Confucius Institutes and the UK


Confucius institutes are an educational organization run by the Ministry of Education under the Chinese government. These institutes are defined as public educational institutes to promote Chinese language and culture while also facilitating cultural exchanges[1].   Established in 2004, there are now over 500 CI’s in the world and as the demand for Chinese language grows due to China’s economic prowess, these institutions are in high demand with the current numbers ranging around 580 Confucius Institutes in six continents[2] .  These institutions are based majorly in Universities and also some schools playing them in a unique position to exercise influence where they are based. 

In fact, CI’s have been repeatedly been accused of undermining academic freedom, espionage of academics, Chinese and non-Chinese students; and defining the conversation on Taiwan, Hong Kong, human rights and Tibet. Their access to schools allows CI to establish their discourse on China amidst young people and students which is also represented in the film, In The Name of Confucius (2017) by Doris Liu[3] that goes into the details of CI’s and their agreements with schools/universities, questioning if the contract would undermine academic freedom.  The Human Rights Watch said in its 2019 report on China: “Confucius Institutes are extensions of the Chinese government that censor certain topics and perspectives in course materials on political grounds, and use hiring practices that take political loyalty into consideration.”

The main issues with CI are the fact that they are positioned across universities and school campuses – often leading to self-censorship within the institution. Further, the close links with the Chinese state itself is a concern the platform may be used to push forth propaganda as several senior ministers of the Chinese state have noted the importance of CI’s.[4] Further, there have been instances of cancelling events and influencing research in campuses where CI is based, harassment of Tibetan and Uighur students, strict censorship on certain issues which goes against the very spirit of university spaces – meant to encourage free thought and inculcate an inquisitive mind amongst the students. 

The case is particularly worrying for the UK where there are at least 29 CI’s associated with universities and 148 Confucius classrooms. Several political parties in the UK have demanded a review of the agreements between CI and their host institution in the UK warning against the threat of ‘threaten freedom of expression and national security by extending the presence and influence of the Chinese Communist Party far beyond its borders.’[5] Further, Universities across the world have also begun taking action against CIs – least 27 universities and one school board have cut ties with Confucius Institutes, including Stockholm University, Copenhagen Business School, Stuttgart Media University, the University of Hohenheim, the University of Lyon, the University of Chicago, Pennsylvania University, the University of Michigan, McMaster University, and the Toronto School Board.

Students for Free Tibet UK actively seeks to campaign for the eradication of CI’s across UK and globally in pursuit of freedom of speech and expression; and the safety of staff and students. Activists, scholars, journalists are already taking action in this regard and we urge you to take part:

Our campaign is based around raising awareness about the threat of CI’s globally, demanding academic spaces to re-evaluate their contracts with CI’s. As we note the growing influence of the Chinese state in the UK[6], it is important to take action now! Please read more about the campaign and the existing work that SFT has done here: Join us in demanding academic freedom for all today!

[1] This is the official statement: [Accessed on 25/05/2020]

[2] See more: [Accessed on 25/05/2020]

[3]Find more details about the movie here: [Accessed on 25/05/2020]

[4] For more information: [Accessed on 25/05/2020]

[5] [Accessed on 25/05/2020]

[6] Read more:[Accessed 25/05/2020]

Published by Students for a Free Tibet UK

Students for a Free Tibet UK (SFT UK) is a national network based in London, working in solidarity with the Tibetan people in their struggle for human rights, democracy and freedom. We are a group-based network of young people in colleges, universities or in the community across the United Kingdom. ‘We believe every individual has the right to be free. Those who enjoy freedom have the power and also a responsibility to make a positive change in the world.‘ (SFT HQ) The Tibetan cause is a fight for justice. It is a non-violence movement and promotes the fundamental rights and freedom of millions of people within Tibet. Tibetan culture, religion, language, heritage – our very identity – is threatened by the occupying colonial forces of communist China.

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