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Research Study on Confucius Institute about Cultural Invasion: Issues of Academic Freedom

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Research study on Confucius Institute about Cultural Invasion


According to Merriam- Webster Dictionary, definition of culture is “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group also: the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time.” Definition of invasion is “ the incoming or spread of something usually hurtful”. Combine the two definitions together, what cultural invasion means the incoming spread culture hurt the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of current society. Recent times, United States had close many Confucius institutes in its universities or limit them under the suspect of cultural invasion from China. In another word specifically explain cultural invasion in the case is that the confucius study culture somehow became a method that China used to hurt current United States culture in people’s beliefs, social forms, and material traits.


My original purpose for the research project was to write about Confucius’s study influences on gender or sexuality in modern times. In order to get a better-known overview of the project, I planned to interview and do a case study at the Confucius Institute located at San Diego. However, during the period of time, I tried to interview and get more information, I realize a more serious problem within the study in modern times.

As I noticed, there was one Confucius Institute located at San Diego State University, but when I got there, I found the office of Confucius Institute was closed. Therefore I went to Dean’s office to ask for more information, there I was told that the Confucius Institute of San Diego State University was closed. The assistant kindly gave me the Contact information of Scholar Li-Rong Lilly Cheng, who was originally the leader of the Confucius Program. Unfortunately, she was too busy to do an interview with me yet I got another information online from San Diego State University NewsCenter included that the original Confucius Institute at San Diego State University will transfer to San Diego Global Knowledge University. “SDSU closed and transferred the Institute on June 30, 2019, to San Diego Global Knowledge University. With the transfer, the education initiatives and services once offered by the Institute when it was held at SDSU will be offered by the San Diego Global Knowledge University.”(SDSU NewsCenter, 2019) Therefore I went to San Diego Global Knowledge University, request to do an interview with the leader of the Confucius Study Program. This is where things get tricky and weird, I was denial by the director of San Diego Global Knowledge University. The director told me that they do not accept interview. Even though I said this is a personal assignment, they step back a little bit but they are only willing to give me the contact information of Li-Rong Lilly Cheng, who is not able to be interviewed by me in personal reason.

Many questions stand out immediately, what makes research study of Confucius Institute so hard? What is the reason that San Diego State University close their own Confucius Institute? According to SDSU NewsCenter, all the originally education initiatives and services would all be transferred to San Diego Global Knowledge University then what is the meaning for them to change place? What do they mean by “The university is no longer affiliated with nor receiving funding from Hanban/Confucius Institute Headquarters in Beijing. ” and how does it make a difference?

Hence, the paper meant to introduce the relationship of Confucius Institute and Cultural Invasion about how they are related, which all of the above questions would be answered in the rest of the paper.

Cultural Invasion in the United States

To talk about Cultural Invasion in United States, Confucius Institute is the main focus that we need to put the spotlight on. Confucius Institute was established by NOCFL – National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign, also known as Hanban in 2004, headquarters of Confucius Institute was located in Beijing, China. Established for the development of friendly relations between China and the countries in the world as they said. They meant to provide conveniences and good learning conditions for people all over the world. There are three types of Confucius Institutes: The first type is the Confucius Institute entirely run by the headquarters in Beijing; the second type is the Confucius Institute that are given licensed by the headquarters in Beijing mainly run by the host country; the third type is in a way of corporation that a university in China cooperate with a university in the host country combine with the headquarters in Beijing which is the most common one. According to their exposition, their principle is to increase people’s understanding of the Chinese language and culture, develop friendly relations between China and other countries, promote the development of diverse cultures in the world, and also contribute to the building of a harmonious world.

