Jan 17, 2020 - World

America's oldest Confucius Institute to close

Citing federal regulations, the University of Maryland said on Friday that it will close its Confucius Institute, the earliest of its kind in the United States.

Why it matters: It is the latest in a string of U.S. universities to end their partnerships with Chinese government-funded language and culture programs.

The big picture: Amid allegations of censorship and U.S. government scrutiny over its activities, these Chinese government-funded language and culture programs face growing barriers in the U.S.

  • On Jan. 17, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh wrote in a campus-wide email that it was no longer possible for the school's Confucius Institute (CI) to continue to operate, due to U.S. government regulations.
  • The program will close at the end of the 2019-2020 academic year.
  • In 2004, the University of Maryland became the first U.S. university to host a Confucius Institute. Now, it is only the latest school to close its Confucius Institute due to U.S. government pressure.
  • Confucius Institutes have faced growing criticism for censoring speech on U.S. campuses and for prohibiting politically sensitive topics in language classrooms.
  • Critics say the programs allow China’s authoritarian government to censor American students on American campuses. 
  • But proponents argue that Confucius Institutes offer valuable language education, particularly at schools that otherwise can’t afford to offer Chinese language classes.

Details: The 2018 National Defense Authorization Act prohibited universities that receive funding for language programs through the Department of Defense from also accepting Chinese government funding for Confucius Institutes.

What they’re saying: “After evaluating the impact of this legislation on UMD, it became evident that we can no longer host Confucius Institute at Maryland,” wrote Loh. “We have notified CI Headquarters in Beijing that we are ending our agreement.”

Background: Confucius Institutes are funded by through the Chinese Ministry of Education, which also provides textbooks and teachers. 

  • The institutes are embedded on the campuses of universities around the world. At their peak, there were over 100 such institutes as US colleges and universities.
  • The programs offer Chinese language and culture classes and programming.

The bottom line: Engagement with China was once seen in a positive light. But as China’s government has taken a hard authoritarian turn, and as the U.S. mood toward China has soured, it’s gotten harder for joint U.S.-China programs to survive. 

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