The Chinese Communist Party-backed Confucius Institutes have been under fire for years for suppressing free speech and promoting an officially approved by the slanted perception of Chinese history, among other things. But a newly-formed non-profit society of college students across the United States is pushing back.
The Athenai Society is demanding that American academic institutions shut down the CCP’s Confucius Institutes all across the country.
Rory O’Connor, the President of Athenai Institute, said: "We're setting up more than 25 Athenai societies across the country to go after Confucius Institutes and to confront authoritarian influence and protect academic freedom with the rights of students. We are doing that with effectively no money."
To date, at least 86 Confucius Institutes are being propped up by American universities, colleges, and school districts.
Hanban, an office within China's Ministry of Education, says the program aims "to promote Chinese language and culture in foreign countries." But education and China experts have criticized them for trying to shape students' perceptions of China by limiting teaching to CCP-approved content. Their staff go as far as teaching that Tibet and Taiwan are Chinese territories and also avoid talking about the regime's human rights abuses and political history.
Rory O’Connor, the President of Athenai Institute, continued saying: "If we don't have an accurate perception of China if we don't have an accurate understanding of the Chinese Communist Party, we can't actually make effective, well-informed decisions. And that has implications, that has costs, that has consequences."
O'Connor also said that Chinese students are the most affected by Confucius Institutes. He said there were some incidents where people from these institutes or other Chinese organizations physically intimidated his friends from Hong Kong at UC Davis.
Ultimately, he wants them to be held accountable, which he said isn't happening because universities acquiesce to their demands.
O’Connor expressed: "When you're having a totalitarian government preventing people from being able to speak out, and the university just says ‘tough luck, we don't want to infringe upon their freedom,’ it's just wrong, and that's what's happening."
A U.S. subcommittee has reported that from 2006 to 2018, China pumped over $158 million in funding to U.S. schools for Confucius Institutes. But nearly 70 percent of universities and colleges failed to report that they each got $250,000 or more in foreign gifts from Hanban.
The Athena Institute's Washington Appeal says that academic bodies can choose to continue to benefit from an authoritarian state, or they can choose to stand on the right side of history United States
But they can't do both.