Confucius Institutes




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Oxford University Press



Peer reviewed



Confucius Institutes are a cluster of non-profit educational organizations that promote the Chinese language and culture outside China. At the center of this cluster is the Confucius Institute Headquarters, a public-sector institution affiliated with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China that also operates under the name of Hanban. Hanban (汉办), in Chinese, is a colloquial abbreviation of the Guojia hanyu guoji tuiguan lingdao xiaozu bangongshi (国家汉语国际推广领导小组办公室), the official English title of which is the Office of Chinese Language Council International. Overseen by the Confucius Institute Headquarters/Hanban, the first Confucius Institute opened its door in Seoul in November 2004. As of December 2017, there were 525 Confucius Institutes and 1,113 Confucius Classrooms in 146 countries and territories around the world. Although the Confucius Institutes are sometimes viewed in parallel to other state-sponsored cultural institutions such as the British Council, Alliance Française, and Goethe-Institut, their structure and development strategies are significantly different from the foreign counterparts, which often operate as stand-alone corporations. Confucius Institutes and Classrooms, however, are normally affiliated to universities, schools, cultural organizations, and community centers outside China, and they are almost always jointly established and managed between the host institutions and their Chinese partner institutions, which are generally, though not without exception, universities in China. The Confucius Institute Headquarters/Hanban provides financial support and teaching resources to Confucius Institutes and Classrooms around the world. It also selects the Chinese director for and sends teaching staff and volunteers from China to Confucius Institutes and Classrooms. These directors, teaching staff, and volunteers are often selected from the Chinese partner institutions. For each Confucius Institute, the host institution appoints one of its staff members as the foreign director, who manages the Institute together with the Chinese director. On some occasions, the foreign director acts as the chief operation officer of their Confucius Institute and the Chinese director plays an assisting role. Due to these complicated arrangements, the actual levels of autonomy, styles of operation, and ranges of activities can be considerably diverse among different Confucius Institutes and Classrooms despite the standardized Constitution and By-Laws set up by the Confucius Institute Headquarters/Hanban. Although the Confucius Institute Headquarters/Hanban restricts its objectives to teach the Chinese language, promote the Chinese culture, and enhance the development of multiculturalism, Confucius Institutes and Classrooms are widely regarded by observers both within and outside China as important players in the making and shaping of China’s soft power. Confucius Institutes have received both criticisms and admiration for their activities as well as their rapid development and expansion. Assessments have also been made on the impact that Confucius Institutes have on international economic and people flows, as well as on China’s image and influence. The rest of this article starts by introducing sources that offer general overview on Confucius Institutes. It is then divided into several thematic sections that focus on the most discussed aspects of Confucius Institutes, including their operation and development, their involvement in shaping China’s soft power, perceptions of Confucius Institutes in academia and media, and the impact that Confucius Institutes have on various aspects of China’s relations with the rest of the world.



Politics, Language education, Cultural studies


Tao, Y. and Wang, J. (2018) Confucius Institutes. Oxford Bibliographies in Chinese Studies, 149. New York: Oxford University Press.


Research Institute