Peng Xiaohua: Hanban, you’ve mis-“handled” the image of the nation


[Unofficial translation]

Source: (共识网).


2014-08-07 09:55   Author: Peng Xiaohua [彭小华]  Hits: 7275

The Hanban spurs a mess at the “European Association of Chinese Studies” 20th congress

The Hanban, or in its complete version the “Office for the leadership group for China’s state promotion of the teaching of the Chinese language internationally” is the headquarters for the “Confucius Institutes” famous both at home and abroad. As regards the CI there have been much criticism domestic critics, who raise the point that there are still so many impoverished people at home, and insufficient investment in education, with so many rural young people unable to go to school [under such circumstances] instead [the government] invests abroad, and even brings huge investments and send educators into Western countries so much wealthier than ours, and with so much stronger budgets for education. What is especially troubling is that these expenses and dispatching of teachers and teaching materials so as to “bring education to their doorstep”, such “wonderful things”,isn’t met with gratitude by the “beneficiaries” but on the contrary, in Canada, in the US, and in New Zealand and in other countries (not sure about the situation in nonWestern countries) there is more and more widespread doubt. Recently in the US, over one hundred university professors even wrote an open letter urging US schools to stop jointly running “CIs” with the Hanban,apparently because they see the “CIs” as impeding academic freedom and the independence of teaching and learning.

In my understanding the “CIs” are an instrument of the Chinese government and platforms established to spread Chinese culture and build soft power, and to build up the stature of the nation,and there may be various doubts about its successes, but an open attitude has been consistently maintained, and attention duly paid to the various reports in media at home and abroad. However, at home in China [I have] never had any contact with the Hanban. [Thus] it came as a surprise when this year on 23-26 July, attending the 20th congress of the “European Association of Chinese Studies” held in Portugal, I became an eyewitness to how Hanban and the CI under its care “engaged in diplomacy” with negative effects.

This meeting was held alternately at the [Miniao] university at Braga, and at Coimbra university in Coimbra, organized by these two universities, with two inaugural ceremonies. On July 22, in the afternoon,myself attending as an independent scholar and my sinologist husband went to [Miniao] university to register, and obtained copies of the conference handbook and the volume of abstracts. On July 23, in the morning, we took part in the opening ceremony。Sun Lan [“characters transcribed by sound”][Note: this person apparently spells herself Sun Lam, that is in Cantonese, not Mandarin fashion], chair of Asian studies at [Miniao] university, chaired the opening ceremony, and Xu Lin [许琳], director of the Hanban, attended and also spoke.

My own presentation was on July 24, and on that day in the morning I was in my hotel room going over the contents of my presentation. When I opened my computer I right away received an email, which was from someone that presented himself as the Chinese director of the [Miniao] university Confucius Institute, saying: “[I] want to know which room you are in, at which hotel, I want to telephone you, and very much want to talk with you.” He also provided a messaging number. This director Jia [贾], seemed very anxious to find me, and talk with me. What could he want to talk about? I did not know him from before, could it be that he was interested in similar academic topics? However, he was contacting me in his official position, and the topic concerning him seemed somewhat secretive, to the point that he could not even mention it openly. AT first I felt puzzled, and a bit nervous, even a bit upset. I responded asking what he wanted to talk about, and told him my hotel and my room number, welcoming him to contact me by phone,and I added his messaging address.

All morning, even by noon, there was no response or phone call from this director Jia, and he did not stop by to see me, and there was no messaging response. In the afternoon, I went early to the meeting venue and sat down, then receiving his message, asking me where I was. He hurriedly appeared. It turned out that what he wanted was to take away my conference handbook and the volume of abstracts. But why? The answer was that there was a misprint, and after he took them away, replacements would immediately be provided. I did not think much of it, so I gave him the booklets, adding that “I am very sorry” — because we had two copies, and the abstracts are also available online, my husband already threw one away, but had one on hand for himself. ?I told director Jia that I would tell my husband to turn it in so that he got them all in.

