Date Thesis Awarded
Honors Thesis -- Open Access
Bachelors of Arts (BA)
Modern Languages and Literatures
After years of collaboration with their partner institutions, Confucius Institutes have faced harsh backlash that has led to the closure of many programs. While Confucius Institutes are centers dedicated to disseminating Chinese language and culture, they’ve been put under scrutiny for a multitude of reasons. Funded and structured by Hanban through the Chinese Ministry of Education, tensions have flared over the use of Chinese government funding, censorship in academic materials, and choice of U.S. colleges for the programs. With closures on the rise and largely varied debate present in the scholarly community, the issue is becoming ever more complicated.
In the midst of accusations made against Confucius Institutes leading to their closures, it’s vital to account for how current global sentiments on China affect these decisions. The modern day “China Threat” concept has brewed unfavorable discourse about China in the West, making its way into China’s agendas outside politics and economics. This perception has undeniably influenced discussions about Confucius Institutes, which accounts for some of the backlash. Without the academic community’s ability to separate Confucius Institutes from the CCP’s previous/current transgressions, the China Threat concept naturally becomes interwoven in determining the fate of the institutes.
To properly assess the uproar of scrutiny and program terminations, it’s essential to evaluate the claims made against CIs, if these criticisms are warranted, and how scholarship has approached this topic. An investigation into CI funding, censorship, and political agendas will assess these accusations. Although concrete political motivations are difficult to prove, CIs unquestionably embody China’s soft power extensions abroad. The CCP has advertised its Confucius Institutes as Chinese language and cultural hubs, dedicated to fulfilling global interest in Chinese studies. The institutes have attracted educational partners from all around the United States. These programs appeal to schools that need to bolster their Chinese departments, but also act as a tool abroad for shaping perceptions about China. While the thought of soft power in education raises speculation of corruption, it has become a commonplace practice for many foreign countries to promote their language, culture, and interests. Academically it poses questions about the educational impact a subtle agenda may have on its students. Politically, the mass closures following U.S. government backlash raise the question of whether this was a successful soft power move for China.
Burleigh, Emma, "Wielding a Double-Edged Sword: U.S. Confucius Institutes, Soft Power, and the “China Threat”" (2021). Undergraduate Honors Theses. William & Mary. Paper 1722.