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China has been stepping up its efforts to project a positive image abroad, including funding a growing number of “Confucius Institutes.” These institutes promote Chinese language and culture in partnerships with organizations and universities around the world. China now operates 350 of these institutes, including more than 60 on U.S. campuses. Many cash-strapped universities welcome the support, but critics worry that there may be too many strings attached.
- C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr. Regents Professor of Engineering, University of Maryland; Former President, University of Maryland, College Park
- William Reeder Dean, College of Visual and Performing Arts; Professor of Arts Management, George Mason University
- Tobie Meyer-Fong Co-chair, PTA foreign language committee at Brent Elementary School; Associate Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University
- Arthur Waldron Lauder Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. China is a major exporter, iPhones, coffee makers, Nike sneakers, you name it, but China has also been quietly stepping up another export, Chinese language and culture promoted through Confucius Institutes around the world.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe goal is to counter what are often negative headlines and promote a different view of China, to project soft power as it's called. Confucius Institutes offer cash-strapped universities help in teaching Chinese language and culture programs along with opportunities for exchanges with a partner university in China. There are now 350 Confucius Institutes around the world, including around 70 here in the U.S., the first being the University of Maryland's program launched in 2004.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMany universities welcome this support from Beijing, but some are concerned about strings that might be attached. Joining us to discuss it all is C.D. "Dan" Mote Jr., he is the Regents professor of engineering at the University of Maryland. He's also the former president of the University of Maryland at College Park. Dan Mote, good to see you again.
DR. DAN MOTE JR.Ah, Kojo, very nice to see you as always.
NNAMDIGood to have you in studio. Also in studio with us is Tobie Meyer-Fong, co-chair of the PTA foreign language committee at Brent Elementary School in the Capital Hill neighborhood of Washington. She's also a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. Tobie Meyer-Fong, thank you for joining us.
MS. TOBIE MEYER-FONGThank you so much for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us is William Reeder, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and a professor of Arts Management at George Mason University. William Reeder, thank you for joining us.
MR. WILLIAM REEDERGlad to be here.
NNAMDIIt's a conversation that you can join by calling us at 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com or simply send us a tweet @kojoshow. Dan, I'll start with you. Let's start indeed with the basics. What is a Confucius Institute?
MOTE JR.Well, in 2004, actually this program was initiated by China and the idea was that universities around the world, in fact, might be interested to develop programs, partially sponsored by China, on the teaching of the language and culture of China. Actually, it was associated with, in effect, at the time that China had just joined the WTO and they thought it was necessary that it take an opportunity to help the world understand more about culture and language in China, so essentially, it's a partnership.
NNAMDIYou were involved with Confucius Institutes from the very beginning in this country. Tell us how this came about at the University of Maryland?
MOTE JR.Yes, actually the University of Maryland was the first Confucius Institute in the world, as a matter of fact. In 2004, a minister of the Council of Education at the Chinese Embassy actually came to talk to me about being in a pilot program for this idea and it seemed essential actually to me that people around the world needed to understand more about China's language and culture and therefore this was a golden opportunity, as a matter of fact, and I jumped at the chance.
MOTE JR.And at the time, interestingly enough, the thinking was in its preliminary state that there might be 50 of these in the world at some point and maybe 10 in the United States over time. That was the initial conversation we had. But the idea was so electric that now there are 81 in the United States, as a matter of fact, at the moment and about 300 Confucius classrooms also in the United States as well. So in the world there is, as you said, about 350 Confucius Institutes and about 500 classrooms.
NNAMDIWhat programs does the University of Maryland's Confucius Institute offer?
MOTE JR.Well, its programs are about culture, about theater, arts, about language. It works with Confucius classrooms in the state of Maryland. And in College Park, there's a little paint branch classroom, for example. So it's a process of really -- these Confucius Institutes are really not designed to teach university students. They're really designed to teach people around universities about Chinese culture and language.
MOTE JR.And so the University of Maryland, being right next to the nation's capital, we engage with the Library of Congress, its Asia studies efforts. We have joint programs. We have programs on traditional Chinese medicine. There are a number of things about Chinese culture that we engage in and many because it's the nation's capital, there are many scholars and leaders from China coming through. They come and visit and give lectures and so forth.
