Chinese schools under scrutiny

Contributed photo
Contributed photo

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has recently made a call for the closure of Confucius Institutes (C.I) on Canadian university campuses.
Despite being touted as educational institutions, there are serious concerns over the  academic legitimacy of C.I.’s.

“We debated it in our executive meeting in December and then brought a motion to council and it was overwhelmingly approved by academics from across the country” explained Leonard Findlay, chair of the academic freedom and tenure committee at CAUT.

Confucius Institutes serve as hubs to promote Chinese language and culture within their respective communities through partnerships with host universities.

However, there is a concern that these institutes have a perceived lack of academic freedom.

“C.I. teachers are instructed not to talk about Taiwan, not talk about Tibet, not talk about Tiananmen Square, not to talk about Xianjiang,” said Blaine Chiasson, associate professor of modern Chinese history and Sino-Russian relations at Wilfrid Laurier University.

“There’s a number of off topics that they’re not allowed to discuss. They’re told to give the party line,” he added.

This may seem restricting by Canadian standards, but the institutes are actually controlled by the Chinese government. “It is part of the government propaganda apparatus; it’s funded by them. Its goal is to sort of spread a certain image of China,” continued Chiasson.

When asked if the CI’s being placed off-campus would quell CAUT’s concerns, Findlay responded that “it would be the same for any other government.”

Not only are there concerns over the messages being propagated by the C.I.’s, but also their autonomy. This autonomous characteristic allows for Hanban, the language education branch of the Chinese

Government that controls CI’s, to engage in practices that are deemed illegal in Canada.

“CAUT is taking a public position and it’s urging its members on their own campuses, it’s not trying to tell them what to do, but it is drawing to their attention the dangers of confidential agreements, differential rights for those who are hired by Hanban as opposed to hired by Laurier or Waterloo or anywhere else,” said Findlay.

Seneca College notably has a branch of a Confucius Institute.

An email statement from Kayla Lewis, Seneca’s media relations representative, explained, “Seneca does not participate in the hiring process of Chinese teachers for the Confucius Institute. The Institute’s staff from China are employees of Seneca’s partner institution, Northeast Normal University.”

Along with criticism of hiring practices, there is an allegation that followers of Falun Gong — a spiritual discipline barely two decades old — are being discriminated against in the hiring process, as they are seen as dissidents.

McMaster University closed their Confucius Institute earlier in 2013 because of dissatisfaction with C.I. hiring practices in China.

“Do they give you the full perspective of what Chinese culture is and the different facets of Chinese culture?  No they don’t,” asserted Chiasson.

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