FOREIGN AFFAIRS by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
China's Confucius Institutes pushing Beijing's line
, July 19, 2014
More than 300 Confucius Institutes worldwide are now leading China’s global “soft power” push.
Confucius Institutes are attached to the University of Sydney, University of Western Australia, University of Adelaide, University of Melbourne and University of Newcastle. The institutes ostensibly promote Chinese language and culture; but any staff who dissent from the political line of China’s ruling Communist Party are dismissed.
The powers in Beijing have been very clever in the manner in which they promote their soft power campaign. Instead of naming their institutes after communist luminaries such as Mao Zedong, Red China’s founding father, or Deng Xiaoping, the man who set China on the road to prosperity, they have named their institutes after Confucius, the sage whose teachings form the basis of governance in China and much of East Asia, right up to today.
Confucius is the Latinised name of Kung Dz, or “Master Kung”. Confucius was a teacher and adviser who lived from 551 to 479 BC and promoted honesty and ethical dealing. He was born in today’s Shandong Province in northeast China.
Confucius is regarded not as a prophet or god, but as a teacher. In the Republic of China on Taiwan, where Confucius is regarded with reverence, his birthday is celebrated as Teachers’ Day. It is ironic, if not somewhat deceitful, that the Chinese Communist Party has named its major soft power initiative after a conservative who advocated limitations on the power of the state over its people. In today’s China, the Communist Party literally wields the power of life and death, as the judicial system is subservient to the Party.
Confucius believed that everyone has his rightful place and duties in society, These are summed up in the five Confucian relationships. They are: 1) ruler and subject; 2) father and son; 3) elder brother and younger brother; 4) husband and wife; and 5) friend and friend.
You may notice that Confucian relationships are based on the family. The family is the foundation stone of Chinese society and has been for thousands of years. When the Chinese Communist Party launched its vendetta against traditional Chinese society, its first and most shocking campaign was to turn husband against wife and children against parents in the Cultural Revolution.
When Western people say, “My family is important to me”, they are not talking about the same thing. In traditional Chinese society, the family was a welfare system, justice system, taxation system, foreign ministry and treasury. The extended Chinese family could often number thousands of members.
Religion makes China different from other enduring civilisations. Ancestor worship — or, to be more correct, veneration of the elders — formed the basis of Chinese belief systems.
The three major belief systems of China have been Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Confucianism is a system of ethics, not a religion. Taoism is a belief system founded by Lao Tzu, who is believed to have been a contemporary of Confucius. Lao Tzu means the “Old One”. The Tao means “the Way”, or “the Path”. Taoism is somewhat different from other belief systems in that it is frequently anti-authoritarian.
The third major belief system is Buddhism. In contrast to Confucianism and Taoism, which are native Chinese beliefs, Buddhism was imported from India. The first Buddhist temple was the White Horse Temple, built near Luoyang in central Henan Province. If you asked a Chinese person what his religion was, if indeed he had such a concept, the answer would probably be “Buddhist”.
Christianity is not new to China. It was first brought to the country in the eighth century by the Nestorians (Assyrians). Christianity has waxed and waned and is currently going through a resurgence. But trying to estimate the number of Christians in China is like asking, “How long is a piece of string?” Some churches are tolerated by the authorities, and others are proscribed.
One popular estimate of the number of believers is around 60 million. Christians may indeed even outnumber communists.
Muslims tend to be concentrated in the West, or Xinjiang (“New Frontier”). Violence in this province has surged recently and the Chinese authorities have responded savagely. The native people, the Uyghurs (pronounced “wee-gers”) have been blamed for several terrorist incidents.
Not all Western educational institutions have welcomed China’s Confucian Institutes with the enthusiasm — one might say credulity — of the Australian universities.
In Canada in 2011, the University of Manitoba turned down a proposal for a Confucius Institute over concerns about political censorship. McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, shut its institute in June last year after a complaint about China’s human rights record.
Last December, the Université de Sherbrooke, in the French-speaking province of Quebec, announced it was closing its institute.
According to the Toronto Globe and Mail (June 30, 2014), James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said Canadian universities and colleges are compromising their integrity by allowing a government known for political censorship to have a voice in academic matters.
“We feel there’s no place on a campus or in a proper educational setting where political direction should shape what teachers and students can discuss,” Dr Turk said.