Wednesday, August 19, 2015

China's soft power ... in US universities?

China conducts in its own strange ways acts that are political, which makes me more and more uneasy about its rapidly growing economic and military strength.  If that is how I feel, when comfortably situated in the US, I can easily imagine the much larger scope of anxieties among the typical Filipino or Vietnamese or Japanese or ...

Forget the big-time news generating activities like the Chinese hacking into the US government data.  Set aside even how "China is quietly permitting and even encouraging companies to steal American agricultural secrets right out of the ground." Allow me to bring this much closer to where I live.

The University of Oregon has a Confucius Institute.
It was inaugurated in fall 2010. The institute is made possible with the support of our partners in China: The Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), and East China Normal University in Shanghai.
What's the big deal about it?  Consider the following:
Cantonese was widely taught at Canadian and American universities 30 years ago, says Ross King, head of UBC’s [University of British Columbia] Asian-studies programme. That is because most Chinese immigrants came from Hong Kong and southern China, where it is the main language. Cantonese still resounds in Chinatowns, such as those of Vancouver and San Francisco. But the economic rise of mainland China, whose official language is Mandarin Chinese (or putonghua), is pushing Cantonese off the streets and out of the academy.
Why should this matter?  There is pressure to ditch Cantonese and to teach Mandarin instead.
UBC is putting up a fight. The university has rejected four offers from the Confucius Institute, a cultural body financed by China’s government, to expand its teaching of Mandarin.
The Confucius Institute has a determined political agenda.  In the old days, such operations would have been located outside the academic walls.  But these days, universities are ready to take money from anybody who is willing to give them in plenty.  The Koch brothers buy out an economics department.  The Chinese government peddles its influence.  It is a bizarre academic world of prostituting for money!

It takes a lot to fight that kind of prostitution.  UBC is the latest to join a line--perhaps too short a line--of universities that have rejected funding from the Confucius Institute.  The most high profile one in the US happened a few months ago:
Critics of the program are uncomfortable that faculty is sent from China — an exception to the tradition that a university judges who is fit to teach its students — and say that classes avoid controversial subjects such as the Tiananmen Square massacre and Falun Gong, a religious sect outlawed in China. Some schools that host the programs have canceled visits from the Dalai Lama under pressure from Beijing.
The University of Chicago was one of the country's first elite schools to adopt the program, but it severed its relationship with the Confucius Institute in September.
Are you now beginning to get a tad uncomfortable as well?  Not yet?  How about I add this:
The American Association of University Professors and its Canadian counterpart have urged universities to end partnerships with the Confucius Institute unless academic control reverts to host universities. The Toronto School District and Pennsylvania State University both recently canceled plans for a Confucius Institute.
But the programs remain attractive to many schools.
It remains attractive because, hey, it is all about the money!  (I don't know if the Institute interferes with the academic affairs at the University of Oregon.)

China's money-based-war will continue and expand, especially under the current leadership, which sees a huge brand value in the name "Confucius":
Since he came to power in 2012, Mr Xi has sought to elevate Confucius—whom Mao vilified—as the grand progenitor of Chinese culture. ...
 he evidently sees Confucianism as a powerful ideological tool, with its stress on order, hierarchy, and duty to ruler and to family. Unlike the party’s imported, indigestible Marxist dogma, Confucianism has the advantage of being home-grown. It appeals to a yearning for ancient values among those unsettled by China’s blistering pace of change.
I way prefer the old ways, like the USIS and the British Council that I used to frequent back in Madras.  Ah, the good ol' days when the US and the UK left it to their own professionals to do the dirty work ;)


Anne in Salem said...

I've never heard of anyone learning Cantonese, only Mandarin. Interesting.

Accepting large amounts of money frequently comes with strings attached, whether it is requirements to choose the staff or cancelling the Dalai Lama (poor choice - excellent speaker) or voting against legislation of which the donor does not approve.

University finances make no sense. They charge a tuition rate that very few, if any, students actually pay then distribute thousands in scholarships. Why not just cut tuition and eliminate the scholarships? Many universities have billions in endowments, but for what? Is it ever spent? Could it ever be spent? I presume the gains off the principal are an important sustaining financial asset. I won't comment on athletics. :)

I can understand universities taking advantage of every revenue stream available, but at what cost?

Sriram Khé said...

As for the elite universities and their gazillion-dollar endowments, an op-ed in the NY TImes yesterday says it all:

"at what cost?" is not a question that is asked anymore. Not at universities, not at corporate boardrooms, not at Greenpeace, not in individual lives, ... :(

Ramesh said...

You point about Mandarin and Cantonese is much ado about nothing. China isn't attempting to suppress any language. Its just that Mandarin is the most useful language to learn - not Cantonese. I lived in the heart of Canton and yet I tried to learn Mandarin. Nobody outside Canton speaks the language and its useless even inside Canton because of the massive migrant population. Mandarin is the most practical language. Thats all there is to it.

The point about whitewashing uncomfortable issues is so typically China. For millennia they have done that. That they would attempt the same in foreign universities as well is no surprise. You always have a choice - don't accept the Confucius Institute. In any case they mostly teach language -wonder where Tiananmen or Falun Gong fits into that.

As for the Dalai Lama, the Chinese government is completely crazy. They are totally bonkers.

Sriram Khé said...

"You always have a choice - don't accept the Confucius Institute" ... that's exactly what universities are beginning to do. However, and unfortunately, there are far too many unscrupulous universities that will do anything for money.
But then, unlike me, you both from the other side of the political spectrum don't care for money's stink; remember this post of mine from a long time ago?
And this follow-up post?

You see, as the friend says, I keep track of every damn thing that comes my way ;)

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