San Diego State University (SDSU) is the latest American university to close its Confucius Institute. The shutdown of the controversial Chinese government funded language and culture institution at SDSU follows the closures at seven other U.S. universities this year.
The Confucius Institute (CI) was formally closed at SDSU on June 30, 2019, according to an email notification by the Office of the President on Aug. 19, making it the 22nd American university to cut ties with CIs in recent years.
Dr. Gwendalle Cooper, a retired professor at SDSU, who urged the university to close the CI, told The Epoch Times that she’s been hearing shocking reports about the CIs being used by China to silence freedom of speech on U.S. campuses, spreading communist propaganda, and even spying.
“I am very glad, the university made the decision to shut them down,” Dr. Cooper said. “The documentary ‘In the Name of Confucius,’ asks the question: ‘Why is China spending billions educating our youth?’ We should indeed ask ourselves that question.”
CIs are funded by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) under the Education Ministry and advertised by the CCP’s Office of Chinese Language Council International, also known as Hanban, as educational organizations to promote Chinese culture and language. However, western intelligence agencies have warned that the institutes are used as part of the Chinese regime’s apparatus to gain influence abroad.
The U.S.–China Economic and Security Review Commission’s latest report calls Confucius Institutes a front for infiltrating and spying. The China-funded education centers “also advance Beijing’s preferred narrative and subvert important academic principles, such as institutional autonomy and academic freedom,” the report says. CIs have also been documented to be involved in organizing protests against topics the CCP considers a threat to the stability of its rule, according to the report.
In 2009, North Carolina State University was pressured by the director of its CI to rescind an invitation to the Dalai Lama. And at the opening of a display of Tibetan photography at the University of Maryland’s CI in 2009, a Chinese diplomat publicly condemned the Dalai Lama.
In 2012, CI instructor Sonia Zhao charged that Canada’s McMaster College was “giving legitimization to discrimination” because her contract barred her from identifying with Falun Gong, a spiritual movement criminalized and persecuted by Beijing since 1999. McMaster agreed and refused to renew its Confucius contract.
Furthermore, to coerce other nations to be more sympathetic to the CCP’s agenda, Hanban offers attractive packages to foreign schools and universities to set up Confucius Institutes that are staffed by Chinese teachers who are selected and funded by the CCP.
Teaching materials often present CCP propaganda, which has provoked concerns that Confucius Institutes are silencing academic criticism of the Chinese regime.
In 2010, the head of Canada’s intelligence agency, Richard Fadden reported that Confucius Institutes are “managed by people operating out of [China’s] embassy or consulates.”
New Bill to Protect US Universities
Congressional Representatives have introducing new legislation that would seek to protect U.S. universities from the theft of sensitive information by foreign nations such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
A bill, dubbed the “Protect Our Universities Act of 2019,” introduced by Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) on March 12, 2019, would establish a Department of Education-led interagency task force to address the vulnerabilities currently present on college campuses across the nation.
Banks noted that the CCP has a “long record” of methods used to get information back to Beijing. Chinese nationals who study abroad in America are manipulated and pressured to be “information collectors for the communist government and military in Beijing.”
A Senate report (pdf) released in February by Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and ranking member Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) stated that the Beijing-backed Confucius Institutes on American campuses should be closed if no major changes in their operations occur.
The 93-page bipartisan report points to the language and culture at the institutes as a threat to academic freedom and says that many U.S. colleges have failed to disclose money received from the CCP, despite guidance from the Education Department that foreign gifts be reported. The CCP has spent over $156 million on U.S. schools since 2006. It stated that CI funding “comes with strings that compromise academic freedom.”
Former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), during the formation meeting of the Coalition to Advance Religious Freedom in China, in Washington DC on March 4 of this year, called for special attention to be paid to the CIs at U.S. universities.
He said every college that has a Confucius Institute should invite Catholic priests, Protestant pastors, Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners to speak, and that if the institute does not allow that, it should be removed from campus.
CIs Around the World are Being Shut Down
According to reports by the National Association of Scholars, CIs—from the United States to Australia—have been under close scrutiny recently for their links to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The association recommended in 2018 that universities in the United States close their CIs, expressing concerns about intellectual freedom and transparency, as well as the institutes being used to advance China’s soft power.
“Following our ongoing study and reporting about Chinese-backed Confucius Institutes, several senators introduced, and the President signed, legislation preventing colleges that host Confucius Institutes from receiving Defense Department funding. We remain vigilant for efforts to circumvent this regulation, but it seems the public is waking up to the threat of Chinese influence on American campuses…” the association said in it’s 2018 annual report.
A documentary titled “In the Name of Confucius” by Canadian filmmaker Doris Liu, lists on its website thirty-three closures of CIs worldwide. The site also offers educational materials for hosting screenings of the film at universities that hosts a CI.
Currently, over 100 U.S. colleges and universities host branches of the Confucius Institute. As the program has come under more government scrutiny, nine U.S. academic institutions have closed their CIs in 2018, and eight have been closed in 2019 so far, namely: University of Massachusetts Boston, University of Minnesota, Indiana University, Western Kentucky University, University of Oregon, San Francisco State University, University of Hawaii at Manoa, and San Diego State University.
Western Kentucky University said it was cutting ties to its Confucius Institute due to the new federal policy last year that doesn’t allow institutions to host Confucius Institutes if they receive U.S. Department of Defense funding for Chinese language programs.
The University of Hawaii closed its CI on May 31. Greg Shepherd, a music and drama professor at Kauai Community College, said the closing of Confucius Institutes at UH and elsewhere “should come as welcome news to anyone who values freedom and human rights,” the American Military News reported on July 30.
“The institutes are a blatant attempt at propaganda by a Chinese government that oppresses the people of Tibet and Xinjiang, as well as practitioners of Falun Gong and other religions,” Shepherd said. “It’s a sad reflection on the University of Hawaii that it took 13 years to boot the institute off the UH campus — and only then because of the threat of funding cutoffs by the Department of Defense.”
In Australia, all CIs have been directly notified by the government about the country’s new anti-foreign influence laws. The legislation requires individuals or organizations working for foreign governments to register as foreign agents.
In Canada, the Toronto District School Board, McMaster University, and the University of Sherbrooke have ended their partnerships with CIs in recent years.
Contracts between hosting educational institutions and Hanban typically contain clauses that either party can cancel the contract by giving six-months notice.
Confucius Classrooms in Elementary and High Schools
Besides planting CIs into western schools of higher learning, the CCP has also established hundreds of Confucius Classrooms in elementary schools and high schools, spreading its soft power and brainwashing our young children with communist ideology under the guise of teaching Chinese language and culture.
According to Hanban, there were 548 Confucius Institutes and 1,193 Confucius Classrooms in 147 countries (regions) by the end of 2018.
An archived page from Nov. 15, 2017 lists dozens of the Confucius Classrooms, from elementary to high schools, participating in the program in the greater San Diego area at that time.
It states: “When Confucius Institute at SDSU first established in 2009, there were a total of seven Confucius Classrooms in the Greater San Diego area. In 2017, there are a total 20 Confucius Classrooms in 30 Confucius Classroom schools. Confucius Institute at SDSU continues to work together with Hanban to create more Confucius Classrooms in the greater San Diego area.”
According to Dr. Cooper, SDSU will rectify the situation, Prof. Mark Wheeler, Chair of SDSU University Senate assured her.