Confucius Institute: The Hard Side of China’s Soft Power

Confucius Institute: The Hard Side of China’s Soft Power

The BBC’s John Sudworth reports on an interview with Hanban head Xu Lin. Hanban is the Ministry of Education-affiliated (but self described “non-government and non-profit organization“) body tasked with the international promotion of the Chinese language. One of Hanban’s major functions is to oversee China’s Confucius Institutes. While Sudworth’s interview and contextual report touches on many of the points that have contributed controversy to the soft power vessel in past years—the barring of Falun Gong practitioners from being CI instructors, the financial benefits overseas educational institutes receive for hosting a CI, or the call from the American Association of University Professors for U.S. universities to terminate CI contracts, for example—he also questioned Xu Lin on the scandal that unfolded during her trip to the European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS) conference in Portugal last summer. Sudworth then describes Xu’s reaction to that line of questioning:

[…] Ms Xu objects strongly to my having raised the issue of the Portugal conference, as it was not, she points out, on the list of topics submitted in advance.

After we had finished the recording, along with her deputy and her press officers, she kept us for well over an hour, insisting that she had been misled into agreeing to the interview and demanding that we erase, there and then, the section about Portugal.

It is common practice for media organisations to be asked to provide a list of questions when seeking interviews in China.

But the BBC makes clear, as we did in this case, that while we are happy to give an outline of the general topics to be discussed, we do not give specific questions in advance.

The version of events given by Ms Xu in our interview differs strikingly from Mr Greatrex’s and represents an important on-the-record account of an issue of public interest.

We refused to delete our tape. […] [Source]

While the Confucius Institute has been the source of much controversy outside of China, it is also contentious at home—see CDT translations of netizen commentary and cartoons on the financial cost of running the program, and also Weibo responses to the Portugal incident.


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