MOTE JR.We also inspire and provide opportunities for people to visit China and have experiences there. And we work with our colleagues in Nankai University as well to connect them.
NNAMDIIf you've been involved with a Confucius Institute or a Confucius classroom, we'd like to hear your experience. Call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tobie Meyer-Fong, the reputation of Confucius has had something of the revival in China. What is the significance of the name, Confucius Institutes? You specialize in Asian history.
MEYER-FONGSure. In the last couple of years, Confucius has indeed, in mainland China, enjoyed something of a revival. Certainly, he was featured front and center in 2008 in the context of the Olympic opening ceremonies. Confucius' famous opening line of the Analects, welcoming friends from afar, isn't that a nice thing or happy occasion? It was, in a sense, a headline for the headline acts. The image of Confucius certainly is intended to project a respect for traditional Chinese culture. It is meant to emphasize the language and cultural dimension of these programs.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Bill Reeder, as I understand it, each Confucius Institute is unique. It's developed individually by each university and its partner, a university in Beijing. Tell us about George Mason's Confucius Institute.
REEDERThe point you make is correct and the characteristic of each of the institutes reflects the partnership. We are all partnered, paired with a sister university from throughout all of China so each Confucius Institute can have a completely different partner. Our partner happens to be the Beijing Language and Cultural University, which is China's number one language training school and so our partnership naturally focused on Chinese language training.
REEDERWe host six faculty members, four full professional faculty members, two who have majored in English and two who teach Chinese as a second language and then two graduate assistants both majoring in English or Chinese as a second language and they are in residence with us. And actually, we've developed a whole range of community-based programs which deploy these experts and make them available to students of all ages virtually.
REEDERAnd then we also do teacher training, working with teachers in the public school systems of northern Virginia. We do testing on language competency, it's called the HSK Test, we offer that. We organize, as does the University of Maryland, scholarship opportunities sending students and teachers to China and not just university students, but high school students, community-based students. And then we have, like the University of Maryland, a wide range of cultural activities.
NNAMDIA big part of George Mason's focus is on schools, kindergarten through the 12th grade. Tell us about that aspect of the institute.
REEDERWell, in part, because our partner is in language instruction, we wanted to maximize the number of people that we could impact. And clearly going through the public school systems in northern Virginia was that pathway and it's been very, very well received. Now, we don't actually send a teacher into the classroom, per se. We work with teachers on providing textbook materials, cultural insight and study guides, teacher training and that we do in conjunction with our College of Education so it's a real collaborative partnership.
NNAMDIShould Chinese language and culture be one aspect of education in our public schools? Why or why not? 800-433-8850, Tobie Meyer-Fong, you brought a Chinese language program to your son's elementary school, Brent Elementary in southeast, through a state department program. Tell us about that.
MEYER-FONGSure. Well, first of all, I feel very, very strongly that foreign language education is a critical part of the education of every child and in working with another mother -- it wasn't me working alone that brought a Chinese program to Brent Elementary. It was really a partnership with another mother and with the school administration. We wrote up a grant proposal. We basically applied for a grant funded by the State Department called The Teachers of Critical Languages Program administered by the American Councils of International Education.
MEYER-FONGAnd we had the great, good fortune to be selected for that program and had visiting teachers from China for several years under the auspices of that program. But from the beginning, we knew that that was a limited time proposition. It's really intended as seed money and our long-term goal was to get a full-time D.C. public schools licensed Chinese language teacher in the classroom. And starting this year, we were able to do that.
MEYER-FONGWe have Miss Wong, who is a tremendous asset, very active in every aspect of the school and she's really done a tremendous job. Three hundred fifty Brent Elementary School students, ranging in age from 3 years old through the 5th grade, have Chinese every week.
NNAMDIWell, you did get some pushback from some parents. They asked the question, why Chinese? Why not Spanish? What was your response?
MEYER-FONGThat's a great question and as one of our -- why not Chinese, I guess is the answer that we gave. I mean, obviously Spanish is a vital and interesting and tremendously useful language and would, you know, as we said at the time, you know, we are committed to foreign language, actually not even so much foreign language, international language education for D.C.'s public school children, particularly for the children at Brent as a starting point.
