Confucius Institute to close following contract non-renewal

CAS Global Studies set to move into Rowe House after close of Confucius Institute.

Wednesday, June 30, the College of William and Mary’s Confucius Institute will close, following the College’s decision to not renew its current five-year contract with the Institute. Rowe House, the current location of the Institute on Jamestown road, will become the site of the College’s Arts & Sciences Global Studies program. 

The WMCI was established in 2011 on a five-year contract, which was renewed in 2016. WMCI was tasked with promoting a better understanding of both Chinese language and culture throughout the College’s community.

WMCI frequently collaborated with Chinese student organizations on campus, putting on plays and other events which promoted knowledge of Chinese culture and traditions.

However, the relationship between the College and the Confucius Institute was not without controversy. WMCI was criticized for its connections to the Chinese government, with Jerry Hu ’22 accusing the Institute of “host[ing] events to brainwash students at the College and give a deceptive image of China” in a 2020 Flat Hat opinions piece.

Critics of the WMCI focused on the relationship between Hanban, the nonprofit organization that administers the worldwide network of Confucius Institutes. Hanban is closely affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education, and former Politburo member Li Changchun referred to the international spread of Confucius Institutes as “part of China’s overseas propaganda set up” in a piece from The Economist.

However, some students see the Institute as an example of cultural diversity on campus. Sean Zhou ’22, former vice president of the Chinese Student Organization, criticized the College’s choice, taking issue with the justification for the administration’s decision.

“I believe it’s another example that further demonstrates how the College has managed to subdue cultural diversity and inclusion, especially towards the Chinese community,” Zhou said in an email. “The Confucius Institute has played a critical role in supporting student-run Chinese organizations by sponsoring shows, hosting celebrations and most importantly, being an intermediary that brings together Chinese people and everyone else that has a genuine interest in China. I hope the administration could have a less perfunctory reason behind the termination of this contract.”

“I believe it’s another example that further demonstrates how the College has managed to subdue cultural diversity and inclusion, especially towards the Chinese community,” Zhou said in an email. “The Confucius Institute has played a critical role in supporting student-run Chinese organizations by sponsoring shows, hosting celebrations and most importantly, being an intermediary that brings together Chinese people and everyone else that has a genuine interest in China. I hope the administration could have a less perfunctory reason behind the termination of this contract.”

When asked for comment on the College’s decision to not renew the Institute’s contract, Director of the Reeves Center Stephen Hanson, who also serves as the chair of the WMCI, emphasized the continuity of the College’s approach towards Chinese language and cultural programs on campus.

“William and Mary remains firmly committed to international partnerships with leading universities around the world, including in China,”  Hanson said in an email. “Such academic partnerships remain in the mutual interest of both sides, even in times of geopolitical tension, as they open opportunities for global research and education to faculty, students and members of the community alike.”

Hanson further explained that the College would continue to offer Chinese language and cultural programming. In addition, Hanson stated that the College, despite no longer receiving money from Hanban or any of its successor organizations, would continue its decades-long partnership with the Beijing Normal University, which long predates the College’s contract with the WMCI. 

John Littel, rector for the Board of Visitors, struck a similar note when asked about the College’s decision.

“The BOV is very supportive of the perspective and commitment William and Mary brings to global education and to providing the widest range of programs for our students and faculty for language and cultural studies and research opportunities,”  Littel said in an email. “The Confucius Institute is just one of many ways in which W&M offers Chinese language and cultural study opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.”

“The BOV is very supportive of the perspective and commitment William and Mary brings to global education and to providing the widest range of programs for our students and faculty for language and cultural studies and research opportunities,”  Littel said in an email. “The Confucius Institute is just one of many ways in which W&M offers Chinese language and cultural study opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students and faculty.”

Littel went on to mention that the College would continue its partnership with BNU, as well as seeking to explore its other independent collaborations with universities in China.

Hanson spoke on the debated connection between the controversy over the WMCI’s funding and the College’s decision to not renew its contract with the Institute. Hanson said that the contract was not renewed in order to standardize the way the College approaches international partnerships. 

The decision to change the way in which William and Mary supports these Chinese language and culture programs allows us to bring them into closer alignment with the way we organize other international partnerships at W&M, which are typically also built on direct university-to-university relationships,” Hanson said.

 

2 COMMENTS

  1. I’m concerned if there are reasons related to alumni funding that caused the Confucius institute to close, as Jerry Hu stated in the Wren Journal that he was influencing alumni to withhold their donations until the Confucius institute was shut down. If this is the case then it would truly be a short sighted and xenophobic based decision, as Confucius institute does provide a lot of programming for Chinese language and culture learning, as well as administration of the HSK exams for tribe members who want to work in china
    That being said, I do hope they do follow through with more connected and deeper relationships with actual Chinese universities, which would hopefully mean more exchange programs than the one with Tsinghua over the summer

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