Useless fuss over Confucius Institutes

Updated: 2015-01-13 10:12

By Tom Watkins(

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Let's not forget that China held the title of the world's largest economy for 18 of the last 20 centuries. It stands to re-capture that title within a decade. In fact, some would argue China has already passed this milestone. The Diplomat writes: "China has adopted various measures to enhance China's soft power, such as establishing global news services and Confucius Institutes across the world."

As China spreads its global wings, it looks to not only making money, but also to increasing its influence. Today, this once inward looking nation is reaching out across continents. While its economy and exchanges with the world have seen rapid growth over the last three and a half decades, there has also been a sharp increase in the world's demand to learn more about its people, history and language.

The fear associated with China's rise — many see a Chinese "boogieman" in every corner — questions whether there is reason to fear it. Are Confucius Institutes merely "Trojan Horses" that we willingly allow into our schools and universities, unleashing a propaganda virus to destroy us all? Perhaps former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt was right when he reminded us during World War II: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

As China continues to awaken from its slumber, it will not be content to remain a silent movie on the world stage. Chinese culture will continue to wash up on global shores as the 21st century unfolds.

Let's understand that not all Chinese wisdom comes from inside a fortune cookie. As Confucius reminds us: "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."

The author is advisor to University of Michigan Confucius Institute. The article originally appeared in China&US Focus.

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