT held that Confucius Institutes abused academic freedom and undercut the autonomy of the university. Executive director James Turk explained:

In agreeing to host Confucius Institutes, Canadian universities and colleges are compromising their own integrity by allowing the Chinese Language Culture International [the Hanban] to have a voice in a number of academic matters, such as curriculum, texts, and topics of class discussion. Such interference is a fundamental violation of academic freedom.212

A Troubling History

Many others have documented various examples of inappropriate political interference from China. Marshall Sahlins’ book Confucius Institutes: Academic Malware collects dozens of instances of interference, censorship, or pressure to self-censor.

In 2008, Sahlins notes, the Vancouver Sun reported that at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, the Confucius Institute ignored discussion of human rights violations in China because “it is not part of our mandate.”213 The same year, Tel Aviv University closed a student art display on the treatment of Falun Gong followers in China. When the students sued, a District Court judge ruled in their favor, finding that the university had “violated freedom of expression” under pressure from a dean who feared harming the university’s Confucius Institute.214

At the University of New South Wales in Australia, one anonymous academic told the student newspaper that staff received instructions to avoid talking to the media about charges of censorship at the Confucius Institute. Another professor, identified as Jocelyn Chey, said that the external funding “can prejudice the independent work of researchers…It’s nothing specific about China, it’s just a matter of academic independence.”215

Sahlins, emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago, asked his colleagues at the University of Chicago’s Center for East Asian Studies about the Confucius Institute on campus.

Ted Foss, Deputy Director of the Center, offered one example of the differences between his office in the Center and in the Confucius Institute: “I can put up a picture of the Dalai Lama in this office. But on the fourth floor [at the Confucius Institute], we wouldn’t do that.”216

Many others have reported troubling incidents in which Confucius Institutes suppressed intellectual freedom. In 2014, Bloomberg columnist Adam Minter reported that in 2009 North Carolina State University had disinvited the Dalai Lama, in part to avoid offending China, which funded the university’s Confucius Institute.217

In 2013, the Guardian reported that Australia’s Sydney University moved a June 2013 event with the Dalai Lama off-campus, forbade organizers from using the university’s logo, and demanded that organizers prevent media coverage and turn away pro-Tibet activists from the door. The Guardian found that Australian politicians and Tibetan activists believed Sydney University had curbed the free exchange of ideas to “avoid damaging its ties with China, including funding for its cultural Confucius Institute.”218

In 2014, British journalist and Chinese scholar Isabel Hilton wrote that she had contributed a chapter to a book that she later learned was sponsored by a Confucius Institute. At the formal launch of the book, Hilton realized that the editors had removed all mention of Wu Lihong, a Chinese peasant environmentalist. Lihong’s tireless documentation of chemical contamination of Lake Tai has become a major thorn in the side of the Chinese regime. “I wish I could believe that it was just coincidence,” Hilton said of the erasure.219

Inside Higher Ed reported that Hanban chief executive Xu Lin confiscated all printed programs and tore out several pages at a 2014 European Association for Chinese Studies conference in Portugal. The Confucius China Studies Program, a division of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, was a sponsor of the project and objected to an advertisement for the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, a Taiwanese co-sponsor of the conference. Xu also removed a page advertising the Taiwan National Central Library’s book exhibit.220

These troubling incidents reveal a willingness on the part of the Hanban to exert direct pressure when another agency challenges its unilateral control of the narrative, as Xu Lin apparently felt at the 2014 European Association for Chinese Studies conference.

But more often China exerts its pressure more indirectly, by gently pressing the American university itself to become the enforcer of Chinese codes. It was North Carolina State University that disinvited the Dalai Lama, Sydney University that moved the Dalai Lama’s talk off campus, and Tel Aviv University that closed the Falun Gong display. This is soft power at work. China has succeeded in making its funding stream and related benefits attractive enough to compel university administrators to favor the Hanban with selective presentations of Chinese culture and history.

The difficulty with these hidden pressures is that they are like invisible string—hard to identify and trace, but evident by their effects.

The Anaconda in the Chandelier

These invisible but evident pressures from the Hanban are, as we have previously noted, often implicit rather than explicit. That makes it hard to prove that Confucius Institutes engage in censorship or are involved in any misdeeds. One senior professor in the UK, who was familiar with his university’s Confucius Institute, noted, “Do I have suspicions? Yes, of course I have suspicions. Do I have smoking guns? No, I don’t.”221

Many terms in Confucius Institute contracts are vague and undefined. We have noted that it is unclear what counts as “tarnishing the reputation” of the Confucius Institute, and that various staff members within Confucius Institutes have rival interpretations of what it means to “not contravene concerning Chinese law.” Self-censorship, rather than explicit censorship, is the primary means of curbing conversations in Confucius Institutes. CI directors, teachers, and faculty members near the CI said they could not point to explicit rules forbidding discussion of the Tiananmen Square massacre, criticism of China’s one-party system, or the Dalai Lama’s views on Tibetan independence. But they said they just knew not to bring these up. “The rules aren’t clear, so you really don’t know when you’re crossing the line,” said University of Miami professor June Teufel Dreyer.222

These subtle pressures are serious. They amount to a method that induces professors to gag themselves, leaving the Chinese government free to claim that it has not engaged in any improper behavior. They turn universities themselves into agents whose interest lies in enforcing the Chinese government’s implicit speech codes.

The blurriness of the lines leaves faculty members unsure how far they can step before incurring repercussions. This lack of clarity leaves administrators wary of how much dissent they can tolerate before China begins to retaliate. Denied visas, denial of access to archives or research materials, cancelled or reduced study-abroad funding, fewer faculty exchanges, redirection of Chinese students to alternative American universities, and denials of fancy state welcomes and dinners for university presidents are all repercussions that American universities, faculty members, and administrators can face.

We recognize that some courageous professors and administrators will respect intellectual freedom at all costs, not cowed by the possibility of retribution. But others will find it in their interests to stay strategically silent on sensitive matters, justifying this silence in the name of preserving relationships or keeping access to archives and sources. Some also believe that over time, Confucius Institutes at Western universities can slowly produce a generation of Chinese academics willing to stand up for intellectual freedom in China.

There is a metaphor to describe the kinds of invisible pressures that China exerts. China scholar Perry Link describes the incentives to self-censor as an anaconda in a chandelier. “The Chinese government’s censorial authority in recent times has resembled not so much a man-eating tiger or fire-snorting dragon,” Link wrote in the New York Review of Books in a 2002 essay. Rather, the regime of censorship operates “as a giant anaconda coiled in an overhead chandelier.” Link explained that

Normally the great snake doesn’t move. It doesn’t have to. It feels no need to be clear about its prohibitions. Its constant silent message is “You yourself decide,” after which, more often than not, everyone in its shadow makes his or her large and small adjustments—all quite “naturally.” The Soviet Union, where Stalin’s notion of “engineering the soul” was first pursued, in practice fell far short of what the Chinese Communists have achieved in psychological engineering.223

The anaconda works by instilling fear in people. Unlike the tiger or dragon, the anaconda need not actually imprison every offender, or deny visas for family living abroad, or in other ways visibly punish those who step afoul of the government’s wishes. “Most censorship does not directly involve such happenings. It involves fear of such happenings,” Link wrote. This fear grows in to a “dull, well-entrenched leeriness” that people “eventually accept as part of their natural landscape.” Such fear becomes a power working from within to encourage people to stifle certain thoughts and curtail certain speech. Eventually, these constraints begin to feel normal.

Link identified four benefits the Chinese government reaps by promulgating intentionally fuzzy rules. “A vague accusation frightens more people,” Link noted. If it is unclear what trespass brings on which punishment, people will begin to fear—sometimes irrationally—that their own conduct might incur chastisement. Vague accusations also pressure people to “curtail a wider range of activity” in their efforts to stay in the graces of the government, and such vagueness also “is useful in maximizing what can be learned during forced confessions,” as the accused have little idea on what charges they have been arrested.

Finally, Link noted that “a vague accusation allows arbitrary targeting.” The leeway of a loosely written law allows the government to enforce selectively, expanding the law’s reach to certain disfavored people, and contracting it to allow others a free pass. This creates a system of favors in which obsequious behavior can earn indulgence. Link also observed that vague rules give China an easy way to save face. There is no need to specify precise thought crimes or speech crimes, enabling China to claim that it respects intellectual freedom. Link wrote,

China’s constitution itself illustrates this handy flexibility. It provides that citizens have freedom of speech, of assembly, and of the press. But its preamble also sets down the inviolability of Communist Party rule, Marxism-Leninism-Mao-Zedong-Thought, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and the socialist system. The huge space between these two contradictory poles (both of which, by the way, are poor descriptions of the actual patterns of life in China) gives leaders immense room to be arbitrary while still claiming to be legal.224

Link’s essay appeared two years before the Hanban opened the first Confucius Institute, but the CI project is a natural extension of what the Chinese regime has been doing for years. None of the problems we note in Confucius Institutes are unique to them. We might as easily critique the system of internet regulation in China, the dossiers the Chinese Communist Party keeps on its citizens, the way the Chinese Consulates keep tabs on Chinese citizens living abroad, and any number of infringements on individual liberty.

Some professors we spoke to refrained from criticizing Confucius Institutes too forcefully, not because they liked the CI project, but because they saw much more egregious examples of censorship within China itself. Such issues were more urgent, they felt, and having dealt with stronger cases of censorship, they felt a need to direct their attention to those cases, rather than to Confucius Institutes. At American-based CIs, they were optimistic that a strong-minded American administrator could work to keep the CI in check.

We acknowledge that on the spectrum of censorship, Confucius Institutes appear relatively mild. We have uncovered few smoking guns, and no evidence of outright policies banning certain topics from discussion. But we see the anaconda in the university chandelier as a major threat to intellectual independence and the integrity of Chinese studies in the United States and elsewhere. The anaconda already keeps all but the most steadfast Chinese citizens in line. Now it is working to do likewise to a generation of American students, who in the coming decades will become our nation’s resident experts and advisors on foreign policy toward China. We cannot afford to let our own perception of this rising power be shaped by that power itself.

Presured Teachers

The Chinese teachers dispatched from China face their own pressures, usually more explicit than those faced by American professors.

Perry Link distinguished the more explicit censorship imposed upon the Hanban teachers from the more ambiguous pressures on American faculty members. He said that the references in the Confucius Institute Constitution to Chinese law “are directed against the CI personnel sent from China,” rather than against the American director and staff. The Chinese teachers “have these instructions and know that if they break them they will be recalled and punished and their families could be punished. The Communist Party still keeps dossiers on its personnel. They’re under pressure from the Chinese state to behave.”225

James Hargett at the University at Albany said he was not aware that the Confucius Institute Constitution claimed to hold teachers to Chinese law, but said “it’s not surprising that the Chinese government would impose such rules on people from China coming here. It’s just another way for the Chinese government to control their citizens when they come over here.”226

Richard Edwards, who oversees the Confucius Institute at Rutgers University in his role as university chancellor, said some CI teachers “might not be able to comment on” issues such as Tiananmen Square, because under current censorship in China, “most of them don’t know anything about [it].” Edwards further stated that it “would be an issue” for the university “if the Hanban tried to dictate what we could say—but they don’t.”227

At Pace, CI director Joseph Tse-Hei Lee said CI teachers were “not in the faculty senate or assembly” or under regular faculty provisions for academic freedom because they were “not on a faculty contract.” But he said any attempts by the Hanban to restrict speech were “completely ludicrous. It’s stupid”—and the rules were “easy to ignore” in the United States.228

But Xiuli Yin, Chinese director of the Confucius Institute at New Jersey City University, said there were certain topics she knew she should not discuss at the Confucius Institute: “We avoid sensitive things like Taiwan and Falun Gong—we don’t touch it.”229

Pressured Professors

Confucius Institutes cast a shadow on the intellectual freedom of the rest of the campus. A number of observers have noted the efforts to constrain professors, particularly those who serve as directors of Confucius Institutes. But even those unaffiliated with the local Confucius Institute report pressures to self-censor.

WHAT SENIOR SCHOLARS OF CHINA SAY

Perry Link, Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies at Princeton University, said self-censorship was a major problem, providing a cover for CI directors who claimed they faced no speech codes:

The general pattern is that the American directors do self-censor. When they say there’s no pressure, that’s highly ambiguous, because after I’ve self-censored myself so that I know I’m not supposed to talk about Falun Gong or Taiwan independence or that other stuff, then of course there’s no other pressure, of course there’s no conflict between me and the Hanban.230

He also noted the ambiguity about claims of freedom of mind: “words like ‘we’re free to criticize the Communist Party’” are unclear, he says, because Chinese President Xi Jinping has been launching an “anti-corruption campaign” that “targets his political enemies.” Discussing Xi’s housecleaning initiatives might pass as acceptable criticism of the Chinese political system. “But if one means by ‘criticize the Communist party,’ challenging its right to rule, that’s the big sensitive point. If you touch on the legitimacy of the party to be a one-party dictatorship in China, that is forbidden.”231

Link noted that Chinese scholars might be pressured not only by the prospect of funding from China, favor and promotion within their university, but also the fear of being banned from visiting China. Link has been on a Chinese blacklist for more than twenty years.

Some CI directors “tell me that they’re tied in knots by requests from the Chinese side to do this or not to do that,” Link said, but the “overwhelming majority of censorship” had no direct command behind it. “The main point has to be that you don’t need an instruction from the Chinese side that says don’t invite the Dalai Lama or hold a seminar on imprisoned Nobel prize scholars.” Link noted the hidden nature of the pressure from China:

American Chinese scholars know that; they know that it is radioactively sensitive, and therefore they don’t even broach it. The censorship happens in these very private corners of the human mind.232

June Teufel Dreyer at the University of Miami agreed that self-censorship can mask many of the problems within Confucius Institutes. “Sometimes they report they’ve had no problems, and that’s difficult for me” to imagine, Dreyer said of CI directors. “I don’t think they’re lying, but I do suspect they’re self-censoring.”233

Dreyer noted the pressures that professors at host institutions face to restrain their criticisms of China. “Until one has tenure, one is in a very vulnerable position, and people in that position can be very careful,” Dreyer commented on the pressures junior faculty members may face from administrators eager to preserve the Confucius Institute on campus. “Sometimes they are just cowardly and they always will be.” But when the temptation comes to keep silent on matters of academic importance, “It is incumbent on professors to resist this kind of censorship.”234

One senior scholar in the UK, who has been banned from visiting China and requested anonymity because he felt his “career is on the line,” encouraged his fellow academics to stand up to improper pressures to fall in line in order to retain academic privileges. “The biggest problem is not really with what the Chinese government is trying to do but with fellow academics, and how they deal with it.” This professor said he was more upset that his Western university, supposedly committed to individual liberty, had welcomed and propped up a Confucius Institute, lending the Chinese regime a platform. “If someone sticks a gun to your head, you can surrender, or not, it’s your choice. They’re not actually sticking a gun to your head but just dangling a huge amount of cash, and sometimes not actually that much.”235

Charles Laughlin, Chair of the Department of East Asian Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Virginia, said that at a 2015 conference at Renmin University in Beijing, sponsored by the Hanban, he got the impression that “the Confucius Institutes were interested in kind of becoming a supportive and maybe even guiding force in international Sinological research. They were offering a lot of funding as an incentive for cooperating with them.” Laughlin said the prospect of additional resources to support teaching the Chinese language made Confucius Institutes “a risk worth taking.” But overall, he was uncomfortable with some of the strings the Hanban attached to its funds. “I don’t think there should be any guiding force in a field of study.” Laughlin said he didn’t find the Hanban more assertive than other nations’ organizations funding research on their language and culture, but he did find that

whether real or perceived, there seems to be a sense that the Confucius Institutes desire a certain way of looking at Chinese culture. They want to be able to arbitrate how Chinese culture is presented to students. That goes against the instincts of scholars in the US and in other countries. Generally speaking, I have not yet met very many scholars who come out in defense of the Hanban and the Confucius Institutes.236

That “certain way of looking at Chinese culture,” enforced by Confucius Institutes and by the Chinese government more generally, can push professors to tread lightly. “Self-censorship is almost undetectable,” Laughlin said. “There are always those in an institution who want to work cooperatively. I’m probably one of them. I tend to prefer cooperation to isolation.” Laughlin said he does have “a line I won’t cross,” such as if a colleague asked him to modify his syllabus “for reason of, as it is often said, ‘hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.’” Absent such “excessive and intolerable” interference, he said the benefits of being selective in criticizing China ensured that he retained access to archives and research materials.

