Inculcating Infatuation towards China — Chinese Confucius Institutes

The world has been perceived through a prism given by the West. They told humanity what it means to be ‘civilized’, what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and what it means to be ‘developed’. Norms and values were carefully crafted into the mind of humanity by the West. Colonial missionaries carrying ‘white-man’s’ burden crisscrossed the globe, to exclusively epitomize every aspect of Western thinking as insignias of prosperity and ‘moral uprightness’. The world at large has been in the grip of an appeal towards the Western way of life and humanity has garnered aa sort of ‘teenage love’, an attraction, an infatuation towards the West. This attraction engineered by the West is by the use of a tool, academically known as ‘soft power’.

Attraction and legitimacy are the prime intents of soft power. The idea of soft power was first coined by Joseph S. Nye Jr., in his book ‘Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American power’, 1990.  According to him, “Soft power is the ability to achieve desired outcomes in international affairs through attraction rather than coercion.” ‘Soft power’ was primarily used in the developing countries by the USA to bring them under the ambit of its influence. The popular demand for Hollywood movies, western pop and the tacit approval of the American way of living are evidences of the success and penetration of Western soft power diplomacy. However, the policies adopted by US in the Cold War- Vietnam war, and the menace created in the Middle East and Afghanistan in its fight against terrorism, has taken a toll on the appeal towards the Americans in the third-world countries.

In an era witnessing the emergence of China, various initiatives to enhance ‘attraction and appeal’ towards China have been undertaken, and among the various initiatives, Chinese Confucius institutes stand out significantly. Chinese Confucius institutes are a classic case of Chinese soft power diplomacy. Confucius institutes promote Chinese culture and language across the globe. They imbibe and institutionalize features of cultural diplomacy, in its exchange of ideas, tradition and beliefs, in the academic circles. Promulgating Chinese culture, their way of life and language are characteristic to the use of soft power to enhance the appeal, attraction and appreciation towards China.

Recent years have seen a rapid rise in the number of institutes being commissioned at several locations across the globe. The Confucius institutes, in effect,  are the overseas agents who advertise the Chinese culture and language in the host country to culminate a sense of appreciation and awe towards it. Further, efforts are made to built an amicable image of China- contrary to the vicious mural of her painted by the West. The Institutes are facilities for the Chinese to penetrate deeper into the America-led-world and act as a platform for its bonhomie with the rest of the world. Confucius Institutes are also intent on intertwining the world with Chinese ideas and culture, by expressing it through a classical tradition of Confucianism that emphasizes on building a “harmonious society with sharing language worldwide”. The Confucius Institutes are governed under the Ministry of Education by the Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), which is the sole representative in spreading Chinese language globally and in contributing to Chinese share in global culture. Further, they are established under the guidance of Chinese experts and cultural elites to effectively convey the Chinese narrative.

China is on the rise with investments around the globe. There is technically no part of the world that they have not invested in. However, China’s rise is perceived as a threat by the West and the conservative Western academia has generated a lot of analysis and literature that paint China in negative connotations. In 2013, the PEW research on the ‘attitude towards china’ indicated a decline in Europe and America, in comparison to other parts of the world. Subsequently, the recent years have observed an increase in the number of Confucius institutes in Europe and America. Now, the increase in the number of Confucius institutes also indicates a rising curiosity in the academic circles to better understand the Chinese. To put it slightly differently, the rise of communist China to a major economic power and competitor to United States, has piqued curiosity in the minds of people. The world looks at the Chinese model in awe for the pace and size of growth it has been able to achieve.

Nevertheless, Confucius institutes set up at several countries have come under scrutiny in the recent times. Countries like the United States where there are large number of Confucius institutes has become increasingly concerned over its operations and have accused it of lack of transparency and of curtailment of academic freedom. It is also to be noted that the allegations and the objections are raised by the xenophobic conservatives in the United States. Therefore, scholars argue that these overtures are by those cynical of the rise of the Chinese and are acting in fear of ceding away the primacy of the West to China.

It is beyond doubt that China through the Confucius institutes is involved in the business of enhancing its image-an articulation of the concept of soft power- and has been successful to a certain extent in giving the world an alternative to the Western narrative. China wants the world to know of its peaceful intentions, its culture, its rich history and undoubtedly envisions a world with the Chinese at its helm. The battle with pens, books, culture and language- the soft power battle- for primacy in the world, is fought in different theatres between China and the West; Confucius is just one significant stage. A decisive victory of one over the other is an unlikely scenario; at best the Chinese in their fight can present a substantial alternative to the Western narrative for the world.

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