In English we have an old saying, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” meaning that one should not be ungrateful for a gift. Perhaps that saying is the watchword for university administrators who are rolling out red carpets welcoming Confucius Institutes onto their campuses.
However, another saying goes, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” meaning one needs to take a hard look at what are the hidden costs of things offered for “free.”
According to the Confucius Institute Web site, the Confucius Institutes work to enhance “intercultural understanding in the world by sponsoring courses of Chinese language and culture, so as to promote a better understanding of the Chinese language and culture among the people of the world; develop friendly relationships between China and other countries; accelerate the development of multiculturalism at the international level; and help bring about global peace and harmony.”
Mr. Li Changchun gives a different picture of the Confucius Institutes. Li is considered to be the fifth-ranking member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party—the most powerful body in China. He is also regarded as the propaganda chief of the CCP.
On April 24, 2007, Li said that establishing Confucius Institutes worldwide was an “important and major integral part” of the Chinese regime’s foreign propaganda.
So, what is offered to universities around the world for the sake of bringing about “peace and harmony” is defended at home as an instrument of the Chinese regime’s power. The Confucius Institutes are part of a multifaceted effort by the CCP to control how the world will come to think about it and to reward those who follow the Party line.
Obviously, these are not ordinary institutes for language and culture. They work to control the teaching of Chinese language in all respects, including materials, teachers, and curriculum. The textbooks are provided solely by Beijing, and staff are either dispatched directly from Beijing or recognized by Beijing. The students will only come to know China according to information promoted by the CCP.
Once a university invites a Confucius Institute in and turns over Chinese language instruction to it, the chances of having an independent view of China will fade away, with most Westerners not really knowing what is being taken away from them. They will simply come to see China as the CCP wishes them to.
The folks at the Confucius Institutes have been busy working to make this happen. The first agreement to establish an Institute was signed with Uzbekistan in 2004. Since then, 295 institutes have been established in 78 countries. At least 35 have been established in the United States.
According to the Confucius Institute’s bylaws, China covers the start-up funds for the Institute and also covers half of the Institute's operating costs. This is unparalleled generosity. How much money China is spending in this way is a “state secret.”
The importance this propaganda initiative has for the Chinese regime can be seen by taking a glance at education inside China. Education funding is only 2.8 percent of the GDP, far lower than the world average of 5.1 percent.
While the state’s expenditures are low, the costs to students are high. In relation to GDP, China’s university tuition is the most expensive in the world. High tuition has resulted in children from poor families not being able to afford to go to school.
Each year, when college starts in August or September, tragedies frequently occur. Farmers and workers commit suicide out of anger and shame because they cannot pay the college tuition for their children.
Basic education in rural areas is terrible. Some students still study in temples built during the Qing Dynasty. There is a saying circulating in the rural areas, “The Qing Dynasty’s classroom, the Kuomintang’s desks, and the Communist Party’s kids.”
The Southern Metropolitan newspaper reported in 2005, “If you walk into schools in the rural areas of China, you can see an appallingly terrible situation: Teachers wear dirty clothes, students are unkempt, desks and chairs are broken, and most school buildings are damaged and dangerous.” Some 3 million children are not even in school.
So while the Chinese regime pays to establish Confucius Institutes around the world, in effect building schools and offering free, upper-level education to non-Chinese in rich countries, the Chinese people are left with an educational system that is at once impoverished and over-priced.
Would the CCP divert such badly needed educational funding overseas simply for the sake of the dream of “global peace and harmony”?
Once the Trojan horse had done its work, the people of Troy surely found a peace of sorts.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.