WHAT PROFESSORS NEAR THE CONFUCIUS INSTITUTE SAY

We spoke to a number of professors at universities with ties to Confucius Institutes. They described various demands to support the Confucius Institute. Most of the professors we spoke to asked to remain anonymous.

Several professors at multiple universities, on condition of anonymity, spoke of immense pressure to stay on the good side of Confucius Institute directors and university administrators affiliated with the Confucius Institute. They described the outright and implied requests to recommend students to Confucius Institute programs, encourage students to sign up for CI-sponsored study abroad trips, and to avoid criticizing aspects of Chinese history.

These professors asked that the details of their cases not be published in order to avoid being identified, noting that their ability to advance in their careers would be hampered if they were publicly known to be critics of the local Confucius Institute. We therefore cannot report the specific points of leverage that the Confucius Institute directors used in order to encourage docility. “The Confucius Institute is a very potent force,” one senior professor at a SUNY university noted. “This is my career and livelihood on the line.”237

At Binghamton University, David Stahl, associate professor of Japanese Literature and Cinema, said he had witnessed “nothing in the Confucius Institute that pressured other” professors, and said he felt like he maintained “autonomy” in his own classroom. But he was “concerned” that

No money could be spent on a speaker coming to campus to criticize the handling of Tibet. It cannot. It’s very clear that if there’s any politics involved or any critique of the state, the money cannot go there.238

Terry Russell, professor of Asian studies at the University of Manitoba in Canada and the leader of a successful movement to block the establishment of a CI at the university, said he had spoken to professors near Confucius Institutes when he learned the University of Manitoba was considering opening one. “A lot of people I’ve found are reluctant” to criticize CIs publicly, he said, “because the money is still there, and they know that the university will look at them in a negative way. The idea is that it could jeopardize their research career.”239

At the University at Albany, James Hargett, professor of Chinese studies, said there was “a very legitimate concern” about Confucius Institutes “abridging university autonomy,” though he said the CI had too few teachers to have much sway in other professors’ classrooms.240

“My own methodology is to contain any criticism of China within what I have designated as my own field of research,” said Paul Manfredi, who arranged for a visiting CI teacher to teach one class each semester at Pacific Lutheran University. Manfredi said he distinguished between his “own personal approach, and one I advocate for others.” He said that he was “a cautious person academically,” but still felt “strongly that it’s important to preserve that space” for others who wish to challenge China more directly. Manfredi said he felt no pressures that were unique to the presence of a Confucius Institute teacher on campus, but he did recognize the need to tread carefully in matters touching the Chinese regime. “If the issue of Chinese authoritarianism impinges directly on my research [on Chinese literature], then I become part of the conversation. If it doesn’t, then I leave it alone and don’t say anything about it. That’s what I mean by being cautious.”241 He later added in an email that he was more concerned about academic freedom due to the election of Donald Trump as president than he was due to China’s growing network of Confucius Institutes.242

In 2012 the New York Times reported an email from an anonymous professor described as a “junior faculty member at a U.S. campus with a Confucius Institute.” This junior professor declined to be interviewed because “I am an untenured professor in a department which receives a lot of money from a C.I., which is run by senior faculty that will vote on my tenure case.”243

Hargett also said that periodically, when Hanban executives tour the Confucius Institute, which also houses some offices for university-hired Chinese language lecturers, he has noted the mysterious disappearance of items the Chinese government may not like. One colleague “had a National Taiwan University banner on her door, and she had some Chinese calligraphy,” Hargett said, “which the director of the Confucius Institute, without the Chinese lecturer’s knowledge, removed from her door, because he didn’t want some visitors to see it coming through.” The Confucius Institute director also removed some Chinese calligraphy from Hargett’s door.

“He just was trying to avoid unnecessary questions about, ‘why do we have a Taiwan banner here in the Confucius Institute. What is this, a Taiwan independence movement going on here?’” Hargett said, adding that his colleague got her banner back, but he did not get his calligraphy back.244 Instead, the director arranged for some artists in China to replace it.

What Administrators Say

Administrators of Confucius Institutes gave contradictory answers as to whether the Hanban exerted pressure to omit or change the focus on certain subjects. Some directors of Confucius Institutes told us that topics banned from discussion in China could never be discussed within the Confucius Institute without drawing the Hanban’s ire and jeopardizing the Institute’s funding. Others noted that the Hanban pays scant attention to its CIs, and has in the past approved funding for events and lectures on touchy subjects such as Tiananmen Square.

Rutgers University chancellor Richard Edwards, who said the Confucius Institute is under his direct watch, said the concerns about academic freedom that led the University of Chicago faculty to vote against the Confucius Institute bother him “not in the least.” He commented that “Hanban has not tried to control anything about the curriculum” at Rutgers, and that “if they are qualified for teaching,” he sees no problem with Chinese teachers being paid by an external source. He was not concerned that the CI compromised academic freedom, because the subjects taught at the Rutgers CI fall outside the bounds of any potential Chinese censorship:

What does it [Tiananmen Square and other banned subjects] have to do with teaching math? Academic freedom has to do with opinions in relation to the subject you are teaching and are experienced in. If they were teaching the history of modern China it would be a different subject. What would be an issue is if the Hanban tried to dictate what we could say—but they don’t. 245

To our knowledge, the CI at Rutgers University does not offer courses on math, but Chancellor Edwards’ larger point about the impropriety of inserting politics into apolitical subjects stands. Because the Confucius Institute’s mission directed it to focus on nonpartisan Chinese culture and language, the avoidance of controversial topics was simply a measure to stay on message, not to censor other views, Edwards said.

Stephen Dunnett, Vice Provost for International Education at the University at Buffalo, where he is a member of the CI board of directors, said the Confucius Institute fully respected intellectual freedom and allowed teachers and professors latitude to take the initiative in presenting a range of perspectives on China. “When they’re here, the same rules apply to them,” Dunnett said of the university’s academic freedom protections for Chinese teachers. “The moment we see a violation of academic freedom, like anyone saying you can’t talk about something in the classroom,” the university would close the Confucius Institute. He acknowledged that some teachers may desire to portray their home country in a positive light, noting that at a recent conference in the United Kingdom, where other conference attendees asked him about police violence, he had felt a similar instinct to protect his country’s reputation.246 But he did not find evidence that such love of country blinded CI teachers to important topics of classroom discussion.

Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, director of the Confucius Institute at Pace University, said the university grants the Institute broad freedom in selecting topics and teaching students: “We treat it as an American research unit. We have free discourse on controversial subjects.” Lee said he was “not afraid to engage in controversial subjects,” and cited recent guest lectures on Christianity in China, and international relations between China and the US and China and Japan. He said ultimately it “comes down to the speakers to foster free discourse on campus,” but there were no institutional barriers to prevent speakers from discussing any topics. He said there was nothing he could not talk about in the Confucius Institute.

Lee said that none of the Hanban’s official regulations on speech were in force at Pace University. The Hanban’s bureaucrats “like to cover every aspect” and have rules for all types of behavior, he said, but “the regulations don’t make sense in the US or Canada” and Hanban has “no way to enforce” its rules.247

Closing Confucius Institutes

Several universities have terminated their Confucius Institutes or backed out of arrangements to open an institute. Two CIs in the United States have shut down: at the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University. More than 100 faculty members signed a petition opposing the continuation of the CI at the University of Chicago, and the university withdrew following a public relations skirmish with the Hanban (see the section “The University of Chicago” below).248

Penn State dean Susan Welch said the CI there closed because some of the university’s “goals are not consistent” with those of the Hanban. Former director of the Penn State Confucius Institute, Eric Hayot, noted that the Hanban’s strict limitations on what it would fund made the CI less valuable to the university. He said the Hanban denied requests to “support research not only in the humanities or on Chinese culture, but also on science, politics, the environment.”249

Several universities have begun and then ceased negotiations with the Hanban. Dickinson State University pulled out of its planned Confucius Institute in 2012 after a series of administrative changes and a narrow faculty vote against opening the CI. A university spokesman cited “unforeseen circumstances” and commented that the CI was not “where we want to put our energy right now.”250 The University of Pennsylvania announced that it would not go through with its pending arrangements for a Confucius Institute, following an organized effort by the East Asian Studies faculty in opposition to the CI.251

In 2011, the Canadian University of Manitoba canceled its planned Confucius Institute after objections from faculty members led by Associate Professor of Asian Studies Terry Russell. The faculty union raised concerns with the administration and a few months later Manitoba announced it would end its relationship with the Hanban. Russell said he and fellow professors were concerned about pressures to leave out unpleasant events in Chinese history and cater to Chinese law, as well as the dent to the university’s image by being linked to the Chinese government:

Accepting money from this obviously bad actor in terms of human rights and freedom of speech makes the university looks really bad. What if we have another Tiananmen incident in China? I don’t want to be associated with that.252

McMaster University, also in Canada, closed its Confucius Institute in 2012 following accusations from a CI teacher that the Hanban engaged in discriminatory hiring. In 2012 the teacher, Sonia Zhao, brought a complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Commission stating that she had been forced to conceal her affiliation with Falun Gong in order to receive a Confucius Institute job. Zhao received refugee status in Canada.

The University of British Columbia has also turned down a Confucius Institute.253 Toronto’s District School Board, which oversaw several Confucius Classrooms, decided to end its relationship with the Hanban in 2014. “If the Chinese government is attempting to infiltrate us,” said Pamela Gough, a school board trustee who favored closing the Confucius Classrooms, “we have to resist with all our might.”254

THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO

The University of Chicago’s case is worth considering in more detail because it sparked a wave of attention to Confucius Institutes. The American Association of University Professors released its critique of Confucius Institutes in June 2014, a few months after Chicago faculty members publicized their concerns. Congressman Chris Smith held the first Congressional hearing on Confucius Institutes in December 2014.

The University closed its Confucius Institute in 2014 after a five-year relationship with the Hanban. In April 2014, while the university renegotiated the contract for a second five-year term, 108 faculty members signed a petition calling for the Council of the Faculty Senate to be allowed to exercise its authority to review and vet any proposed educational institutions. The petition argued that the Faculty Senate should have been consulted the first time the university negotiated a contract with the Hanban, and laid out a series of criticisms of the Confucius Institute, ranging from its ties to the Chinese government to its being compromised by censorship. One year later, University of Chicago emeritus professor of anthropology Marshall Sahlins released a book, Confucius Institutes: Academic Malware, that documented dozens of troubling occurrences at Confucius Institutes worldwide.

The Faculty Senate’s concerns caught the attention of the director-general of the Hanban, Xu Lin, who reportedly wrote to the university and reiterated by phone that “Should your college decide to withdraw, I’ll agree” – a sentence the New York Times reported “in Chinese … carries connotations of a challenge.”255 A Chinese government-backed newspaper, the Jiefang Daily, praised Xu for her “toughness” and crowed that “Her attitude made the other side anxious. The school quickly responded that it will continue to properly manage the Confucius Institute.”256

The Jiefang Daily article also noted the Confucius Institute’s goals: the institute must “build a spiritual high-speed train using culture as a track,” Xu reportedly said. “Only culture can enter the spirit. You can’t just use education to enter someone’s spirit.”257 A few days later, the university exited that track. The University of Chicago announced it would suspend its Confucius Institute because “recently published comments about UChicago in an article about the director-general of Hanban are incompatible with a continued equal partnership.”258

The University did not cite faculty members’ concerns in its reason for parting ways with the Hanban—though those concerns had sparked Xu Lin to write to the university in the first place. But the University of Chicago faculty grievances with the Confucius Institute foreshadow many of the concerns that have been raised since.

University of Chicago signatories criticized the CI for its ties to the Hanban, itself “an agency of the Chinese government” whose agenda “is set by high officials of the Party-State, to whom the Head Office reports annually.” Faculty members also censured the “dubious practice of allowing an external institution to staff academic courses” and noted that “Hanban’s control of the hiring and training of teachers … subjects the University’s academic program to the political constraints on free speech and belief that are specific to the People’s Republic of China.”

By inviting a program that abides by Chinese censorship and promotes the Chinese regime, “the University is participating in a worldwide, politico-pedagogical project that is contrary in many respects to its own academic values,” the signatories averred. The university faculty members also expressed concern that the university, by lending its credibility to the Confucius Institute project, was complicit in propping up an institution that threatened academic freedom beyond the walls of the University of Chicago itself:

Indeed by lending its good name to the CI project, the University, nolens volens, is helping to promote an enterprise that compromises the academic integrity of many universities around the world even as it is inimical to its own.259

What Not to Say

Some of the topics that are off-limits or may spark controversy at some Confucius Institutes include the status of Tibet and Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, the Tiananmen Square massacre, and criticism of the Communist Party’s legitimacy.

China’s censors proscribe additional topics. In 2013, China’s propaganda officials labeled seven concepts “dangerous Western influences” whose spread should be curtailed: the ideas of universal values, freedom of speech, civil society, civil rights, historical errors of the Chinese Communist party, crony capitalism, and judicial independence.260

One Confucius Institute director in Germany (quoted anonymously in Marshall Sahlins’ book Confucius Institutes: Academic Malware) said that “the following topics are not very welcomed: Tibet, Falun Gong, and Taiwan.”261 Anne-Marie Brady, associate professor of political science at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, told Inside Higher Ed that Confucius Institutes have “a lot of space, but the same kind of space that people have in China, which is that there are always no-go zones, and the no-go zones are obvious: Tibet, Taiwan, Falun Gong.”262

Tibetan Independence and the Dalai Lama

The status of Tibet—the question of whether it is an independent nation or a province of China—is a touchy subject at Confucius Institutes. The Chinese government claims that Tibet is part of China, and has been for hundreds of years. Tibet’s government in exile, set up in India, claims autonomy and sees Chinese rule as an unwelcome intervention. China has also attempted to supplant the Dalai Lama with a Communist Party alternative.

One of our case studies, the Confucius Institute at Pace University, has held an event on Tibet and ethnic minorities, according to director Joseph Tse-Hei Lee. But there is also some record of some Confucius Institutes presenting the approved Chinese narrative as unchallenged fact.

One study quoted several anonymous CI directors in Germany as saying that the Confucius Institute had narrow latitude for discussing Tibet. One commented, “the independence is limited regarding precarious topics. If topics like Tibet or Taiwan would be approached too critical [sic], this could be difficult.” Another cited Tibet, alongside Falun Gong and Taiwan, among the topics “not very welcomed.”263

In 2008, a CI director at the University of Waterloo urged students to defend China after they heard reports that Chinese forces quelled an uprising in Tibet. The director, Yan Li, previously a reporter for Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper Xinhua News Agency, castigated Canadian news sources and called on her students to “work together to fight with Canadian media.” Li also used her class to teach Tibet’s history as part of China.264 Epoch Times reported that Li then published an article on the website Wenxinshe recounting that “Under her influence, some Canadian students bravely debated with anti-China elements on the Internet, some wrote to television stations and newspapers to point out that their reporting was not according to the facts.”265 In response to the activism of Li’s CI students, one Canadian news network offered a public apology.