MEYER-FONGAnd when they said, why not Spanish? We said, find us a grant, we'll apply for it. There are great opportunities available for the study of Chinese. And of course, the other parent involved in spearheading this effort also had experience with Chinese language and as a result, we were able to, I think, put together a pretty compelling application.
NNAMDIHere is Dina in Great Falls, Va. Dina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DINAHi, thanks for taking my call. I'm glad you're having this show because my son was involved in the 2009 year where they had the quarantine. University of Maryland kids were quarantined. My son dealt with the George Mason program. His program was quarantined just overnight with the entire trip. They had like a hospital bus follow them. Everywhere they went was, you know, people in white coats, but he loved the whole trip. I mean, it was amazing. They had priority in lines, you know, for museums and they went.
DINAThey flew them down to Chengdu for language at an institute and the whole thing was incredible and we just paid for the airfare. Everything else was covered by the Chinese government.
NNAMDIYour son clearly enjoyed it. Do you also feel that he benefitted from it academically?
DINAYes, and he's been studying. He's done four years of Japanese and then he went all the way through Japanese and then he did two years of Mandarin at Marshall High School and that's how he found out about it. But they even took kids with no language experience even as young as junior high. And they even had places that went begging so they didn't even fill all the slots.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for sharing that with us, Dina. If you too have experience with the Confucius Institutes, you can give us a call, 800-433-8850. Do you have any issue with money from China funding programs in schools and universities here in the U.S.? You can call us, 800-433-8850. Send email to email@example.com. We're going to take a short break, but that shouldn't stop you from contacting us. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there or send us a Tweet at kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking about Confucius Institutes in the United States and around the world with Tobie Meyer-Fong, co-chair of the PTA foreign language committee at Brent Elementary School in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington. She's also a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. Dan Mote, Jr. is the Regents Professor of engineering at the University of Maryland. He's also the former president of the University of Maryland at College Park where the first Confucius Institute was instituted, so to speak.
NNAMDIAlso with us is William Reeder. Bill Reeder is dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and a professor of Arts Management at George Mason University. The Confucius Institutes have also become an important part of social studies classes, Bill. Can you explain?
REEDERUm-hum. Well, in working with our partners in the Northern Virginia school districts, we went in assuming that the language instruction would be the most fertile territory. It turned out that the biggest demand was in the social studies. All students, as you know, have standards of learning and the textbooks oftentimes turns out are quite outdated when it comes to specific knowledge and insight into modern societies around the world, and including China.
REEDERAnd so the teachers said, look we really would love to be able to give our students much more accurate, much more timely, much more insightful information but it virtually doesn't exist. And so we created something called the traveling trunks where we asked for Hanban and for our partner school to send us materials. And we turned the trunks into an actual -- full of objects and then we built with the teachers a study guide which conforms with the standards of learning. And those trunks then travel from classroom to classroom.
REEDERIt's been very, very popular and created a real enthusiasm. And, maybe more to the point, an accurate insight into what life in China really is like today.
NNAMDIYou mentioned Hanban. Confucius Institutes are run by an organization in China known as Hanban. We reached out to Hanban, the Beijing office under the ministry of education overseeing Confucius Institutes but we did not get a response from them. But, Dan Mote, could you tell us a little bit about what is Hanban and how are these institutes organized?
MOTE JR.Well, Hanban is the organization which essentially forms these institutes and it was started in 2004. The Hanban responds to requests for Confucius Institutes and Confucius classrooms. That is it takes lists of requests and then it follows up with various requests. Basically, it places all the responsibility for the institute and for its programming on the local institute. They're all -- as Bill Reeder said earlier, they're all done from the ground up and they're all different from each other, all very ad hoc.
MOTE JR.There's no instruction and no indirect or direct requirement that any content be followed by Hanban or the Chinese organizing committee. There is a kind of a tacit agreement that half of the cost will be paid for by the local community, a local university, a local sight. And the other half will be supported by Hanban. And that does not include the instructors that are sent from China to around the world.
MOTE JR.So those instructors basically are covered by the Chinese side independently. And there are about 2,200 of them as directors and scholars sent by China. And about 10,000 altogether around the world who work on these programs. So it's a very large operation in total.
NNAMDIDoes Hanban exercise any kind of authority over the 350 Confucius Institutes around the world?
MOTE JR.None that I know of. I've never seen it and I'm very familiar with Hanban. I've been engaged with it now for eight years and I've never seen it or sensed any sort of authority being imposed on them from above.
