The topic of Chinese soft power has become popular among academics and policymakers in recent years. The following article looks specifically at Confucius Institutes (CIs) and how they are related to a broader Chinese soft power strategy.
Paradise (2009) discusses Confucius Institutes (CIs) and soft power in China and International Harmony: The Role of Confucius Institutes in Bolstering Beijing’s Soft Power. He looks at China’s soft power initiatives as strategies for the country to assure foreign publics of its benign intentions in a time where there is much anxiety over the country’s increasing economic and military power. CIs are presented as one such way to win hearts and minds abroad. Paradise notes that little has been published on the impact of these programs on foreign perceptions of China, likely due to the relatively recent nature of the subject (the first was established in 2004).
In this article, he seeks to answer the following questions: What are the CIs doing? How do they fit into China’s “grand strategy,” if in fact there is such a strategy? How is soft power viewed in China? How are the Confucius Institutes thought of outside China? What impact, if any, are they having on China’s standing in the world?
In addition to funding and providing educational resources, Hanban’s (CI Headquarters, affiliated with the Ministry of Education) role in the CI initiative includes evaluation of instruction, management performance, and impact on society. Chinese embassies and consulates tend to support the initiative and occasionally act as intermediaries between applicants and Hanban.
An important finding was that some Chinese educators reject the idea of CIs as part of a larger soft power offensive, seeing it as an academic endeavor and less politically motivated. In fact, the notion of power as motivation is sometimes seen as negative and even aggressive. However, soft power has been described by President Hu Jintao as necessary for national strength.
Paradise goes on to explain the concern over CIs as a Trojan horse, and finds that CIs are forbidden from involvement in any activities that are inconsistent with the missions of the CI, and that they may not breach any Chinese laws and regulations. These and other regulations contribute to the general feeling of many American academics: that with the CIs, China is making the key decisions, not the university. However, there are many who welcome the assistance provided by the program. In terms of impact, it is difficult to determine whether or not the CI initiative affects perceptions of China, particularly because it is too soon to tell. (And increasing soft power is a long-term strategy.)