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China stops calling its college propaganda project ‘Confucius Institute’

‘Related to various kinds of pressure’

The Confucius Institute brand has become so toxic for the Chinese Communist Party that it’s rebranding the organization that runs the outposts around the world.

The South China Morning Post reports that a “directive to lower-level agencies” by the Ministry of Education was “circulating on social media” Saturday and confirmed by a person in the education sector who was briefed on it.

The directive said the Confucius Institute headquarters, also known as Hanban, was now the “Ministry of Education Center for Language Education and Cooperation.”

The institutes and their American college partners have drawn heavy scrutiny in Congress and among academic freedom organizations for allegedly spreading Chinese government propaganda and censoring employees. Senators pressured their own colleges to drop their institutes last summer.

Several in America have closed in the wake of a U.S. law that blocks defense funding from Chinese-language programs at colleges that host the Chinese government-operated institutes.

The concern went beyond America. The Post reports that institutes in Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium have closed, and Sweden – “the first European country to open a Confucius Institute” – closed its last Confucius-related program in May.

While institute headquarters didn’t officially confirm the rebranding with the Post, the news organization said the name change was “apparent” when the newly dubbed center hosted the National Chinese Language Conference June 24:

Addressing more than 4,000 teachers of Chinese language in US, centre director general Ma Jianfei said the organisation would still promote international cultural exchanges.

“The centre particularly hopes to expand cooperation with relevant institutions in the US and jointly build a more focused, pragmatic, and efficient new model for China-US language exchanges, and strive to contribute to the promotion of China-US cultural exchanges and mutual understanding between the people of the two countries,” Ma was quoted as saying in a statement on the website of the Confucius Institute Headquarters.

Ma is the deputy director and Communist Party secretary of the Confucius Institute Headquarters.

MORE: Senate passes bill giving campuses more control over Confucius Institutes

Sun Yixue, a professor at the International School of Tongji University in Shanghai, told the Post the rebrand was “related to various kinds of pressure, but it is by no means succumbing to them”:

It is a timely adjustment made by China to adapt to the new situation of world language and cultural exchanges, but this does not mean that all overseas Confucius Institutes should be renamed accordingly.

At least two Confucius Institutes on American campuses are closing or scheduled to close soon as well.

The University of Memphis shuttered its institute as of June 30, according to a letter from its provost to Hanban dated April 29 and posted last week by the office of Republican Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, a sponsor of a recent bill to wrest control of the U.S.-based institutes from the Chinese government.

In a statement praising the move, Blackburn also said Middle Tennessee State University, “the last college in our state with a Confucius Institute, is taking steps to wind down programming.”

The University of Oklahoma’s institute, one of the oldest in the U.S., is also shuttering due to “certain operational recommendations” made by the State Department last year, spokesperson Kesha Keith told OU Daily:

“In that context, and against the backdrop of evolving programmatic, budgetary, and managerial needs,” OU began its own evaluation of the program, Keith said in the email. A faculty committee considered the institute’s ongoing efforts and recommended that administrators “seriously consider discontinuing” its presence at OU.

Among the concerns was that the institute could “threaten or undermine OU’s efforts to secure grants from a number of federal agencies, as well as OU’s ability to maintain its Department of Defense-funded Arabic Flagship Program and seek additional DoD funding.” Keith also mentioned “a Title IX violation” the institute refused to “fully acknowledge” to the State Department.

Grand Lake News reports that the contract sets forth a six-month phaseout of the institute starting April 10, the date university officials notified Hanban the institute would shutter.

Read the reports and Blackburn statement.

MORE: Senators pressure universities to drop institutes as threat to America

IMAGES: AlexLMX/Shutterstock, Mark Morgan/Flickr

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