Confucius Institute at Tufts University Set to Close Amid Protests

March 19, 2021 Updated: March 19, 2021

Tufts University announced on Wednesday that it is not going to renew its contract with the Confucius Institute after it expires in September this year. The decision was made in response to a 13-week long protest against the controversial educational program.

The Confucius Institute (CI) is a nonprofit educational collaboration between Tufts and Beijing Normal University (BNU) that promotes Chinese language and cultural programs, and facilitates “educational and cultural exchange and cooperation,” according to the Tufts University website.

The Confucius Institute at Tufts University (CITU), which was set up in 2015, is currently the only Chinese-language program in Massachusetts that is sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The university’s contract with the CI program expires in September 2021 and will not be renewed, according to an announcement released on March 17.

On March 13, about 100 protesters rallied in front of the CITU building in Medford, MA, marched through the campus, and demonstrated near Ballou Hall, where the president’s office is located, demanding the university to close the CI.

“I want to be clear, this is not a question of opportunities to study Chinese culture or language, we know that Tufts can find any other Chinese exchange program that isn’t directly sponsored by the authoritarian state,” Massachusetts State Representative Erika Uyterhoeven (Democrat) said at the rally.

“It’s about distorting academic discourse, silencing defenders of human rights, and repressing open dissent or discussion, and it’s a growing threat to the integrity of our academic institutions, and threat to democracy everywhere,” she added.

Epoch Times Photo
Massachusetts Representative Erika Uyterhoeven (Democrat, left) and protest organizer Olo Bayul urge Tufts University to close its Confucius Institute in Somerville, Massachusetts on March 13, 2021. (Learner Liu/The Epoch Times)


Members from the Tibetan, Uyghur, Taiwanese, and Hongkonger communities, together with Tufts students and faculty, and human rights activists from Massachusetts and mainland China took part in the protest on March 13.

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Demonstrators march through Tufts University to protest against the Confucius Institute in Somerville, Massachusetts, on March 13, 2021. (Learner Liu/The Epoch Times)

The protesters chanted loudly: “Chinese government out of Tufts! CCP out of Tufts! Hey-hey-ho-ho, Chinese government got to go!” Most of them held up banners, posters, brochures, and sign boards.

“We’re here every Saturday from 1:00 [p.m.] to 2:30 p.m., to remind them [Tufts University] that they need to terminate their financial and contractual relationship with the Chinese government,” Olo Bayul, the protest organizer and local public school teacher, told The Epoch Times at the rally. He said his Tibetan parents had been persecuted by the CCP in China and then they fled to the United States as refugees.

Bayul said that they had protested for 13 weeks, appealing to the university and its president, Anthony Monaco, to shut down the Chinese language program sponsored by the repressive Chinese regime.

Epoch Times Photo
Human rights groups protest in front of the Confucius Institute, demanding Tufts University to close the program in Somerville, Massachusetts on March 13, 2021. (Learner Liu/The Epoch Times)


The Confucius Institute has been controversial in the United States for allegedly promoting the CCP’s propaganda and censoring discussions about human rights conditions in China. On Aug. 13, 2020, then U.S. President Donald Trump designated the Confucius Institute U.S. Center (CIUS) as a foreign mission.

The National Association of Scholars counted a total of 51 CIs in the United States on March 17, seven of which are scheduled to close in 2021.

Confucius Institutes in Massachusetts have sparked protests since 2018. In January 2019, the University of Massachusetts Boston announced that it would not renew its contract with Hanban, a Chinese government agency that provides funding and staff for CIs.

Tufts University held public hearings about its CI program when its last contract with Hanban expired in June 2019. During the hearings, it was revealed that Chinese language teachers who are hired by the CI have to sign an agreement which prohibits them from participating “in activities that harm China’s national interest” and they cannot join Falun Gong or other “illegal groups.”

Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a spiritual practice that originated in China. Its surge in popularity in the 1990s saw some 70 million people practicing by 1999, according to official estimates at the time. Threatened by this popularity, the CCP launched a persecution against the practice in 1999. Since then, millions of Falun Gong practitioners have been thrown into prisons, psychiatric wards, and other facilities, while hundreds of thousands have suffered torture, according to estimates from the Falun Dafa Information Center.

Epoch Times Photo
A protester asks Tufts University to close its Confucius Institute, a language training program that the Chinese regime uses to promote Communist mentalities, in Somerville, Massachusetts on March 13, 2021. (Learner Liu/The Epoch Times)

In October 2019, Tufts University announced a two-year renewal of its contract with the CI after a committee of the school claimed “no evidence of suppression of academic freedom, pressure or censorship associated with the activities of the Confucius Institute at Tufts.”

Sarah Phillips, a member of the Somerville School Committee, said in her speech at the March 13 protest that the CCP and its affiliated organizations are good at disguising themselves and hiding their agenda.

“I know Tufts professors and administrators are top-notch. But this is the Chinese government that we’re talking about. They were able to hide the internment of one to three million Uyghurs and Turkic speaking people in concentration camps for more than two years,” Phillips said.

Phillips added that she was concerned about the CI’s plan to set up “Confucius Classrooms” in local public schools.