This Confucius Institute Debate Pushes us Further Away from Confucius and his Thought

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By You-Sheng Li (May 2014)

When I was reading the article ¡°Toronto Confucius Institute spurs moral debate¡± by Karen Howlett and Colin Freeze in The Globe and Mail, May. 22 2014, I felt that we are further away from Confucius and his thought but it reminds the impassable cultural gap between the Chinese and the West. When all human societies are divided into the genetically coded primary society and the man-made secondary society, Chinese civilization started as a super state of primary societies while the West started with city states of typical secondary societies. There is an impassable gap between the two types of society, since they are at different levels like cells, tissues, and organs in our body. In fact, the social order is aesthetic in the primary society, on which Confucius¡¯ thought was based on. Confucius was neither political nor yielding to any economic need.

¡°Canada¡¯s largest school board has opened a Confucius Institute...The institutes offer language and culture programs subsidized by China¡¯s government. ...¡± In other words, the poor China gives money to the rich Canada, because China has a much more powerful government that does not need worry about how to get re-elected for the second term.

In the 1920s when the Chinese Nationalist leader, Sun Yat-sen, waged his a revolution against the Chinese warlords, the poor Soviet Union lent him military help but not the rich West.

When in 1998, I first started to study Chinese Taoist philosophy, and realized, for the first time, the impassable cultural gap between the Chinese and the West, I faced a similar dilemma. I was on sick leave at that time, but I faced two groups of medical professionals: the Chinese professionals said I was mentally sick to deserve a sick leave while Caucasians said that I had no disorder whatsoever to deserve the sick leave. You guess what, my employer, the powerful one was on the Chinese side while I, the patient, was on the Caucasian side.


The impression I received from reading Howlett's and Freeze's article is that the authors are on the opposing side, though they quoted views from both sides. This impression is further supported after reading the 26 comments on Globe and Mail website. To me, all those comments oppose the TDSB's decision. Compared to those writers and commenters, the TDSB is the powerful one that is on the China's side, though the Chinese government is much more powerful than the TDSB.

I guess the TDSB is under financial pressure to accept the Chinese subsidise. Earle divides power in the modern secondary society into social, economic, military, and ideological powers but believes that only economic power is ultimately reliable and decisive. (Earle, Timothy, 2002, "Political Domination and Social evolution". p940-961.In Tim Ingold eds, Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology)If how powerful one is, is proportional to one's financial freedom in using money, it is only natural that money flows from the more powerful ones to the less powerful ones while the public opinion is in favor of equality and opposes such a flow. All government power comes from public that has elected it, and therefore the TDSB should carry out the public opinion. It is a paradox that this publicly elected government operates in the background of the modern secondary society where all powers comes from the economic base, either in money or in resource control.

Those who oppose the TDSB,s decision do not oppose this flow of money from the more powerful Chinese government to the less powerful TDSB to open a Confucius institute in Toronto. They oppose the ¡°controversial global language and cultural outreach effort that is controlled by the Chinese government.¡± Whe do not know how successful the Chinese government is in its such efforts. Everybody see clearly that far more Chinese speaking people are learning English than English speaking people are learning Chinese. The dominant culture in the world today is not Chinese or Indian but Western. Today's Chinese people are Westernized from their heads to their toes. Their hats, clothes, and shoes are all in Western style while their traditional wearings are only seen in opera or movies.


Spokesman Kevin Cavanagh for Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., said, ¡°It is difficult for any politically neutral person to claim that Brock¡¯s CI is compromising its academic integrity,¡± Theoretically, it is possible to accept the money but not the opinion of whoever where the money comes from.

It is a matter for debate whether those Confucius Institutes spread the pure Chinese culture or totally Westernized Chinese culture. One thing is certain that their culture and ideology is far away from the real historical Confucius and his thought. Confucius promoted a society of aesthetic order, the primary society. He wanted to get rid of all law-suits and any form of cruelty such as imprisonment. As a society made by man, a secondary society can also be created according to Confucius' ideas. Why an aesthetic secondary society is not available in the modern world as Confucius wanted is mainly because the Westernization of the Chinese world since the Opium War in 1840 interrupted the process of the historical process of Confucianization of Chinese politics and society. Tragically there was not another way out except for entering the modern world started and dominated by the Western world.

Since the secondary society has different types and different directions, conflicts and war are inevitable. William Eckhardt (1995) found a close correlation between war measured in the frequency of battles, empire measured in the total area of empires, and civilization measured in numbers of geniuses whose superiority was established by the consensus of encyclopedia and textbook authors. The whole world tended to spiral upward, as a general rule during the last 5,000 years of human civilization. In all cases, the way up not only increased the quantity of civilization, empire, and war, but also changed the social structure to one of greater inequality, indicated by slavery, caste, class, social stratification, and so forth. The ancient Chinese super state led to an unusual stability among a world of prevailing instability. (Cioffi-Revilla and Lai, 1995) It is obvious that our history was a deviation from our ancient democracy. The ancient Greek democracy was eventually defeated by a more totalitarian regime but only modern democracy managed to win the Second World War over totalitarian regimes.

