A weekly column in which Chinese media is taken to the stocks.
By TAR Nation
So… Confucius, huh?
What a douche.
Just kidding. We’re cool, dog. *imaginary 4th Century BC fist bump*
But the Confucius Institute has been at the center of a Chinese editorial free-for-all for a good part of the week. So who is the party-line hate focused at this week? Dalai Lama? Rabiya Kadeer? Democracy? Ai Weiwei? Free Press? Foreigners? Hollywood? The Internet?
Ah, here it is: the good ol’ US of A.
Here’s what happened.
A memorandum was released on May 17 regarding Confucius Institutes in what looks like a helpful reminder and directive to get all foreign nationals under the proper visa requirements:
Blah, blah, legal stuff, blah.
Then the Chronicle of Higher Education (pro-Confucius Institute for some reason, particularly one Karin Fischer) published on May 21, four days later, how this might be a problem for Confucius Institutes and how it may even lead to some teachers not being able to get the proper visas. Karin say, “University-affiliated Confucius Institute teachers who were offering instruction to students below the college level through public outreach programs are not under the proper visa to do so.” Right. Basically, teachers in this arena are not allowed to teach K-12, something that frequently happens in Confucius Institutes. Those doing it are technically in violation of their visa and would need to go back to China to get the correct visa. Whoopdee goddamn doo. Also, some visas were cancelled in China for teachers ready to come to the US because they didn’t have the correct visa anymore. Not the end of the world, really, but it led to rumors.
Despite countless attempts to explain that this directive was not an attempt to disrupt Confucius Institutes or their visa holders but was rather a clarification on previous standards, the Chronicle of Higher Education still had a rhododendron-headed editor who decided, as early as May 22, to run this follow-up: “State Department Denies Targeting Confucius Institutes but Holds to Decision on Visas.”
So in summary: what started this mess was an organization, the Chronicle of Higher Education, overreaching their brief and reporting that the US was targeting Confucius Institutes for a visa holocaust, then fanning those flames by reporting their error (without mentioning said error) vis-a-vis the State Department.
Another problem was accreditation of the Confucius Institutes themselves, which is really an aside considering that the 80-plus universities in the US with these institutes maintain them for no other purpose than a quick pay check. In short, they’re in no danger. The schools will get them their accreditation the same way they got theirs. Cash.
None of this is important anymore. The directive, while I was writing this, mind you, has been amended to make everyone happy, and these institutes do NOT need separate accreditation.
But, ah, the Chinese editorial monster had been roused. This happened: on May 24, Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily seems to have gotten the ball rolling on the snowman from hell, resulting in a media blitz on the USA. I’ve never seen one so well orchestrated or poorly informed.
Earlier that very day, Victoria Nuland from the State Department clarified that, “This is also not about the Confucius Institutes themselves. It is simply about whether the right visa status was applied in these cases.” She also assuaged fears by saying, “And there was some muddling and messing up, so – in these cases – so we’re going to sort these out. Nobody’s going to have to leave the country. It’s all going to get cleared up. But there was some confusion on the front end, so we’re going to fix it.”
The statement was calm and reasonable, but it was too late. Of course, it wasn’t late at all — it was just heard by state media polemicists who had no use for it anymore.
Let’s take a look at the propaganda machine’s attack:
China Daily: US action self defeating: “Some in the US have a lingering Cold War mentality and allege the Confucius Institutes will corrupt American minds.”
Global Times: Why is Washington so scared of Confucius: “The issue shows that the US’ cultural confidence is not as strong as we thought.” And: “Only culturally weak countries have such sensitivity.” Really? Really, God-king of all inferiority complexes that is China, that’s what you think?
Global Times: US directive confuses Confucius Institutes: So confusing that I stopped understanding it after a while.
Global Times: Confucius ban harms ties: I find this one particularly funny because China has been the only country in the history of earth to “ban” Confucius.
People’s Daily: New visa policy sets barriers for Confucius Institutes in US: “Political forces make constant attempts to tarnish the image of the Confucius Institutes…. Certain U.S. political forces have long been groundlessly criticizing Confucius Institutes, and made constant attempts to tarnish the image of Confucius Institutes…. U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher accused China of spreading its propaganda by exploiting private media and public education.”
Let’s consider that last part of Rohrabacher’s quote, shall we? The big man himself, Li Changchun, China’s propaganda chief, has been quoted in USA Today referring to Confucius Institutes as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup.”
In consideration of this, we need to begin — as always — with accusations of censorship. Good ol’ Peng Meng wrote in Taipei Times, “Colleges and universities where a Confucius Institute is established all have to sign a contract in which they declare their support for Beijing’s ‘One-China’ policy. As a result, both Taiwan and Tibet have become taboos at these institutes.” The issue regarding the One-China Policy was further confirmed by a University of Oregon professor but has yet to be independently confirmed. Peng went on to mention other China taboos including human rights, Tiananmen Square and even pollution in China.
Well, when Peng went to give a lecture at the University of Oregon in 2010, guess what? The university was pressured by the CHINESE CONSUL GENERAL to not let him speak (thankfully, they failed).
In 2011, according to Bloomberg, a hiring notice at CI stated that teachers must be ”aged between 22 to 60, physical and mental healthy, no record of participation in Falun Gong and other illegal organizations, and no criminal record.” From the same source, the University of Chicago had over 170 faculty members protesting against the Confucius Institute at their university. Stanford’s dean of humanities said their $4 million investment came with a caveat that professors could not discuss sensitive issues like Tibet (Stanford refused the deal, humiliating the institute, which backed down and wound up funding the school anyway). In 2009, North Carolina University cancelled a trip to see the Dalai Lama due to possible conflicts with the CI. (It should be noted that Miami University in Ohio and Stanford both accepted the Dalai Lama despite the “trouble”).
