However, in recent years, American teachers and administrators have debated whether teachers in the Confucius Institutes or their educational material help disseminate Chinese government propaganda. In 2014, the University of Chicago ended its contract with the Confucius Institutes, and several other universities have done the same since. As a result, the number of institutes has dropped from above 100 at their peak.
Republican lawmakers, notably Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who promotes aggressive policies against China, have urged American schools to break ties with the institutes.
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said on Friday that the institutes had been following the law and that the U.S. crackdown demonized and stigmatized the program.
A 2018 report on Chinese government and Communist Party influence operations in the United States done by the Hoover Institution and the Asia Society had details on the work and structure of the Confucius Institutes. It said the organization in Beijing that oversees the institutes, the Hanban, which is under the Education Ministry, has ties to the Communist Party’s Central Committee. The Hanban typically gives a $150,000 start-up grant to an American university, with grants of $100,000 and $200,000 per year afterward, the report said. It gives $50,000 in initial funding to secondary schools and $15,000 per year afterward.
“Most troublesome are two provisions in the Hanban contracts with U.S. host institutions: One forbids the C.I.s from conducting any activities that contravene Chinese law, while the other requires that the enabling contract remains confidential, making oversight by the academic community difficult,” the report said.
In summarizing its findings on the programs, the report said that “because C.I.s have had positive value in exposing students and communities to Chinese language and culture, this report does not generally oppose them. But it does recommend that more rigorous university oversight and standards of academic freedom and transparency be exercised over C.I.s.”
Outside the Confucius Institutes, many teachers and students of the Mandarin Chinese language at American universities have for decades used textbooks from mainland Chinese publishers that have lessons with overt government or party propaganda. American teachers and students have rarely objected to the material. For many university students, it has been easy to tell that the material is propaganda.