The global outreach by the government of China called the Confucius Institute seems to be working well. The cultural and language centers have sprung up around the world at universities eager to boost their Mandarin offerings as China’s economic influence grows.
An example is the Confucius Institute at South Florida which is one of nearly 60 such centers in the United States, and 396 globally in 87 countries. Most receive initial funding and faculty from China.
China observers see the Confucius Institutes as part of the nation’s efforts to reshape its image from that of a threatening superpower. The Confucius Institutes are unique in the close relationships they establish with universities.
That arrangement has raised concerns about whether cozying up with China and its communist, authoritarian government would interfere with a university’s academic freedom.
Example: The University of Pennsylvania never applied to host an institute, nor did China ever ask the school to do so, said G. Cameron Hurst III, the former director of Penn’s Center for East Asian Studies. "There was a general feeling that it was not an appropriate thing for us to do. We feel absolutely confident in the instructors that we train here, and we didn’t want them meddling in our curriculum, particularly. And we were not sure of what their political motivations really are, anyway."
Which is the sort of idiot attitude that makes universities such a threat to the freedom of information. (The writer is a casual lecturer at a university but does not boast about it.)
A more intelligent approach was that of Stan Rosen, director of the University of Southern California’s East Asian Studies Center. He said, "It’s a very long term strategy to get people to appreciate Chinese culture. They steer away from those kinds of political issues, just to teach straight language. Because they know this is exactly what critics of China might be looking for."
A study published by the Modern Language Association of America in 2007 found that enrollment in Chinese language courses at US colleges and universities had increased 51 percent between 2002 and 2006 to 51,000.
AP reported that Maria Crummett, dean of international affairs at the University of South Florida, likened the institutes to "people-to-people diplomacy. This is not about diplomacy at the highest levels. This is about faculty, students, staff, administrators, the community." Which sums up te situation very neatly.
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