Throughout human history, war was a major factor that shaped our culture, our society, and our minds. Only the recent relatively peaceful world after the Cold War Era allows broader views of life, and allows us to move one step closer to the primary society. If democracy essentially means free from feeling being controlled by others, such a democracy can in a way be measured by subjective expressivity, which is the unsuppressed expression of our subjective consciousness. The author cited the frequency of the word ¡°I¡± in poetry as a subjective expressivity in history, and found a remarkable decreasing trend of such expressivity in Chinese history while an increased subjective expressivity was shown in Ancient Greek, Roman, and modern English poetry. (Li, 2010) The Western started with secondary societies but trying to improve its social conditions for humans while the Chinese started with primary societies but transforming its society to a secondary society. The Middle Age Europe was no doubt more humane than the ancient Greek and Roman era characterized by slavery on a large scale.

Let us not to drive each other to madness before enjoy our life.


* * *

The following is the article from:


Toronto Confucius Institute spurs moral debate

TORONTO ¡ª The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, May. 22 2014, 8:39 PM EDT

Last updated Friday, May. 23 2014, 5:51 AM EDT

Canada¡¯s largest school board has opened a Confucius Institute, bringing to Toronto students a controversial global language and cultural outreach effort that is controlled by the Chinese government.

The TDSB is embracing the institute just as several universities are severing their ties with it because of restrictions China has placed on academic discourse and fears of political censorship. The institutes offer language and culture programs subsidized by China¡¯s government. The academic activities are supervised by the Beijing head of the Chinese Language Council International, a state agency commonly known as Hanban.


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Many colleges and universities have been keen to forge partnerships with the economic superpower to enhance their international language and culture programs with financial support and learning materials from Hanban. The TDSB is the second school board in Canada after Edmonton to launch such an initiative.

The Confucius Institute of Toronto officially opened this week in an office at Central Commerce Collegiate, a high school in Toronto¡¯s Little Italy. There, an official from China is working on developing language and culture programs with a staff member from the board¡¯s continuing and international education department. Details on programs are still being finalized, spokeswoman Shari Schwartz-Maltz said.

The University of Manitoba rejected a Confucius Institute in 2011 over concerns about political censorship. McMaster University in Hamilton shut its institute last summer after a human rights complaint. The Globe and Mail reported that Sonia Zhao, who came to teach at McMaster¡¯s institute in 2011, told the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario her employment contract forced her to hide her belief in Falun Gong, a spiritual movement the Chinese government deems dangerous. The University of Sherbrooke in Quebec announced in December that it was shuttering its institute.

Ms. Schwartz-Maltz said the Toronto District School Board is planning a ¡°light rollout¡± of programs through the Confucius Institute next September. Rodrigo Fuentes, co-director of the institute, said on Thursday evening that he is not planning anything "that would contravene any of our board policies."

The TDSB held a banquet on Thursday evening at a Chinese restaurant, where guests dined on crispy chicken delight and braised yifu noodle to celebrate the opening ¨C one of 440 similar outposts worldwide, including 12 others in Canada. The institutes¡¯ promotion of language and culture is widely seen as China¡¯s soft-power ¡°charm offensive.¡±

TDSB chair Chris Bolton, the driving force behind the partnership, said in 2012 that the institute is a ¡°positive opportunity¡± because the TDSB has many Asian students and a thriving international languages program.

¡°We¡¯re interested in supporting the first language and culture of our students to make sure that they understand their history in order to understand their place in Canada,¡± Mr. Bolton said.

But James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said Canadian universities and colleges are compromising their integrity by allowing a government known for political censorship to have a voice in academic matters. ¡°We feel there¡¯s no place on a campus or in a proper educational setting where political direction should shape what teachers and students can discuss,¡± Dr. Turk said in an interview.

Dr. Turk¡¯s association called on other universities and colleges last December to sever their ties as well.

Unlike some of the other schools, Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., is satisfied that its agreement for a Confucius Institute ensures that no official has influence over the school¡¯s hiring decisions or curriculum. ¡°It is difficult for any politically neutral person to claim that Brock¡¯s CI is compromising its academic integrity,¡± spokesman Kevin Cavanagh said.

As for the TDSB, trustees last week voted against asking staff to try to investigate the validity of allegations that the Confucius Institute limits free discussion about China.

¡°This is one of those fishing expeditions that really makes me nervous,¡± trustee Sheila Ward said.

Trustees adopted a motion to create a Confucius Institute in 2010. But the initiative dates back to 2007, when Mr. Bolton recommended setting one up at Central Commerce. Students in international language classes from junior kindergarten to Grade 12 ¡°would benefit from resources that would be part of the Confucius Institute,¡± the motion says.

Dr. Turk said it is ¡°irresponsible¡± for trustees not to investigate concerns raised by his group. ¡°The fact that they would subject their students to a program and to teaching that is partially dictated by the political interests of the government of China is unacceptable,¡± he said.

Mr. Bolton did not return e-mail and phone messages from The Globe.