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China: Netizens Want Confucius to Return Home

A new visa policy recently announced by the U.S State Department has put the Confucius Institute under the spotlight in the Chinese blogosphere. The new directive, issued on May 17, 2012, demands that university based institutes obtain American accreditation in order to continue to accept foreign scholars and professors as teachers. The new regulations may result in the termination of visas for hundreds of teachers, as more than 60 universities in the US play host to the Confucius Institutes. On the other hand, Chinese netizens wish that the Confucius could return home to teach poor Chinese kids.

The Confucius Institute is a government sponsored cultural outreach program which aims at promoting China's Soft Power globally. It is affliliated with China's Ministry of Education and run by the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language or Hanban. The first overseas Confucius Institute was established in November 2004 and by August 2011 there were more than 826 Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms worldwide.

Please come home to teach, Confucius! Cartoon by Da Shi Xiong from Sina Weibo

Although the Chinese government is unhappy about the directive, the majority of Chinese netizens are in celebratory mood. Da Shi Xiong's cartoon is the best expression of the online popular sentiment, with the children in the picture begging Confucius to return home to teach.

Many ordinary netizens like @湘客游侠 voiced their approval [zh]:

政府搞那么多钱在海外办什么孔子学院,明的暗的让某些人捞钱,咋不把这钱办希望学校,发展提高义务教育呢

The government has spent so much money to run overseas Confucius Institutes and provided so many opportunities for some people to put money into their own pockets. Why doesn't it spend the money running Hope Schools and developing our own elementary education?

An anonymous message offering netizens’ explanation to the government's education policy has been circulated in major Chinese online forums and social media platforms. Below is a portion of the text quoted from BlogChina [zh]:

当屁民为孔子学院的教师将要被美国驱逐而愤愤不平时,不妨看看设立在美国的孔子学院都在玩些什么猫腻:红官二代利用孔子学院向国内申请官方办学经费,然后让高官子女在里面任教。目的只有一个,用我们纳税人的钱帮他们拿到绿卡。明修孔夫子的栈道,暗度他们红二代的陈仓,孔子2500多年后又被强奸了一回,还是红二代牛逼啊。我感谢美国人喊停孔子学院,不为别的,只为我们的血汗钱。

Some people are angry about the US government expelling Confucius Institute teachers. However, let us take a look at the game played by the Institute – the Red officials are using the Confucius Institutes to apply for Chinese government funding. The offspring of these officials can then teach in the Institutes with a simple objective – to use the taxpayers money to get their green cards. They just pretend to uphold and promote Confucian ideals but they have a hidden agenda. The Red officials are powerful enough to destroy Confucius after 2,500 years. I am thankful to the Americans for stopping the Confucius Institutes and saving our hard-earned money.

Blogger Cai Shenkun provided more background about the resentment that people feel towards the Confucius Institute in his blog at ifeng [zh].

根据官方报道,每所孔子学院建设费用50万美元,每个孔子课堂6万美元。身居美国的薛涌先生估算,在美国建一所“孔子学院”起码要几百万美元。孔子学院不但提供文化课、太极课、汉语水平考试,甚至提供带补贴的“中国之旅”。学院和课堂建成后还需要运营,国家汉办会为每所孔子学院提供5-10万美元的启动资金。据估计,这方面的总投入达到了2500万-5000万美元。此外,还有4000名专职教职工和每年3000名外派志愿者的费用。每位志愿者国家都会补贴1000美元/月,通常任期一年,国家每年在志愿者身上投入约3600万美元。最后,尚有金额不明的专项活动经费。孔子学院一年要耗费中国人多少血汗钱?现在看不到权威的统计数字,2008年光预算就高达16亿,近些年应该是一年更比一年多。

According to official reports, the construction cost of each Confucius Institute is about five million US dollars. Each Confucius Classroom costs about 60 thousand USD. Xue Yong, who is now based in the U.S, estimated that it takes a few million US dollars to set up a Confucius Institute. The Institute offers courses such as Chinese Culture, Tai Chi, Chinese Language Test. Sometimes they even sponsor foreign students to travel to China. Apart from the construction of the Institute's building and classrooms, there are operational costs. Hanban China would allocate at least 50 to 100 thousand USD as a start-up fund for each Institute. It has been estimated that at least 25 to 50 million USD have been spent for this purpose. In addition, they have to pay for more than 4,000 full-time teachers and 3,000 volunteers to work overseas. Each volunteer receives one thousand USD subsidy per month for one year. Our government has spent 36 million USD just on the Institute's volunteers annually. There are also different kind of project funds which have no clear record of the amount spent. How much money has the Chinese people spent on Confucius Institutes annually? We don't have any official figures yet. However, in 2008, their budget was up to RMB 1.6 billion and the amount keeps increasing every year.

希望工程搞了20多年,才募集到50多亿。而政府却很慷慨的大把撒钱到国外去办学,其数额远远超过了希望工程的善款,这叫纳税人情以何堪?更不可思议的是,2010年,被誉为“史上最贵网站”的网络孔子学院进入公众视线,采购人国家汉办的中标金额高达3520万元的网站运营费用让人大跌眼镜。据媒体调查,中标的“五洲网络”法人代表是王永利,而王永利的另一个身份是国家汉办副主任。国家汉办自己招标、自己中标,3000万元就进入了个人腰包。如果不是财政部网站公布这个中标消息,天价的维护费永远无人知道。

After more than 20 years, Project Hope has only managed to raise RMB 5 billion. However, our government is pouring money into subsidizing foreign education, much more than is reserved for Project Hope. How are taxpayers supposed to react to this? Even more incredible is that in 2010 the scandal [zh] of the most expensive website [in China], the Online Confucius Institute, was exposed to the public. The winning contractors demanded RMB 32.5 million (about forty million USD) for operational costs of the website. The media later reported that the contractor was ‘Wuzhou Network’, the legal representative of which is Wang Yongli, who is also the deputy chair of Hanban. This means that Hanban has contracted out the website to itself, and through the process RMB 30 million have been channelled into someone's pocket. If the news of the tender had not been released via the website of the Finance Ministry, no one would have known of the Institute website's operational costs.

This post was sub-edited by Jane Ellis.

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