US Decision on Confucius Institutes Prompts Backlash in China

May 25, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
A statue of Confucius
A statue of Confucius in Changchun, China. (China Photos/Getty Images)

A directive by the U.S. Department of State on Confucius Institutes has caused a fierce media response in China, with official and semi-official websites giving negative coverage to the news, and a long editorial in People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), expressing “shock” and “confusion.”

The State Department advised on May 17 that Confucius Institutes (CIs) have been improperly using people designated as academic staff for ordinary K-12 teaching duties, and that these people would need to go back to China and get a new visa at the end of the school term in June.

The current staffing practices are “not in compliance with the Exchange Visitor Program regulations,” the State Department said.

Sina News, a major web portal in China, saw the policy as a direct assault on Confucius Institutes (CI), which are backed by the regime and are part of the CCP’s overseas propaganda apparatus, according to experts. The article said that the regulations may have been “motivated by political forces.”

“In American society … there exist some political forces that have been pointing fingers at the Confucius Institute, discrediting their teaching activities,” the opinion article said.

An article on Sohu, another major web portal, intoned that “obstacles directed at Confucius Institutes will not be good for Sino-U.S. relations.”

Ms. Ruan, a former teacher who spoke to the pro-Beijing Phoenix TV, based in Hong Kong, said “This expulsion was a surprise. What was the reason? Does it have something to do with the [U.S.] election?”

The term “Confucius Institute” became the second most popular topic on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, on May 24, with close to 50,000 mentions. Opinion on the matter was divided.

“Haha! The world’s police are also being stingy,” commented one user.

Others questioned the point of CIs in the first place: “The teachers are coming back because of visa regulations. Isn’t that quite normal? … The Confucius Institutes have been getting funds from the government. It’s better that we take the resources to build decent classrooms and cook enough lunch for children in poor rural areas,” wrote one netizen.

In response to the press, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said only that “the Chinese authorities are communicating with the U.S.” over the issue, according to, a Chinese news website.

The State Department’s guidance to CIs said that holders of J-1 visas, the category that teachers at CIs belong to, are only permitted to engage in research and academic assistance at accredited institutions. Although CIs are sponsored by and based at U.S. colleges, most of their language classes serve K-12 graders. Now, J-1 visa holders will no longer be allowed to be used as teaching staff.

Presently established in 96 countries, the Confucius Institute is “a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education … committed to providing Chinese language and cultural teaching resources and services worldwide,” according to the website of the Communist Party-affiliated body, Hanban, that oversees it. The Hanban is led by Liu Yandong, a member of the Communist Party’s politburo whose previous brief was to head the United Front Work Department.

CIs are criticized as tools for Communist Party propaganda and soft-power abroad, and they export discriminatory practices against persecuted groups in China. Volunteer teachers at the institutes are not allowed to have any record of practicing Falun Gong, a Chinese spiritual practice that is suppressed by the Party, according to guidelines online.

Sonia Zhou, who applied to be a teacher at one of the organization’s branches in Canada, said that during training, teachers were instructed to lay down the Party line when asked sensitive political questions by students. This included, for example, that “Taiwan is part of China, and Tibet has been ‘liberated'” by the Chinese communist regime.

Read the original Chinese article.

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