James Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and Diana Chigas, senior international officer and associate provost, announced the decision to close the Confucius Institute at Tufts University (CITU) in a statement released on March 17.
The CITU was launched in 2015 and its partnership with Tufts was renewed for two more years in 2019. The statement explained its purpose.
“[CITU was established] to provide support for supplemental, not-for-credit Chinese language and culture instruction and programming, and to facilitate educational and cultural exchange and cooperation between Tufts and Beijing Normal University (BNU),” the statement said.
In the statement, Glaser and Chigas highlighted the reasons for the decision and the future of Chinese language and culture learning at Tufts, noting that moving on from the CITU will allow the university to expand its relationship with BNU.
“The CITU has made a valuable contribution to Chinese language and culture learning at Tufts and helped to facilitate Tufts’ important relationship with BNU … Our successful and collaborative experience has affirmed our interest in growing our relationship with BNU and exploring potential additional options for both virtual and in-person exchange in Chinese language, culture and other areas,” the statement said.
According to Kalsang Nangpa, an organizer with the Tibetan Association of Boston, prior to the decision to close the CITU, organizers from the Tibetan Association of Boston and Students for a Free Tibet, along with members from the Uighur and Hong Kong communities, have jointly protested in favor of closing the institute at Tufts for 13 consecutive Saturdays.
Nangpa said that on March 10, Tibetan National Uprising Day, over 100 protesters attended the weekly protest, joined by Massachusetts Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven. Protesters had sent over 600 emails calling for the closing of the CITU to University President Anthony Monaco prior to the demonstration.
Nangpa said there were multiple reasons why she and her fellow protesters were committed to taking action.
“I’m a Tibetan,” Nangpa said. “The Confucius Institute is funded and run by the Chinese government. That is absolutely ridiculous to me because that is the same government that commits genocide on my people.”
Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch and MSNBC columnist, explained her view of the dangers of Confucius Institutes on American college campuses.
“Given the background of the Chinese government having a clear history of silencing views that the party doesn’t like and restricting academic freedom … I think Confucius institutes undermine academic freedom on the campus,” Wang said. “That’s, I think, why they should be closed.”
Nangpa also highlighted allegations of academic censorship within Confucius Institutes and expressed her concern about the presence of these institutes on college campuses.
“They’re basically infiltrating into the U.S. and our school systems, and I think everyone is directly or indirectly affected by this,” Nangpa said. “To know that there is a program at Tufts that is basically a propaganda tool of the Chinese government is very scary … Everything that should be talked about isn’t being talked about in these classrooms, and where’s the academic freedom?”
Wang explained the initial appeal for Confucius Institutes on college campuses and the responsibility of universities who chose to close their institutes.
“I think the reason Confucius institutes were successful expanding on campuses … is because there is a genuine demand for learning Chinese language and Chinese culture, which is a great thing,” Wang said. “The university should respond to that demand by creating those programs or sustaining those programs out of its own pocket … Given the rising tensions between the U.S. and China, it’s very important that our schools continue to provide these trainings and programs for students so they can better understand China.”
The Confucius Institute U.S. Center, which oversees the network of Confucius Institutes in the United States, expressed disappointment in the decision and blamed conspiracy theories for creating the tensions surrounding the program.
“We are very sad to hear that [Tufts’] CI is closing,” Erik Eging, press liaison for the Confucious Institute U.S. Center, wrote in an email to the Daily. “It’s unfortunate that an American university foreign language program is being forced to close due to political pressure and interference resulting from misinformation and twitter conspiracies instead of actual evidence.”
He expanded further on his opinion about Tufts’ decision to close the Institute.
“We are living at a time in our country where teaching a foreign language is now considered a political act, where our State Department feels comfortable casually accusing American citizens of espionage due to their enthusiasm for global language education, and our legislators feel empowered to utilize our countries current anti-Asian sentiment to deny students educational opportunities,” Eging said.
Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton has called for the closing of the Institute since 2018. When Tufts renewed the contract with the CITU in 2019, Moulton called the decision “troubling at best, deeply naive at worst.”
After the announcement that Tufts will close its Confucius Institute, Moulton reiterated his position and voiced his agreement with the decision in a press release from his office.
“The Chinese Communist Party spends millions annually to fund Confucius Institutes. China’s government does this because it wants a foothold on American college campuses which it uses to bully students, stifle critical thinking, and influence public perception,” Moulton said. “Tufts University’s overdue decision to disband its Confucius Institute is the right one, and I hope it represents a sign that academia is finally waking up to the threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to colleges and our country.”