Education ministers in UK called on to “open their eyes to the risks” on Confucius Institute day

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Campaigners challenge governments’ welcome for Chinese government-financed classrooms in UK schools

Campaign group Free Tibet has sent letters and petition signatures to the education ministers of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, calling on them to acknowledge the educational risks posed by China-sponsored Confucius Classrooms in UK schools and take suitable action (1). Confucius Institute Day, 24 September, will be marked with events across the UK and the world this week (2). In 2009, China’s top propaganda official described the global programme as “an important part of our overseas propaganda set-up” (3).

The UK’s around-100 Confucius Classrooms are financially supported by the Chinese government agency, Hanban, which is chaired by a member of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo (4). Freedom of Information requests submitted by Free Tibet to schools across the UK show that most receive $10,000 per year, in addition to being supported with resources and Chinese-citizen teaching assistants (5). Hanban approves each school’s plans and annual reports before disbursing the support.

The Confucius Classroom programme has been welcomed and supported by all the UK administrations, despite the Chinese government’s status as an authoritarian regime which repudiates democratic values (6) and is guilty of widespread human rights abuse.

·         In Northern Ireland, First Minister Peter Robinson hosted the signing ceremony launching the programme in 2013, saying Confucius Classrooms were “a fantastic way to ensure that from the youngest age and at every level of education, young people will be introduced to Chinese language and culture” (7).

·         In July, Scottish First minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that Scotland would open another 21 Confucius Classrooms (taking its total to 35), saying “We want our young people to be better prepared for life and work in a multi-cultural, global marketplace” (8). The Scottish Government also directly co-finances Confucius Classrooms with the Chinese government (9).

·         In 2014, Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to education minister Elizabeth Truss that he was “extremely supportive” of the opening of a new University Confucius Institute in London to manage the Confucius Classroom programme (10).

·         The Welsh Government provides financial support to the programme through the Wales China Schools Project (11).

Launched in 2004, the Chinese government’s Confucius Institute programme places teaching facilities in universities and schools worldwide. The primary purpose of the Classrooms (based in schools) are to teach Mandarin and about Chinese culture. However, the Confucius Classroom programme is tasked in England with “securing a major expansion of teaching about China” (emphasis added) and in all UK nations with “enhancing mutual understanding” between Chinese and British people (12). The programme has become increasingly controversial in recent years with a number of educational institutions breaking their ties with the programme (13). The Free Tibet briefing Hosting A Dragon provides more information on the controversy and risks (14).

In her letter, Free Tibet director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren writes:

For a balanced understanding of the world, students, obviously, must not learn about a major global power and the world’s largest autocracy only what its government wants them to learn Receiving the exclusively positive messages about China made available in the Confucius Classrooms and also experiencing China’s government as a benefactor dispensing valuable educational and life opportunities will have a significant effect on young peoples’ perceptions of China.

While promoting Chinese language learning and genuine mutual understanding between the people of China and the UK are commendable aims, allowing a foreign, unelected regime which is guilty of extensive human rights abuses a direct role in the education of our children is at best questionable and at worst dangerous and unethical. The government must demonstrate that it understands that risk. We urge you to provide us with assurances regarding the specific steps that the government is taking to ensure that pupils exposed to the influence of Confucius Classrooms are receiving an education with the comprehensive, balanced and accurate understanding of China that they deserve. If the Government is unable to offer those guarantees on this matter, in our view the Confucius Classrooms in the UK should be shut down.

Free Tibet has already contacted all existing schools with Confucius classrooms in the UK to alert them to the risks posed by the programme and offer teaching materials (in English and Mandarin) providing information about Tibet, human rights in China and sources of information from Chinese dissident and human rights groups (15).

Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren says:

“We’re making a reasonable ask of our governments and education ministers: that they acknowledge that letting China’s government into our schools has some risks attached to it and that they show they’re doing something about it. So far none has even hinted at the potential downside of the progamme and that is pretty disturbing. They need to open their eyes – or more accurately, stop turning a blind eye – and take action.”

-ends-

For further information, comment or copies of documents, contact Free Tibet campaigns and media manager Alistair Currie:
E:
alistair@freetibet.org
T: +44 (0)207 324 4605

Notes to editors

(1)  Copy of letters to Nicky Morgan, Huw Lewis, Angela Constance and John O’Dowd available from Free Tibet. 1,500 petition signatures and campaigns postcards in total have been sent to the ministers

(2)  For example http://lubswww.leeds.ac.uk/confucius/events/item/articles/2015/September/culture-month-2015-celebrating-confucius-institute-day/ and https://www.shef.ac.uk/confucius

(3)  The Economist 22 October 2009 http://www.economist.com/node/14678507 Li Changchun who was literally the head of propaganda in the Communist Party of China https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Changchun

(4)  Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yangdong http://english.hanban.org/article/2015-07/07/content_608756.htm

(5)  FoI requests submitted by Free Tibet. Free Tibet has sent foI requests to 90 state schools so far (there are also Confucius Classrooms in the private sector) and to the intermediary bodies managing the programme in the UK on behalf of Hanban, the Institute of Education Confucius Institute for Schools, the Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools at the University of Strathclyde, The University of Ulster, Cardiff University and University of Wales Trinity-St Davids. These bodies receive financial support from Hanban for their own purposes and also disburse funds from Hanban to schools following approval by Hanban. For further information, Free Tibet has a detailed media briefing about the results of our research.

(6)  China takes aim at Western ideas New York Times, 13 August 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/world/asia/chinas-new-leadership-takes-hard-line-in-secret-memo.html?_r=0

(7)  University of Ulster press release http://news.ulster.ac.uk/releases/2013/7193.html

(8)  Scottish Government press release 26 July 2015 http://news.scotland.gov.uk/News/21-new-Confucius-classrooms-1b77.aspx

(9)  Source: Freedom of Information reply from University of Strathclyde, dated 11 February 2015. Copy available from Free Tibet.

(10) Hanban website news story 28 April 2014 http://english.hanban.org/article/2014-04/28/content_534011.htm

(11) Welsh Assembly answer to Parliamentary Question 7 October 2014 http://www.assembly.wales/en/bus-home/Pages/PlenaryItem.aspx?category=written%20question&itemid=2943&

(12) Standard Confucius Classroom agreement between school and managing body. Copies available from Free Tibet.

(13) The Toronto School Board voted against involvement with the Confucius Classroom programme in 2014 2014 http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/tdsb-votes-to-end-confucius-institute-partnership-1.2817805. Universities severing ties include Chicago, Pennsylvania and Stockholm. For more information, see Hosting a Dragon report (below)

(14) Hosting a Dragon report www.freetibet.org/hosting-a-dragon

(15) Free Tibet teaching resources at www.freetibet.org/teaching-resources