NNAMDIHow does the financial side work? What does Beijing pay for? What does the U.S. host pick up?
MOTE JR.So what happens every year is the host, whether it's a U.S. host or one of the other 300 plus around the world, they have a partner university. And in principle the partner university and the host university in the United States would put together an operating budget. And they would submit this budget to Hanban and Hanban would agree to cover half the costs basically. That's kind of the way it works. And that's basically it. And then Hanban has a report every year about well, what'd you do with the money and what were your programs?
NNAMDIWe had a brief conversation in the break about the name of the institutes, Confucius Institutes. So this question from Paul in Arlington, Va. is I guess particularly relevant to that conversation. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULHi. I had a comment and a question. The comment was I just wanted to point out that the correct pronunciation of the capitol of China is Beijing, not Beishing. The Beishing pronunciation, I think, was created about 25 years ago by American broadcast journalists and it spread like wildfire but it's not accurate.
PAULThe comment was -- I mean, the question was a few months ago, I was talking with a Chinese friend and the topic of Confucius came up. And she said, well, Confucius is not a favorite historical figure of mine considering what his views on the role of women in society are or were. And I'm just wondering if there's been any controversy with feminist groups, let's say, about the naming of the Confucius Institutes.
MEYER-FONGI haven't heard of any controversy from feminists about the name Confucius Institutes, although frankly you raise a really interesting point about the relationship between Confucius and so called traditional Chinese oppressed women of popular imagining. And it's interesting. I think your friend's view of Confucius as the instrument through which Chinese women were oppressed for 3,000 or 5,000 or however many thousands of years Chinese women are frequently said to have been oppressed, in a sense reflected the 20th century view of Confucius that preceded the revisiting of Confucius in the 21st century.
MEYER-FONGIn effect, Confucius, beginning in the early 20th century, came to be blamed for the mental manacles, you know, imposed on Chinese civilizations. So in a sense, Confucius has acquired a new meaning in the 21st century that's probably as much a contemporary imagining relevant for our own times as the imagining of Confucius as the author of mental manacles that oppressed Chinese people under a patriarchal and totally all consuming family system was relevant in the early 20th century. So in a sense, we have to historicize those particular versions as well.
MOTE JR.I have to say something about this, Kojo.
MOTE JR.I mean, Confucius lived 2500 years ago. I mean, a lot of things have happened in the last 2500 years. Clearly, I think that this characteristic of Confucius comes up a lot. But I think the real issue for the name is that internally in China every little community has a Confucius temple of some kind. And so this is a very significant statement internally to Chinese people about effectively moving away from the Mau era back to a more traditional era.
MOTE JR.So it has much more of an internal meaning. For example, there's no statue of Confucius actually in the Tiananmen Square and things like that.
MEYER-FONGThere was briefly and it disappeared.
MOTE JR.Very briefly. I had my picture taken in front of it as a matter of fact, but it's not there now. So therefore, this is a significant statement. And the director of the Confucius Institute is a woman, Xu Lin. And the Confucius Institute reports to a state counselor Liu Yen Dong (sp?) the woman -- highest woman ranking Chinese political person. So, in fact, this is not a statement against women (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWe're witnessing in a way the evolution of Confucius. Here is Paul. Paul, thank you very much for your call. Bill Reeder, one of the criticisms of Confucius Institutes is that given the financial support from Beijing, these must have strings attached. And that there are political topics like Tibet or Tiananmen Square that are off limits. True or false?
REEDERFalse. I think the only time that you would ever see a hesitancy to talk about these things would be more a matter of courtesy and politeness that our guests who come from China, that the faculty members, the teachers would not want to say or do anything that would embarrass us. Now, we don't make political topics central in our programs either because they're really about learning a new language, visiting for the first time. So they're far more innocent than the larger implication of these political tensions.
NNAMDIThat's the voice of William Reeder. He's dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the professor of Arts Management at George Mason University. He joins us to talk about Confucius Institutes along with Tobie Meyer-Fong, co-chair of the PTA foreign language committee at Brent Elementary School. That's in the Capitol neighborhood -- Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington. She's also a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University.
