Beijing-backed Toronto School Program Under Fire

Caroline Alphonso and Karen Howlett at The Globe and Mail report that the Toronto District School Board’s newly-minted Confucius Institute is in jeopardy after a committee of trustees recommended suspending its partnership with the Chinese government:

The board’s planning and priorities committee passed a motion on Wednesday evening calling on all TDSB trustees and staff to investigate concerns about censorship by the Chinese government, which is quietly spreading its reach into Canadian classrooms through language and culture programs with virtually no oversight. The board will vote on the committee’s recommendation on June 18.

TDSB trustee and committee member Mari Rutka put the motion forward at Wednesday’s meeting. “There are compelling concerns we need to be able to address before we determine the future of this partnership,” she told The Globe and Mail.

The motion is a potential setback for TDSB chair Chris Bolton, the driving force behind the partnership with the Chinese government, and comes just weeks after he was host of a banquet to mark the official opening of the Confucius Institute of Toronto.

The motion is also an about-face for some trustees, who just last month rejected an earlier call to examine concerns raised by university faculty in Canada about the organization, which trains instructors to self-censor topics that are politically taboo in China. [Source]

At The South China Morning Post, Kerry Brown writes about the case for eliminating Confucius from China’s Confucius Institutes as China plans to have 500 Confucius institutes in the next year and as international partnerships are rapidly forming:

For all the controversy surrounding the opening of hundreds of Confucius Institutes across the world in the last decade, one crucial factor has been overlooked: Confucius himself.

The institutes, funded partially by the Chinese government through its Hanban organisation, have been accused of operating as propaganda outfits. They have been criticised for being part of a sinister global campaign by a cash-rich Communist Party to brainwash outsiders and win the Chinese government illicit influence abroad.

But there is a less dramatic interpretation: the proliferation shows Beijing understands the theory of soft power projection but not its implementation and real practice.

The issue here is simple. If you wanted, as a modern Chinese, to promote a deeper understanding and a more favourable attitude towards your country and its culture, why choose a figure as unattractive, remote and contentious as Confucius to represent you? Confucius is well known, for one thing. But then, Goethe is hardly a household word in America or the UK and yet the Germans have named their cultural outfits abroad after him. And the British Council and Alliance Francaise carry names of no one at all, while doing work which has been compared to that of the Confucius Institute.

The very Communist Party now lionising Confucius attacked and vilified him just four decades ago. Surely it would have been better to use someone with a less difficult recent history to represent the culture abroad. [Source]

At The Wall Street Journal, David Feith writes about the College Board’s controversial move to partner with Confucius Institutes:

The College Board website doesn’t mention that Confucius Institutes are Chinese government programs. Nor does it admit to any concerns that Hanban—the Chinese state agency that supervises, funds and provides staff to Confucius Institutes—may bully teachers or censor lessons within American classrooms.

Instead, College Board President David Coleman waxes poetic about the venture: “Hanban is just like the sun. It lights the path to develop Chinese teaching in the U.S.,” he said at a conference in Los Angeles on May 8. “The College Board is the moon. I am so honored to reflect the light that we’ve gotten from Hanban.” These remarks, so far reported only by Chinese state media, were confirmed by the College Board.

[…] In a mere 10 years Hanban has established nearly 1,100 Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in 120 countries, with more than 450 at U.S. grade schools and colleges. Chinese media boast that these programs today reach more than 220,000 American students, a reflection of the booming demand for Chinese-language training as China rises in economic and strategic importance. With U.S. education dollars so often wasted, it’s no surprise that administrators appreciate Beijing’s offer of money (often $150,000 per year), plus instructors and teaching materials.

In return, Beijing wants a PR boost. Confucius Institutes “are an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup,” said Politburo Standing Committee ideology czar Li Changchun in 2009. Hence the online materials (since deleted from the Hanban website) that blamed America for drawing China into the Korean War by bombing Chinese villages, or the account still there that identifies Taiwan as “China’s largest island.”[Source]

Harriet Alexander at Cambridge University reports that “calls are growing for an independent audit of university financing from abroad” after The Telegraph highlighted how an anonymous £3.7 million donation to Cambridge University came from a charity controlled by the daughter of China’s former prime minister”:

Foreign funding of universities should be regulated by the government, a leading academic has said, as concern mounts over China’s growing sponsorship of British educational bodies.

Professor Thomas Cushman, a social sciences professor at Wellesley College in the American city of Boston, spoke out a day after The Telegraph highlighted how an anonymous £3.7 million donation to Cambridge University came from a charity controlled by the daughter of China’s former prime minister, Wen Jiabao.

“I do think, as a taxpayer and as a citizen, that I am concerned if my money is spent on institutions that defer to Chinese whims and pressures,” he told The Telegraph.

He also said that it was not possible to leave the auditing of donations to the universities themselves.

“If you leave it [auditing donations] to the academics then it won’t happen,” he said. “I’m not surprised that they take the cash when it is offered. And a chancellor would be a fool to say no – in these times of austerity it’d probably cost him his job. [Source]

Read more about Confucius Institutes via CDT.