Countering China's Influence

Confucius Classrooms campaign
Confucius Classrooms campaign

China's Confucius Classrooms

In 2004, China launched its Confucius Institute programme, placing centres of Chinese language teaching in foreign educational institutions. Today it has more than 400 Institutes (based in universities) and more than 600 Classrooms (based in schools) across the world.

While Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms may bear the names of the foreign establishments they are based in, they are financially supported by China's government, partially managed by China's government and employ Chinese staff appointed by China's government.

What does this mean for Tibet?

"Confucius Institutes are an important part of our overseas propaganda set-up"

- Li Changchun, former head of propaganda, Communist Party of China

Confucius Controversy

In recent years, Confucius Institutes have become increasingly controversial, with academic organisations speaking out against them and a number of universities closing them down. The Chinese staff employed in them are politically vetted and forbidden to discuss sensitive subjects like Tibet. Academics and students have also raised concerns that the financial investment in the universities by China will deter them from teaching about issues China objects to and may even prevent host universities taking other actions China may object to - such as inviting the Dalai Lama to speak.

Concerns have also been raised about the Chinese staff employed, who face political discrimination when recruited and who are questioned about their discussions with students on their return. At least one has sought asylum in the west because of that discrimination.

The Tibetan national flag
The Tibetan national flag

All these concerns also apply to Confucius Classrooms in high schools and lower/primary schools. Although the Classrooms focus on language teaching, they are also intended to promote "understanding" and "friendship" and increase teaching about China in the school system. What China wants foreign students to learn about China does not include human rights abuses and the occupation of Tibet.

China also provides money and resources such as books and teachers to schools. For financially challenged schools it seems an offer too good to be true - but China's apparent generosity may lead those touched by the Classrooms to believe that China is a benign nation seeking worldwide understanding, instead of a country ruled with an iron fist by a government which rejects democracy and human rights - and which continues to occupy and brutally repress Tibet.

Free Tibet is deeply concerned about the influence of Confucius Classrooms. We are already confronting China's attempt to influence children by contacting schools and offering our help - including teaching resources in English and Chinese - to ensure they are providing a balanced education about China and Tibet. We are also challenging local councils to prove that China's money is not making them adopt policies favourable to China, and we are bringing our arguments to politicians, governments and the media (e.g. the Herald and the Telegraph).

Read more about the Confucius Classroom programme and the risk it poses to our children's education in our new Hosting a Dragon (PDF) report.

Where are Confucius Classrooms? See the map here.

Taking action

You can help us challenge China's influence: contact your Minister for Education and demand that Confucius Classrooms are properly scrutinised.

Teachers and students

Where China's government is trying to win friends, it is vital that young people are able to get a full picture of China as a country, not just what its unelected government wants them to learn.

Free Tibet has developed educational resources in English and Chinese which provide a comprehensive picture of Tibet and links to authoritative sources of information about human and civil rights in China.