There have also been claims that having a CI in your university may lead to problems with liberals getting visas, such as what happened to Andrew J. Nathan and his Modern Tibetan Studies Program.
And anyone who has ever worked for the Chinese media will tell you that actual censorship is not the biggest problem. It’s self-censorship, or as China calls it, soft power. But hey, if they want to try to teach the average American that free press is a bad thing and that the Dalai Lama eats babies, be my guest. Hell, you can’t even convince a great many Americans about evolution — they’re dumb as bricks. But not dumb enough for this bull honkey.
Out of concerns like these, Confucius Institutes have been driven out of universities in Pennsylvania, Melbourne, Stockholm (for espionage concerns which were largely groundless), and Tel Aviv.
So, not your typical language school, is it?
Seeing as how the only benefit for universities to hosting Confucius Institutes is money, I’d be a little wary of them, too.
“By peddling a product we want, namely Chinese language study, the Confucius Institutes bring the Chinese government into the American academy in powerful ways,” Chinese history professor Jonathan Lipman told Bloomberg. “The general pattern is very clear. They can say, ‘We’ll give you this money, you’ll have a Chinese program, and nobody will talk about Tibet.’ In this economy, turning them down has real costs.”
And what is the point of these CIs? In GT’s “Why is Washington so scared of Confucius” op-ed, the editors write, “When a country’s economy develops, it will care about respect from other countries. The Chinese are clear that the establishment of a country’s soft power is difficult.”
Basically, the Chinese government says it just wants to put in the tip. But we all know it’s going to end up in shafting, followed by next-morning embarrassment.
Honestly, the institutes themselves are pretty tame. They’ve been accused of a great deal, but they know upon which side their bread is buttered. Here’s the thing though: this week, in pulling out their trump card, they showed to the world that the full might of the Chinese propaganda machine is behind them. This seems like an important consideration for universities. Sure, the Confucius Institutes may be harmless, but can anyone be completely clean when they have a blood-stained guard panda begging for an excuse to kick down your door?
The Chinese government is very good at bullying. I’m willing to bet that, at this very moment, a dozen editorials slamming the American government for its Human Rights Report that was released on Friday is sitting on copyeditors’ desks, blissfully ignorant to the fact that people’s inability to comment on the report in the press is, in fact, a minor but important violation of human rights. They’ll call Americans biased, self-obsessed and ignorant. How do I know this? Because they do it every year, along with their own laughable Human Rights Report on America. The editorial writers are told what to write about, make no mistake. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it this week. I’ve seen it with my eyeballs and heard it with my ear balls. This Confucius Institute scandal is no different.
It does seem that the CPC’s view of Confucius has changed over the years. During the Cultural Revolution, the Confucius masterpiece The Analects was banned, and Confucian scholars were tortured and shamed. Red Guards took over Confucian temples, defaced statues, and chanted, “Down with Confucius, down with his wife!” (Which seems a bit harsh. What’s the wife got to do with anything?) Then, Confucius was branded a “class enemy” in a “Criticize Confucius” campaign. That’s right; they had a campaign against an Iron Age dead guy. The graves of the Kong family were trashed and looted. Corpses were dug up from their graves at the Kong family cemetery and hung from trees. Red Guards also dug up Confucius’ grave to show that it was empty.
(Psssst… hey, Chinese people… hey… these guys run your country now.)
And now they worship the man, and they get to write about how they convinced the US to do so as well.
Xinhua, 5/26, 11:21:37: U.S. amends directive on Confucius Institutes to fix mess-up
Xinhua, 5/26, 19:08:56: US Reverses directive on Confucius Institutes (“Immigration attorney Liang Ping says pressure from Beijing and concerned Universities seems to have worked.”)
China Daily, 5/26, 07:52: US tries to clear up confusion over institutes
The USA and China have their differences, but they don’t encourage people to run headlong into conflict and extinction.
I… I’m sure that everyone…
…will just get on with it and try to make the… world… a better…
…place and keep a… level head about…
Dude?! Is that General MacArthur stabbing a baby?
Everyone got all pissy this week after the 100 Day Campaign in Beijing to wipe out filthy foreigners and Yang Rui’s comments that make you want to stab a kitten with a fork, but, really, what do you expect? I mean, sure, America, the West, and everywhere in the world has had racist propaganda campaigns during wartime, and I’m sure that some of those prejudices linger in everyday life even today. But I can’t imagine how I would feel about foreigners if they were painted as complete devils my entire lifetime, up to and including today, by everyone in authority. Imagine if you grew up in a world where the only acceptable opinion was the Global Times opinion, where having a different one and expressing it in public meant big trouble. I’d be burning effigies of Chen Guangcheng faster than you can say “serve the people.”
The US and every other country that has been at the business end of a propaganda rag seeing-to is supposed to forget about these insults without so much as an apology, and when the smoke clears they have to pretend there’s a Sino-anyone friendship. I knew bullies like this at school. They’re not friends. They’re just people waiting for an excuse to bottle that smug git.
The upside of all this is that the more the Chinese government talks to the world, the more respect they lose, so, I say, bring on the Confucius Institutes, regardless of the endless strings and propaganda guard panda.
If they’re able to convince a significant number of people in the world with access to a proper Internet of the CPC view on international politics, I’ll put a leech on my dong.
We’ll end with an actual quote from Confucius that touches upon the CPC’s development ego:
When a country is well governed, poverty and anger are something to be ashamed of. When a country is ill governed, riches and honors are something to be ashamed of.
I’m starting to see why he was banned.