Confucius Institutes: Criticism, Controversy, and the last one in the state

ST. LOUIS, Mo – Last year, Mizzou joined several other universities in closing their Confucius Institute on campus – leaving only one institute still operating in Missouri: Webster University.

Confucius Institutes are Chinese-language and cultural centers funded by the Chinese government. The controversy revolves around concerns of direct influence of Beijing-sponsored education in the U.S., and the infiltration of American colleges and universities by China to enhance their own image. It is also believed the institutes may be used for industrial and military espionage. As a result, the State Department designated Confucius Institutes as a “foreign mission of the People’s Republic of China,” in August of 2020.

Christian Basi, Director of Media Relations at Mizzou, says they terminated their contract with the Confucius Institute on a “cost prohibitive” basis due to changes made by the State Department under President Trump.

There have also been concerns of Chinese state censorship of materials. At the European Association of Chinese Studies Conference (EACS) in 2014, then-President of EACS Roger Greatrex said Director-General of the Confucius Institute Headquarters Xu Lin wrongfully demanded that certain materials be removed from the conference program

“The arbitrary seizure of conference materials and deletion of pages in an unauthorized manner after the conference had commenced was extremely injudicious,” Greatrex said.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Canadien Association of University Professors (CAUP) have both issued statements in the past urging universities to sever ties or renegotiate their contracts with Confucius Institutes. 

Confucius Classrooms, which are subsects of Confucius Institutes operating in primary and secondary schools for children, are also funded by the Chinese government and likewise present concerns. 

Webster University could not be reached for comment. Even among vast criticism, their Confucius Institute has been operating for 13 years and doesn’t appear to have plans to close anytime soon. 

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