MOTE JR.Dan Mote, Jr. is the Regents Professor of engineering at the University of Maryland. He's also the former president of the University of Maryland at College Park. Joining us now by phone from Philadelphia is Arthur Waldron. He is a professor of international Relations at the University of Pennsylvania. Arthur Waldron, thank you for joining us.
MR. ARTHUR WALDRONThank you.
NNAMDIYour university, the University of Pennsylvania decided not to start a Confucius Institute. The faculty and East Asian studies in particular were opposed to the idea. Tell us what the objections were.
WALDRONWell, I think the question that you have to ask is what sort of a place China really is and whether taking money and unexamined personnel from China really makes sense in an American liberal arts university. We've had recent (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIIf indeed I did ask that question, how would you answer?
WALDRONWell, I would say that if Chinese is certainly worth teaching, that we should pay for it ourselves. And that China we've had -- recently we've had this Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist escape after being tortured in China. You've had Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate disappear. We've just had two more people burn themselves to death in Tibet. There's no question that China is -- politically, contemporary China is a very repressive place and that is -- I mean, that's what Freedom House or any source of rankings of countries would say.
WALDRONAnd it seems to me that in the liberal arts university, you want to encourage free inquiry and the Confucius Institutes are really best seen -- as you said at the beginning, this is an attempt by China to influence -- to exercise soft power and to influence American opinion about China. They have a very major consultation with the leading center of the study of public diplomacy at the University of Southern California. They're working very, very actively on various aspects of public diplomacy.
WALDRONAnd they are dissatisfied with having these various things that I've mentioned, such as, we'll take the Tiananmen massacre for example, having these so prominent in our debate. And I think it's very unrealistic to think that if you're taking money from the government like that that there are no strings attached.
NNAMDIWell, let me ask a question in two parts, one general, one specific. We are easily the most culturally dominant country on the entire planet in a wide variety of ways. We exercise probably more soft power around the world than any other country in the world does. You seem to be suggesting that that has to do or should have to do with the goodness of one country as opposed to another. Second part of the question, what do you say to the point made by Dr. Mote and Dean Reeder that, in fact, there are no directives from China and that things like Tibet and Tiananmen Square can be discussed openly in the classroom?
WALDRONWell, on the second point, I'll be very interested to see how that works out. We've just had the former mayor of Beijing, Chen Xitong, say yesterday that hundreds of people were killed at Tiananmen and it probably could've been avoided. And this suggests that there's going to be a reexamination of all of that. I suspect that the personnel who were working in the Confucius Institutes, the Chinese personnel, will be concerned about what approach they should take to this. Because their job prospects in China depend on how faithfully they represent the government's point of view.
WALDRONAnd remember these people are not being evaluated and accredited by the American institutions where they're working. They're being seconded by China in a way that is quite irregular. In an American university, normally if you want to be a language instructor or a professor, there is a highly competitive process of evaluation. Opinions are sought from all over the place. References are sought. There are votes. There are talks. There are tests, all this kind of thing.
WALDRONWe -- faculty members try to keep the stream of knowledge that's being imparted as objective as possible. And it seems to me that to outsource something like the teaching of Chinese culture doesn't make much sense. Now if the Confucius Institutes were freestanding, they were outside of the universities, they simply had a building in downtown Philadelphia the way say that the (unintelligible) I would have no problem with that at all.
WALDRONThe problem I have is with having the Chinese government working hand in hand with an American university because I think the goals of American education and the goals of the Chinese government are quite distinct.
NNAMDIIn response to the general question about the exercise of soft power by the U.S. all over the world and the exercise of soft power by China in the U.S.?
WALDRONWell, we don't -- I mean, I think that that actually supports my point because we have American libraries and so forth overseas. But we don't have programs where we're actually involved in subcontracting within universities. So that'd be the first point. The second point is that the United States -- in the United State we have a wide range of freedom of opinion and expression, access to all sorts of sources and so forth. And that's simply not the case in China.
WALDRONIn China, you have a one-party system. You have censorship of the internet. You have newspapers which are edited and controlled by the party. No independent newspapers at all. It's a very different situation trying to be -- trying to get educated in China and trying to get educated in the United States. And...
NNAMDIYou've also said the Confucius Institutes include a propaganda agenda. What do you mean by that?