Earlier, in the section on textbooks, we recounted the testimony of Matteo Mecacci, president of the International Campaign for Tibet. Mecacci in 2011 asked a Confucius Institute near Washington DC for materials on Tibet, concealing the name of his organization. The CI sent him materials that Mecacci said favored the Chinese government’s narrative and offered students a misleading account of Tibet’s history and political standing:

Instead of scholarly materials published by credible American authors (not to speak of Tibetan writers) what we received were books and DVDs giving the Chinese narrative on Tibet published by China Intercontinental Press, which is described by a Chinese government-run website as operating “under the authority of the State Council Information Office..whose main function is to produce propaganda products.”266

Portland State University CI director Meiru Liu is reported to have said her CI does sponsor lectures on Tibet, “with an emphasis on the beautiful scenery, customs, and tourist interest.” But she said she and her colleagues at the CI “try not to organize and host lectures on certain issues related to Falun Gong, dissidents and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.”267 Liu’s answer is quite similar to the response we received when asking Chinese CI staff members how they would respond to questions about Tiananmen Square. Like Liu, who said she would discuss the “beautiful scenery” of Tibet, some said they would focus on the “architecture” and beauty of Tiananmen Square itself. (See also the section on Tiananmen Square below.)

Portland State University CI director Meiru Liu is reported to have said her CI does sponsor lectures on Tibet, “with an emphasis on the beautiful scenery, customs, and tourist interest.” But she said she and her colleagues at the CI “try not to organize and host lectures on certain issues related to Falun Gong, dissidents and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.”267 Liu’s answer is quite similar to the response we received when asking Chinese CI staff members how they would respond to questions about Tiananmen Square. Like Liu, who said she would discuss the “beautiful scenery” of Tibet, some said they would focus on the “architecture” and beauty of Tiananmen Square itself. (See also the section on Tiananmen Square below.)

The New York Times reported that when the Hanban offered Stanford $4 million to open a Confucius Institute and endow a professorship, it initially proposed that the endowed professor be sure not to discuss Tibet. Stanford was able to negotiate with the Hanban to remove this restriction before it established the CI and an endowed chair in classical Chinese poetry.268

June Teufel Dreyer, a political scientist at the University of Miami, told us one college in Florida disinvited the Dalai Lama at the urging of a local Confucius Institute.269 In 2008 North Carolina State University cancelled the Dalai Lama’s visit after the university’s Confucius Institute staff objected.

John Chaffee, a board member of the Confucius Institute at Binghamton University, where he is also Distinguished Service Professor of History and Asian and Asian American Studies, said the CI would not likely have an event regarding Tibetan independence. “On Tibet, we would probably just choose to have institutional sponsors if we have a big event,” he said. “Not that we try to avoid it, it just hasn’t come up.”270

Many professors acknowledged to us that they would opt not to ask the Confucius Institute to hold any lectures or events on Tibet. “Tibet, certainly,” said Pacific Lutheran University professor Paul Manfredi, responding to a question about what topics he would not raise in a CI. He said that

having been in the business for a long time, obviously I’m aware that were I to propose some activities, they would be immediately denied. [An event on] Tibetan independence would never happen [in a Confucius Institute]. My knowledge about the issue is enough to not even bring them up.

Manfredi said he would use the university’s discretionary events funds to host such an event, and that he did not feel straight-jacketed by the CI’s limits.271

One senior professor of political science at a UK university with a Confucius Institute told us he considered how Confucius Institutes treat Tibet a litmus test for how they treat academic freedom.

The test is always, can they and do they hold events that are not about the culture of Tibet, but about the activities or the speeches or the views of the Dalai Lama, or some people who are more on the independence side of Taiwan? If they do, then it confirms that they actually are not exercising self-censorship. … Tibet is part of China – that’s where it legally is. And therefore if you are an institute that supports the study of China and politics, then the politics of Tibet comes into it as much as the politics of Beijing, or Shanghai, or Guangzhou.272

Universities that hold such events should feel free to criticize the Dalai Lama, so long as they also permit his defenders to speak, this professor said. “If you are having a normal academic event, you will ask him questions that he might find embarrassing, and other questions that he very much welcomes to be asked,” this professor commented. “If the Confucius Institute does that, then the Confucius Institute meets the criteria for academic freedom and integrity.”273

The Tiananmen Square events of June 4, 1989, in which the Chinese government used armed force to disperse students protesting in favor of democracy, are another topic that Confucius Institutes treat gingerly. The Tiananmen Square Massacre, June 4th, “Tank Man,” and other terms related to the event are censored in China, hiding evidence of the government’s role in killing its citizens and trampling freedom of speech.

Steven Levine, a retired historian of China, found that Confucius Institutes did not report recognizing the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. In September 2013, Levine wrote to 200 CI directors to inquire about their plans to recognize the anniversary in June. Only one director responded with plans to recognize the anniversary. Levine said the others did not answer.274

Separately, Portland State University CI director Meiru Liu is reported to have said she and her colleagues at the CI “try not to organize and host lectures on certain issues related to Falun Gong, dissidents and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.”275

At Rutgers University, chancellor Richard Edwards told us if a student brings up Tiananmen Square in class, “They [the teachers] might not be able to comment on it. In China most of them don’t know anything about it.” But he did not worry that students might get an incomplete picture of Chinese history. He said the Confucius Institute accomplished much good, because the teachers “have access to the Internet here and can learn things about China they couldn’t there.” Further, he said topics such as Tiananmen Square simply “don’t come up” and have nothing to do with the subjects the CI covers.

New Jersey City University also has some speech restrictions, according to Chinese director Xiuli Yin. She told us of Tiananmen Square, “we don’t touch it.”276

In 2014 Bloomberg reported on an anthropologist, Jennifer Hubbert, studying Confucius Institutes, who found that students reported efforts by CI teachers to redirect conversations away from Tiananmen Square. Hubbert found

two sophomores [who] referred to a lack of discussion about the much-publicized 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on public dissent as representative of the censorship they perceived also taking place in the classroom. ... “If you ever get into these issues in the class, it gets steered away. ‘Wait, there’s no Tiananmen Square. Let’s talk about fluffy bunnies.’”277

Intentional redirection of conversations away from Tiananmen Square is a common theme across Confucius Institutes, leading us to postulate that the Hanban may train CI teachers in how to sidestep undesired topics. At New Jersey City University, Chinese director Xiuli Yin told us that should a student ask about Tiananmen Square, she would “show a picture and point out the beautiful architecture.”278

At Pace University, Chinese director Wenqin Wang said no students had ever asked her about Tiananmen Square, but if they did, she would answer according to how much they already knew about the history. “This is a tough question,” she said, “like the assassination of MLK. Could we say just he was assassinated because he was a strong advocate of human rights? It’s harder to answer.”279

Stephen Dunnett, chairman of the Confucius Institute at the University at Buffalo, said he had once sat in a CI class in which a student brought up Tiananmen Square. He recalled that “the Hanban teacher who answered it was pretty objective.” Had the question come up in China, he said, a teacher might choose “fire back with how we treat Native Americans, women, minorities,” but the CI teacher refrained from doing so.280

At Stony Brook University, Chinese director Shijiao Fang told us it would be improper to discuss Tiananmen Square in a Chinese language class, because the discussion would eat up valuable time. “They don’t have time,” Fang said. “Most [classes] use Chinese. You could only explain something like this in English.”281 American director E.K. Tan said that previously, some classes had drifted into discussions that bothered students:

In the past, there were complaints. ‘Why are you talking about cultural things? Teach language, not culture.’ I don’t think there is a problem to talk about certain things. There is no censorship, but it is the responsibility of the teacher to say we need to go on with classes.282

Like Rutgers chancellor Edwards, Tan said there was no need to discuss Chinese politics in a class on language, denying that CI teachers are instructed to avoid certain topics.

We support the principle that apolitical subjects should remain apolitical. American higher education has seen increasing politicization, as faculty members inject their opinions on recent candidates, policies, “civic engagement” and other topics into courses such as math, science, history, and English. We agree with Chancellor Edwards that courses devoted to a foreign language should not focus on the politics of that nation.

But we find it troubling that Confucius Institutes present an intentionally narrow, bureaucratically-approved perspective on Chinese culture. Such selective teaching leaves American students ill-informed about the nature of the Chinese Communist regime, its real abridgements of personal and political freedom, the sordid episodes in its history that the Chinese regime would like to erase, and the nation’s complicated relationship with ethnic and religious minorities. This problem is especially dire for universities whose primary course offerings on China come from the Confucius Institute. But it is also a problem for universities with separate departments of Asian studies, because, as we have noted, the CIs exert influence beyond their own walls and pressure professors to avoid topics the CI does not welcome.

Taiwan

The Hanban tends to promote a monocultural view of China, in which minorities get little coverage. Earlier, in the section on “Textbooks” we quoted University of Manitoba professor Terry Russell, who examined some CI textbooks, which he found were “fairly political” regarding “Taiwan and the relationship of China to the Chinese people in general.”283

Xiuli Yin, the Chinese director at New Jersey City University, told us Taiwan was one of the topics she knew to steer clear of: “We avoid sensitive things like Taiwan and Falun Gong.” Paul Manfredi, the Pacific Lutheran University professor who recruited a CI teacher to add another Chinese course at PLU, said, “I would take any discussion of Taiwan to another institution for funding if I wanted critical discussion.”284

James Hargett, as discussed earlier in this report, found that the University at Albany’s CI director removed a banner for National Taiwan University from a colleague’s door during a visit by CI executives. And at a 2014 conference of the European Association for Chinese Studies, the Hanban director general Xu Lin ordered several pages removed from conference programs that mentioned a Taiwanese cosponsor and a Taiwan library exhibit.285

Lionel Jensen, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Notre Dame, found that the early version of the Memoranda of Understanding agreements between host universities and the Hanban “states that the signatories accept the One-China Policy.”286

Falun Gong

In previous years, it has been reported that the Hanban’s public criteria for eligible CI teachers excluded those who practiced Falun Gong. Falun Gong is a much persecuted, peaceful sect that the Chinese government has declared a terrorist organization, in large part out of concern that the spiritual movement compromises citizens’ loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party. China heavily monitors and regulates religious practice, requiring all religious organizations to obtain official approval to operate, but has specifically targeted Falun Gong. China has imprisoned Falun Gong followers, and in some cases harvested organs from or killed Falun Gong members.

In 2011 Sonia Zhao, an instructor at the McMaster University Confucius Institute who secretly practiced Falun Gong, alerted McMaster that she had felt forced to sign a Hanban contract banning Falun Gong for fear that acknowledging her religious practice would expose her to punishment. Zhao’s mother had been jailed for two years for her own Falun Gong affiliation. Zhao filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, reporting that McMaster University’s relationship with the Hanban was “giving legitimization to discrimination.”287 McMaster University terminated its relationship with the Hanban and closed its Confucius Institute.

Explaining the university’s decision to sever ties with the Hanban, Andrea Farquhar, vice president of public and government affairs at McMaster University, said the allegation of discriminatory hiring “was an important issue for us because of the kinds of expectations we have about human rights here.” She said, “It’s not about the academic work that was being done or the quality of the teaching or the students’ ability to get a lot out of the courses. This is about the hiring process.”288

The Hanban’s prohibition on practicing Falun Gong is no longer in the English version of the application criteria, but other sources reported that it remained until recently in other versions of the Hanban’s website, especially the Spanish version. The Spanish website no longer references Falun Gong in the eligibility criteria,289 nor does the current Chinese version.290 The Hanban’s website, in each of these languages, does require applicants to be “decent and well-behaved” and have “no criminal negligence record.” Likewise the Chinese Ministry of Education’s accreditation process for Chinese teachers, which the Hanban requires of its teachers, demands that applicants “observe the law and regulations.”291

There is other evidence that Confucius Institutes wish to screen out supporters of Falun Gong. In 2008 Tel Aviv University closed a student art display on the treatment of Falun Gong followers in China. When the students sued, a District Court judge ruled in their favor, finding that the university had “violated freedom of expression” under pressure from a dean who worried it would harm the university’s Confucius Institute.292 In Germany, a CI director who requested anonymity told a researcher that “we know where we stand and I think we make use of the space we have. But that Falun Gong appears here, that’s a physical impossibility.”293

Stony Brook University CI director E.K. Tan told us he had never encountered a student who wanted to talk about Falun Gong, or heard complaints from teachers who said they faced discrimination in the Hanban’s hiring process. “If they’re radical extremists, I don’t think any university would encourage that,” Tan said.294

Stephen Dunnett, board member of the University at Buffalo’s CI, said McMaster University had every right to close its Confucius Institute over its concerns about Falun Gong, but so did China have every right to enforce its own laws. He noted,

China said teachers can’t be a member of Falun Gong. The teacher arrived and declared she was – so now came the problem. China wanted to force her or jerk her back, because she’s a criminal there. The Chinese have the right to recall their citizens.295

At Rutgers University, chancellor Richard Edwards said to us that despite possible discrimination against Falun Gong members, it was useful to retain a working relationship with China:

In any country, you can find something similar to [the treatment of Falun Gong followers]. For me the issue is do you want to shut off all contact with a nation because you disagree over some issues, or do you express opinions and views but keep interaction, aiming to a long-term positive effect.296

Other Entanglements

Confucius Institutes are part of a web of relationships between American and Chinese universities. Extracting oneself from part of the relationship without jeopardizing the other parts is hard to do. China has made it clear that Confucius Institutes are important to its national image abroad, and central to generating international interest among young people to study abroad in China. Universities that reject Confucius Institutes may find it difficult to maintain other partnerships in China, further motivating universities to turn a blind eye to potential problems with Confucius Institutes.

We are not the first to point out the way in which Confucius Institutes are becoming part of a web of entangling benefits from China. British sinologist and journalist Isabel Hilton noted that UK universities “depend heavily on overseas students, of whom the Chinese students are a large cohort,” and are vulnerable to “attempts by Chinese officials” who want to dictate “intellectual life in the host institutions … through threats to discourage future Chinese students from enrolling in the university.”297 She cited Confucius Institutes as one way China might pressure colleges with threats of decreasing enrollments.

Nick Byrne, executive director of the London School of Economics’ CI, said he had never had any controversy or inappropriate interference from the Hanban—but was pleased the CI came with various side benefits. “You don’t get millions of pounds,” he told the New York Times in 2012, “but you do get the equivalent in good will, collaboration and the ability to send students to China.”298

June Teufel Dreyer, the University of Miami professor, told us that the increasing number of Chinese students at American universities helped make Confucius Institutes attractive. “It would bother a lot of universities if those students suddenly disappear” due to the Chinese government warning that “if you want a visa, you will not study at such and such a place.”299 Dreyer said that although her university did not have a CI, she was well aware of a growing dependence on Chinese students:

We actually have a program at the University of Miami, the public administration program, which in previous years has been mostly students from China. If they were to disappear, that program would be in trouble, because once those Chinese students started to come in large numbers, more faculty members were hired to teach public administration.300

Dreyer said universities with Confucius Institutes likely face similar dependencies.

Paul Manfredi at Pacific Lutheran University, which has one teacher on loan from the Confucius Institute of Washington State, said he did not think the presence of the teacher contributed significantly to the development of his Pacific Lutheran’s relationship to Chinese universities. Pacific Lutheran has a relationship with Sichuan University in China “going back thirty years,” he said. “Given that some of the [Sichuan University] faculty members are appointees for the CI,” choosing not to retain a CI teacher “might be awkward, but not terribly awkward.”301

One professor at a university that has both a Confucius Institute and extensive ties to Chinese universities told us that Confucius Institutes are seamlessly woven into relationships with China, making it difficult to separate various institutional connections that are officially distinct and unrelated. “How much of the interference is the result of the Confucius Institute, or the other links and investments in China, or the number of Chinese students coming to your institution? How to disentangle these?”