When I met up with my husband and told him about it, and explained what had happened, he said aloud “You’re too credulous! On what grounds does he look you up to take those away!  Don’t pay attention to him!” — it turned out that no-one had asked him to turn in any of his materials. Thus it seemed there was a difference between Chinese and foreigners [literally: “internal and external is different” 内外有 别] Was there some secret that they did not want Chinese people to see? some secret that they did not want Chinese scholars to bring back home and spread around? I asked a French colleague, but no-one from the Confucius Institute had contacted her about this. But, she had registered during the opening ceremony on the 23rd, and at the time, she had been told without explanation that they had “ran out” of conference materials and she was only handed a photocopied piece. At this point, she got a conference book from us.

I anxiously and most awkwardly told director Jia that my husband wanted to keep one copy of the conference materials. I was worried for Mr. Jia, in case he could not complete his task as demanded from him,and expected him to continue to try to persuade me,to go and try to persuade my husband. But who would have known, at this point he seemed unconcerned, and said he was only following instructions, if it was gone, it was gone, and so be it; he would just tell his “leaders” that my abstracts book was gone, and that would be it. Hearing this I breathed a sigh of relief, and yet at the same time I wondered and puzzled more and more just what misprint could have been included.

Towards the end of that day, attendees took a bus from Braga to Coimbra, and at the beginning of the journey, Sun Lan [孙兰] spoke to everyone, and handed out a color page that was missing from the conference handbook to all those who were missing it. She said that she had been asked to do this by her colleagues at the university of Coimbra. I did not know the contents of this color page. I thought that I would get this color page in the new book given to me by Mr. Jia, but anyway I would not need it.

Ever since Mr. Jia took away my meeting handbook, until this morning’s breakfast, I had not seen him again and did not hear any news from him. Had he not said he would immediately give me a new version of the conference handbook? Without the conference handbook, we did not have any information, on the location of the opening ceremony, or the following p
rogram, or where it would take place. I now got a feeling that my goodhearted wish to help had instead allowed me to be fooled. I could not help questioning what was Mr. Jia’s status, and what right he had to take away my abstracts book: On what basis? And once again, who was he really? And come to think of it, even if he really was the Chinese director of the Confucius Institute at the [Miniao] university, that Confucius Institute was not the main organizer of the conference, but my conference materials had been issued by the main organizer of the conference, so whether Hanban or Confucius institute, what right would they have to take away the materials provided by the conference main organizers? and, to not keep their promise of immediately replacing it with new ones!

I sent a message to Mr. Jia, expressing doubts about his status, and asking about why he did not, as promised, provide new, edited conference materials, causing me and my husband to not know ehere to go next for the meetings!He expressed regrets, saying he was indeed the director of the Confucius Institute,telling me that I could check this on the internet, — but that indeed he had not been directly part of the organizing of this conference, and only took away my conference handbook and abstracts volume on orders from above. I had been the last of all the Chinese attendees that he’d been able to contact, and he would find a staff member to get me the materials (but even today, I still did not get it, either from him or from his staff, and no one contacted me), and so on; I asked him what had been such a big deal, causing them to go to such trouble to retrieve these materials from professors and others attending the meeting? I said, he did not know what had happened.

So what was, after all, the horrible printing mistake?

From my experience, I would think it must have been a political error.

So what kind of political error?

The more I thought about it, the more curious and puzzled I became.

At noontime, we got information from the internet about the meeting schedule and location. Based on my interests I selected topics related to international relations. At one panel, before starting his main presentation, one European colleague held up and waved a color page,pointing out that because the meeting had received funding from the Hanban, it had also attracted censorship from the Hanban, as a result — I still did not understand,  but realized it must have had something to do with the retrieving of the conference materials,  and that this had made many angry, including this scholar.

It was not until the same evening that the riddle started to get its resolution.

