Resolving the Global Threat to Learning Authentic Chinese

By Cathy Yin-Garton
Cathy Yin-Garton
Cathy Yin-Garton
July 1, 2021 Updated: July 5, 2021

Chinese is the second most common language in the world. But if you plan to enroll in one of the hundreds of Confucius Institutes around the globe that teach this language, you’ll likely notice that the curriculum has been censored by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Not only are students restricted from discussing certain topics, but the CCP also seeks to ensure that they are taught to think and speak a certain way about the topics that are allowed.

Gregory Laslo, an American language student, told The Epoch Times about the differences he saw when studying Chinese in Taiwan versus in mainland China.

“In Taiwan, I’ve never run into any freedom of speech problem. In China … I did feel a sort of pressure to not speak about certain things,” he said. “People on the street would ask me about sensitive topics sometimes. But I tried to avoid them because I was a little afraid of my own safety there.”

One student who holds dual citizenship with Germany and Switzerland said: “Almost every Chinese language program in universities around the world is sponsored by the CCP’s Confucius Institutes. These institutions brainwash foreigners.”

Epoch Times Photo
Gregory Laslo, an American, chose to come to Taiwan to learn Chinese. (Wei-Yin Liao/Epoch Times)

Traditional Chinese Characters Versus Simplified Characters

A student from Germany told The Epoch Times: “The Confucius Institute controls the Chinese education system inside Germany. I live in Frankfurt and cannot learn the traditional Chinese characters. Compared with other countries, Taiwan is still very traditional and has many good traditional cultures.”

Epoch Times Photo
Thomas Kalmund from Germany said that Taiwan has a lot of good traditional culture to learn from. (Weiyin Liao / The Epoch Times)

Traditional Chinese characters retain the complete form, sound, and meaning of the characters. Learners can use this to fully understand the essence of the characters, and they can also draw inferences between characters. This isn’t the case with simplified characters used in China.

Axiu, a student from Malawi, expanded on this idea. “Simplified Chinese removes the heart from the word ‘Love’ and makes it meaningless. This is unfortunate since traditional Chinese characters are interesting. Every word has a story. Learning traditional Chinese characters is not only learning Chinese characters but also learning culture and history.”

Russians Make Simplified Chinese Characters Mandatory

Meeting in Vladivostok in September 1931, representatives of the CCP and the Soviet Union drafted the “New Latinized Characters of Northern Dialect.” They issued this announcement: “The hieroglyphics should be completely abolished and replaced with the pure pinyin Text.”

Then in 1950, Stalin issued an order to simplify Chinese characters in several steps, and eventually replace them with Latin alphabetization. It wasn’t until the death of Stalin in 1953 that this practice stopped.

Thus, the use of simplified characters in mainland China was ordered by the Russians and monitored by their sinologists.

The goal of this transition wasn’t to simplify the Chinese language. Instead, it was to expand the communist philosophy by exerting control over the people.

The Communist Party was and still is acutely aware of how traditional Chinese culture stands in stark contrast to communist ideology. For communism to thrive, Communist Party leaders have tried to destroy all remnants of traditional Chinese language and culture.

Red Infiltration in Cultural Sugar Coating

The Confucius Institute program began in 2004. As of 2020, 541 Confucius Institutes and 1,170 Confucius Classrooms had been established in 162 countries (regions). In the United States alone, there were 113 institutes in 2015, but this number is now rapidly shrinking.

In 2020, the U.S. State Department declared that the Confucius Institute program was a “foreign mission” of China and a threat to democracy.

According to statistics of the National Association of Scholars, the United States has closed or in the process of closing 84 Confucius Institutes as of May.

Epoch Times Photo
The number of Confucius Institute closures in the past seven years. Data source: National Association of Scholars (Infographic by The Epoch Times)

Confucius Institutes are funded and supervised by the Chinese Ministry of Education-affiliated “State Hanban,” now referred to as the Center for Language Education and Cooperation. A former senior CCP official admitted that the Confucius Institutes are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.” CCP head Xi Jinping said in 2014 that its intentions are to “give a good Chinese narrative.”

A China Post article reported in 2014: “Certainly, China would have made little headway if it had named these Mao Institutes, or even Deng Xiaoping Institutes. But by borrowing the name Confucius, it created a brand that was instantly recognized as a symbol of Chinese culture, radically different from the image of the Communist Party.”

The Confucius Institutes operate within established universities, colleges, and secondary schools around the world, providing funding, teachers, and educational materials. Partners must sign a contract to declare their support of Beijing’s “One China” policy. Hence, topics relating to individual freedoms, human rights, democracy, Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang all become taboo. The CCP spends approximately $10 billion each year to exercise these subversive initiatives.

The CCP has been secretly parlaying the “soft power” provided by the Confucius Institutes into a “sharp power” to advance their communist agenda. By rewriting Chinese history in textbooks and other learning resources, the CCP has managed to gain the ability to brainwash people around the world.

Taiwan Preserves Traditional Chinese Culture

Taiwan is a free and democratic society that seeks to preserve traditional Chinese orthography and culture. Its “non-censorship” model of positive learning offers a better educational partnership.

Anisa, another U.S. student interviewed by The Epoch Times, spoke favorably about the advantages of learning Chinese from Taiwanese teachers. “The way things are taught here reminds me of education in the United States. It’s free, open, and honest.”

Camila, from Guatemala, said she never spoke Chinese until after her arrival in Taiwan. “A friendly, democratic, and free life is the most valuable asset of Taiwan’s Chinese language education,” she said.

In October 2020, the U.S. government announced the National Security Language Initiative, which placed emphasis on safely studying the Chinese language outside of China. This evolved to the establishment of the Taiwan-U.S. Education Initiative, which makes it possible for students from the United States and other countries to finally gain an appreciation of and empathy for authentic Chinese history and culture.

Simultaneously, the Overseas Community Affairs Council is actively developing programs to utilize overseas resources and new technologies. This includes establishing the Taiwan Center for Mandarin Learning that is integrated with compatriot schools in Europe and the United States.

At present, Taiwan has more than 1,000 registered overseas compatriot schools in 50 countries. According to Brent Christensen, director of the American Institute in Taiwan, this initiative will enable students to avoid undue scrutiny, fear, and coercion while learning the Chinese language.

Cathy Yin-Garton
Cathy Yin-Garton