Is the U.S. causing trouble for Confucius?

The Southern Metropolis Daily is a Guangdong-based newspaper with a circulation of several hundred thousand print copies in its home province, and a wide national audience online. The front page today features a cartoon of Confucius next to an American flag. The headline: “Is the U.S. causing trouble for Confucius?”

According to the article, the U.S. State Department announced on May 17 that many of the Chinese teachers at Confucius Institutes across the country who currently hold J-1 visas, will have to leave by June 30. The Confucian Institutes themselves will also have to apply for accreditation.

Confucius Institutes are language and culture-promotion organizations sponsored by the Chinese government. They have been set up on university campuses across the globe in an effort to build national ‘soft power.’ There are currently 81 of them operating in joint-partnerships with American universities. The J-1 visa is a non-immigration visa for individuals who wish to undertake work-and-study-based cultural exchange programs to the US. The Southern Metropolis Daily reports that the US has refused to renew J-1 visas for teachers at the Confucius Institutes, and will require them to return to China by June 30 to apply for a new visa. The Confucius Institutes themselves will have to apply for accreditation, despite the facts that they do not grant degrees; and other cultural organizations, like the Goethe Institute for Germany and France’s Alliance Française, operate without official certification.

Meanwhile, the China Daily reports that this is not quite the case: the US State Department has clarified its directives in response to strong reactions by both U.S. host universities, and the Confucius Institute headquarters in Beijing. They now say that not all Confucius Institute teachers will have to leave the US by June 30. It is only faculty who are teaching students at the elementary- or secondary-school level that are violating J-1 exchange program visa rules, and will have to return to China to reapply for an appropriate visa program. This would force about 51 teachers to return home to China.

Notably, this controversy comes at the same time as Beijing’s new campaign to rid the capital of so-called “three illegal” ( 三非) foreigners: foreigners who either entered the city illegally or are living or working in the city without the proper visas. As the Wall Street Journal points out, although the U.S. State Department denies the directive was intended to target Confucius Institutes specifically and says that this was “simply a regulatory matter,” it’s hard to ignore the coincidence of timing.

Also on the front page: the verdict has been reached in the case of a boy who sexually assaulted and then killed a female classmate in the bathroom of the Dongguan Polytechnic Institute, where they were both students. He was found guilty, and sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve. The girl’s parents, who were awarded more than half a million yuan in compensation, are not satisfied. They are appealing to have him sentenced to death immediately.

Links and Sources:
The Southern Metropolis Daily: 美国突然发难孔子学院? ; 莞理工教学楼女厕命案 凶手判死缓
The China Daily: Chinese teachers in visa mess
The People’s Daily: 美国要求孔子学院部分中国教师离境
Wall Street Journal: US rule puts Confucius schools under spotlight
Wikipedia: Confucius Institute

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