The interconnectedness of these relationships makes any decision to withdraw from the CI complicated and potentially dangerous, according to this professor. “We don’t know” if closing the Confucius Institute would necessarily jeopardize all other relationships with China, said this professor, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject. “But it would be seen as a hostile action. Once you have a Confucius Institute, closing it down is a very major decision.” He noted that “the university has very extensive relations with and enormous direct investments in China. You can imagine, they would be looking at many potential hostages in China.”302

Confucius Institute Case Studies

We examined twelve Confucius Institutes—each one in New York and New Jersey. Below we describe some of the largest Confucius Institutes on which we were able to obtain the most information. We asked about classes offered, textbooks used, other gifts received from China, hiring policies, funding, intellectual freedom, contractual language on forbidding the Institute from “tarnishing the reputation” of the Hanban, the role of Chinese law, and the transparency and openness of the Confucius Institute.

Binghamton University

Binghamton University’s Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera opened in November 2009 in partnership with the National Academy of Chinese Theatre Arts (NACTA) in Beijing. A member of the Binghamton University theatre department, Qianghua Wang, who was born in China, had previously developed a partnership with NACTA. When NACTA suggested a Confucius Institute might further their relationship, Wang and the rest of the theatre department enthusiastically agreed. Wang and theatre professor Don Boros traveled to China to meet with officials from NACTA and the Hanban and prepare to open the first Confucius Institute focused on classical Chinese opera.

Binghamton University’s CI remained within the theatre department for several years, with Boros as acting director. But as classes began to fill with non-theatre majors, primarily foreign students from China or Americans of Chinese descent, the theatre department found that the CI was no longer a major asset to theatre students. Boros and Wang urged their colleague Zu-yan Chen, also born in China, to become the new director of the CI and house it in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies, where the CI still remains. Chen has overseen the development of the CI in recent years and been instrumental in hiring 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.

The board of the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera still includes some representatives of the theatre department, including the theatre chair, but the department retains only a nominal role in the direction of the CI. Barbara Wolfe, theatre department chair and a board member of the CI, declined our request for interviews on the grounds that she had little to do with the CI and sat on the board because “it’s part of my job.” One board member, John Chaffee, told us that several board positions came automatically with other jobs at Binghamton University. There are fifteen board members in total: 8 from Binghamton University, and 7 from NACTA.

The primary authority of the Confucius Institute rests with Zu-yan Chen, the senior professor in Department of Asian and Asian American Studies and the director of the CI, and Donald Nieman, who is executive vice president, provost of the university, and chairman of the CI board. Several people described a close relationship between Chen and Nieman, and portrayed the Confucius Institute as a tight-knit clique that enjoyed the special attention and favor of the university administration.

“The university administration loves it,” said one former professor at Binghamton University, describing the Confucius Institute’s relationship with the university as “sycophantic.” “It features it [the CI] on its webpage. It’s championed by the university. As a consequence, it enjoys a kind of autonomous celebrity.”303

We were not able to verify Provost Nieman’s disposition toward the CI because Nieman did not answer requests for comment. Zu-yan Chen agreed to a conversation when Rachelle Peterson visited Binghamton University, but five days before her visit said by email that he and the rest of his staff “will not be available for interviews” because “we have various other commitments that we need to tend to.”304 He directed all further inquiries to the University’s legal office.

It became clear to us during our research that the Confucius Institute at Binghamton University is the subject of much controversy. In part, this is because of the CI’s ties to the Chinese government. Several professors and the library’s Asian and Asian American studies librarian expressed doubts about the wisdom of partnering with the Hanban. But some of the controversy also stems from the heavy-handed way in which the CI seems to operate. The CI has aggregated a substantial amount of power, and those wielding it are not afraid to use that power to their own advantage.

CLASSES

Binghamton University’s CI offers for-credit courses on topics including Chinese opera performance, music, face painting, and opera costume design. These are coded as theatre courses, count for two credits, and are taught by CI teachers from China. Students may take these courses as part of their regular class schedule, and the courses are included in regular tuition fees. The teachers for these courses come from NACTA via the Confucius Institute.

The Confucius Institute’s website lists several visiting instructors of Chinese who presumably teach language courses, though no languages courses are listed on the CI website.305 None of the classes on the university’s 2016-2017 course bulletin list these visiting instructors.306

Some professors at Binghamton University noted several concerns about the courses offered at the CI. One said every course in the CI seemed to be “an easy A.” He also expressed concern that some of the teachers may have been appointed on the basis of personal ties to the Hanban, rather than expertise for the job. He said a visiting professor from the Shanghai Theatre Academy, with whom the Binghamton University theatre department has also worked in the past, found some of the CI courses poorly taught. When performance reviews and disciplinary issues came up, he also found one CI teacher preoccupied about “what will she be thought of in China” rather than what needed to be done at Binghamton.307 Such behavior is in keeping with the agreement Binghamton University signed with the Hanban, which requires the university to “accept the assessment of the Headquarters on the teaching quality.”308

One Binghamton University professor who requested anonymity said some faculty members had expressed concern that the Confucius Institute, once it attains “a critical mass of people,” could “influence the character or nature of Chinese studies at Binghamton.” He said he and other professors had felt no pressure to abide by any directives from the Hanban, and said the CI staff had not exerted pressure either. “It’s not like this strong institute that influences a lot of things, it’s really Zu-yan as the director, and he’s been our colleague for years.”309 Still, he noted the Hanban’s strictures on criticizing the Chinese regime could leave students misinformed about the nature of the Chinese government.

Students in CI courses are predominantly Chinese nationals studying in America or Chinese- Americans, according to several professors. Don Boros, the founding head of the CI, said that early on, the students were primarily theatre students. But few theatre majors had open electives, he said, leading theatre students to shy away from taking many courses in Chinese theatre. By the time the CI transferred to the department of Asian and Asian American studies, Boros said “at least half of the people [in the classes] were not fluent in English,” leading to courses being “conducted in Chinese with an English interpreter” for those who did not know Chinese.310

TEXTBOOKS

The Hanban offers textbooks every year to the Confucius Institute, and to the Binghamton University library for the use of all students. The university’s agreement with the Hanban specifies that the Hanban will provide as many as “3,000 volumes” of Chinese books and other teaching supplements. The Hanban also agreed to “to provide teaching materials, courseware, and other books” for CI courses and “to authorize the use of online courses” at the CI.311

Julie Wang, the Asian and Asian American Studies Librarian, said the Hanban was very generous in its offers. Representatives of the Hanban “say they have a limit,” Wang recounted, “but every year you could request again.” But she said she had not requested books “for a couple years,” because she did not “see much to choose after the first year.” Early on, she chose dictionaries, books on paper cutting and Chinese medicine, movies on martial arts, and some materials teaching Chinese language. Wang found these “very good,” but others lacked academic credibility. “There was not really a lot I could put into our library.”312

Wang was especially disappointed—though not surprised, she said—at the excision of the Tiananmen Square massacre from the books offered by the Hanban. Wang, who had a friend at Tiananmen Square, keeps a picture of Tank Man in her office—her “scar,” she says. “That gunshot really split me with the Communist Party.” Wang keeps the library well-stocked with books on the June 4th events—“I purchase as many books as possible on it”—but she finds that many students, especially Chinese nationals studying at Binghamton, “don’t know” what happened at the Square. When visiting professors from China come to Binghamton University, she offers them a tour of the library and tells them, “There’s censorship in China—you can take the opportunity to read here.” She said “some are shocked, I can see, by Tiananmen Square and Cultural Revolution.” But she finds it harder to reach the students.

Wang feels uncomfortable talking about Tiananmen, even at Binghamton University. “It’s taboo even here. My goodness, this is America! This is an academy here. But people don’t want to talk about it. They want to forget about it.” Wang attributes this in part to the growing Chinese “nationalism” she senses on Binghamton’s campus:

Chinese students and faculty here say China is economically powerful. People depend on China, like the Confucius Institute. The economic situation looks very good, so people then say, “why do you focus on thirty years ago, when now everything is perfect? Why do you try to pick out something bad against China?” People don’t like to hear [about Tiananmen Square]. A professor on Chinese modern history talked about Tiananmen Square. Students have a lot of questions, but they don’t believe that there are many people dead. “Not as many as you say,” they say. I have a book for them – there are more and more people standing up, person by person, saying my family member died there.313

Wang’s challenge is to get these students to read the books she selected for the library.

OTHER GIFTS

In addition to books, the Hanban has funded a large display of Chinese opera costumes and materials in the lobby of the Binghamton University lobby. Four custom wooden cases with glass doors hold full opera costumes—with intricate embroidery and painting—along with opera props and books. A flat screen TV on a stand in the corner offers passersby a glimpse into opera performances and other Chinese cultural activities. The Hanban offered these to Binghamton University for free as a “Chinese Cultural Experience,” Wang said.

The name of the display was the subject of much controversy. In early drafts of the display placards, the library described the cabinet contents as costumes and supplies for “Peking Opera”—the “original historical term, when it was introduced to the West,” Wang said. The Confucius Institute staff wanted the placards to reference “Beijing Opera,” the Hanban’s preferred term. “Peking,” the early phonetic spelling in Pinyin of the city Beijing, has fallen out of use in most places, but “Peking Opera” remains a common term, especially in academic circles. “A lot of books I display have the title ‘Peking Opera,’” Wang said, adding,

I even Googled “Peking Opera,” and it had much more appearances than “Beijing Opera.” The National Performing Peking Opera – the #1 performance in China—still uses “Peking.” …It’s a historical term.314

Eventually the Confucius Institute and the library staff compromised by writing “Beijing (Peking) Opera” on most placards.

John Chaffee, Distinguished Service Professor of History and Asian and Asian American Studies and a member of the board at the Binghamton University Confucius Institute, said the name of the library caused a short “discussion,” but nothing major. He attributed the choice to use the term “Beijing” to the Confucius Institute, which made the “phonetically correct” decision, he said.315

Wang said she took from this scuffle a lesson: Because “the Chinese government provided money, they have their own policy” that the university is loath to cross:

I know there are things they [the Confucius Institute and the Hanban] do not want to touch, so we try to not step on the bomb. So when I make plans to exhibit, I try to avoid controversial issues. I learned from this the lesson that one single term, not even technically political yet, gets this kind of reaction. I will stay away from that.316

Wang said the next display would look at the “lifecycle of a Chinese” person from birth to death: his or her birthday celebrations, school days, wedding, and funeral. That display would check off the “cultural” box (satisfying the Hanban), provide useful information to American students at Binghamton University, and avoid politically touchy subjects.

HIRING POLICIES

According to John Chaffee, a board member of the Confucius Institute, NACTA sends two faculty members to Binghamton University to teach theatre and music, and several language instructors to offer language courses. These teachers are paid by the Hanban, Chaffee said.317

Binghamton University’s agreement with the Hanban specifies that the Hanban will “send numbers of Chinese instructors” according to the university’s need, implying that as elsewhere, CI teachers at Binghamton University are selected by the Hanban for yes-or-no approval by the CI director and board. The university’s agreement holds that the Hanban will fund teachers’ “airfares, health insurance, housing, and salaries.” The agreement also holds that “The institute must accept the assessment of the Headquarters on the teaching quality.”318

Binghamton has considered partnering with local school districts to offer Chinese courses in K-12 classes, but the university “ran against school unions,” Chaffee said. The teachers from China “weren’t certified” according to the requirements of the districts.319

We were not able to interview Confucius Institute teachers at Binghamton University. Several initially agreed to meet with Rachelle Peterson when she visited Binghamton University, but following CI director Chen’s decision to cancel all meetings at the CI, none showed up for the scheduled meetings or responded to follow-up requests for comment.

A professor in the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies and former CI board member, David Stahl, said the university had once proposed the Hanban fund a tenure-track professor, taking precautions that “we would have all the autonomy to search, hire, grant tenure, and to make sure that this would not be influenced unduly or controlled by the Hanban.” The Hanban agreed, but sent a template contract for a head language teacher instead. The university provost and lawyer have since been in negotiation with the Hanban for three years, Stahl said, and eventually produced a draft contract in which the Hanban would pay for the professor’s first five years of teaching, then half of the cost for five years, before transferring all financial responsibility to the university—“fantastic seed money,” to Stahl’s mind. But the contract never moved forward—whether because the Hanban or the university balked, Stahl doesn’t know—and he’s beginning to lose hope that the Hanban will fund a regular tenure-track position. “It went into a black hole,” he said of the negotiations. “It just seems to have fallen off the table. Everyone’s gone silent.”320

FUNDING

According to John Chaffee, a board member of the Confucius Institute, the CI’s budget is “over $100,000” per year. He declined to offer more specifics about Binghamton University’s contribution, and no other CI board members responded to our requests for comment.

The University’s agreement with the Hanban specifies that the Hanban will provide Chinese instructors, pay for “their airfares, health insurance, housing, and salaries,” and provide teaching materials, including “3,000 volumes of Chinese books.”321

INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM

Our interviewees painted different pictures of the state of intellectual freedom within the Confucius Institute of Chinese Opera.

John Chaffee, the board member, said the CI was under no pressure to respect Chinese law or censorship sensitivities. “I would not read it in terms of political speech,”322 he said of contractual references to “not contravene” Chinese or American law.323 He noted that “there are issues” in some other Confucius Institutes that touch on “areas of concern to [the Hanban],” including “Falun Gong and Tibet.”

“Other institutions have programs along those lines, and the [Chinese] government gets upset,” but at Binghamton University, “no one has proposed [such programs] in ten years. There’s been no pressure from Beijing at all. Not that we try to avoid it, just hasn’t come up.” That’s because “the special focus is purely cultural,” Chaffee said, explaining that most Binghamton University professors were not eager to pick a fight with the Hanban. “There is little desire among the faculty to go into political challenges.”324

Others described external pressures to avoid political topics they might otherwise have broached. “I self-censored myself,” librarian Julie Wang said of her approach to working with the Confucius Institute, especially after the depute over the term ‘Peking” opera. “we try to respect them,” she said of Hanban officials. “Even in America, if you get their money, you can’t touch something they don’t like.” Wang said “it hasn’t limited my academic freedom—I could do something else [as a library] display if I really wanted to.” But she kept in mind that university faculty worked with the Hanban on a regular basis. “I don’t want to put them in an awkward position.”325

David Stahl, an associate professor of Japanese literature and cinema, said he hadn’t felt any pressure from the Confucius Institute, and that he was pleased with the teaching performance of the teachers sent from the Hanban. “I do know about the controversy” at other Confucius Institutes, Stahl said.

But my sense is that our Confucius Institute is not really doing anything nefarious. I think it’s actually, given the terrible state of state funding for SUNY, it’s benefited us greatly.326

Still, though he had “no concerns” about the CI teachers at Binghamton “doing something in the classroom to influence the students unduly or propagandize,” he was a bit uncomfortable with the strings China attached to the funds:

My only thing is that they can’t be critical, they have to be positive. That’s a restriction that doesn’t sit really comfortably with me because I believe that one of the things we do as academics is that we will be critical of things we talk about…. If they talk about Tibet, things would be great, right? Of course, no country wants to air out their dirty laundry, especially if they’re paying for it. But that’s my main concern. No money could be spent on a speaker coming to campus to criticize the handling of Tibet. It cannot. It’s very clear that if there’s any politics involved or any critique of the state, the money cannot go there.327

One professor at Binghamton University reported concerns among faculty members that the Confucius Institute might reach beyond its courses to “influence the character or nature” of the Chinese studies program at Binghamton. “If you get a critical mass of people” with one outlook on China, this professor said, it becomes easier to pressure other professors to adopt (at least in public) a similar position.

