British Council Kicks Confucius Institutes

March 10, 2012

Earlier in the week the International Herald Tribune carried an article discussing concerns over the effects of Confucius Institutes on discussion of China in the universities that host them.   The story ends with a nice paragraph

Bruce Cumings, a tenured historian at the University of Chicago who signed a petition protesting the Confucius Institute there, said that although he is on the board of the university’s East Asian study center, he heard nothing about the institute “until the day it was opened.” But such a low-profile approach, he said, is only possible while China itself remains calm. The network of institutes “are time bombs awaiting the next Tiananmen,” he said.

What really caught my attention were some quotes from the Chief Executive of the British Council, Martin Davidson where he

 says that the comparison, often made by Confucius Institute defenders, between his organization…and the Chinese effort, only goes so far. “We are a stand-alone organization operating out of our own premises. They are being embedded in university campuses,” he said in an interview. “The real question has to be one of independence. Are we seen as simply representing the views of the government? Or is there a degree of separation?”

The story makes the point that western cultural relations organizations aren’t based on university camputes

And according to Mr. Davidson, none adopt the same homogenous approach to their native cultures found in Confucius Institutes. “No one would regard Zadie Smith or Grayson Perry as someone controlled by the British Council,” he said.

“The Chinese are very clear on what they are trying to achieve,” said Mr. Davidson. “They want to change the perception of China — to combat negative propaganda with positive propaganda. And they use the word ‘propaganda’ in Chinese. But I doubt they have to say, ‘We’ll only give you this money if you never criticize China.’ The danger is more of self-censorship — which is a very subtle thing,” Mr. Davidson said.

The full story is here



  1. […] up some remarks by British Council chief executive Martin Davidson, about Confucius Institutes: [The Chinese] want to change the perception of China — to combat negative propaganda with positive propaganda. And they use the word ‘propaganda’ […]

  2. Just because Smith or Perry are not “controlled by the British Council” does not necessarily mean they do not perform a propagandistic purpose. For what it’s worth I DO expect their to be a degree of self-censorship in either the range of guests which work with the BC, or by the guests themselves. China and the UK have undeniable differences in their approach to dissent and openness, I don’t question that. But the British Council isn’t value-neutral.

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