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However, asserted by Gil, Jeffrey in his book “Soft Power and the Worldwide Promotion of Chinese Language Learning: the Confucius Institute Project”, Confucius Institute is the most important soft Power that China use to increase it national strengthen so that it can “create a peaceful international environment in which its economic development can continue and in which it can portray itself as a responsible and constructive power; to secure the resources required to sustain its economic development; to create a group of allies sharing its disdain for outside”(Gil, 2017, p. 59) As an important part of a country’s overall national strength, ‘soft power’ refers to the intangible influence released by a country depending on the attractiveness of its political system, the appeal of its cultural values and the affinity of its national image. It has profoundly affected people’s views on international relations. ‘Soft power’ mainly includes the following contents: first, the attraction and appeal of culture. The second is the appeal of ideology and political values. Third, the morality and legitimacy of foreign policy. Fourth, the affinity between countries. Fifth, the attractiveness of development paths and institutional models. Sixth, the ability to guide, formulate and control international norms, standards, and mechanisms. Seventh, the degree of appreciation and recognition of a country’s international image by international public opinion.

“The current struggle against transnational terrorism is a struggle to win hearts and minds, and the current overreliance on hard power alone is not the path to success. Public diplomacy is an important tool in the arsenal of smart power, but smart public diplomacy requires an understanding of the roles of credibility, self-criticism, and civil society in generating soft power.”(Nye, 2008, p. 94) To sum up, hard power refers to the visible and tangible material force; Soft power refers to spiritual power, including political power, cultural power, diplomatic power, and other soft elements. They are both closely related and different from each other. They are not simply addition and subtraction, but complement, restriction, and coordination of each other. Hard power is the tangible carrier and materialization of soft power, while soft power is the intangible extension of hard power. In the current wave of globalization, information revolution, and network era, the importance of hard power is obvious. Soft power, on the other hand, is extremely expansionary and conductive, transcending time and space and exerting a great influence on people’s way of life and code of conduct.

Michel Juneau-Katsuya, who is a former senior intelligence officer and manager at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said during the interview that “It became very very clear for the comedian security intelligence service that just like many other western agencies that the Confucius institute were used to manipulate not only the academic world where they were implanted but to also emanate more influence Outside of the campus as well.” He said that during the last visit of Mr. Hu who was President of the People’s Republic from 2003 to 2013 and Chairman of the Central Military Commission from 2004 to 2012. A CBC journalist found that there are a group of people who were paid for the hotel and organized there to confront the demonstrators. They were in favor of the Chinese government and were in favor of the visit of Mr. Hu. Moreover, the Canadian Security intelligence service have also seen that relationship going to the Confucius Institute. “we see on a regular basis some known intelligence officers actively working with the Confucius Institute and tasking the conferences to institute personnel about certain job and certain tasks that they must perform” which as Michel Juneau-Katsuya said, has been identified and confirmed by western agencies including the Canadian intelligence services.

Controversially, Han Hua, who is a fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University had different words during an interview. She explained that: “One difference I want to highlight is that the Chinese institutes are mostly established within the campus especially in the University campus worldwide whereas the other culture institutes are established out of the campus, and the university campus in China and in the U.S., in particular, are carrying different system in terms of academic freedom or the curriculum arrangements. So it is understandable to raise these questions with regard to the academic freedom but from the report, you can see that Hanban did not actually assert any curriculum requirements to these Confucius Institute Curriculum Arrangements, that is the real funding.” What is interesting is that during the interview, a finding was brought out by the interviewer that “The U.S. School Controls all academic matters associated with the Confucius Institutes including curriculum and texts…” source from U.S. Government Accountability Office. John Bolton, who is an American attorney, political commentator, Republican consultant, a former diplomat, and national security advisor, was also frequently brought up as an example to answer the query from people. John Bolton said China is attempting to use think tanks and non-profit organizations to influence opinion in the U.S. and Australia, and the move “is far greater in magnitude than any other foreign effort we have seen in history.” Throughout the interview, Han Hua and Einar Tangen- a political and economic commentator, implied that US alert over Chinese influences. They also mentioned that there is necessary for both sides to study and communicate. “Fifteen Years ago, China set up the very first Confucius Institute, it was then China was a rising power acknowledged by the will that China’s Economic development is so fast and China as well as the rest of the world, both sides have to meet and urgency need to learn from each other and also to generate, probably business revenue and intangible revenue from each other. So there is the strong need from both sides to learn each other’s languages as well as cultures. More effectively, that is the background of Confucius Institute why it was established just like other culture center established by other countries.”

