Perhaps no one will call Goethe Institutes, Alliances Francaises or Cervantes Institutes propaganda vehicles or tools of cultural invasion. So, why all the fuss over China's Confucius Institutes, which share the same goals?
China is not the first to set up such institutes nor does it have a monopoly over overseas cultural promotion.
The first Alliance Francaise was set up in 1883 and has been entrusted with the task of promoting the French language and culture abroad - a task identical with that of Confucius Institutes.
At present, there are about 1,100 language centers in 133 different countries.
Similarly, Germany began opening Goethe Institutes in 1951, while the Cervantes Institutes started admitting students in 1991.
If these practices are condoned and even celebrated, why are China's efforts creating doubts?
Cultural invasion, by definition, indicates intentional and systematic actions to replace one country's cultural habits with those of another. Yet what Confucius Institutes are doing is simply opening a window through which foreigners can catch a glimpse of traditional Chinese culture if they so desire.
More importantly, it is up to people who visit these institutes to decide whether to accept these foreign values because Confucius Institutes have no such jurisdiction, let alone being invaders from an alien culture.
Additionally, those who accuse the institutes of being propaganda vehicles have no facts on which they can base their charges.
China began helping establish Confucius Institutes in 2004. These non-profit facilities are designed to offer Chinese learning programs to language learners and promote the knowledge of this ancient civilization.
As of July 2010, 316 Confucius Institutes had been opened in more than 90 countries and regions. None of the institutes was established without the request and consent of host universities and colleges.
According to an introduction posted on the website of the Beijing-based Confucius Institute headquarters, in order for an institute to be established, a foreign partner needs to apply first. After the application is approved, the facility will be run under equitable bilateral cooperation.
Thus, there is no way that the Chinese side could "manipulate" the institute as it has been falsely accused of.
Also, courses taught in the institutes mainly fall into three categories, namely language learning, teachers' training and traditional Chinese culture. There are no governmental policy lessons available.
No one can expect a government promotion agency to be effective if it does not advocate official policies.
Besides, the Confucius Institutes acquaint students with traditional values such as benevolence, righteousness and harmony. These are among the most exemplary traditional virtues and are also reflected in other cultures and religions.
At present, Confucius Institutes are teaching Chinese to more than 40 million people around the world, and the number is growing fast due to China's increasing openness, plus the world's increasing curiosity to know more about China.
The institutes also benefit learners in many practical ways such as better job opportunities and more convenience in doing business with Chinese enterprises.
Since globalization is the theme song of our times, the world is becoming smaller and smaller, and contacts between different cultures will undoubtedly boost understanding and trust.
The Confucius Institutes, by showcasing China's culture and reaching to the world its values, can help achieve that end.
The author is a writer with Xinhua News Agency.
(China Daily 08/14/2010 page5)