China’s Confucius Institutes, which have become the backbone of the country’s worldwide soft power strategy, are being rebranded in the face of widespread criticism. The institutes, launched in 2004, are public educational partnerships between colleges and universities in China and like institutions in other countries, managed by the Hanban, a division of the Chinese Ministry of Education. The stated aims of the program are to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching, and facilitate cultural exchanges; however, the organization has been criticized due to concerns of rising Chinese influences in the countries in which it operates, and institutes have had their contracts renegotiated to protect the academic freedom of host universities. More than 40 Confucius Institutes have been closed in the U.S. after concerns from the FBI, the State Department, and members of Congress.
A directive issued by China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) circulating online suggests the institute will be renamed the MOE Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation. The Hanban is being renamed the Ministry of Education Center for Language Exchange and Cooperation. It will continue to train Chinese language teachers, develop textbooks, and carry out many of the functions necessary for the operation of Confucius Institutes, according to China’s Global Times. The Hanban will spin off a separate nongovernmental nonprofit organization, the Chinese International Education Foundation, which will fund and officially oversee Confucius Institutes.
The Confucius Act, which has passed the Senate and is now under consideration by the House, may have to be amended to cover rebranded institutes. The bill establishes requirements for postsecondary educational institutions that receive federal funding and that have contracts or agreements with Confucius Institutes. The contracts or agreements must include clear provisions that (1) protect the academic freedom of the institutions; (2) prohibit the application of foreign law on the institutions’ campuses; and (3) grant full managerial authority of the institutes to the institutions, including full control over teaching plans, activities, research grants, and employment decisions.
There are more than 500 Confucius Institutes in countries on six continents.