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Title: Building the “chinese bridge” : dynamics of transnational engagement through confucius institutes in Southeast Asia
Authors: Ma, Sirui
Keywords: DRNTU::Social sciences::Political science
Issue Date: 2018
Source: Ma, S. (2018). Building the “chinese bridge” : dynamics of transnational engagement through confucius institutes in Southeast Asia. Doctoral thesis, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Abstract: In 2004, China established its first Confucius Institute (CI) in Korea; and a decade later, with more than 500 Confucius Institutes and 1000 Confucius Classrooms worldwide, they now form one of the most extensive cultural networks on the international stage, and also the most controversial one. Whereas traditionally the credibility of cultural institutes is upheld by maintaining a formal independence from the government agencies, CIs made the Chinese government and foreign universities partners. With the joint venture structure and multi-stakeholder engagement unprecedented among its counterparts and predecessors, Confucius Institute has raised new questions to the old practice of cultural diplomacy through language education. This thesis focuses on the joint venture structure of Confucius Institutes and answers three questions, namely, on what ground is the transnational engagement based; how is it realised and sustained; and what has been produced for whose benefit? Using grounded theory approach and drawing on empirical data from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and China, this thesis offers new approaches to understanding and theorising China’s most prominent cultural initiative so far, contributing to the CI literature as well as the discussions on transnational and multi-stakeholder engagement in public diplomacy. On the one hand, CI’s joint venture structure seems to be reflecting the cutting-edge trends in public diplomacy. On the other hand, CIs are initiated by the Chinese government to improve its global image. A gap is presented between the state centric view on CIs, emphasising them as a product of and solution to the problems encountered in China’s rise; and the relational approach to CIs, highlighting their global network structure and synergy. The former is the mainstream in the CI literature. Neither the state centric nor the relational approach has adequately reflected what is going on in Confucius Institutes. This thesis proposes that the power of language itself underpins the global CI network, providing a shared instrumental interest binding the partners together. The transnational engagement has been sustained by a “dynamic equilibrium”, reconciling potentially conflicting authorities in CI’s administrative structure. And the creation of discourses and meanings reproduces this engagement while empowering the institutionally embedded individuals. Together, they demonstrate the process of structuring in the transnational social space created by Hanban’s “Chinese Bridge” Project. As a language education programme, the impact of CIs and related projects on individuals may have more to do with the empowering effect of language learning in general. As a cultural diplomacy initiative, its ostensible success in generating a government sanctioned China image is more a product of, by and for the Chinese people themselves. However, by building the “Chinese Bridge” all over the world, it helps to strengthen the network power of Chinese language, grow the number of people who have vested interests in it, which could gradually render the Chinese government more power in shaping our shared form of social coordination, and, in turn, a structural advantage in international communication.
DOI: 10.32657/10356/74194
Fulltext Permission: open
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
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