Confucius Institutes (Cis) form a global network that provides educational and cultural programs dedicated to the teaching of Mandarin, cultivating Chinese cultural awareness, and facilitating global education.

About Confucius Institutes

Confucius Institutes teach humanities classes in Chinese language and culture to improve cultural competency and to build bridges between American and Chinese society. CIs do not teach history, politics, or current affairs. There are approximately 100 Confucius Institutes in the United States hosted by public and private universities, a few public K-12 schools, and educational organizations. All CI Educational and cultural programs are open to the public. The CI network is committed to transparency and welcomes anyone interested in visiting the Institutes and participating in their activities.

Each CI is a partnership between an American host institution and one or more Chinese universities or educational organizations, established for the mutual benefit of joint educational and cultural exchange. CIs are housed within American host educational institutions and run by host university faculty and/or administrators with assistance from faculty from their Chinese partner university. The director of a CI is an American faculty or staff member appointed by the host institution. The Chinese partner institution provides an associate director to support CI educational efforts. Individual CIs build their curriculum with complete autonomy. CIs adhere to the same principles of governance and academic freedom applicable to all institutes and departments in the university.

The Chinese instructors sent from Chinese partner universities are invited, vetted, and supervised by American host institutions as visiting scholars. CIs’ operational expenses are co-funded by the host institution and the Confucius Institute Headquarters, also called the Office of Chinese Language Council International (or Hanban), which is affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education. Confucius Institute Headquarters provides grants that are matched or exceeded by host institutions for CI operations. The typical grant for annual operations of an American Confucius Institute is below $200,000 USD. CIs follow the same accounting procedures and policies used for external grant programs in American public universities.

The Confucius Institute network operates in a significantly decentralized and adaptive manner. Confucius Institutes provide demand-driven language and cultural education at the invitation of the host institutions according to the specific needs and strengths of the institution and community. At host institutions, CIs are housed in either academic departments (such as Foreign Language, Area Studies, Arts, Education, Business) or administrative departments (such as the President’s Office, Provost’s Office, or International Education Office).

Frequently Asked Questions

CIs are run by host university faculty and/or administrators with assistance of faculty from their Chinese partner universities (typically instructors in the discipline of teaching Chinese as a second language). The director of a CI is an American faculty or staff member appointed by the host institution. The Chinese partner institution provides an associate director to support CI educational efforts.

Confucius Institutes (CIs) teach humanities classes in Chinese language and culture; they do not teach any content of history, politics, or current affairs. The presence of a Confucius Institute on campus serves the purpose of enhancing Chinese language education, cultural awareness, and global education. Beyond language classes, CIs provide cultural programing such as calligraphy and tai-chi lessons, and organize musical and dance performances. CIs adhere to the same principles of governance and accounting applicable to all institutes and departments in the university.

School districts and language departments at universities are given complete autonomy and control over their curriculum. The Chinese Ministry of Education provides teaching materials that faculty members from American host institutions can request. These materials are available for review by any member of the public. Faculty members can also request funding from the Ministry of Education to purchase additional materials based on their own curriculum to supplement these texts.

There has been some confusion about “soft power” and “propaganda” arising from remarks in 2009 and 2011 by Li Changchun concerning the goals of Confucius Institutes in the United States and elsewhere. Two cited remarks are translated quotes from speeches delivered in Mandarin that lack linguistic and cultural context. The word used for “soft power” refers to the public diplomatic capacity of a country to build constructive and positive relationships with other countries; it is in contrast to “hard power” or coercive power.

While the Chinese word “宣传” (xuānchuán) in certain instances may be translated as “propaganda,” it frequently conveys the meaning of “publicity,” “promotion,” and “communications.” The word does not necessarily (or even usually) connote any mischaracterization of facts. It is a word commonly used in various contexts including business marketing and organizational communication. Confucius Institutes are committed to transparent and sincere cultural engagement and exchange.

Each CI is run by host university faculty and/or administrators with assistance of faculty from their Chinese partner universities. The Chinese Ministry of Education does not interfere with programs that a university decides to host and sponsor and respects the freedom of speech of faculty and students on American campuses. Many colleges and universities hosting Confucius Institutes have faculty members who possess different opinions on China-related issues. CIs adhere to the same principles of academic freedom as any other institute or department in the university.

Confucius Institutes are apolitical. Comments and class content surrounding political or historical topics do fit within the scope of the curriculum and are not included in the CI Instructor’s job description. The presence of a Confucius Institute on campus serves the purpose of enhancing Chinese language education, cultural awareness, and global education.

CIs’ operational expenses are co-funded by the host institution and the Confucius Institute Headquarters, also called the Office of Chinese Language Council International (or Hanban), which is affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education. Confucius Institute Headquarters provides grants that are matched or exceeded by host institutions for CI operations. The typical grant for annual operations of an American Confucius Institute is below $200,000 USD. CIs follow the same accounting procedures and policies used for external grant programs in American public universities.

At the University of Hawaii, for example, the Hanban grant represents just 2% of the University’s budget for Chinese Studies. As the Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Hawaii has pointed out, “It’s [a] misguided notion that the CI, with its annual budget of less than $200,000, most of it going to support the teaching of Chinese language and everyday culture as a form of university outreach into the community . . . would somehow have the power to effect, much less control, the China-related research and instructional output of a university that has been studying and teaching about and working with China for over a century.”

Confucius Institute instructors can either be hired locally or be requested by the American institution to be provided from the Chinese partner university. Candidates from China who best match the qualifications that the U.S. university requests serve as visiting scholars at the host institution. They are requested, selected, and invited by the American university. They comply with all the policies and regulations of international visiting scholars and teachers at American universities, holding terms between 1 to 5 years. They hold visiting scholar visas (J-1) for their academic and educational exchange efforts. They receive a living stipend from the Chinese side. They are not American employees and receive no compensation from the CI or the host institution.

In addition to visiting scholar instructors, Cis employ qualified local instructors to teach educational offerings in their Institute. Local instructors are U.S. citizens or permanent residents; their agreements adhere to American labor laws and are decided by the American host institutions and administrators. CIs adhere to the same principles of governance and accounting as any other institute or department in the university.

The first Confucius Institute in the world was established in 2004 at the University of Maryland. The number of CIs in the United States has steadily grown over the past 14 years to 110 CIs (as of February 2018). Regrettably, in 2014, the University of Chicago chose not to renew its CI program after several faculty, citing misinformation regarding CI’s academic freedom, expressed their lack of support for renewing the university’s contract with its Chinese partner university. Due to lack of enrollment, the CI at Pennsylvania State University closed in 2014. For a similar reason, the University of West Florida gave notice to Hanban and its partner university in November 2017 of its intent not to renew its contract. Meanwhile, from 2014 to 2017, ten new CIs have been established in the United States. The strong cohort of American Confucius Institutes reflects the broad support of the nation’s academic institutions for Hanban’s mission to strengthen US-China educational and cultural exchange.

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