Any views expressed within media held on this service are those of the contributors, should not be taken as approved or endorsed by the University, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University in respect of any particular issue.
Confucius Institutes and Sport: Voices from China

Confucius Institutes and Sport: Voices from China

Wen Ye
University of Edinburgh

Old College
As of July 2020, 540 Confucius Institutes (CIs) and 1,154 Confucius Classrooms had been established across 162 countries and regions. This surge in expansion signifies a prominent feature characterising China’s cultural outreach.

The integration of sport into the CI framework has yielded new avenues for promoting the institution while retaining its ties to traditional Chinese culture.

The research synopsis presented here draws on a broader three-year study on how China uses sport to advance cultural relations. It draws upon insights managers, teachers, students, and related practitioners giving voice and evidence to perceptions of sport, the CI, and China. The key finding being that CI seeks to embody a comprehensive and all-encompassing identity through its engagement with sport.

Language Education and the CI

The Confucius Institute (CI) asserts that its cardinal and foundational objective as language instruction. Diverging from conventional cultural centers, one of the unique characteristics of the CI lies in its collaborative affiliation with universities.

In contrast to CI and how other cultural agencies in other nations tend to typically operate autonomously and are not structurally integrated with educational departments the difference with the Cis is that

“… it cooperates with a local educational institute, so it’s in the form of cooperation. We are inside the university, my CI is a department for Chinese teaching, actually it is a Chinese teaching department” (Interview A).

The CIs tend to be established by a partnership between a foreign university and a Chinese university. Each CI has a foreign director and a Chinese director. The Chinese university needs to get the qualification from both administrative education offices in order to provide Chinese as a course at the oversea university.

“…like other languages, including French and English. And its literature department. All of these majors, they can have courses for credit. He can even get credits when he graduates, so that your teaching of culture and language can be on a track” (Interview B).

This operating model, which is different from the West, is not without its critics. The CI is a mutually co-operative venture usually between a Chinese university and a university outside of China. It is also considered as a governmental institution because its headquarters (Hanban) is directly subordinated to the Ministry of Education of China, making it a point of criticism. As one interviewee said,

“…the headquarters of CI is a public institution directly under the Ministry of Education of China, gives the impression that the Chinese government is leading the behaviour of CI, which is not good for the kind of non-governmental culture exchange we really want to do” (Interview C).

Role of sport in the CI

Students exchanging cultures through sport 

Martial arts, emblematic of traditional Chinese sports culture, are pivotal within the CIs due to their embodiment of essential cultural values. Beyond universities, they have extended into secondary schools and communities, fostering diverse collaborations.

“Sport and cultural activities are more direct [impressions], there are a lot of activities, including martial arts performance at the ceremony …Whenever there is a big event, they will invite us [to perform], it is the influence of our CI” (Interview D).

“When we got there and said we could have PE classes and inter-class exercise for you, the principal was very happy, he said great. We had two volunteers, they teach long boxing, which is very simple. The students are excited, they saw it in Hong Kong films” (Interview E).

Martial arts is not the only sport within the CIs, especially in recent years. For example, in June 2014, the women’s volleyball team of Northwestern Nazareth University from the US visited Northwest University of China. After the friendly match, the CI arranged teaching and a demonstration of Tai Chi and a local Yangko folk dance (Northwest University, 2014). One interviewee reported that the sport programmes were-

“specially designed, understanding the demands and perspectives of the other side, looking at the mutual interest and the participation of both sides …we did some sports events together …it is like cross-perspective” (Interview F).

The ‘bringing in’ of other sports in the CIs is an experiment. It means that as a cultural institute, CI breaks the one-way teaching and exporting in cultural exchange and serves as a receiving side of international cultures to promote a mutual understanding between China and the world. The CI also developed Chinese courses for athletes before they came to Beijing for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Sport, devoid of prerequisites concerning linguistic proficiency or cultural background, offers a neutral and streamlined avenue for intercultural communication within the domain of cultural relations. It concurrently broadens the scope and methodology of cultural engagement within the CI. As one interviewee said.

“It feels like that compared with other ways, it is easier to communicate with sport, and more direct. I think sport is like, though it’s simple, it’s attractive to those who are new to it” (Interview G).

“You say I’m exporting culture, but actually I am also introducing culture.”
(Interview H)

Concluding Remarks
Sport serves not only as a conduit for cultural relations but also as a mirror reflecting the contemporary landscape of a nation’s cultural engagement. The deliberate integration of sports within Confucius Institutes, encompassing the pedagogy of martial arts and an array of promotional and exchange endeavors, affords an expeditious avenue for the cultivation and consolidation of cultural relations between China and the global community. The facilitation of martial arts instruction, coupled with a suite of martial arts-oriented initiatives, transcends linguistic barriers, ushering in a realm of convenience conducive to the seamless communication and cultural interaction between China and the international arena.


One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Report this page

To report inappropriate content on this page, please use the form below. Upon receiving your report, we will be in touch as per the Take Down Policy of the service.

Please note that personal data collected through this form is used and stored for the purposes of processing this report and communication with you.

If you are unable to report a concern about content via this form please contact the Service Owner.

Please enter an email address you wish to be contacted on. Please describe the unacceptable content in sufficient detail to allow us to locate it, and why you consider it to be unacceptable.
By submitting this report, you accept that it is accurate and that fraudulent or nuisance complaints may result in action by the University.