Sunday, January 23, 2011

Chinese Public Diplomacy: Confucius Classrooms

I recently read an article on CNN titled, "China-sponsored programs language in U.S. raise concerns, hopes." The article was expressing surprise that Chinese language classes taught in American schools are being sponsored by China. I'm not surprised, It's called public diplomacy.

Maybe this comes as a surprise to some because many Americans don't exactly realize what public diplomacy is or that we practice it for that matter. However, that's besides the point. These Chinese language programs, called Confucius classrooms, have apparently tripled in the US in recent years. By being a Confucius classroom, the American school is given $30,000 to sponsor a visiting teacher from China and to build a relationship with their sister school.

After reading Nicholas Cull's paper, "Public Diplomacy: Lessons from the Past" China's Confucius program seems like a mixture of cultural and exchange diplomacy. It is cultural diplomacy in that the program is directly promoting the Chinese language to a foreign public-America. The exchange diplomacy is that a Chinese teacher is brought to America to teach the American student first-hand the Chinese language and to expose them to Chinese culture. This ensures that the students are being exposed to Chinese customs and values.

I think the Confucius classrooms are a smart move for the Chinese government. Americans realize that with the large population of Chinese in America, and with China becoming a huge economic power, it's practical to learn Chinese. The Chinese government can capitalize on this opportunity to not only teach Americans Chinese, but impart them with Chinese values as well. Both countries benefit from this example of public diplomacy.

The CNN article can be found at


  1. In class, someone mentioned that the line between propaganda and public diplomacy may vary based on one's perception of a particular case.

    The Confucius Institutes (CI), while welcomed by those eager to learn Chinese language and culture, are sometimes seen as tools of communist propaganda by others. In Hacienda Heights, California, some community members protested the establishment of CI. Decades of racial tension contribute to suspicion of the source of funding for the programs ($30,000 a year for language and culture programs, as well as 1,000 textbooks, CDs and other educational materials). And perhaps most strongly rejected was the Chinese government's offer to send a teaching assistant.

    While the Chinese government seeks to promote cultural understanding and cultivate soft power through initiatives such as CI, some Americans are suspicious of its intent. This goes along with our discussion of propaganda vs. public diplomacy and the question of underlying motivation.

    Some are even fearful of propaganda hidden in textbook passages, undetectable to those not learning Chinese. One parent said: "When you Google it, it comes up as a religion. It just seems wrong on so many levels." This is an example of how an initiative might do more harm than good, if perceived in a negative light by some individuals.

    Source: (Nicholas Cull is actually briefly quoted in this article!)

    This was also covered by the Daily Show, featuring a few of those opposed to the Confucius Institutes:

    And here is a BBC documentary covering CI in Scotland, as well as other Chinese soft power initiatives:

  2. The Socialwww Diplomacy Blog' is a leading blog on public diplomacy and global. The Public Diplomacy Blog today enjoys a high page rank in search engines and is one of the most referred to and cited blog.

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