WALDRONWhen did I say that they include a propaganda agenda? I said that they are trying to -- I say they're trying to further the Chinese official, that is to say the governmental. We're going to separate the Chinese government from the Chinese people, many of whom are not crazy about the Chinese government. But the Chinese government, until recently, has had the view -- take the Tiananmen massacre, for example. This has simply been denied. There's been no discussion of it in over 20 years. And we have the anniversary coming up now very soon on June 4. It'll be interesting to see what happens.
WALDRONBut the parents -- recently one of the fathers of one of the people who was killed committed suicide because he was so upset about the lack of justice or any candor about what had happened to his son. In other words, there's been a complete information blockade on that particular event. And if you go to China today, if you go to Tiananmen Square, if you go to the bookshops -- the only thing I've ever found in China that had anything to do with it was in a used book market. I found a magazine from shortly after the Tiananmen Massacre which was an attempt to portray the army really as the victims.
NNAMDIOkay. Allow me to have Dan Mote, Bill Reeder, Tobie Meyer-Fong...
NNAMDI...respond. Dan Mote, I'll start with you.
MOTE JR.Well, I mean, Professor Waldron makes a lot of very good points. I think he's extrapolating to general China issues well beyond the Confucius Institute. He's, I believe, associating that if China is doing this, it must be like the rest of his experience with China, much of which I agree with by the way. There certainly is a control of information, there is censorship, and there isn't the same or as much freedoms certainly as we have in this country.
MOTE JR.On the other hand, if we just look a little more directly at the Confucius Institute, and I don't know the extent to which he's spent time actually studying this and actually getting substance, not only academics...
WALDRONI've participated in a meeting at the Maryland Confucius Institute.
MOTE JR.Yeah, good. Well, thank you very much for that. I appreciate that a lot. We like to get a lot of people with different views coming to these things, but there are in fact no strings attached that I have been able to identify in eight years, either directly or indirectly with it. In fact, whatever the content we have at the University of Maryland is the content delivered by the University of Maryland and decided by people at the University of Maryland. I think the same is true for every other Confucius Institute as well. And these….
WALDRONWell, when I talk to...
MOTE JR.And let me finish, please.
WALDRONOkay. Of course.
MOTE JR.And secondly, we're not pretending that these instructors are professors in fact, so they're not held to the same standard as professor, and we might do this for other places as well, so there's no sullying of the standard of academic rank in this process. Thirdly, the Confucius Institute has just changed -- amended its policies that it's updated a year ago its policies, and it included a statement that it will undertake to support research on issues of contemporary China by Confucius Institutes throughout the world, and there was no statement in this, which by the way, I raised a question about this.
MOTE JR.There was no statement that said that these issues are gonna be restricted or constrained in any way. So it really was a quite wide open statement about all the issues you're talking about that it would accept researchers from around the world to taking on these topics. So as strange as it may seem, I don't see any connection between your criticisms and in fact the way the Confucius Institute is currently structured.
MOTE JR.I would go one step further and say if in fact there was a clamp down on what the Confucius Institutes could do at any university I know of, that the university would walk away from them, and since they adopted this voluntarily to begin with, they would just do it. So I don't really see that even as a fear of what is happening in the United States.
REEDERYeah. A couple points I'd like to add to that. One is the faculty members that come are not faculty members of the university. They're simply guests that our resource is available to the community. By and large they're specialists in foreign language instruction. Secondly, that the programs itself don't start from the top and come down, they start at the bottom and go up. So we designed our program and all of its activities with our partners in the public schools, community centers, and we presented our idea of what would be ideal back to our partner university first and foremost, and then together, jointly, we made a proposal for our budget allocation, which is relatively modest, but the budget supports our program not the other way around. It's not something that comes to us from a pre-ordained perspective of political intention.
NNAMDIOh, I'm sorry, Tobie Meyer-Fong.
MEYER-FONGI was just gonna say from our very small corner of a D.C. public school, I would say that what we found is a productive convergence of interest in promoting Chinese language education. Our initial funding came from the U.S. State Department after all, and our program meets the desires and needs of parents, teachers, school administration, working in partnership. We have a local DCPS teacher, and we receive funds through the Confucius classroom by way of George Mason University in a sense.
