Bright B Simons: Confucianism at Large in Africa
A features writer for the Economist once insisted that the Mandarin character for Africa means “wrong continent”. This is perhaps because there is a perception that the teachers have frequently been wrong-headed about Africa, and have tended to get it wrong whenever they have moved out of their comfort zones in trading and infrastructure development.
Such a view is not entirely right, and China has in recent years taken great pains to show the world that it is a well-rounded emerging power with a complete strategy for engagement in places like Africa.
Its Confucius institutes are an interesting feature in this show of sophistication. The Hanban – the Chinese National Office for teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language – began spreading them from 2004 when it set up the first one in the South Korean capital of Seoul.
Top Chinese officials have made no effort to disguise the propaganda value they perceive in the spread of the institutes, but so far very little in the way of a coherent strategy has emerged as to how they can be integrated into the mainstream of Chinese foreign policy, which nowadays is driven, as everyone knows, by a mercantilist view of global politics and economics. Africa has not been spared this ambiguity.