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Expansion of Soft Power through Language, Culture, and Exchanges

December 12, 2009
Confucius Institutes

map of Confucius Institutes in worldLanguage learning can be a powerful tool for promoting greater understanding between different cultures. China’s network of Confucius Institutes were established to support Chinese language learning globally. The first Confucius Institute was established on November 21, 2004 in Seoul, South Korea, and there are now 357 in 97 countries on five continents. The Confucius Institute is an organization that promotes Chinese culture internationally through affiliated branches that are often hosted by universities and colleges. It is governed by the Chinese Language Council,1 which is composed of 12 Chinese government agencies including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Commerce, and State Council Information Office. The CLC also provides teaching and curriculum materials which focus on China’s history, culture, and language.

The Confucius Institute at Michigan State University has also established a virtual Confucius Institute within the virtual world Second Life with the same goals as its brick and mortar counterpart.2

Confucius Institutes around the World

Africa

23

Asia

94

Europe

125

North America

69

Pacific

11

South America

35

The role of the Chinese government in overseeing the governance of the Confucius Institutes raises questions about the kind of understanding of Chinese culture that is being advanced. If Chinese history is sanitized by the erasure of China’s censored past and of current social issues, will these officially supported programs contribute to greater understanding or to a misunderstanding of China? What will be the implications for the role of the international academic community in supporting the progress of human rights in China and elsewhere in the world?

Global Cultural Events

In addition to the Confucius Institutes, Chinese authorities are actively promoting film festivals, painting and photography exhibits, cultural festivals, and performances throughout the world. Many of these cultural exchanges are not only prominently supported by the Chinese government, but also include the participation of Chinese ambassadors, representatives from the Chinese Ministry of Culture, China’s State Council Information Office, and their foreign official counterparts.

In co-hosting cultural events with the Chinese authorities, is the international community falling into the trap of conflating the “Chinese culture” of China’s ancient past with the Chinese culture co-opted by an authoritarian government? What is the impact of this made-for-export version of Chinese culture on human rights and on the diversity and independence of domestic Chinese voices?

The World Celebrates Chinese Culture 2009: A Select List

Australia

National Day Dinner (Adelaide) September 25, 2009
Jungkin Theater Troup (Sydney) September 28, 2009

Austria

Chinese Cultural Festival (Vienna) October 23–25, 2009

Bangladesh

Cultural show of China’s Inner Mongolia Artist Troupe (Dhaka) September 28, 2009
Chinese Photo Exhibition and Film Week (Dhaka) September 26–October 3, 2009

Barbados

Guangdong Art Group (St. Michael) October 14, 2009

Belgium

Europalia features special guest China (Brussels) October 2009–February 2010

Canada

Asian Cultural Night (Toronto) May 4, 2009
Montreal International Dragon Boat Race Festival (Montreal) July 25–26, 2009
A Kaleidoscope of China: Reflections of the Modern
Chinese Lifestyle (Calgary) October 1–31, 2009
Mid-Autumn Festival (Vancouver) October 2, 2009
Chinese Cultural Festival (Vancouver) October 2–4, 2009
Chinese Cultural Week (Ontario) October 13–17, 2009
East Asian Festival (Halifax) November 7, 2009

Colombia

Semana de China (Bogota) February 23–27, 2009

France

Chinese Film Festival (Paris) September 22–October 6, 2009
Exposition of the Art of the Seal, Li Lanqing (Paris) October 10–November 14, 2009
Fourth Edition of the Festival of Chinese Traditional Opera (Paris) November 16“22, 2009

Germany

Frankfurt Book Fair (Frankfurt) October 14–18, 2009

Israel

Experience China in Israel (Tel Aviv) October 2009

Italy

Snow-covered Plateau Paintings Exhibition of China (Rome / Milan) October 2009

Nepal

Women of China’s Tibet (Kathmandu) September 10–17, 2009
China Festival 2009 (Kathmandu) September 29–October 5, 2009

New Zealand

Madam Li Yajun Water Color Painting Exhibition (Auckland) October 25–30, 2009

North Korea

Chinese Oil Paintings (Pyongyang) September 29–October 5, 2009

Russia

Chinese Film Week (Moscow) October 9, 2009

South Africa

Chinese Film Festival (Durban) August 18–September 11, 2009
50 Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet Photo Exhibition (Durban) March 25, 2009

United Kingdom

China Classic Film Festival (Wales) October 2009

United States

Looking East: Young Artists From China: Prints and Paintings (Missouri) October 2009–January 2010
Melody of China (Pennsylvania) October 30, 2009
Highlights of Classical Chinese Theater (Minnesota) November 1, 2009
Ancient Paths, Modern Voices: A Festival Celebrating Chinese Culture (New York / California) October 21–November 10, 2009

Notes

1. The Office of Chinese Language Council International (also known as Hanban) can be found online at http://www.hanban.org. ^

2. Michigan State University Confucius Institute, “Second Life Chinese School Introduction,” http://confucius.msu.edu/secondlife/default.html. ^

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