What's the Confucious Institute, and why is one coming to your town... if it's not there already. So-called CI's are planned and overseen by the Office of the Chinese Language Council International (“Hanban”, for short), a governmental organization run by the government of the People's Republic of China.
Now stop, take a deep breath, and peruse Hanban's mission statement: “Hanban is committed to developing Chinese language and culture teaching resources and making its services available worldwide, meeting the demands of overseas Chinese learners to the utmost degree, and to contributing to global cultural diversity and harmony.”
As such, it follows in the footsteps of other national cultural organizations like the Alliance Française (France), the Goethe-Institut (Germany) and the Società Dante Alighieri (Italy). Most CI's are located on the campuses of major universities and cater to students eager to include Chinese studies of all types in their educational experience.
The world's first full-fledged Confucius Institute opened in Seoul, South Korea, in late November of 2004 (though a pilot institute had previously opened in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in June of 2004).
Things really took off from there: by March 2009, 81 countries and regions worldwide hosted 256 Confucius Institutes and 58 Confucius Classrooms. Just over a year later in July of 2010, 316 Confucius Institutes and 337 Confucius Classrooms were thriving in 94 countries and regions.
The Chinese Language Council International has announced plans to open the 500th Confucius Institute sometime in 2011 – by then, approximately 100 million people oversees will be learning Chinese in a Confucius Classroom! The Chinese Language Council International is now working to establish 1,000 Confucius Institutes by 2020 and from there, who knows?
This rapid expansion has set off alarm bells among foreign commentators who are suspicious of the Confucius Institute's (and by extension, the PRC's) ulterior motive. What most agree on is that the CI's act as a venue for “Soft Power”; basically a kinder, gentler way to advance China's standing in the world.
To some, that's a threatening prospect. Chen Zhunmin, an education director at the Los Angeles Chinese Consulate, dismissed any connection to the CI's and communism, saying “I feel that the concerns of the neighbors are mainly caused by lack of understanding of Chinese history and culture.” In a nutshell, that's what the stated intent of the Confucius Institute is: to promote understanding and thereby reduce xenophobia.
There's no doubt interest in China has risen exponentially of late. The immense success of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and incidentally, that of the Chinese economy has got media types hailing “the rise of China” to be the leading world power of the 21st century - and really, who wouldn't want to be a part of that? (via Japan Focus, AEI, Xinhuanet and One-North)