TARNISHING THE REPUTATION

Binghamton University has agreed that the Hanban may close the CI “if the act of one party of the Agreement severely harms the image and reputation of the Confucius Institute.”328

LAW

Binghamton University’s agreement with the Hanban requires the CI to stay within the bounds of both American and Chinese law:

The Institute activities must be in accordance with the Constitution and By-laws [of the Hanban], and also while respecting cultural customs, shall not contravene concerning the laws and regulations, both in the United States and China.32

The document also specifies that in disputes over intellectual property330 and in all other disputes,331 the two parties should “consult with each other amicably” or, if necessary, resort to “an appropriate jurisdictional body according to the relevant laws and regulations.”332 It does not define which jurisdictional body would be “appropriate.”

As stated above, CI board member John Chaffee, said the CI felt no pressure from Chinese law, especially related to censorship. He said he would not read the agreement “in terms of political speech.”333

OPENNESS

Binghamton University’s Confucius Institute operates as a tight-knit clique, reacting with skepticism toward outsiders and reflexively protecting its privacy at the expense of standard public transparency. The Confucius Institute discloses nothing more than legally required, and resists even this gesture of transparency. It displays little respect for American norms of public accountability.

We rated each of our case studies on various measures of openness and transparency. For some Confucius Institutes, some categories were not relevant, and we omitted them. Our general rating system is:

Availability of university agreements with the Hanban: 2 points if publicly accessible, 1 point if accessible under Freedom of Information requests.

Willingness of the Confucius Institute director to be interviewed: 1 point.

Willingness of the board chairman to be interviewed: 1 point.

Willingness of board members to be interviewed: ½ point per member.

Willingness to let visitors sit in on a class: 1 point.

Binghamton University scored 1.5 points out of a possible 8.5 points.

Availability of university agreements with the Hanban: 1 point

Binghamton University does not publicly publish its agreements with the Hanban, and members of the CI staff did not respond for requests to share these documents. The university’s legal office released copies of these documents after we filed a Freedom of Information request.

Willingness of the Confucius Institute director to be interviewed: 0 points

CI director Zu-yan Chen initially did not respond to multiple emails and phone calls requesting comments.

When Rachelle Peterson alerted him by email that she was visiting Binghamton University in September 2016, he responded favorably to her request to meet, writing that “I look forward to meeting you next week!” and inviting her to “feel free to let me know if you need any assistance in your visit.”334 Two days later, he wrote again that because he and his staff “are in an extremely busy season while our semester progresses” and have “various other commitments” pressing on their time, he no longer would meet with Rachelle, and would also cancel her meetings with Confucius Institute staff and teachers.335

When Rachelle arrived at the Confucius Institute, she found it locked with the lights off. One board member with whom she met, John Chaffee, expressed surprised that the CI was closed but offered no explanation.

Willingness of the board chairman to be interviewed: 0 points

Chairman of the board, provost Donald Nieman, did not respond to any emails or phone calls requesting comment.

Willingness of board members to be interviewed: ½ point

One board member, John Chaffee, agreed to meet with Rachelle Peterson for thirty minutes. A former board member, David Stahl, also agreed to speak by phone.

Willingness to let visitors sit in on a class: 0 points

The CI office administrator, Carrie Buck, initially confirmed to Rachelle Peterson by both phone and by email that she was welcome to visit one of the CI classes, a Wednesday afternoon course on the Chinese flute. When CI director Zu-yan Chen cancelled his meeting with Rachelle and forbade his staff from meeting with her, he also cancelled the scheduled class visit, saying that “our teachers have also expressed that they feel a visit during class time would distract their students, and divert attention, on both the part of the teacher and students, from valuable class time.”336

UNIVERSITY AT ALBANY

The Confucius Institute for China’s Culture and the Economy, located at the University at Albany, opened in 2013. University at Albany partners with Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China. Associate Professor of Chinese Studies Anthony DeBlasi set up the Confucius Institute and served as its director from its opening until fall 2016, when Youqin Huang, Associate Professor of Geography, became the director.

The faculty senate did not vote on the opening of the Confucius Institute, though the Department of East Asian Studies discussed the possibility of Professor DeBlasi pursuing the CI. According to one professor, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences as well as the rest of the university administration were “very much in the loop” and “on board.” They were particularly pleased at the prospect of “external money coming in, especially in the arts and humanities.”337

The CI is guided by a board of directors, three of whom represent the University at Albany, and three of whom represent Southwestern University of Finance and Economics. The director, who is required to be a tenured professor from the University at Albany, is assisted by the Chinese director.338

According to the Feasibility Study that the university completed when applying to the Hanban for a Confucius Institute, the CI is a “university-level strategic initiative” that is “assisted by” but “independent of” the Department of East Asian Studies, the Economics Department, the School of Business, and the Office of International Education.339

CLASSES

Albany’s CI offers two courses, according to its website: “Advanced Chinese III” for three credits, and “Chinese Characters and Penmanship” for no credit and for free.340

One professor at the University at Albany said he was initially pleased to have additional teachers in the Chinese language programs, given growing enrollment numbers. But he was disappointed that the first teachers were not able to speak English and therefore unable to teach all but the most advanced American students studying Chinese. “We have not received the promised language teachers that were part of the original understanding,” he said.341 Since then, he said the quality of teachers had improved.

Courses must be approved by the board of directors,342 but the university must also “be guided by the assessment” of the Hanban on “the quality of its teaching programs.”343

TEXTBOOKS

The Hanban is required to provide the University at Albany with “teaching materials, coursewares and other books as needed” for the Confucius Institute, as well “3,000 volumes of Chinese books, teaching materials, and audio-visual materials.” It is also responsible to “authorize the use of online courses.”344

HIRING POLICIES

The director of the CI must be a tenured faculty member at the University at Albany,345 one “with administrative abilities, who has been or is devoted to Sino-America cultural exchange and the establishment of the Confucius Institute.”346

The Chinese Director is selected by Southwestern University of Finance and Economics.347

According to the agreement between the two universities, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics is required “to provide one or two visiting scholars/instructors in Chinese language and culture each year.”348 The agreement does not specify how these instructors are selected.

James Hargett, professor of Chinese studies at the University at Albany, said he was led to believe faculty members at would play a leading role in selecting teachers for the Confucius Institute. “The understanding was that we would be involved in the selection of professional teaching Chinese as a second language educators from China, but it didn’t turn out that way,” he said. “That’s been totally done from the Chinese side.”349

Hargett said he was not the only one upset at the hiring procedures. “We were all disappointed,” he said of his fellow department members. “Originally when Tony [DeBlasi] got this going, the idea was that we would collaborate with Hanban in selecting the teachers. But that understanding fell apart completely.”350

FUNDING

A professor told us the university received half a million dollars at the opening of the Confucius Institute, though we are unable to verify this. The current and founding directors of the CI declined to speak to us, as did the Chinese director and board members.

The university’s agreement with the Hanban pledged the Hanban to provide “a start-up fund of U.S. $150,000,” along with “an agreed-upon amount of funds annually according to need.” The Hanban also provides Chinese teachers and pays for their airfare and salaries.351

The University at Albany agreed to provide funds matching the Hanban’s. The university’s investment includes “a fixed office place and appropriate sites for teaching and other activities of the Confucius Institute,” as well as the salaries for “necessary administrative personnel.”352

An agreement between the University at Albany and Southwestern University of Finance and Economics outlines five sources of funding: “1) support from UA; 2) support from the Confucius Institute Headquarters; 3) Support from SWUFE; 4) Tuition fees from the programs of the Confucius Institute; 5) Donation [sic] from the community.”353

INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM

As with all Confucius Institutes, the University at Albany’s CI is bound to “the Constitution and By-laws of the Confucius Institutes,” which pledges fidelity to Chinese law.354 The university’s agreement with the Hanban also holds that the

The Institute activities must be in accordance with the Constitution and By-laws of the Confucius Institutes, respect cultural customs of the United States and China, and shall not contravene any relevant laws and regulations of the United States and China.355

This language is an improvement from many university contracts with the Hanban. Where most cite the importance of not contravening “any laws and regulations” of the U.S. or China, the University at Albany inserted the word “relevant”: “relevant laws and regulations of the United States and China.” It is unclear which laws the university or the Hanban consider “relevant” to the CI, but this added word offers marginally more protection from the possibility that the Hanban might try to hold the CI to all Chinese law.

Still, the impreciseness of the language and the Hanban’s history of meddling in academic affairs leaves room for improvement. One professor expressed concerns about improper pressures stemming from the Confucius Institute. “I have an issue with the government and the Chinese party – they’re one the same. The idea of taking their money,” he trailed off. “Really the CI is a foreign policy tool of the Chinese government. The US has its foreign policy tools abroad as well. I’m not opposed to foreign policy tools, but I’m opposed to them when they come from China.”

James Hargett, Professor of Chinese Studies at the University at Albany, said he had witnessed one example of improper curtailment of speech. When Hanban officials visited the University at Albany, a Chinese language lecturer whose office abutted the CI found that her banner for National Taiwan University had been taken down, along with some Chinese calligraphy. The director of the CI had arranged for the temporary removal of the banner, without the knowledge of the lecturer who owned the banner, in case the reference to Taiwan might offend the Hanban representatives.

It is “very legitimate” to be concerned about “abridging university autonomy,” Hargett said. “I don’t think the autonomy of the university is compromised with a scholar from a foreign country,” citing the university’s past positive experience with international Fulbright scholars. But if “that person is a mouthpiece for the government,” that crosses a line.356 He said he did not consider CI teachers mouthpieces, and he had no evidence that they propagandized students, but he was concerned that the Hanban’s speech codes improperly gagged the teachers on some topics.

TARNISHING THE REPUTATION

The University at Albany’s contract holds that the Hanban can cancel the CI and hold the university liable for an action that “harms the image and reputation” of the Hanban. The University at Albany has added a corollary: it, too, can hold the Hanban responsible for action that harms the university’s reputation. The full policy reads that the contract may be broken “if the act of one party of the Agreement severely harms the image and reputation of the other party.”357 This is an improvement in the language, though it does not fully remove the lever by which the Hanban may try to pressure the university to obey its preferences.

LAW

As stated above, Albany’s CI

must be in accordance with the Constitution and By-laws of the Confucius Institutes, respect cultural customs of the United States and China, and shall not contravene any relevant laws and regulations of the United States and China.358

The addition of the word “relevant” somewhat improves upon template text in many universities’ contracts.

OTHER GIFTS

The Confucius Institute at the University at Albany is part of a set of other gifts and opportunities for Albany students and professors.

The University at Albany and SWUFE enjoyed a working relationship prior to the development of the Confucius Institute. In 2010, the university hosted a visiting scholar and had previously welcomed delegations from SWUFE. In 2011, Albany sent its own delegation to SWUFE.359

The Confucius Institute has opened new partnerships and funding opportunities for the University at Albany. The university’s partner university, Southwestern University of Finance and Economics, agreed in its contract to “receive the student study groups from the Confucius Institute” who travel to China, and provide instructors for these students. The Confucius Institute would cover all expenses for the trip.360

The Confucius Institute also promised to provide “scholarships and grants” for “student and faculty exchanges between UAlbany and SWUFE.” The Feasibility Study, completed as part of the university’s application to the Hanban for a CI, also outlined plans to create a “competitive scholarship program” to send New York students to SWUFE, paid for by the Confucius Institute via the Hanban.361

The Feasibility Study noted various benefits that China may receive in exchange. For instance, it observed that the university’s location in the New York state capital would give the CI access to a seat of “political importance” and “a hub of high-tech economic activity.” It described the university as enjoying “influence in both state government and among upstate businesses” and the university administration as being “in continuous contact with the state legislature, the governor’s office, and the departments of the state government.” Such government ties, it hinted, may be of use in China.

The university also noted that the CI would encourage New York businesses to invest in China, especially near the site of a recent Chinese earthquake in Sichuan, the province where SWUFE is located. The university promised that the CI “will facilitate New York business investment in the region and encourage New York citizens to patronize Sichuan business through increased tourism.”362

OPENNESS

The University at Albany scored 1 point out of a possible 4 points on openness and transparency.

Availability of university agreements with the Hanban: 1 point

The university does not publicly publish its agreements with the Hanban. The university’s legal office released copies of these documents after we filed a Freedom of Information request.

Willingness of the Confucius Institute director to be interviewed: 0 points

CI director Anthony DeBlasi did respond to our emails requesting comments, unlike many other CI directors, but he declined to speak to us. He said that because his term as CI director was coming to a close, he did not feel comfortable speaking about the CI to an external reporter.

In the fall, when new CI director Youqin Huang took office, she initially agreed to receive a visit from Rachelle Peterson. Shortly after Binghamton University CI director Zu-yan Chen wrote to Rachelle cancelling her meetings at Binghamton, Huang also wrote to Rachelle, cancelling the meeting previously scheduled with Huang and with CI Chinese director Dejun Cao. Huang offered the excuse that because the university had already provided copies of its contracts in response to our Freedom of Information request, and because “I am new in the position,” she did “not really have much more to tell you than what you have already known.” She also said “my schedule has just changed this week and I have to be out of the town.”363

Huang did not respond to follow-up emails or phone calls.

Willingness to let visitors sit in on a class: 0 points

No CI staff responded to multiple attempts by phone and email to learn about the location and schedule of CI classes, and whether a guest might sit in on one.

UNIVERSITY AT BUFFALO

The Confucius Institute at the University at Buffalo opened in 2010 and was renewed again in 2015. It operates in partnership with Capital Normal University in Beijing. UB has had a longstanding relationship with Capital Normal University dating back to 1980, making Buffalo the first American university to develop such a partnership following the normalization of relations between the US and China in 1979.

Kristin Stapleton, an associate professor of history who focuses on Asian history, began working to set up the CI in 2007, three years before the final agreements were signed. She served as the founding director. Until recently, China-born philosophy professor Jiyuan Yu served as director, until his death in November 2016. The position of director is unfilled, as of this writing.

In 2016, the Hanban named the University at Buffalo’s CI the Confucius Institute of the Year.364 Stephen Dunnett, Vice Provost for International Education of the university and chairman of the CI board, received the award at a ceremony in China. Liu Yandong, the vice premier of the State Council and chair of Confucius Institute Headquarters Council, presented the award.

The CI offers not-for-credit courses at the university, and has one teacher who trains graduate students in an M.A. program in teaching Chinese. The CI also oversees 15 Chinese teachers at Confucius Classrooms in local K-12 schools.

CLASSES

The Confucius Institute is authorized by the Hanban to “offer Chinese language and China-related courses for both the university and community” with the help of a visiting professor from Capital Normal University.365 Junhong Li currently fills this role, serving as a Research Assistant Professor in the Chinese Language Program.366 According to Stephen Dunnett, Li helps train MA candidates in teaching Chinese as a second language.

The University at Buffalo specified in its contract with Capital Normal University that all teaching candidates must meet the university’s regular teaching requirements and will be supervised by the chair of the department in which they work.367 Emails between Dunnett and Yu at UB and members of the Hanban staff show that this extra clause was the subject of much discussion between Capital Normal University, the Hanban, and UB, though the Hanban did permit the clause to remain. (For more, seeing the section “Hiring Policies,” below.)

The Confucius Institute lists on its website several not-for-credit, fifteen-week courses in Chinese language. When Rachelle Peterson visited the University at Buffalo in September 2016, she attempted to sit in on an evening Chinese class, but learned that the course had been cancelled due to low enrollment. Dunnett told her the CI typically needs 6-8 registrants in order for the class to proceed.

