Confucius Institutes – Promoting Knowledge and Cooperation
Confucius Institutes around the world have the primary goals of teaching the Chinese language of standard Mandarin, as well as to promote cultural exchange and facilitate business activity between China and participating countries. With the rapid development of China’s economy, and the world’s apparently insatiable appetite for Chinese made goods, the Confucius Institutes are becoming increasingly relevant. With its headquarters located in Beijing the Confucius Institutes fall under the jurisdiction of the Office of Chinese Language Council International. Referred to locally as HanBan, this non-governmental, non-profit organization is associated with the People’s Republic of China Ministry of Education.
Following the success of a pilot project run in the Uzbekistan city of Tashkent in June 2004, in November of that year, the first official Confucius Institute was opened in Seoul, the capital city of the Republic of Korea. Other institutes followed in quick succession and by July 2010, there were 316 Confucius Institutes and 337 Confucius Classrooms located in 94 countries and regions. Conservative estimates are that there are around 100 million people around the world, outside of China, learning Chinese and HanBan has set a goal of establishing 1,000 of these institutes by the year 2010. Currently, the majority of the institutes are associated with top institutes of higher learning. There are more than sixty Confucius Institutes at colleges and universities in the United States, and other countries supporting this initiative include the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Turkey, Thailand, Sweden, Spain, South Korea, South Africa, Singapore, Serbia, Rwanda, Russia, Romania, Portugal, Poland, Philippines, Peru, Pakistan, Norway, Nigeria, New Zealand, The Netherlands, Nepal, Morocco, Mongolia, Mexico, Lebanon, Laos, Kenya, Jordan, Japan, Jamaica, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Iran, Indonesia, India, Iceland, Hungary, Greece, Georgia, Germany, France, Finland, Egypt, Ecuador, Czech Republic, Cuba, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Canada, Bulgaria, Brazil, Belgium, Barbados, Bangladesh, Bahamas, Azerbaijan, Austria, Australia, Armenia and Argentina.
While Confucius Institutes cooperate closely with the headquarters in Beijing and HanBan, universities and colleges that have agreed to support the program do so with the understanding that they have the final say as to the curriculum and its teachers. This has to some degree helped to overcome criticism that China may be using the institutes as a means of exercising so called “soft power” propaganda – the use of persuasion and attraction – to further its own interests in other countries. The fact remains that China is becoming increasingly important as a global trading partner and learning the language and customs could very well give students at the Confucius Institutes a competitive edge in the future.