Confucius Institute Hosts Chinese New Year Celebration Amid Controversy

Performance during the Chinese New Year Celebration.

The University of Massachusetts Boston’s Confucius Institute hosted this year’s Chinese New Year celebration on Feb. 22, 2018. More than 100 people attended the event, including staff, faculty, and students.

UMass Boston’s Confucius Institute branch was established in 2006 to provide cultural appreciation programs and to “facilitate exchange between the US and China," according to their website. But for over a month, the Confucius Institute has gathered much attention after a group of members from the UMass Boston community, including staff, students, and alumni, accused the branch of censoring democracy.

The aforementioned group wrote a letter to Interim Chancellor Barry Mills claiming that the Confucius Institute is undermining human rights and expressed that a school program overseen by China, a communist regime, is operating at a school like UMass Boston, a campus widely-acknowledged for its diversity.

“Confucius Institutes use their foothold in prominent academic institutions to influence and steer academic discourse,” read the group’s letter, signed by 17 people, according to the Boston Globe. The Confucius Institute at UMass Boston is currently one of 90 campus branches in the US and is overseen by the Chinese government.

At this year’s Chinese New Year celebration, members who hosted the event expressed that’s not the case. One member stated, “Why do they think that?” but declined to elaborate on his concern. According to UMass Boston Associate Professor Cheryl Nixon, who also oversees the Office for Global Programs, she believes that the institute’s branch here on campus enriches the diversity.

“This office expresses UMass Boston’s commitment to global understanding and interconnectedness, obviously this event is all about global understanding and interconnectedness,” Nixon stated during the introduction of the event. “I want to thank the Confucius Institute because of its dedication to building multicultural appreciation and to building cultural connections between the United States and China... So we are very proud of what we are doing,” Nixon added.

The director of the Confucius Institute at UMass Boston stated that they are hosting this celebration because UMass Boston is such a diverse campus: “To enrich the diversity culture on campus, the Boston campus is inclusive and diverse. We hear more voices, it’s good for all,” she said in a brief interview with The Mass Media. 

“I hope everyone in this audience will embrace the idea of new multicultural understandings,” Nixon said.

The Confucius Institute also has various branches operating in other universities in the Boston area including Harvard, Boston University, and Northeastern University. The University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University also had branches on their campuses but later ended their partnership with the Confucius Institute amid controversy in 2014 after concluding that it had different objectives than that of the institute’s.

Outside the Campus Center, after the Chinese New Year celebration had ended, protesters gathered calling for university leaders and Governor Charlie Baker to cancel the Confucius’ contract renewal, set for April 8 of this year.

“Say no, to the Chinese Government teaching in our schools... UMass Boston has given academic control to the Chinese government... this is unacceptable,” they said in a statement distributed. Tenzin Jampa, who works for Cambridge Public Schools, was one of the protesters. In a brief interview, he said, “We’re not against democracy... I don’t care if I lose my job, this is not right."

“The [Confucius] Institute is controlled by the Chinese government, which is a very oppressive regime,” Samphel Bayul, another protester, said. “In Chinese classrooms, you can’t talk about sensitive subjects like Tibet or Hong Kong or Taiwan,” Bayul added.

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