Most of the CI’s teaching takes place at regional K-12 schools. Fourteen guest teachers from China instruct school children at 11 local schools.368 Stephen Dunnett estimates that 3,000 school children study under one of these teachers.369

In addition, the CI has received funding from the Hanban to support the university’s new master’s degree in Chinese language education. Graduates of the program will be certified to teach Chinese language in New York state. The goal, according to Stephen Dunnett, is to “put [the Hanban] out of business.” Hanban director general Xu Lin was at first taken aback by the proposal, Dunnett said, but agreed because she recognized the Hanban may not have the funds to be able to “do this forever.” The Hanban has agreed to fund the first four years of this program, after which time the University at Buffalo will pick up the tab.370

Teachers at the Confucius Institute and its Confucius Classrooms receive feedback from the university, the host K-12 schools, and the Hanban , and the CI is to be “guided” by the assessments of all three parties, according to UB’s agreement with Capital Normal University.371 this language givers additional authority to the University of Buffalo. Most template contracts say only that the CI must “accept the assessment” of the Hanban.

TEXTBOOKS

The Hanban is obliged “to provide teaching materials, textbooks, and other books as needed, to authorize the use of online courses, and to make contributions of Chinese materials to the UB Libraries on a regular basis.”372 Capital Normal University has also offered to “strengthen UB’s library holdings for research and instruction on China” by “provide a visiting Chinese language librarian.”373

UB has recently significant numbers of books from China, including a 2005 donation of 500 books from the Chinese Ministry of Education, at the time headed by a graduate of the University at Buffalo.374 In its original proposal to open a CI, the university noted that it was eager to receive books from China, as its library “has failed to keep up with the tremendous growth in book publishing that ahs occurred in China in recent decades.” UB said it would form a committee and work with Capital Normal University in order to “become a carefully targeted repository for Chinese materials that can serve all of Western New York.”375

Dunnett told us that all books used at the University at Buffalo are selected by UB faculty members. He also pushed back against those who find the Hanban’s books propagandistic or uniformly positive about China. “I wish you could see the materials I used teaching overseas” fifty years earlier, Dunnett said. He called the materials the US State Department put out at the time “blatant propaganda. You would think everyone was white, middle class, and lived in the suburbs.” He said it was “absurd” to think, as he said some do, that the CI is engaged in the “stealthy spread of Communism in schools.”376

HIRING POLICIES

The University at Buffalo enjoys more authority in hiring CI staff and teachers than any other Confucius Institute among our case studies.

The university requires the director of the Confucius Institute to be a tenured professor. The Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, with the assistance of the Vice Provost for International Education, selects and appoints the director, who is subject to the formal approval of the CI board of directors.377 The director reports to the board of the directors and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.378 The specification of the dean as the direct supervisor of the director is an improvement over vague language in other universities’ contracts citing the board of directors as the providing the primary oversight.

At UB, the Confucius Institute also has an American associate director who handles administrative duties and oversees the Confucius Classrooms. This person is an employee of the SUNY Research Foundation (“a civil servant-type role,” according to board chairman Stephen Dunnett). He is nominated by the director and must be approved by both the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and the board of directors.379 His immediate supervisor is the director of the CI.

The Chinese associate director is nominated by Capital Normal University, approved by the Hanban, and then approved by the CI board of directors.380 This employee also reports directly to the director.381

All CI teachers, whether placed at the University at Buffalo or at regional K-12 schools, are nominated by Capital Normal University and sign contracts with the Hanban. Those nominated for positions at the university are interviewed by CI staff along with representatives of the academic departments in which the teachers would be placed. Accepted candidates are then supervised by the chair of that academic department, and remain “subject to UB academic regulations, policies, and procedures.” The University at Buffalo is the only university among our case studies that specifies that CI teachers are subject to the university’s regular policies and are directly supervised by tenured professors.

Those teachers nominated for positions at K-12 schools surrounding Buffalo follow a similar hiring procedure. Candidates nominated by Capital Normal University are screened by the Hanban, then selected by CI staff and “subject to final approval” by the principals at the host schools in New York.382 The two associate directors from the University at Buffalo and Capital Normal University supervise these teachers.383

Emails between members of the university and Hanban staff show that UB’s decision to include in its renewal agreement specific hiring procedures that place CI staff under the policies of the University at Buffalo sparked some discussion at the Hanban. In an August 2014 email from CI board chairman Stephen Dunnett to Capital Normal University associate dean Han Mei, Dunnett notes that the university proposed new language on hiring policies in order “to address some of the concerns about CIs which have been voiced by some professional academic associations and individuals in North America.”384 In September, after Han protested that some of the policies detailing UB’s role in the hiring process did not belong under the Hanban’s own responsibilities, Dunnett wrote back reaffirming the importance of giving Buffalo control:

our provost wanted an explicit statement in the agreement that makes clear faculty members from CNU sponsored by the Hanban or brought to UB under the auspices of the Confucius Institute are subject to UB academic policies and procedures etc. This is in response to recent criticisms about Confucius Institutes in the USA, of which I think you are well aware.385

In the end, the Hanban agreed to keep the language holding CI teachers to University at Buffalo policies, on the condition that it be moved to a different section of the agreement.

Nevertheless, Buffalo remains dependent on the Hanban to nominate prospective teachers and a Chinese associate director. One email exchange indicates that UB was prepared to hire a new CI teacher, who was then denied by the Hanban. In July 2014, Dunnett inquired about a teacher, Bao Xiaoying, that the university had interviewed and offered a position teaching in the MA program in teaching Chinese. I am thinking we should start the visa process soon, but don’t want to do that unitl she is approved” by the Hanban, Dunnett wrote.386 The university’s Capital Normal University contact, Han Mei indicated that in reply that the professor had failed to pass some Hanban requirement, and UB should select another candidate from the slate of three Hanban proposed:

I believe Maggie has told you about Dr. Bao Xiaoying’s result of Hanban interview. I am sorry for that. If you do not want to take Dr. Lv Yulan, one of the 3 interviewees when you were in Beijing last time, we can wait until next year for other candidates.387

FUNDING

The Confucius Institute is funded half by the Hanban and half by the University at Buffalo, accorded to Dunnett, though he did not specify what amounts each contributed. He offered a rough estimate that the university fulfilled up to 60 percent of its quota by in-kind contributions, including office space, classrooms, administrative staff, graduate assistants, and an immigration attorney who provides services for the Chinese teachers.388

An email in 2014 from CI director Jiyuan Yu responding to questions from Hanban staff member Mengmeng indicates some of what the University at Buffalo provides for the Confucius Institute:

  1. The salary and benefit of UB executive associate director: $85,000
  2. Office space, utilities, telephone, etc. $40,000/year
  3. Director of board 5%, director of UBCI 20%, secretary of board and office assistants 10%, totally about $50,000/year
  4. The matching fund to specific activities and events.389

The Hanban provides operating funds and pays the salaries of the teachers at the university and surrounding school districts. It also provides funds for the master’s program in teaching Chinese language. The Hanban will fund the first four years of the program, according to Dunnett, before the university absorbs the costs.

UB specifies that it has “sole responsibility for its operating budget.”390

The funding from the Hanban is not extraordinary, Dunnett said, though it is a vital resource to help replace the 30 percent reduction in state funding that UB has received in the past eight years. Contrary to “allegations” that the Hanban richly rewarded its partners, the CI cost the University at Buffalo money, he said: “I wish the Chinese shoveled money in here.” Still, the funding was sufficient to fill various gaps in university funds, he said, noting that some Asian studies professors and historians of Asia had retired, and their positions were unlikely to be filled. “If the state of New York would fully fund study abroad,” there would be no need to partner with the Hanban, Dunnett said, though even then, the university would likely “do something like” the Confucius Institute.391

INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM

While UB discussed opening a Confucius Institute in the mid 2000s, some faculty members raised some concerns, said Kristin Stapleton, the founding director. But they were “vague and general – about getting influenced from abroad, as I recall.” But the fact that the director is a tenured faculty member, and that the board is weighted 5-4 to the university, helped calm fears that China might start pressing in on academic freedom.392

Dunnett, the board chairman, said UB would not tolerate undue interference from the Hanban and has set up the structure so that the Hanban has few levers to pull. The contracts state that the University at Buffalo enjoys full proprietorship of the Institute and that Buffalo professors oversee and direct all CI teachers. The teachers, too, are contractually guaranteed be “subject to UB academic regulations, policies, and procedures,” meaning that UB says it formally offers them academic freedom protections.393 “They’re subject to all our policies,” Dunnett said, “not just academic freedom policies, but also other academic protections.” He said the fact that teachers’ contracts and payments were from the Hanban did not subject them to improper academic constraints. “The fact that they’re paid from the outside – many, like the National Institutes of Health funding for the research hospital are like that.”394

As discussed above, these policies sparked some surprise within the Hanban, which did eventually sign off on Buffalo’s proposed control of the CI hires.

Dunnett said he had once sat in on a class in which a student raised a question about Tiananmen Square. “The Hanban teacher who answered it was pretty objective,” he said, noting that if that question had come up in China, some would “fire back with how we treat Native Americans, women, minorities.” Dunnett said he was not sure whether the Hanban trained teachers to answer sensitive questions with stock answers, but said it was common for governments to prepare teachers to handle difficult questions while traveling abroad: “When I was in the Peace Corps, we also put out a guide for how to deal with [questions about social inequality.”

“When I look at Hanban, I don’t know what lies behind it, so I can only judge what they do, and that is admirable, Dunnett said. “They have never done anything out of line, unethical, out of character with the higher education. Maybe they hold their noses and wish they could do something else with us, but I can only speak to what they do. They respect us when we’re there. They don’t brainwash us. They might have a point of view, just as we do, but no one comes out saying so.”395

TARNISHING THE REPUTATION

The University at Buffalo’s contract with the Hanban does hold that the Hanban can terminate the agreement if “an act of one party to the Agreement severely harms the image and reputation of the Confucius Institute.”396

LAW

UB has agreed that the Confucius Institute must “not contravene the relevant laws and regulations of the United States and China,” having added the qualifier “relevant” to the template text on the Hanban’s website. Dunnett said he was not sure what counted as a “relevant” law or regulation but thought the policy was meant to make it clear that “once [Confucius Institute teachers are] here, it’s US law that governs. I’m sure China would agree.” Although “Chinese law might not allow for some things that they can do here, that law doesn’t apply extra-nationally.”

Dunnett noted that China does retain the authority to call its citizens back to China, as it tried to do when a McMaster University CI teacher went public about her participation in Falun Gong. “China wanted to force her back because she’s a criminal there” under Chinese law banning Falun Gong, Dunnett acknowledged. “The Chinese have the right to recall their citizens, just as I have the right to recall an American employee. But they can’t expect us to enforce their laws, just as they don’t enforce ours.” Dunnett said the Hanban had never attempted to recall a CI teacher from Buffalo. “They work with very good behavior and their comportment is above reproach,” Dunnett said in praise of the teachers.397

UB’s contract also specifies that “All Institute activities involving UB courses, curricula, and faculty and staff will be subject to the relevant UB administrative and academic policies, procedures, and approvals.”398

The contract also holds that in disputes over intellectual property, both parties should “submit to the judgment of the legal body with jurisdiction according to the relevant laws and regulations.”399

OTHER GIFTS

The Confucius Institute has led to or assisted the university in obtaining additional funds and benefits for its Asian studies program. These have been essential, Dunnett says, in offsetting the reduction in state funding, down 30 percent over the past eight years, and he says the benefits aren’t tied only to Buffalo. “It’s enriched our Asian studies and Chinese language and culture programs in a way we couldn’t do otherwise. I would say it’s true elsewhere. The Chinese deserve some credit for that.”400

Through the CI, professors have obtained funding to hold academic conferences. This is provided for in the university’s Renewal Cooperation Agreement, which authorizes the CI to support “lectures, discussion sessions, research seminars, and international academic conferences on-campus and off-campus to advance understanding of China and promote U.S.-China exchange.”401 The agreement authorizes a broader list of topics than many CIs: “Chinese language, culture, history, politics, international relations, economics, business society, philosophy, and other topics that are of substantial significance and popular interest.”402 Capital Normal University also agreed to “publicize and support” Buffalo student and faculty applicants for fellowships and scholarships to study abroad in China, especially those applying through the “Confucius New China Study Plan.” In addition, Capital Normal agreed to organize visits, seminars, and business exchanges between the US and China.403

Kristin Stapleton organized one such conference in April 2016 at SUNY Geneseo, on China from 1915-1945, funded by both the SUNY Arts and Humanities Network of Excellence404 and the UB Confucius Institute.405 Stapleton said the additional funding helped bring non-SUNY scholars to the conference.

The CI sponsored a 2012 conference, “Beyond New Confucianism: Confucian Thought for Twenty- First Century China.”406

The CI is also authorized to fund competitions on the Chinese language and other “China-related topics.”407

A third area of increased cooperation is in promoting study abroad. Dunnett says the university has tripled the number of students studying abroad in China thanks to the Confucius Institute. “We didn’t have enough funds of our own,” he said. The Hanban also provides funds for ten students from the MA program in teaching Chinese to spend a summer in China.408

This increase in study abroad is in keeping with Buffalo’s agreement with Capital Normal University, in which Capital Normal said it would recruit Buffalo students to study abroad there. Presumably Buffalo faculty encourage students interested in studying in China to select Capital Normal University.409

OPENNESS

The University at Buffalo displayed a grudging willingness to work with us. Board chairman Stephen Dunnett, vice provost for international education, did agree to spend an hour and a half with Rachelle Peterson. Dunnett said that the university president, Satish Tripathi, also expressed interest in meeting with NAS but was scheduled to make an appearance at another event in Buffalo. We give UB a score of 4 out of 9.

Availability of university agreements with the Hanban: 1 point

The university does not make these agreements publicly available, and our initial requests for information went unanswered. The university did release these agreements after we filed a Freedom of Information request.

UB’s agreement with the Hanban, signed at the renewal of the CI in 2014, omits explicit pledges to keep the document confidential—a policy that the Hanban initially insisted on. Emails preceding the renewal signing ceremony indicate that UB refused to sign a nondisclosure pledge in order to assuage worries about “secret agreements” and to comply with state Freedom of Information laws. This sparked some controversy within the Hanban, delaying the finalization of the agreement until immediately before the renewal ceremony.

After the Hanban initially balked at UB’s proposed language, which contradicted its own template agreement calling for both parties to sign nondisclosure agreements, Dunnett explained that

Both New York State and US Federal law on transparency and freedom of information do not permit us to accept this article [from the Hanban’s template agreement] … As you know there has been allegations (sic) that some North American universities have signed so called “secret” agreements with the Hanban around their Confucius Institutes. I personally don’t believe this, but I do know that UB cannot agree to a confidential agreement that cannot be disclosed to the public. I hope you can help the Hanban to understand this issue.410

Han Mei, the Capital Normal University dean, responded that she learned from a Hanban official that “the renewal agreements would be examined by their lawyer, and she is not sure whether it can be approved without this Article 14 [requiring nondisclosure], although she will try to have the agreement approved ASAP.”411 Two days later Han told Dunnett she was “very glad that Hanban did not insist on our keeping the last clause [on nondisclosure] in their agreement templet (sic).”412 But two weeks later, the Hanban had reinserted the nondisclosure clause, prompting CI director Jiyuan Yu to write to Han that the new draft “raises some serious problems, and the confidentiality clause was added back.”413

In another email, Yu explained to the Hanban official Mengmeng the importance of authorizing UB to share the agreement in response to Freedom of Information requests:

UB cannot renew the CI if this Article has to be included, for at least the following two major reasons: (1) This is a clear violation of the US “Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA) and similar regulations at the State and SUNY levels. (2) This “confidentiality clause” has precisely been one of the central controversial points in the debate on CI in the US. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) June 2014 Statement claims that “Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses…” It claims that these clauses make universities compromise on issues of academic freedom and transparency and uses it as one main reason to demand US universities to cut ties with CI. Correspondingly, many defenders of the CI have been contending by dismissing this “confidentiality clause.”414

UB’s current contract, signed in 2014 and in effect for five years, says nothing about disclosure requirements, neither pledging to keep the agreement secret nor formally stating its intent to comply with state transparency laws. We note that UB did release these documents to us in response to Freedom of Information requests, though it delayed doing so until several months after our initial request.