MEYER-FONGWe wrote an application with our partner institution in the same way that they wrote their application with their partner institution. But I think it's a production (word?) in our strategic interest as Americans to produce a generation of students coming out of K though 12 education who are well informed and capable of speaking another language, and in this case, speaking Chinese.
NNAMDIArthur Waldron, could you hold your thoughts for one second, we have to take a short break. When we come back, you will have the opportunity to respond, and we have callers on the line. We will try to get to your calls. The number is 800-433-8850. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're discussing Confucius Institutes in the United States and around the world. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
MOTE JR.Welcome back. We're talking about Confucius Institutes with William Reeder, dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and a professor of arts management at George Mason University. Dan Mote, Jr. is the regents professor of engineering at the University of Maryland, former president of the University of Maryland at College Park. Tobie Meyer-Fong is the co-chair of the PTA foreign language committee at Brent Elementary School in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. She is also a professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, and also joining us by phone from Philadelphia is Arthur Waldron. He is a professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania.
NNAMDIYou've heard what the guests have had to say Arthur Waldron, essentially that they are in charge of what takes place in the Confucius Institutes with which they are involved. What say you?
WALDRONWell, I think that's an unrealistic approach. I mean, one reason that we don't have an institute at Penn is that we understand that once you have an organization that has not been vetted in the full academic sense of the word, that's sponsored by a foreign country, and in this case a repressive foreign country, on your campus that is giving money to the university, that is going to have one way or another the effect of creating a kind of second center for analysis of Asian issues.
WALDRONSo that if for instance we had a professor who was giving a history of Tibet, and he went into say some of the appalling things that have been going on in Tibet under Chinese occupation, that there would be people in the Confucius Institute who would probably try to offset that or counterbalance that, and they would be doing that from a position where they had not been admitted into the discussion by -- after, you know, on the basis of full academic credentialing. You're creating a vested interest in a good relation with official China, and I can't help thinking that that's not a good idea for an institution that's trying to maintain its own academic freedom and independence.
NNAMDIWhat you seem to be saying is that the professor who would talk about all of the atrocities that were committed in Tibet would somehow be A) either restricted in his or her ability to do that, or B) that there would be a necessary response trying to paint a different picture from somebody involved with the Confucius Institute.
WALDRONWell, I don't -- one doesn't know exactly what will happen, but the Confucius Institute has been created for a reason, which is that the Chinese are very dissatisfied with much of the foreign coverage of the country that they run. This is the Chinese government. I'm not talking about...
NNAMDIWhich is a lot of the -- this is virtually the same reason why we created institutions like Voice of America, did we not?
WALDRONWell, Voice of America is designed to provide something like a free news source to countries that do not have free news sources. I don't know if you listen much to Voice of America, but I spent a lot of time in my student days listening to Radio Liberty, which was the Russian language service, and it was very, very good, very, very well informed, very balanced, excellent news. And if you ask any Russian, they will tell you that during the days of communism when….
NNAMDII'm not sure if you ask any Russian that's the response that you would get...
WALDRONWell, I mean...
NNAMDI...but I do...
WALDRON...a lot of Chinese...
NNAMDI...I do have to try to move the conversation on because there are a lot of callers who have been waiting to get in. So hold that thought for a second while we move onto Paul in Bethesda, Md. Paul, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PAULKojo, thanks very much. I just have three quick questions for your listeners regarding the classrooms. My question is the sustainability. Is there enough funding so that you get person every year, or do you -- how are you going to guarantee that the knowledge the kids have gotten that year you're able to continue it. Correct, for the local school.
NNAMDIWell, one at a time. Tobie Meyer-Fong will respond to that.
MEYER-FONGWell, I think that the most effective way of doing these kinds of partnerships is to have a locally licensed public school teacher or teacher in your school that runs the program from year to year. We at Brent have been told that we are likely to be getting a visiting teacher to work with our existing teacher, and we see that as a real asset in terms of running small groups and further developing the program. But in the long run, in order -- for precisely the reason you identify, in order for the program to be sustainable and effective, in order to maximize the knowledge that the children gain from studying Chinese over a sustained period, I think it's essential that there be local personnel working in partnership.
NNAMDIAnyone care to add to that, Bill Reeder?
