Language and China’s Rise: The Confucius Institute Project

This month we published Soft Power and the Worldwide Promotion of Chinese Language Learning by Jeffrey Gil. In this post the author reveals the inspiration behind the book and discusses China’s controversial Confucius Institute project.

I first became interested in China’s promotion of Chinese language learning when I was a PhD student in the early 2000s. While writing a thesis chapter about the use and status of the Chinese language in the world, I came across a news report describing plans to open a Chinese language and culture centre, called the Confucius Institute, in Kenya. It struck me as a sign that language was an important part of China’s rise, and as a topic worth exploring in more detail in the future. This book is the eventual result.

Confucius Institutes are established through partnerships between China’s Office of Chinese Language Council International (known as Hanban), a Chinese university and a foreign university. Their main function is teaching Chinese language and culture. Confucius Classrooms operate along similar lines in primary and secondary schools. Associated with these are the posting of volunteer and state-sponsored Chinese language teachers overseas, and the international Chinese Bridge Chinese language competitions. I refer to these collectively as the Confucius Institute project. This is part of China’s use of soft power, or attraction, to accomplish its goals in world politics. Language learning is an important aspect of this because there is already widespread interest in learning Chinese, and China views the Chinese language as a vehicle for conveying knowledge and understanding of China, including its culture, history and politics.

The Confucius Institute in Kenya which sparked my interest was one of the earliest; the first was opened in Seoul, South Korea, in November 2004. Since then, the scope and scale of the Confucius Institute project has expanded considerably. It has also garnered much attention from the public, the media, academics and governments, and created quite some controversy in the process. It seemed to me an appropriate time for a work which would map and evaluate the Confucius Institute project from a global perspective. In particular, I wanted to explore the dimensions of the Confucius Institute project across the globe; the impact of the Confucius Institute project at the political and societal levels; and the ways the Confucius Institute project could be modified in the future.

In this book I describe the geographical coverage, volume of activities and pace of development of the Confucius Institute project. I also analyse its influence on the policies and actions of foreign governments, on Chinese language teaching and learning, and on attitudes towards China. My conclusions may be surprising: outside the domain of Chinese language teaching and learning where its impact has been mainly positive, the Confucius Institute project has had little impact on improving China’s standing in world politics. On this basis I make several suggestions regarding what China, schools and universities, governments and researchers can do to improve the outcomes of the Confucius Institute project.

I’m sure this book won’t be the last word on the Confucius Institute project, but I hope I’ve succeeded in highlighting how language is intertwined with China’s rise.

Jeffrey Gil, Flinders University

For more information about this book, please see our website. If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy Studies in Second Language Acquisition of Chinese edited by ZhaoHong Han.

Accessible Tourism in Kenya

Having recently published Best Practice in Accessible Tourism edited by Dimitrios Buhalis et al we are very aware of the importance of making tourism accessible to all regardless of people’s disabilities. In relation to this book, we were recently contacted by Peter Bodo Ong’aro, the Secretary General of Kenya Disabled Development Society (KDDS) based in Nairobi. In this post Peter tells us about his work and how the organisation collaborates with other charities.

The Kenya Disabled Development Society (KDDS) strives to empower people with disabilities through various projects. Its main objective is to help disabled people develop educationally, socially and economically and therefore fit into the mainstream society.

I have been appointed the Country Representative to Kenya  by Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES). GAATES is based in Canada and their mission is to promote the understanding and implementation of accessibility of sustainable built, social and virtual environments, including architectural, infrastructural design, transportation systems, habitat, and electronic information and communication technologies so that everyone, including people with disabilities and older persons are able to fully participate and contribute to society. You can find more information about the organisation at

As the Country Representative to Kenya my mandate will be to hold events, lectures, workshops and host an international conference on accessibility. I will be promoting universal design, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and accessibility. I intend to hold workshops in five or more major cities in Kenya and host the International Conference on Accessible Tourism (ICATO) in July/August 2012 in Nairobi. I will also be conducting accessibility assessments on facilities in the tourism industry with a view to establishing whether Kenya is indeed an ‘Accessible Tourist Destination’.

I am also a signatory to the Seoul Declaration on Vocational Competency Development for Persons with Disabilities 2011. I led the KDDS delegation to the 8th International Abilympics Seoul 2011 which was held in September last year in Korea. The Abilympics is Olympics of Abilities for Persons with Disabilities. 52 Nations attended the event. KDDS will send a very strong team to the 9th International Abilympics 2015 which will be held in Finland. We intend to host a Regional Abilympics comprising of Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Kenya hopefully towards the end of the year in Kisumu City, Kenya.

KDDS works with many international organisations across the world. For details of these partnerships and information about KDDS see their website.