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It is governed by the Office of Chinese Language Council International (Chinese: 中国国家汉语国际推广领导小组办公室; pinyin: Zhōngguó guójiā hànyǔ guójì tuīguǎng lǐngdǎo xiǎozǔ bàngōngshì), affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education. The Hanban describes itself as a "non-government and non-profit organization",[non-primary source needed] but The Economist calls it a "government entity". The current President of the Council is State Councilor Chen Zhili.
According to the mission statement: "Hanban is committed to developing Chinese language and culture teaching resources and making its services available worldwide, meeting the demands of overseas Chinese learners to the utmost degree, and to contributing to global cultural diversity and harmony." Generally, the Council is charged with cultivating knowledge and interest in the Chinese language and culture in nations around the world that are not native speakers of Chinese.
The following twelve state ministries and commissions are represented in the Chinese Language Council International:
- General Office of the State Council
- Ministry of Education
- Ministry of Finance
- Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- State Development and Reform Commission
- Ministry of Commerce
- Ministry of Culture
- State Administration of Radio Film and Television (China Radio International)
- State Press and Publications Administration
- State Council Information Office and the State Language Committee
Criticisms and controversies
Academics and journalists have criticized the Hanban, particularly the Confucius Institute program that has rapidly grown worldwide since 2004.
Hanban is most notable for the Confucius Institute program, but it also sponsors the Chinese Bridge competition, which is a competition in Chinese proficiency for non-native speakers. On April 2007 while inspecting Hanban, Li Changchun, member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo in charge of ideology and propaganda stated that: "the construction of Confucius Institutes is an important channel to glorify Chinese culture, to help Chinese culture spread to the world...(which is) part of China's foreign propaganda strategy""
In January 2010, the Ministry of Finance of the People's Republic of China announced that the winning bid to build and maintain the Confucius Institute Online website was awarded to the Hanban subsidiary company Wuzhou Hanfeng Web Technology Ltd. (Wuzhou Hanfeng Wangluo Keji 五洲汉风网络科技) for 35.2 million yuan (US$5.7 million). Wuzhou Hanfeng Web Technology Ltd. was registered to Wáng Yǒnglì (王永利), Deputy Director-General of Hanban and Deputy Chief Executive of Confucius Institute Headquarters, a connection which led news media and social media commentators to criticize Hanban for a lack of transparency and corruption. In response, Hanban Director-General Xià Jiànhuī (夏建辉) said "the website will eventually be made into a learning portal that will be promoted globally, this is a comprehensive project", and maintained that the Hanban did not break any rules by allowing their own subsidiary company to win the contract.
The CIs are also criticized for their hiring practices. It was revealed that CI teachers are forbidden to have any in class discussion on or any involvement with topics sensitive to the Chinese regime, such as the Uyghurs, Tibet, Falun Gong, democracy advocates, etc. Canada's McMaster University terminated its contract with its CI after Sonia Zhao, former teacher at the University's CI, quit her job, and subsequently appealed to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for the university's “giving legitimization to discrimination.” Under her job contract with the CI Ms. Zhao was forced to hide her belief in Falun Gong, a spiritual movement persecuted by the Communist party of China.
Two North American associations of educators warned that Confucius Institutes were threatening academic freedoms. In December 2013, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) passed a resolution, "That all universities and colleges in Canada which currently host Confucius Institutes on their campuses cease doing so, and universities and colleges currently contemplating such arrangements pursue them no further." CAUT executive director James Turk described CIs as "essentially political arms of the Chinese government", and said the 10 Canadian universities that host CIs are compromising their integrity by allowing the Hanban to have a voice in academic matters such as curriculum and topics of class discussion, which constitutes a "fundamental violation of academic freedom." In June, 2014, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) called on the almost 100 American universities that host Confucius Institutes to renegotiate their contracts with the Hanban. The AAUP's Report on Academic Freedom stated, "Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom."
A 21 June 2014 editorial in The Washington Post listed recent concerns about Confucius Institutes, including the AAUP advising universities to cut ties with them, alleged violations of freedom of speech and human rights, and the secrecy of undisclosed contracts between schools and the Hanban. It concluded that "academic freedom cannot have a price tag", and recommended that if universities will not publish their CI agreements, the programs should end. The official Chinese news agency Xinhua "hit back with an angry editorial" on 24 June, saying the claims by the AAUP and others that CIs "function as an arm of the Chinese state and are pushing political agendas", actually "expose not so much communist propaganda as their own intolerance of exotic cultures and biased preconceived notions to smear and isolate the CPC".
Scandals involving Hanban's Director
Xu Lin, the Director of the Hanban and Secretary-General of the Confucius Institute Headquarters, caused two international scandals in 2014. In July, she ordered her staff to rip pages referring to Taiwanese academic institutions from the published program for the European Association for Chinese Studies conference in Portugal, claiming the materials were "contrary to Chinese regulations", which the Wall Street Journal described as the "bullying approach to academic freedom". In September, the University of Chicago closed their CI, blaming Xu's comments that her threatening letter and phone call forced the university to continue hosting the institute. The Business Spectator concludes that the Xu Lin's hardline behavior highlights one of the biggest problems for Beijing’s charm offensive. "It still relies on officials like Xu, who still think and act like party ideologues who like to assert their authority and bully people into submission."
