Confucius Institute (孔子学院😉 is a non-profit public educational organization affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, whose aim is to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges.
The first Confucius Institute opened on 21 November 2004 in Seoul, South Korea. As of 2014, there were over 480 Confucius Institutes in dozens of countries in six continents.
Confucius Institute also has non-academic goals. Li Changchun, the 5th-highest-ranking member of the Politburo Standing Committee, was quoted in The Economist saying that the Confucius Institutes were “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up”. The statement has been seized upon by critics as evidence of a politicized mission. Many foreign scholars have characterized the CI program as an exercise in soft power, expanding China’s economic, cultural, and diplomatic reach through the promotion of Chinese language and culture, while others have suggested a possible role in intelligence collection. The soft power goals also include assuaging concerns of a “China threat” in the context of the country’s increasingly powerful economy and military.
In December 2014, Stockholm University, the first university in Europe to host a Confucius Institute, announced it was terminating the program. Press coverage of the Braga incident in the Swedish press was said to have influenced the decision. “Generally it is questionable to have, within the framework of the university, institutes that are financed by another country,” said the university’s chancellor.
The Braga Incident was a 2014 academic scandal in which Xu Lin, the Director-General of the Hanban and Chief Executive of the Confucius Institute Headquarters ordered her staff to rip pages referring to Taiwanese academic institutions from the published program for the European Association for Chinese Studies July-August conference in Braga, Portugal, claiming the materials were “contrary to Chinese regulations”, which the Wall Street Journal described as the “bullying approach to academic freedom”.
On 1 October 2014, less than a week after the University of Chicago CI closure, Pennsylvania State University also cut ties with the Confucius Institute after coming to the conclusion that “its objectives were not in line with the Institute’s”.