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No need to fuss over Confucius Institutes
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In this photo taken on May 2008, a student from the Russian Confucius Institute demonstrates her Chinese calligraphy.
In this photo taken on May 2008, a student from the Russian Confucius Institute demonstrates her Chinese calligraphy. [Xinhua photo]

Perhaps no one will label Goethe Institutes, Alliances Francaises or Cervantes Institutes as propaganda vehicles or tools of cultural invasion, so why all the fuss over China's Confucius Institutes, an identical organization?

China is neither the inventor nor the monopolizer of establishing such institutes to promote overseas cultural understanding and facilitate language learning.

The Alliance Francaise was created in 1883 and has been entrusted with the task of promoting the French language and culture abroad -- a task which is identical to that of the Confucius Institute. At present, there are about 1,100 language centers in 133 different countries.

Similarly, Germany begun to open its first Goethe Institute in 1951, while the Cervantes Institutes started to recruit students in 1991.

If these practices are condoned and even celebrated, why are China's efforts being doubted?

Cultural invasion, by definition, indicates intentional and systematic actions to replace one country's cultural habits with those of another. Yet what Confucius Institutes are doing is simply opening a window through which foreigners can catch a glimpse of traditional Chinese culture if they so desire.

More importantly, it is up to the visitors of these institutes to decide whether to accept these foreign values or not as Confucius Institutes simply have no such jurisdiction, let along being invaders from an alien culture.

Additionally, those who accuse the institutes of being propaganda vehicles have no facts on which they can base their claims.

Ever since China began helping to establish Confucius Institutes in 2004 for public good, these facilities are designed to provide non-profit Chinese learning programs to language learners and to promote the knowledge of this ancient oriental civilization.

As of July 2010, 316 Confucius Institutes have been opened in more than 90 countries and regions. None of the institutes was established without the request and consent of host universities and colleges.

According to an introduction posted on the website of the Beijing-based Confucius Institute headquarters, in order for an institute to be established, a foreign partner needs to apply first. After the application is approved, the facility will be run under equitable bilateral cooperation. Thus, there is no way that the Chinese side could "manipulate" the institute as it is falsely accused of.

Also, courses taught in the institutes mainly fall into three categories, namely language learning, teacher training and traditional Chinese culture. There are no governmental policy lessons available.

Therefore, no one can expect a government promotion agency to be effective if it does not advocate official policies. ' Besides, the Confucius Institutes acquaint students with traditional values such as benevolence, righteousness and harmony. These are among the most exemplary traditional virtues and are also reflected in other cultures and religions.

At present, Confucius Institutes are teaching Chinese to over 40 million people around the world, and the number is growing fast due to China's increasing openness, plus the world's burgeoning curiosity to know more about China.

The institutes also benefit learners in many practical ways such as better job opportunities and more convenience in doing business with Chinese traders or firms.

As globalization is singing the theme song of our time, the world is becoming smaller and smaller, and contacts between different cultures will undoubtedly boost understanding and trust. The Confucius Institutes, by showcasing China's culture and enlightening the world about its values, can help to achieve that end.

(Xinhua News Agency August 12, 2010)

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