Willingness of the Confucius Institute director to be interviewed: ½ point

Director Jiyuan Yu was unable to meet with us, in part due to his cancer treatments. Professor Yu passed away a month and a half after Rachelle Peterson visited UB and a new director has not yet been announced. Because Professor Yu faced unusually difficult circumstances, we cannot evaluate how willing he would have otherwise been to cooperate with our research.

UB associate director Bruce Acker did agree to spend a few minutes answering questions when Rachelle Peterson arrived at the Confucius Institute.

Willingness of the board chairman to be interviewed: 1 point

Stephen Dunnett, chairman of the University at Buffalo CI board, spent more time with us than any other person we interviewed anywhere, and agreed to answer a number of questions.

Willingness of board members to be interviewed: ½ point

George Lee, an emeritus professor of engineering and a board member of the CI, spent about 30 minutes with Rachelle Peterson.

Willingness to let visitors sit in on a class: 1 point

Stephen Dunnett called the Confucius Institute on Rachelle Peterson’s behalf to inquire about visiting a class. The advertised course was cancelled, though, due to low enrollment.

ALFRED UNIVERSITY

We had access to very little information on Alfred University, a private university. It refused to release copies of its agreements with the Hanban and its partner university since 2008, China University of Geosciences in Wuhan. The Alfred University president and provost also ignored our requests for information, as did members of the Confucius Institute. When we reached a CI teacher and received her permission to visit her course, provost Rick Stephens interrupted the class to call out Rachelle and ban her from visiting campus.

CLASSES

Alfred University has a three-course series of Chinese 101, 102, and 201, all offered to students for credit and at the regular course fee.

OPENNESS

Alfred University offered the least transparency, not only declining to respond to questions but actively preventing external review of its Confucius Institute. We give Alfred University 0 points on transparency.

Availability of university agreements with the Hanban: 0 points

The university does not make these agreements publicly available, and no CI staff member of university administrator answered our requests for information.

Willingness of the Confucius Institute director to be interviewed: 0 points

Wilfred Huang, director of the CI, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. We reached one teacher, Lanfang “Haley” Gao by phone, who welcomed Rachelle Peterson to sit in on her class.

Willingness to let visitors sit in on a class: 0 points

Chinese teacher Lanfang “Haley” Gao told Rachelle Peterson by phone that all CI classes were open for visitors to sit in on one sample class, and welcomed Rachelle to visit the CI and her Wednesday night Chinese 101 class. At the beginning of class Rachelle introduced herself to Professor Gao, who proceeded to lead her students in a lively reading of classical Chinese poetry.

Midway through class, Alfred University provost Rick Stephens, clad in a hooded sweatshirt and basketball shorts, interrupted class to call Rachelle outside. He said he’d received worried phone calls he’d received from the Confucius Institute director, who had learned Rachelle was on campus. Stephens ordered her to leave “right now,” no matter what Professor Gao had said. Provost Stephens and a Confucius Institute teacher escorted Rachelle, one on each side, directly to her car a few blocks away and stayed to watch her unlock it. In parting, Provost Stephens banned Rachelle from returning to campus and instructed that she should email him alone with future questions. He would decide “if it was worth the time” to answer.

PACE UNIVERSITY

The Confucius Institute at Pace University opened in 2009, at the impetus of Pace University president Stephan Friedman.415 Friedman had learned about Confucius Institutes at an international conference and came back urging the dean and vice president of international exchanges to pursue opening one at Pace.

The opening of CI was in keeping with Pace’s efforts to “internationalize the curriculum,” according to CI director Joseph Tse-Hei Lee, also a professor of history and co-director of the Global Asia Studies program at Pace. After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, just a few blocks from Pace’s campus, the university “realized students needed to learn more about global cultures,” Lee explained. The university opened several new programs, including a major in Global Asia, which Lee directs.

Pace partners with both Nanjing Normal University and Phoenix Publishing and Media Group, making it the first Confucius Institute with two partner organizations. Nanjing Normal University sends teachers and a Chinese director and receives visiting students and professors. Phoenix Publishing helped the Pace CI release a new Chinese language textbook, available first as an app.

Lee and the CI’s Chinese director Wenqin Wang oversee two Pace U niversity staff members, five teachers, and one graduate assistant. The board consists of seven members: three from China (two from Nanjing Normal University and one from Phoenix Publishing and Media Group) and four from Pace University. According to an unsigned draft contract between Pace and Nanjing Normal University, the position of the board chairman rotates every two years between Pace and Nanjing Normal University, with Wang Jian, vice president of Nanjing Normal University, serving as initial chairman.416

CLASSES

The Confucius Institute offers non-credit courses to students and community members. These courses are available at a “low, symbolic” fee meant to cover the textbooks, Lee said.417

Lee said the “agenda is set by Pace University professors,” not the Hanban, a policy echoed in an unsigned draft of Pace’s agreement with Nanjing Normal University. (Pace did not release signed official copies of its agreement, and as a private university is not subject to Freedom of Information requests for public information.) In the draft contract, Pace specified that

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Agreement or in the Headquarters/Pace/PPMG [Phoenix Publishing and Media Group] Agreement, all parties acknowledge and agree that all decisions on teaching and research are subject to Pace University’s sole and exclusive right to determine and control teaching and research conducted on its campuses.418

Elsewhere the contract reiterates that

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in this Agreement, curriculum approval and content of courses offered for Pace University credit rests solely and exclusively with Pace University.419

The CI is required to submit annual plans to the Hanban, and implement them “as approved by the Confucius Institute Headquarters of China under Article 4 of the Headquarters/Pace/PPMG agreement.”420 We did not have access to this document and cannot assess in what ways the Hanban is involved in vetting the CI’s annual plans.

CI teachers also run language labs for students in Pace’s regular credit-bearing Chinese 101 and

102 courses. With the creation of the CI-run lab, Pace has made its Chinese courses count for four credits, up from three, according to Lee. Lee said CI teachers observe a “strict division of labor,” in which only Pace professors offer credit-bearing courses. The CI has no plans to add its own creditbearing courses, he said, because the CI “can’t” under its founding agreement, which respected “university curriculum rules” against outside instructors teaching Pace University courses.421

The CI also offers a testing center at which students from New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey can take the HSK Chinese proficiency test. Lee said Pace tests about 150 people each session and operates one of the busiest testing centers in the area.

The CI courses operate much differently from similar courses in China, according to Wenqin Wang, the Institute’s Chinese director. She noted that in the US, “Students tend to ask questions, whether it is relevant or not,” while in China “the speaker will talk for 90 percent of the lecture.” She said she advises CI teachers to adjust to the different classroom expectations and remember that “any questions are appreciated here.”

Wang said the Hanban also operates training camps for Chinese teachers and directors, primarily to ensure they are “skilled in Chinese culture, paper cutting, tai chi, because when you’re here, you represent China.” She said there were also seminars on teaching Chinese to foreign students and on Chinese calligraphy and painting. Her training camp lasted for three weeks, and had about 160 participants.422

TEXTBOOKS

The Confucius Institute receives “a lot” of textbooks from China, Lee said, but uses only a few, primarily for beginners, because “the quality is varied.” Instead, the Pace CI created its own textbook with Phoenix Publishing. Written by a CI teacher in consultation with Lee and the CI Chinese director Wang, the textbook is available as an app for use in CI courses. Lee said all Pace University credit-bearing courses use textbooks selected by faculty members and were typically published by Princeton or Columbia university presses.

Lee said he informed the Hanban when the CI decided to develop its own textbook, and when the app was complete he invited Hanban officials to try it and consider promoting it to other Institutes. No one took interest, he said. “The Chinese Ministry of Education functions like a superstructure,” Lee explained. Many people “think it’s spread far, they are everywhere, even in different parts of the world. Horizontally it looks very impressive.” But “on the ground,” there aren’t enough resources or people to pay attention to each CI.423

HIRING POLICIES

The director is selected by Pace University and confirmed by the board of directors. According to Pace’s draft contract, the director enjoys “full responsibility of operation and management, financial management, interview, assessment and hiring of staff members,” subject to the review and approval of the board.424

All new CI directors are to attend a special training program in China, typically held in the summer, Lee recounted. He said travel and attendance costs are built into every CI budget, and the Hanban strongly encourages each director to attend. Lee said he was loath to give up his summer break and to travel to China during its hottest months, so he skipped the conference.

The Hanban “would like you to go,” he said, but did not compel him to attend.

The Hanban hosts another annual conference in December for all CI directors, regardless of their tenure as director. Lee attended once—again, the costs are built into the CI budget—but decided against attending future conference. He said the set-up was typical of “big conferences: you go from panel to panel and run all the time. There is a lack of serious conversation.”425

The Chinese director, “appointed by Nanjing Normal University,” is responsible for assisting thedirector with “enrolling students, administrative work, equipment maintenance, logistic support, etc.,” according to the draft agreement.426 Lee described Wang, the CI director, as Pace University’s “liaison” to the Hanban, handling reports, email correspondence from Hanban officials, and training for Chinese teachers.

Wang, a professor of English at Nanjing Normal University, where she focused on linguistics and cross-cultural communication, said she applied for the position with the Hanban. All candidates were required to hold the position of professor of associate professor, demonstrate capability for administration and cross-cultural communication, and pass an English language test. The system is that “Pace tells Hanban, which tells Nanjing Normal University, to find someone. Hanban selects me, but they have requirements and a test. Then Pace says yes,” according to Wang.

She was drawn to the challenge of living “totally cross-cultural,” and excited to live among native English speakers after having learned English pronunciation from a textbook, she said. Previously she had spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Arizona, and a second year at the University of Alberta, and welcomed the opportunity to move to New York City for two years. Her husband meanwhile remains in China.

Wang said that like Lee, she was invited to a training camp in China, though hers appears to be mandatory. The training lasted for three weeks. Wang estimated 160 new Chinese directors attended the training with her.

Teachers at Pace University are proposed by Nanjing Normal University to the Hanban, which passes on candidates to Pace. Lee said the Hanban maintains a “database” of qualified teachers, from which it proposes two or three candidates for every opening. He said he reviews candidates’ resumes, research records, and sample papers, and asks interview questions in both English and Chinese. He has always had success in finding a good candidate among those proposed by the Hanban.

Chinese teachers stay at Pace University for two years. On occasion, Lee will request a one-year extension, as he did for the teacher working on the new textbook app. Upon finishing their terms at the CI, the teachers tend to return to their previous positions in China, Lee said.

FUNDING

The Hanban contributes approximately $100,000 to the CI each year, Lee said, enough to cover the salaries for CI teachers and the Chinese director, and some extra lectures and public events. Lee estimated that Pace contributed “equally” by providing office space, classrooms, occasional access to a theatre, electricity, water, and some portion of the salaries for Pace staff members. (In Pace’s draft contract, it committed to provide “space, support (water electricity, telecommunication, cleaning, equipment maintenance, and security).”427) The Hanban is “smart and careful about finances,” Lee said, and looks closely at projected budgets and proposals to “make sure you have a final product” that is worthwhile.428

Pace prepares annual reports on its budget and programs for review and approval by the CI board and by the Hanban. It also sends proposed budgets and projected programs for the upcoming year to both the board and the Hanban.429

INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM

Lee is aware of China’s ability to use Confucius Institutes to signal national power and cultivate its image among youth. “The CI is a symbol for China to project itself to a global war,” he said candidly, “China can’t use Mao as the new symbol. The only symbol available is the traditional culture of China.” He observed that whereas Japan and Korea have popular music and other media that appeal to an international audience, China is “at a real disadvantage to compete with neighbors in culture.” That makes Confucius Institutes, he acknowledged, “part of China’s long-term people-to-people cultural diplomacy,” in which China “engages future generations of Western elites to explore Chinese culture firsthand.”

Whatever China’s goals in launching Confucius Institutes, Lee says they can still provide a valuable education for students, giving an “advantage” to Americans who learn to speak Chinese and making “a positive contribution in terms of humanistic endeavors” for those who want to become well-rounded academically. Further, Lee thinks CIs can be run in a way that does not compromise the institutional autonomy of the university or the academic freedom of professors and CI teachers.

The CI had sparked no concerns among faculty members, Lee said, because “Pace still sees the cultural benefits of having a CI.” He also cited the “diversity” among Confucius Institutes across the country, which he attributes to the flexibility in the CI model that adapts to “the internal structure of the home institution” hosting it.

The Hanban takes a hands-off approach, according to Lee, in part because of its thin “superstructure” that gives the appearance of “being everywhere” though it lacks the staff to monitor CIs closely. “The American side still has lots of control,” according to Lee.

It’s within an American university. The Chinese director defers to the American side. In any agreement, Pace has absolute authority to continue or discontinue the relationship.430

Lee said that he and his staff were “not afraid to engage in controversial subjects,” citing his own research on the church-state relationship in China, and recent CI lectures about Christianity in China, Chinese-Japanese relations, Muslim minorities in China, and Tibet. “The individual CI directors have lots of autonomy to decide and dictate their own agenda,” Lee said.431

Wenqin Wang, the Chinese director, echoed Lee on the university’s independence from the Hanban, saying that “events are not run by Hanban first.” She said she had never heard instructions from the Hanban to avoid certain topics, but added that “we try not to say anything that interconnects with politics. Hanban didn’t tell us this, but I know.” She said a student had never asked her about an issue censored in China, such as Tiananmen Square, but if such a question came up, “I would tell them what I know.” She said if Taiwan came up, she should respond that “Historically and even now it is part of China,” but said “I don’t know” how to answer questions about Falun Gong.432

TARNISHING THE REPUTATION

Pace’s draft agreement, like many, holds that the CI may be closed “If the act of a Party severely harms the image and reputation of the Confucius Institute.”433

LAW

Lee said there are no topics the CI is barred from discussion, and that he considers speech restrictions in China “completely ludicrous” and “stupid.” Though Chinese bureaucrats “have yet to learn to respect the diversity of legal structures in other countries,” he had not felt the Hanban imposing Chinese law or sensitivities on the CI. He said US law alone applied within the Confucius Institute at Pace.

In the case of legal disputes, Pace’s draft agreement holds that the parties should “consult each other amicably” or else resort to litigation in “a court of appropriate jurisdiction.” This jurisdiction is not specified in the draft document we reviewed.434

OTHER GIFTS

Because of its partnership with Nanjing Normal University, Pace is able to send one or two students to study there each year. The CI uses scholarships from the Chinese Ministry of Education as well as a Confucius Institute Scholarship, Lee said. The students pay for anything not covered by the scholarships.

Lee said the primary benefit he sees in the CI is that it “expands conversations about China” on campus, and allows the university to “bring the Chinese to the US.” That enables Pace to “bring China to the whole debate about what it means to be an educated person.”

OPENNESS

Pace University CI directors Joseph Tse-Hei Lee displayed a willingness to work with NAS, and invited us to attend CI events. He also arranged for us to interview the Chinese director, Wenqin Wang, and provided an unsigned draft copy of the university’s agreement with Nanjing Normal University.

Availability of university agreements with the Hanban: ½ point

The university does not make these agreements publicly available, but CI director Joseph Tse-Hei lee shared with us an unsigned draft copy.

Willingness of the Confucius Institute director to be interviewed: 1 point

Lee was among the most open of all CI directors we spoke to. He spent more than an hour with Rachelle Peterson, introduced her to the Chinese director (and helped arrange an interview with her), and invited Rachelle to attend CI lectures and events.

