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Friday, June 29, 2012

Why the fuss over Confucius Institutes?

Some say Beijing-funded language and culture schools fly in the face of academic freedom
 By Alex Ballingall

Then, in 2011, as the Globe and Mail reported recently, a teacher dispatched from China to teach at the Confucius Institute at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. quit her post and filed for refugee status. The newspaper reported that the teacher, a follower of China’s repressed Falun Gong movement named Sonia Zhao, was unable to express her political or religious beliefs as a Confucius Institute teacher—it was prohibited in her job contract, which outlaws teachers with Falun Gong affiliations. In her formal complaint to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, Zhao accused McMaster of “giving legitimization to discrimination.”

It’s hardly the first time Confucius Institutes—of which there more than 320 worldwide—have been cast in an unfavourable light. Funded by Hanban, a branch of China’s education ministry, the institutes have been framed as propaganda tools that export Beijing’s tightly controlled worldview for international consumption, limiting student discussion of Tibet, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the status of ethnic and religious minorities in China. Last summer, human rights lawyer Clive Ansley told the Epoch Times that Confucius Institutes, in banning teachers with ties to the Falun Gong, are breaking “all human rights codes in Canada.”

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