Discussion Papers

No.330 The Confucius Institutes and China’s Soft Power

by REN zhe

March 2012


The Confucius Institutes have been established by the Chinese government which operates them in collaboration with foreign universities and educational institutions in order to promote understanding of the Chinese language and culture. The first Confucius Institute opened its doors in Seoul, South Korea in 2004. Within the past seven years, 353 Confucius Institutes and 473 Confucius Classrooms have been established in 104 countries and regions. It is quite unusual for a language school to be able to make progress so rapidly. These developments raise a series of basic questions. First, what are the Confucius Institutes? What are their purpose and function? How have they been able to multiply so quickly? Are Confucius Institutes instruments of China’s soft power? This article seeks to answer these questions by analyzing the details behind the establishment of Confucius Institutes, their organizational mechanism, and their activities. This paper concludes that due to insufficiency of cultural content and key concepts which can typify contemporary China, it is hard to see Confucius Institutes as China’s soft power.

Keywords: Confucius Institutes, Hanban, cultural content, Soft Power

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