Redefining the Confucius Institute
Something was unmistakably amiss on Oct. 1 when walking through the outdoor Mills Plaza. The Chinese Cultural Festival, hosted by McMaster’s Confucius Institute, was in full swing, full in this case meaning a single, subtle tent and a modest display of staff.
Compared to last year, when the festival encompassed the entire MUSC Atrium in an ostentatious display of cultural pride, song, dance and prizes, it was an unfamiliar offering from the usually grandiose faculty.
Dr. Angela Sheng, Associate Professor of Art History and Director Chair of the Confucius Institute, explained the reasoning behind this massive shift in festivities. “I want [the festival] to be in the open, to attract student attention and I would like it to be driven by grassroots needs,” said Sheng.
The festival, scheduled to run from Oct. 1 to 3, encompassed many aspects, such as martial arts demonstrations, student presentations and a myriad of film screenings on Thursday, still seemed oddly cut down, sporting an almost subtle profile with few students stopping their daily activities to check out the event.
The Institute, recently scrutinized for its allegedly controversial hiring and training practices overseas for prospective teachers according to a Globe and Mail investigative report, seems to be in the process of restructuring its outward appearance to appeal to a larger student body.
“The Confucius Institute is synchronous with humanities and with President Deane’s Forward With Integrity message, and we want to highlight student endeavours and give them a platform to express their work,” said Sheng.
The festival itself, while smaller in scale, promoted a single, unified message. It highlighted spirituality as a means to promote overall well-being, as well as stressing the importance of values shared between heritage students and students without a Chinese background at McMaster.
Looking forward in the year, Sheng has further plans to engage the student body in Chinese culture. “We have the upcoming Distinguished Speaker Series to look forward to. On October 30 an archeologist is going to speak about the first emperor of China. Later in November a linguist will come and speak about the phonetic system [of Mandarin].”
The Institute’s current plans do not end at festivities alone, as it is currently engaged in a proposal to found a new Chinese business course.
“It would be a language course that focuses on business language, and business etiquette and know-how that is different in China,” said Sheng.
The proposal has been submitted to the Curriculum Committee of the Faculty of Humanities and if passed will move on to review by the Senate’s Undergraduate Planning Committee this fall.
“I’d like to know what students would like [to know about China]. These projects have to be initiated by students and then they can be incorporated into next year’s budget proposal,” said Sheng on how students could get involved in the faculty.
The Confucius Institute will continue to run events throughout the year, but it remains to be seen if future showings by the organization will be equally toned down.