Braga censorship incident
On 22 July 2014, the evening before the start of the European Association of Chinese Studies (EACS) conference in Braga, Portugal, Xu Lin censored four pages from the conference program and one page from the abstracts, which referred to Taiwan’s Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange, a major sponsor of the conference for the past 20 years. The EACS protested and reprinted all the deleted materials for distribution to all conference members. Roger Greatrex, president of the EACS, subsequently issued a report on the page deletions, and an official letter of protest that concluded, "Such interference in the internal organization of the international conference of an independent and democratically organized non-profitable academic organization is totally unacceptable."
The Confucius China Studies Program (CCSP), which is administered by the Confucius Institute, was another major sponsor of the conference, and Sun Lam, director of the University of Minho Confucius Institute was a co-organizer of the conference. The CCSP international conference funding application states, "The conference is regulated by the laws and decrees of both China and the host country, and will not carry out any activities which are deemed to be adverse to the social order." Dr. Lam submitted a draft copy of the program to the CCSP, who subsequently approved the materials.
Conference registration began on 22 July 2014, and about 100 participants received complete copies of the abstracts and program, which comprised 89 pages plus cover and front matter. However, after Xu Lin arrived that evening, she proclaimed that mention of the CCSP sponsorship be removed from the Conference Abstracts, and ordered her entourage from Confucius Institute Headquarters to remove all conference materials and take them to the apartment of a local CI employee. When the remaining 300 participants arrived for conference registration on 23 July, they did not receive the printed abstracts or programs but only a brief summarized schedule. After last-minute negotiations between Xu Lin and conference organizers to ensure conference members received the program, a compromise was made to allow the removal of one abstract page that mentioned the CCSP support of the conference.
On the morning of 24 July, the remaining 300 conference participants received their materials, which were now missing four printed pages: the frontispiece mentioning CCSP sponsorship in the conference abstract, and three pages from the conference program. These expurgated pages contained information the book exhibition and library donation organized by the Taiwan National Central Library, and the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange. The director of the National Central Library stated that EACS officials and members had spoken out against Xu during the opening ceremony.
Marshall Sahlins explained that the EACS censorship brings to light the Hanban's seriousness in enforcing its contractual provisions "the way they do in China which is not so much by going to court ... but simply by fiat".
The Christian Science Monitor said that the censorship has made more American, European, and Australian academics grow uneasy with CIs, and reported that when Ms. Xu met privately with foreign scholars in Shanghai, who asked specifically about the missing pages "she denied ordering them censored."
In December 2014, the BBC interviewed Xu Lin in Beijing. When the interviewer brought up the Braga incident, Xu Lin objected and later asked for large portions of the interview to be deleted. One of the points she made in the interview is that Taiwan belongs to China, and therefore outsiders have no business interfering. The BBC did not agree to the censorship demand. "Xu Lin not only refused to answer difficult questions, she also politicised the Confucius Institutes and reinforced the idea that they are led by dogmatists," commented Gary Rawnsley, professor of Public Diplomacy at Aberystwyth University, Wales. The Wall Street Journal reported on Xu's BBC interview, and said, "Critics have argued that China’s Confucius Institutes pose a threat to academic freedom in the United States, Canada, Europe and beyond. Now the Beijing official in charge of them has confirmed it."
University of Chicago CI closure
On 25 September 2014, the University of Chicago stated that it had suspended negotiations to renew its CI contract because "recently published comments about UChicago in an article about the director-general of Hanban are incompatible with a continued equal partnership." This indirectly referred to Xu Lin's interview with the Jiefang Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party in Shanghai, published on 19 September 2014, in which she claimed to have intimidated the president of the University of Chicago "with a single sentence", after 100 professors signed a petition to ban the Confucius Institute.
Xu Lin wrote a letter to Chicago's president and called the university representative in Beijing (where Chicago has a research center), "with only one line: 'If your school decides to withdraw, I will agree to it.' Her attitude made the other side anxious. The school quickly responded that it will continue to properly manage the Confucius Institute."
Other media reports said Xu's comments: "brought panic" to the university, which was convinced by this "demeaning depiction" that an equal partnership was impossible; "could be construed as a boastful challenge"; "implied the school had kowtowed to the Chinese government"; or caused UChicago administrators to become "anxious" at the thought of shutting down the CI.
In response to the UChicago CI closure, the official Chinese People's Daily published "Rejecting Confucius Institutes not helpful to understand China" on 28 September 2014, but with two factual errors. First, closing the Confucius Institute does not mean "Chinese language study in the university would cease soon"; it means the university's Center for East Asian Studies will resume teaching Chinese. Second, without reference either to UChicago's statement, which specifically blamed Xu Lin's remarks, nor to the widespread media coverage of her Jiefang Daily interview, People's Daily said, "Though the university did not detail the reasons behind the suspension, many believed it was linked to the American Association of University Professors' boycott of CI."
Xu's PR scandals occurred during the Hanban's international celebrations for the 10th anniversary of Confucius Institutes. The Australian Business Spectator, describing the EACS incident as "highly damaging" for China's international image, said, "Xu’s hardline behaviour highlights one of the biggest problems for Beijing’s charm offensive. It still relies on officials like Xu, who still think and act like party ideologues who like to assert their authority and bully people into submission... [Xu Lin] has been a publicity disaster."
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