In the book “Yellow Perils: China Narratives in the Contemporary World”, the author FISKESJÖ, MAGNUS had raise up to mentions about his view of shutting down current Confucius Institute. “On a basic level, this is relevant here since fear centrally involves concerns regarding one’s own integrity and identity, faced with invading others. In the case of the Confucius Institutes, I believe the central concern is the relation with a powerful country that seems incapable of adopting the concept of respect for equal relations, including freedom of expression, and instead insists on erasing the voices and views of others unless they are ‘friendly’ and ‘harmonious.’ ”(FISKESJÖ,2018, p. 235) Within his study, he said that these rising objections are inevitable because “In Western debates, the issue of fear has mostly come up in relation to worries over the threat to academic freedom, and specifically as regards how we talk about China in an arena paid for by an arm of the Chinese Party-State-at least at weaker academic institution where this money talks even louder, but also in the most prestigious places in academia.'(FISKESJÖ,2018, p. 231) He generally understand that people are afraid of academic freedom being influenced but what people accused of Confucius are not correct. For example, he explained that people criticizing the institute avoid Tibet and Taiwan problems yet originally the Confucius Institute tends to avoid these sensitive topics to make the content less aggressive and more harmony. Even though people are in fear yet the confucius’s study should not be put away entirely. Furthermore, Wesetern should allow the Confucius Study continue and should be able to allow both voices to exist instead of worrying about China and cutting the whole study.

In another book written by KLUVER, RANDY, who would more likely to, as he said take out the Confucius Institute Project from polity and only discuss its contribution in international wide cultural diversity. “As China’s economy and geopolitical weight has grown since the late 1980s. the nation has also sought to have a corresponding cultural impact.”(KLUVER, 2017, p. 390) Accordingly, the impact of Confucius’s Study is somehow also related to the impact of China. The author tried to avoid politics by saying that he neither deny nor accused China using the Confucius Institute Project, however, the contribution of the Confucius Institute Project are not immeasurable. First of all, the rise of Confucius’s study allow controversy voices rises internationally. Second, it allows the geo-cultural to develop and allow the growth of a more globalwise culture. Third, it helps the study of the language. Fourth, it even helped build local cultural heritage. Fifth, Confucius’s study is the representation of Chinese Culture.


From all of the above, we can say that the content of Confucius’s study is good and appraised by people but what is criticized by people is the Confucius Institute Project. The Confucius Institute Project in a little shady that might be put in a grey area. At the same time people worrying that academic freedom being taken away, they cannot deny the attractiveness of Confucius’s study. While Confucius’ benevolence are admired by people, the mix of “Red Culture” are being afraid. Confucius’s Study itself is a good thing and yet it became more complicated if it mixed with politics, especially this is the hand wrestling between China and the United States.


  1. “SDSU: New Chinese, Global Education Center Launched at SDSU.” NewsCenter, SDSU News Team, 7 Aug. 2019,
  2. Gil, Jeffrey. Soft Power and the Worldwide Promotion of Chinese Language Learning: the Confucius Institute Project. Multilingual Matters, 2017.
  3. Nye, Joseph S. “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 616, 2008, pp. 94–109. JSTOR,
  4. YouTube, YouTube,
  5. YouTube, YouTube,
  6. FISKESJÖ, MAGNUS. “Who’s Afraid of Confucius?: Fear, Encompassment, and the Global Debates over the Confucius Institutes.” Yellow Perils: China Narratives in the Contemporary World, edited by Franck Billé and Sören Urbansky, University of Hawai’i Press, Honolulu, 2018, pp. 221–245. JSTOR,
  7. KLUVER, RANDY. “Chinese Culture in a Global Context: The Confucius Institute as a Geo-Cultural Force.” China’s Global Engagement: Cooperation, Competition, and Influence in the 21st Century, edited by JACQUES DELISLE and AVERY GOLDSTEIN, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2017, pp. 389–416. JSTOR,

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