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Confucius Institute Chinese language and culture teachers must ‘love the motherland’ to apply
By James King and Echo Hui, ABC Investigations
Updated 17 July 2019 at 9:40am
PHOTO: A Confucius Institute volunteer teacher runs a class in a NSW public primary school in 2014. (YouTube: NSW Department of Education – Learning Systems)RELATED STORY: Centres of learning or foreign agents? Concerns grow over China’s Confucius Institutes
Australian students are being taught Chinese language and culture by teaching assistants vetted by the Chinese Government for “good political quality” and a love of “the motherland”.
- The Confucius Institute has 14 institutes and 67 classrooms across Australia
- Chinese language and culture teaching assistants have been required to meet political criteria since 2017
- The findings of a review into the Confucius Institute embedded in the NSW Department of Education will be released in August
The assistants teach Mandarin alongside Australian teachers in classrooms and universities across the country under the Confucius Institute program overseen by Chinese Government agency Hanban.
The application criteria was first issued by the Beijing-based Confucius Institute Headquarters in late 2016 and has been repeated in all recruitment notices since then.
Successful applicants that met this political loyalty condition have been sent to teach in the Confucius institutes and Confucius classrooms across the world since the beginning of 2017.
Confucius institutes are education entities formed through partnerships between a Chinese and a foreign university in the host country, which can then establish subsidiary programs in schools known as Confucius classrooms.
The chair of the Confucius Institute Headquarters Council in Beijing, Sun Chunlan, is a vice-premier and was formerly responsible for the United Front Work Department, which leads the Chinese Communist Party’s foreign influence efforts abroad.
Confucius classroom teacher application requirements
“Have good political and professional qualities, love the motherland, voluntarily work for the cause of Chinese language internationalisation, have the spirit of devotion, strong sense of organisational discipline and team spirit, good character, and no criminal record.”
China expert Professor John Fitzgerald from Swinburne University of Technology told the ABC that being of “good political quality” means “to accept the Chinese Communist Party politics as your own politics and to express no political views of your own”.
“Politics is the exclusive preserve of the party,” he said.
“It’s what the party does. This means, of course, that everything the party touches is political, including education and culture.”
Chen Yonglin, a former Chinese diplomat who sensationally defected to Australia in 2005, said “good political quality” means to “always be loyal to the Chinese Communist Party and nothing else”.
The revelations come amid increasing concerns of Chinese Government involvement in Australian education.
Australia has the third-highest number of Confucius institutes and classrooms in the world — behind the USA and the UK — with 14 institutes and 67 classrooms across the country.
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The First Lady visits
When China’s President Xi Jinping shared a Sydney stage with then-prime minister Tony Abbott on his last visit to Australia in 2014, his wife was greeted by a red and gold dancing dragon at a private school on the upper north shore.
First lady Madame Peng Liyuan’s visit to Ravenswood School for Girls was made significant by it being the first private school in NSW to host a Confucius classroom.
But the first lady could have visited one of the public schools across the state that have joined the program.
Uniquely, NSW was the first government body in the world to host an institute within its own Department of Education in 2011 — deviating from the usual process where institutes are set up in universities.
Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, expressed concern about the influence of the Confucius Institute program.
“Schools wanting to provide language instruction is good, right and important. Letting the Chinese Government provide this is a problem,” she said.
“Many fail to see that Confucius institutes are a part of a much bigger Chinese Communist Party agenda.”
Ms Richardson described it as “extraordinary” that a Confucius institute was welcomed into the NSW Department of Education.
“Would the state police force welcome the Ministry of Public Security into its ranks? Would the NSW Department of Environment welcome in China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment?”
Education focuses on ‘positive image’
As well as native language instructors, participating universities and schools receive partial funding, teaching resources, student exchange opportunities and Chinese language and culture consultative services from the Chinese Government.
Academic Jeffrey Gil from Flinders University has closely researched these issues and says the institute has a more nuanced “selective” teaching approach, rather than disseminating propaganda.
“[The programs] focus on positive aspects of China and try to portray a positive image,” he said.
“This happens by focusing their activities and programs primarily around traditional Chinese culture while ignoring sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square massacre, Taiwan and Tibet.”
“In this sense they portray a selective, rather than propagandistic, view.”
‘The very top of education has been affected’
The ABC has spoken with parents concerned that Confucius institutes and Confucius classrooms are bringing inappropriate influences into Australian education.
Sonam Paljor, a Tibetan parent living in the inner west of Sydney, has young children who have been targeted for their ethnic background.
“My daughter would come home confused,” he said.
“Kids on the playground would tell her that Tibet is part of China and mock her Tibetan name.”
When searching for high schools, he and his wife closely inspected the origins of any Mandarin language instruction.
“Knowing that Confucius institutes are growing only increases my anxiety that things are not getting any better,” Mr Paljor said.
“The system is not robust enough to challenge or question these things.
“When you have a Confucius institute at the Department of Education itself then the very top of education has been affected.
“Not only does it affect your trust and confidence in [the department], but it makes you suspicious and distrustful of the institutions that we are meant to trust.”
NSW awaits 14-month review
In May last year, then-minister for education Rob Stokes ordered a review of the “risks associated” with language programs underpinned by relationships with foreign governments or organisations.
The terms of reference of the review, seen by the ABC, refer broadly to all language education in schools supported by a foreign government or organisation.
However, the minister “also requested specific advice on the operation of the Confucius institute established in the department”.
No other foreign language programs were named in the terms of reference.
PHOTO: A woman instructs students inside a Confucius classroom at a public primary school in NSW at a time before volunteer teachers were vetted for “political qualities”. (YouTube: NSW Department of Education – Learning Systems)
The “desktop review” specified evidence from students, teachers, parents or principals would not be collected unless their views were already public.
New Education Minister Sarah Mitchell advised that it did seek advice from unnamed “relevant Commonwealth Government departments”.
On Thursday, after questions from the ABC, the NSW Department of Education confirmed the review was completed at the end of 2018, with the department “considering the recommendations” and findings to be released next month.
“The additional capacity in our schools, to support NSW teachers with a native speaker in their classroom continues to be of value to our schools and communities,” a department spokesperson said.
NSW Greens education spokesman David Shoebridge said the “desktop review” was inadequate.
“At the very least, the review should have sought the opinions of students who had been in Confucius classrooms and their parents. Instead we got a secret internal desktop review that they haven’t even released,” he said.
The ABC contacted Hanban for comment.