That evening, we were eating dinner together with some other European colleagues from different countries, sharing a table. They spoke with agitation about what had happened at the opening ceremony. It turned out that the director of the Hanban, namely Xu Lin, the head officer of the Confucius Institute headquarters, had noticed after she came to Portugal that the name of another sponsor of the same conference, the “Chiang-ching Kuo Foundation for International Academic Exchange” also appeared among the sponsors of the conference, and there was a color page of advertisement(the advertisement said:Promoter of international sinological research — Chiang-ching Kuo Foundation), then “she had become very angry,” and then ordered that the meeting materials already distributed be recovered from all Chinese delegates to the meeting(later, we felt that the reason Mr. Jia had said he found me last, among all the Chinese delegates he had contacted, was because I was an independent scholar, not listed on the Hanban list of names, they did not know my address and telephone number), and moreover they found ways to have people (how this was done concretely speaking, I am not sure, but it can be surmised that it may have been unofficially, without the acquiescence of the main organizers of the meeting, otherwise events would not have unfolded as they did), tear out [the offending pages] from the materials not yet distributed on that first day — that was why, on the second day,  our French colleague had only received some photocopies, and some other scholars who came on the same day had received handbooks missing the advertisement from the “Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation.”

According to a European colleague at the dinner, this move by the Hanban had caused great commotion. On the 24th, in the morning, on the opening ceremony at Coimbra university, the president of the EACS Roger Greatrex, director of the East and Southeast Asian studies center at Lund university in Sweden, angrily criticized this “censorship” by the Hanban, and said this was an interference with academic freedom, and was unacceptable. The sinologists at the meeting, realized what had happened, and this ignited a discussion. They felt that Hanban’s actions were incredible, and that the words and actions of China, the Chinese government, the Hanban and of the Confucius Institutes did not match [言 行背离]. The scholars at our table criticized them passionately. One Swiss colleague said that until this incident [he-she] [Note: Gender unclear from the Chinese], had advocated for establishing a CI at [his/her] university, “now we most definitely will not do that.” There was also a German scholar and Chinese department chair, who said that if as he had heard, Sun Lan was being forced to resign, then she would surely offer her a position at her own university.

Returning to the hotel in the lobby, [we noticed that] a group of ten or so scholars from China were also discussing, in hushed voices, what had transpired.

One has to add that this meeting proceeded normally, very orderly, there was no chaos, and  the Hanban “headache” was the only drama at the whole meeting.

On finding out the truth about what had happened, I felt speechless and out of breath:How could the Hanban do its “work” in this way!When the government spends large sums of taxpayer money, gathered up by people saving on clothing and eating sparingly, on building up the image of the country and spread [Chinese] culture, build up soft power, if they fail, then so be it, but here they were spending large sums of money achieving the opposite result, a negative result, taking their ways of doing things at home with them abroad [把国内的作风带到 国外], and, taking their way of intimidating people at home with them as they go abroad [把 对国人的威风耍到国外], and even proving the criticism of those foreign scholars and media “with other motives at heart.” As one European scholar put it, are you out to “project hard soft power, or soft soft power”?Even leaving aside what was the original intention, judged by the result, the work of the Hanban is sloppy, or even like bullying [蛮 横]. If you discover problems at the last minute, how can you go ahead on your own, without the approval the main organizers, and take back conference materials and tear out pages advertising a fellow sponsor of the same conference? If you do, you offend both the main organizers, and also another sponsor of the conference, as well as harming the interests of others (others have paid, too!)? Aren’t’ you even saying that the power of the mainland and of Taiwan are not the same — [saying it in this way] does that help the present and the future relations between the mainland and Taiwan?

Source: Gongshiwang [“共识网” ‘Shared knowledge network’]. Text provided by author. Date: 2014-8-6. Responsible editor: Shen Yan.
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— end translation.  The original Chinese text on the internet: (共识网).


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