While the Internet has been aglow with hype about new social media network Ello, another story has been the rounds and deserves special note here: The University of Chicago will not renew the Confucius Institute that is operating in its Hyde Park campus.
The Economist has a piece on Chicago’s about-face which is a good summary of the issue, and Inside Higher Ed has an even longer piece on the topic. Basically, many academics at the university felt that the Confucius Institute, a cultural outreach center with roots in the Chinese government, went beyond the role played by other cultural institutions such as the Germany’s Goethe Institut and France’s Alliance Française — specifically, they worried that the Institute’s presence interfered with free speech and open debate about the actions of China and its government.
What does this have to do with anthropology, other than the fact that it is part of our global, cross-cultural world? The answer is that much of the opposition to the Institute came largely from well-known anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, who wrote about the problems of the Institute at The Nation as well as here at Savage Minds. Furthermore, given Chicago’s national status, this decision will probably make other universities think seriously about their own relationship with the Confucius Institute program.
There are several important points that remain clear now: Was it pressure from faculty or from China that led to the UC’s administration to suspend the center? Just how final is this ‘suspension’? Whatever the answer to these questions eventually turns out to be, its gratifying to see that, for the time being, the university is acting in accordance with its core values, and that anthropologists have played an important role in this process.
(This piece is a long guest blog by Marshall Sahlins. In an article titled “China U” published late last year in The Nation, Sahlins took issue with Chinese government’s global educational/political enterprise called “Confucius Institutes” (CI). These institutes teach Chinese language and culture which, together with cultural performances, films, celebrations of Chinese festivals, and the like, portrays China as generous, beautiful, and harmonious. Since the CI program was launched in 2004, some 400 such institutes have been founded in colleges and universities world wide—the US presently has 97—and nearly 600 “Confucius Classrooms” in secondary and primary schools. Sahlins argued that CIs exist “as a virtually autonomous unit within the regular curriculum of the host school”. Indeed, according to the standard agreement signed with host schools, the Confucius Institute Head Office (commonly known as “Hanban”) provides the teachers and textbooks for these courses.
In his article, Sahlins argued that CIs function in a way that is antithetical to academic values because they are intended to spread the political influence of the PRC. CIs, he argued, differ from other cultural institutes — such as the Goethe-Institut and Alliance Française — because they are located on university premises and are completely governed by state officials. By giving a foreign government charge of instruction, he claimed, universities promote censorship and self-censorship that are too much like the government prohibitions on discussion of politically-charged topics in Chinese universities.
The short answer is: I was tired.
It was with a genuine sense of loss that I read over the weekend that Stanley Tambiah had passed away. Tambiah was a model anthropologist, a person whose personal life and work exemplified everything that our discipline can and should be. He was an area studies specialist whose monographs on life in rural Thailand expanded our ethnography of this area. He was a theorist who knit together British and American theories of symbolism and ritual at a key point in anthropological theory. And he also became a public intellectual who published substantive work on pressing issues of the day in books and articles about ethnic violence in India and Sri Lanka. Above all, he will be remembered by his colleagues as role model of the generous scholar and human being. His generosity, kindness, and humility seemed to combine the best of all the different cultures he lived in, from English gentleman to humble Buddhist to Sri Lankan Christian. His loss gives us a chance to reflect on the values he lived and that we, in turn, ought to continue to follow. Continue reading