REEDERYeah. The resources, certainly the ones that we've gotten, are in fact supplemental. They can't replace the budgetary or the sustainable long-term impact that building a faculty into the district represents. But they do add a lot of extra energy and interest in current interaction.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Paul. Onto Matthew Lesko in Washington D.C. Matthew Lesko, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTHEW LESKOHi. I hear the political discussion and it amazes me. I mean, I'm 69 years old, and I worry about my mind lasting and being agile for the rest of my life.
NNAMDIIt's been agile for a long time, Matthew Lesko, television viewers in Washington know that very well, but go ahead, please.
LESKOAnyway, I was looking for something that would be very difficult for my mind to wrestle with, and I thought God, the hardest thing probably to learn would be Chinese. So I looked around for a course to take and I found them at the Confucius Institute, and I'm at George Mason University. I just got out of class.
MOTE JR.Did you like it?
LESKOIt's the greatest thing, you know. I mean, also, Kojo, I'm getting a grant from the Chinese government to take Chinese classes. Now how good is that?
NNAMDIMatthew Lesko has made a living on looking up the availability of government grants for a wide variety of things, usually U.S. government grants, is that correct, Matthew?
LESKOYes. That's why this is just terrific. The people are delightful, I've been here for about, you know, six, eight months now, and I take two classes they're so great.
NNAMDIMatthew Lesko, thank you so much for your call. But Arthur Waldron, Matthew Lesko is an American citizen. One concern of yours is that there are more than 150,000 Chinese nationals studying in the U.S. What effect are you concerned about that Confucius Institutes can have on them?
WALDRONWell, I read a very interesting letter from a Chinese studying in a European university that had a Confucius Institute, and he expressed his concern about something which is pretty well know, which is the fact that the Chinese government, like some other foreign governments, maintain surveillance over its students studying in the west, and you have informants on the campus and so forth and so on. And obviously, in a situation where you have a hierarchy of the Confucius Institutes going back to China, and it goes right up to (word?) who is the chairman of the executive committee, and she was formerly with the United Front Works Committee, and that is very much involved with trying to mold opinion.
WALDRONThere is a concern that the watching of Chinese, even in our country may become even more effective over in other countries as a result of having official Chinese on the ground inside the universities.
NNAMDIIs that a...
WALDRONAs I said, I have -- just let me reiterate. I have no problem if the Confucius Institutes are independent like the French equivalent or the German equivalent, or the English equivalent. But having them inside the university worries me.
NNAMDIIs that a concern of yours, Dan Mote?
MOTE JR.Well, I think of course we all have to watch about our institutes and how they're put together and what they're teaching and how they're controlled, so I think the -- I think what Professor Waldron is talking about is a possibility that something could happen, and so I think we have to be worried about that all the time. But I do not see it -- I have not seen it in eight years, and I'm not a naïve person who doesn't know what to look for in this process. And also, I cannot think of a university -- maybe Professor Waldron can think of one -- I cannot think of a university in the United States that would tolerate having their programs controlled or instructed from Beijing. I cannot think of one.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Monica who says, "As a high school student of Mandarin, my son joined the George Mason Confucius Institute trip to China last summer. Not only did he study Mandarin while in country and tour the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, but he also received a lesson in government repression. While in a poor northeastern province, the group my son was with were rarely allowed out of the barbed wire enclosed school they were lodged in. When they were allowed out, their travel was very controlled, contained and scripted.
NNAMDI"The point was not lost on these smart kids that the Chinese officials did not want these American teenagers to see and mingle in the impoverished state. My son enjoyed the trip and understood up front the pretty and ugly complexities of China. As parents, my husband and I thought the trip was great, and provided lessons no classroom could have offered. Hopefully our son will continue Mandarin as he proceeds into college." Bill Reeder, is that what students can expect?
REEDERSure. And, you know, again, we're not naïve about this either, and I don't -- I don't think it's a correct view that these resources are embedded in the university. They're really not. They're tangential, and we collaborate. We sort of ask the question, what could we do together that we couldn't do alone.
NNAMDIWilliam Reeder is dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts and a professor of arts management at George Mason University. Tobie Meyer-Fong is the co-chair of the PTA foreign language committee at Brent Elementary School in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Dan Mote, Jr. is the regents professor of engineering at the University of Maryland, and former president of the University of Maryland College Park, and Arthur Waldron is a professor of international relations at the University of Pennsylvania. Thank you all for joining us, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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