China to up investment in Confucius Institutes

Updated: 2012-06-08 02:09

By Cecily Liu in Edinburgh (China Daily)

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Edinburgh conference hears defense against recent criticisms from the West

China will further invest in Confucius Institutes in Europe, a Chinese official said amid recent criticism from a British scholar and the US government concerning the organization's legitimacy.

"The West wants to study Mandarin, but they may not have the teaching expertise or human resources to satisfy their needs," Xu Lin, head of Confucius Institute headquarters, or Hanban, said on Thursday. "Therefore, we ought to help."

Xu made those remarks to reporters at this year's European Confucius Institute Working Symposium, a three-day conference that started on Wednesday in Edinburgh and was attended by principals from 75 Confucius Institutes in 26 European countries.

Started by the Chinese government in 2004 to promote Chinese language and culture abroad, Confucius Institutes are nonprofit organizations affiliated with Western academic institutions, including secondary schools and universities.

"There has been a strong demand for more Confucius Institutes, particularly from parents of secondary school students, who see the economic growth of China and want their children to be a part of it," Xu said.

"Many of our previous students have been greatly sought after, both by Western and Chinese multinationals, which treasure their bilingual skills."

A British scholar recently criticized the institutes for receiving funding from the Chinese government.

Christopher Hughes, a professor of international relations at the London School of Economics, said the LSE Confucius Institute was "a propaganda organization" in a Sunday Times opinion piece on May 20.

He called it "illegitimate", saying its existence will damage LSE's reputation.

In a separate incident, the US State Department said it was reviewing the credentials of Confucius Institutes in the US, giving rise to concerns about the institution’s ability to continue operating in the country.

Under a new policy directive issued on May 17, Chinese academics who hold what are known as J-1 visas and teach at the institutes would have been unable to have those visas renewed and would have had to leave the country by June 30. The policy could have forced 51 teachers to return to China, according to Hanban.

Although the US government subsequently retracted the rule change, it has yet to tell Hanban if it will continue issuing visas for Confucius Institute teachers, Xu said.

"The US government hurt our feelings," Xu said.

"But Confucius Institutes across Europe have done a great job, especially with cultural promotion, which is not surprising given Europe's rich history and culture."

Last year, 5,438 cultural exchanges, conferences and activities were held at European Confucius Institutes, attracting 2.3 million participants — 1.5 times as many as in 2010.

By April 2012, 129 Confucius Institutes and 104 Confucius Classrooms had been established in 34 European countries. There were 358 Confucius Institutes in the world last year.

Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador to the UK, said the development of Confucius Institutes is "shifting from an increase in numbers to an improvement in their quality".

He said the best way to ensure that the organization has a long, stable future is to improve its management, train local teachers and improve the quality of teachers, among other measures.

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