Willingness to let visitors sit in on a class: 1 point

Lee permitted and welcomed Rachelle to attend CI lectures and events.

Stony Brook University

The Confucius Institute at Stony Brook University operates in partnership with Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in China. The CI opened in 2009 with a ceremony featuring Liu Yandong, State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China.435 Liu, now vice premier of China, is a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of China.

The founding director of the CI, William Arens, also served as professor of anthropology and dean of International Academic Programs at Stony Brook University. The Confucius Institute is currently directed by E.K. Tan, an associate professor of cultural studies and comparative literature. The Chinese director, Shijiao Fang, is a professor of environmental economics at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law.

The Institute originally used office space in the university library, but now enjoys a home in the Charles B. Wang Center, a large office suite, museum, and block of classrooms dedicated to Asian studies.

In his “director’s message” on the Stony Brook CI website, Tan described the Institute as having a “strong relationship with the Consulate General of the PRC in New York,” enabling it to be “a platform for Chinese cultural diplomacy” for the university and surrounding area.436

Tan told us the university particularly valued the CI’s contribution to cultural diversity: “The Confucius Institute gathers the Chinese diaspora.” He said the administration had launched more than 40 campus centers devoted to various types of diversity, many focused on different cultures. The Confucius Institute was “central” to the university’s “celebration” of diversity, he said, “so losing any center would be a loss.”437

Another purpose of the CI, according to Fang, is to introduce Americans to authentic Chinese culture. “We feel we know about American culture more than Americans know about Chinese culture,” Fang said, citing the popularity of American movies, music, and books in China, and noting that in China, her kindergarten-aged daughter is learning English in school. “Some foreign people –the questions—they ask if Chinese people still have the pigtails. China has changed and they don’t know. We want to communicate with the US a lot.”438 Tan added that at one event, someone asked if all Chinese people use chopsticks. “That was eye-opening for me,” he said. “Understanding the culture is better than exoticizing it. If Americans learn the language, they can better understand than to ask about pigtails and chopsticks.”439

Soft power is a topic Tan spends much time thinking about. He is aware that China benefits from students taking an interest in its culture. “American soft power is everywhere, by Dr. Fang’s example” of widespread familiarity with American culture in China. “My position is always about questioning power” and criticizing cultural imperialism, no matter where it comes from, Tan said. “We don’t speak for a country [at the Confucius Institute] but we do use the resources to make it work for us.”440

CLASSES

The Confucius Institute offers non-credit courses for Stony Brook University students, staff, faculty members, and members of the local community. On average, the university offers five courses per semester, according to Tan, each one capped at about 20 students. Tan says most classes reach or come close to capacity each semester.

Classes attract about half their students from within the university, and about half from outside, according to Tan. Community members who register for CI courses have a variety of interests, Fang says:

Some have a Chinese girlfriend and want to communicate with her. Some have a son in China going to marry a Chinese girl. Some – we had a student almost 80 years old, he heard that Chinese language is very complicated, and wanted to challenge himself and avoid dementia.441

Fang thinks the fact that the courses do not count for college credit makes them more appealing to potential students, some of whom appreciate the low risk and pressure associated with non-credited courses. The Institute has no plans to offer credit-bearing courses, primarily because of university regulations on who can teach such classes. Tan said it is the CI’s mission to “work with the expectations of the university,” which already has sufficient for-credit courses on China, and requires teachers “be certified” according to New York state guidelines. “We keep our classes strictly noncredit to not interfere with the Chinese classes” at the university, Tan said.442

All courses are on the Chinese language, though the CI offers occasional seminars and standalone lectures on other topics related to China. Though Stony Brook’s partner institution is Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, and though CI Chinese director Fang is a professor of environmental economics there, the CI has no plans to offer lectures or courses on either the Chinese economy or law. “My biggest concern is how many will sign up,” tan said, noting that the Asian studies department already “has that.” The Asian studies department also already has courses on Chinese language.

Tan emphasized that the Confucius Institute is a center within Stony Brook University, granting the university full review and authority over all CI activities and courses. The university’s agreement with the Hanban gives the board of directors the responsibility for “decision-making on the significant issues including teaching, research and management.”443 The board comprises five professors from Stony Brook University (including Tan) and only one from Zhongnan, Chinese director Fang.

The agreement does require the CI to “accept the assessment of the Headquarters on the teaching quality.” In the copy of this agreement released to us in response to our Freedom of Information request, someone had written in the margin next to this article the word “meaning*.”444 How Stony Brook University and the Hanban agreed to interpret this clause, we do not know.

Tan attributes the Confucius Institute’s success to the Hanban’s flexibility in bowing to Stony Brook University’s preferences, and Stony Brook’s interest in promoting cultural diversity, which is the main point of the university.” He said approximately 30 percent of the student body is Asian predominantly Chinese and Korean, giving the Confucius Institute a large audience to serve. “We are able to do well because we fid with what the university wants,” Tan said.

TEXTBOOKS

The Hanban agreed to send to Stony Brook University “3,000 volumes of Chinese books, teaching materials, and audio-visual materials” at the opening of the CI, and to continue to “provide teaching materials, coursewares, and other books” as “necessary.”445

HIRING POLCIES

The director of the Confucius Institute (in some documents called the “dean” of the CI) is required to be a Stony Brook professor who evinces “administrative abilities, who is devoted to the Sino-Amerca cultural exchange and the establishment of the Confucius Institute,” according to Stony Brook’s agreement with Zhongnan University.446 The board of directors is responsible for selecting— and firing—the director of the Institute.447

Tan was hired to replace founding director William Arens, who retired in 2014. Fang, who has served as Chinese director under both Arens and Tan, said the CI board of directors formed a search committee headed by the interim dean of the international academic program. The search committee invited several Stony Brook professors to apply, including Tan, and reviewed applications and held interviews before selecting Arens’ replacement.

The Chinese director, a professor from Zhongnan University, must be “qualified in English, Chinese Culture,” and have “management and program coordination abilities.”448 Fang said when an opening arose at the Stony Brook CI, Zhongnan announced the position and invited professors to send a CV, interview for the position, and take a written test in English. She estimated that ten of her fellow Zhongnan professors applied for the position, making the job of “medium” competitiveness. The primary difficulty in attracting candidates, she said, was the hassle of moving overseas away from family, the requirement to speak English well (“we don’t have many chance to speak it” at Zhongnan, she said), and a rule that all professors must remain at Zhongnan for ten years before they are eligible for terms abroad. Fang had just received a promotion to full professor before she applied for the CI position, but others “need to focus on that” before spending time abroad, she said.449

Chinese teachers are “decided by my university,” Fang said of Zhongnan’s role in selecting instructors. She said applicants must be either associate professors or full professors, have administrative experience, demonstrate an interest in cross-cultural communication, and should have a background in Chinese linguistics or teaching Chinese as a foreign language. Stony Brook’s agreement with the Hanban adds that the Hanban is obliged to “send numbers of Chinese instructors,” presumably through Zhongnan University.450

The Confucius Institute will never hire Stony Brook professors to teach classes at the CI, according to Tan, because of university policy against externally funded courses. The Confucius Institute “cannot pay an employee on campus,” Tan explained, noting that he does not receive compensation from the Hanban for his work as CI director. “The university professor cannot be paid by a sponsor outside.”451

FUNDING

The Hanban agreed to provide $140,000 for the launch of the Confucius Institute in 2009.452 Since then, it has provided funding to pay for Chinese teachers’ salaries and airfare to and from China, as well as general operating funds.453 Fang, the Chinese director, said she is paid by Zhongnan University, which receives funding from the Chinese Ministry of Education via the Hanban.

Stony Brook University agreed to open a separate bank account for the Confucius Institute “in the local Bank of China or other bank approved by the Headquarters.”454

Stony Brook University is to provide “not less than one half” of the funding of the Institute, which as an independent nonprofit is responsible for setting course fees and assuming all profits and losses.455 Stony Brook is required to provide office space, classrooms, and administrative personnel,456 as well as transportation for Zhongnan teachers and the Chinese director between the university and New York airports. Stony Brook also identifies potential housing for them.457

INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM

Tan said he had heard of controversies surrounding Confucius Institutes, and that gave him some pause when the CI board invited him to apply to be director. “I had concerns even before I took over as director. I didn’t know enough about the Confucius Institutes other than the controversy.” Tan’s research focuses on the Chinese Diaspora and aspects of Asian culture that are “not always under the big umbrella of China as a nation,” and he felt it was important that he be able to speak about multicultural aspects of China.

Tan said he was ultimately convinced that the Confucius Institute served valuable purposes and permitted hin the freedom to pursue his own research interests, although they might differ from the Hanban’s. “I asked what it means to have the institute on campus. We have Italian studies, Indian studies, Korean studies, now Greek studies, and a lot more, some funded by governments from abroad. Why so much attention on Confucius Institutes?” He said a conversation with a former student convinced him that although the Hanban is “part and parcel of the imperialistic agenda of strong nations,” it wasn’t much different from American programs of “cultural promotion and brainwashing” in other countries. His former student, now a professor at New York University’s Shanghai campus, noted that the Confucius Institute was “similar to satellite universities in other countries. What’s the difference?” Whatever China’s interests in funding Confucius Institutes around the world, Tan said it “comes back to how it’s run” in determining whether intellectual freedom gets short shrift. “Since 2008, there’s been no controversy because we know we represent Stony Brook University and support diversity.”458

Tan said the CI at Stony Brook University is under the full control of Stony Brook, not the Hanban. “We are the Confucius Institute that belongs to Stony Brook University,” Tan said. “We belong to the Office of Global Affairs.” He said he and Fang “share responsibility” over the Chinese teachers, but “anything whatsoever the teacher does has to abide by [Stony Brook’s] rules.” The teacher is “accountable to China,” but “when she designs courses, it goes through us.”459

Tan and Fang agreed that if a student raised a question about Tiananmen Square—a theoretical scenario, Tan emphasized, since he had never heard of a student raising such a question in a CI class at Stony Brook—the teacher would redirect the conversation, not because of taboos on the topic, but because it had little to do with language instruction. “We’re not allowed to have any cultural classes, just language,” Fang said, so students “don’t have a chance to ask about that.”460

Tan said that when teachers previously tried to discuss Chinese culture, students complained that they received less class-time instruction on speaking Chinese. “That’s where Dr. Fang’s comment is coming from,” Tan interjected. “There’s no censorship, but it’s the responsibility of the teacher to say we need to go on with classes.” Fang added that teachers “don’t have time” to add superfluous discussions about Tiananmen Square, a topic so complicated that they “could only explain something like this in English,” a when the class is supposed to be conducted in China.

If a teacher decided to raise political issues in class, Tan said “I would support the teacher,” but remind her that class “shouldn’t be made into a political event,” one way or the other. He compared the Tiananmen Square massacre to the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub in June 2016, just a few weeks before our conversation, an event that he emphasized required sensitivity and empathy with the victims, rather than a willingness to use the event as a pretext for political battles. “To make it into a political statement where it’s only one issue against the other, I don’t think we should make it a political agenda for a certain group.”461

Both Tan and Fang said they had never encountered questions or concerns about the Confucius Institute’s treatment of Falun Gong members, though Tan commented that “if they’re radical extremists, I don’t think any university would encourage that.”

Fang said the Hanban’s training for new CI teachers and Chinese directors emphasized the importance of following the guidelines of the host institution. “We were told different countries have different rules and regulations – and we should follow them.” Tan said “it’s important to remember the people doing the training are also US-trained students” who returned to China to take positions in the Hanban, bringing with them, he intimated, an understanding and respect for American values cultivated by living in the United States.

TARNISHING THE REPUTATION

Stony Brook University’s contract with the Hanban includes a line allowing the Hanban to terminate the agreement “if the act of one party of the Agreement severely harms the image and reputation of the Confucius Institute.”462

LAW

Stony Brook’s contract with the Hanban requires that

“The Institute activities must be in accordance with the Constitution and By-laws, and also respect cultural custom, shall not contravene concerning the laws and regulations, both in the United States and China.463

It also holds that in disputes over intellectual property, and in all other disputes, the two parties must submit to the “jurisdictional organ” that is relevant to the case.464 In its arrangement with Zhongnan University, Stony Brook agreed that in disagreements with its partner university, parties should attempt “consultation.” If that does not work, then the “dispute shall be submitted for resolution to the appropriate forum.”465

OTHER GIFTS

Tan said the Confucius Institute is considering exchanging scholars in the fields of journalism, arts, and sciences with Zhongnan University. Stony Brook’s agreement with Zhongnan lays the groundwork for these additional programs. In that agreement, Zhongnan agreed to “receive the students [sic] study group from the Confucius Institute” and “assign instructors to help visiting scholars with their study and practice.” The agreement specified that “Incidental expenses incurred by visiting scholars shall be covered by the Confucius Institute.”466

In his “Director’s Message” on the Stony Brook CI website, Tan also pledged that the Confucius Institute would “implement new academic initiatives such as inter-college conferences, junior scholars’ symposiums/workshops, and doctoral students’ lecture series, etc., on a regular basis.”467

OPENNESS

Availability of university agreements with the Hanban: 1 point

Tan said he could not share these agreements with us, because “Unfortunately, those are university confidential documents. We do not have to right to show them with you.”468 The university eventually released them to us in response to a Freedom of Information request.

Willingness of the Confucius Institute director to be interviewed: 1 point

Tan and Fang spent about an hour and a half answering questions, and Tan answered several follow-up questions by email.

Willingness of board members and board chairman to be interviewed: 1 point

Tan and Fang, both members of the board, met with us.

Recommendations

We recommend that all universities close their Confucius Institutes. If China wishes to teach American students its language and culture, it should open stand-alone institutes modeled after the British Council. A foreign government should not interfere with a university and free-ride off its credibility and reputation.

Colleges and universities can close their Confucius Institutes by choosing not to renew their contracts with the Hanban at contracts’ five-year expiration. They can also take steps to shutter Institutes sooner by alerting the Hanban that the university is no longer interested in hosting a CI.

If the college or university refuses to close its Confucius Institute, we recommend faculty members and administrators push for the following reforms.

  1. Provide transparency. Make available for easy download all memoranda of understanding, contracts, and other agreements between the university and the Hanban, or between the university and the Chinese partner institution. Annually disclose how much funding the university receives from the Hanban or the Chinese partner institution for the Confucius Institute, and disclose how much the host university contributes (separating in-kind contributions from real expenses). Disclose all trips, honors, and awards bestowed on university officials by agencies of the Chinese government.
  2. Ensure that all CI budgets are separate from university budgets, and that all Confucius Institute events are advertised as such. As much as possible, Confucius Institutes should be distinguished from their host institutions. Confucius Institute events should not be listed on university calendars, promoted on the university website, or used as assignments or count toward extra credit for students. The Hanban considers Confucius Institutes standalone nonprofit organizations, yet houses them in universities and benefits from the status and prestige of the university. Reduce this free-riding.
  3. Ensure that Chinese language classes are taught by professors or instructors selected and paid by the university. Cease outsourcing for-credit courses to the Hanban.
  4. Formally ask the Hanban if its hiring process complies with American non-discrimination policies. Does the Hanban prioritize members of the Communist Party? Are members of Falun Gong still excluded? Is the selection based purely on merit? Ask the Hanban for a formal written answer.
  5. Renegotiate contracts to remove constraints against “tarnishing the reputation of the Hanban. Scholarship should be civil, but it should not be constrained by the fear of punishment for offending Chinese sensitivities.

The Dissolution of General Education

1914-1993

For the greater part of the twentieth century, America's leading colleges and universities were strongly committed to providing undergraduates with a broad and rigorous exposure to major areas of knowledge. During the last thirty years this commitment largely vanished, according to a detailed study of fifty prestigious institutions.

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