SFT Board member Thondup Tsering’s Presentation to the UMass Board of Trustees – Students for a Free Tibet
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SFT Board member Thondup Tsering’s Presentation to the UMass Board of Trustees

June 20, 2018

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Thank you for this opportunity.

My name is Thondup Tsering. I am a Tibetan-American, a UMass Alum and an employee in the Student Affairs and Campus Life department at UMass Amherst since 2000. My son did his BA – and my daughter is currently doing her Masters – at UMass Amherst.

I represent a coalition of UMass students, alumni and employees, human rights advocates, and members of the Tibetan, Taiwanese, Chinese and Buddhist communities of Massachusetts, who are deeply concerned about the Confucius Institute at UMass Boston. Our coalition formed last year when we discovered UMass Boston’s Confucius Institute was leading the charge to open Confucius Classrooms in Boston-area schools.

Last October, at Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School where we have many young Tibetan-American students, UMass Boston’s Confucius Institute organized a presentation featuring Chinese performers, sent from China, who dressed up as Tibetans and danced what were billed as “traditional Chinese performances.” Sadly, despite carrying out policies which have resulted in the almost wholesale destruction of Tibetan culture, this kind of propagandistic portrayal of happy ‘singing and dancing’ Tibetans is a common practice of the Chinese government.

And this is the key to the Confucius Institute — It is not actually a “public institution” only affiliated to the Chinese government, as they claim on their website. The Confucius Institute is run and strictly controlled by the Chinese Communist Party through a government agency called Hanban. Its ultimate goal is to shape and soften the global view of China, in part, through censorship and propaganda.

Hanban’s governing council is made up entirely of government ministries, and the head of Hanban, Xu Lin, is a Vice-Minister in the Chinese government and one of the most powerful political operatives in China.

The hiring and training of Confucius Institute teachers, as well as textbook and curriculum development and program oversight, is all done in Beijing by Hanban.

In order to host the Confucius Institute at UMass Boston, the university signed a contract agreeing to follow the “laws and regulations” of China, and ceding academic control to Beijing. They also agreed to keep the contract confidential.

Needless to say, I, and many others, find this completely shocking and unacceptable. For UMass Boston, a public university, to agree to follow the laws and regulations of China – a one-party, authoritarian state where citizens are systematically and ruthlessly denied their basic civil and political rights – and to compromise academic freedom in such blatant way is – simply put – outrageous.

It is widely understood that Confucius Institutes use their foothold in prestigious academic institutions to try to influence and steer academic discourse, and ultimately shape public opinion on issues China considers sensitive, such as Tibet and Taiwan.

Although this is usually done in quite subtle ways, there are many examples documenting Confucius Institute staff engaging in censorship, or pushing Chinese govt propaganda. In one recent incident, the Confucius Institute Director at Savannah State University insisted the word Taiwan be removed from the biography of a journalist receiving an award at an event sponsored by the Confucius Institute.

In February, the director of the FBI testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee that with regard to foreign espionage activities at American universities, the agency was watching Confucius Institutes warily and, in some cases, even investigating them.

These national security concerns, along with concerns over academic freedom and the silencing of important human rights issues, compelled both Congressman Seth Moulton and Congressman Michael Capuano to urge Chancellor Mills not to renew the Confucius Institute contract.

And more recently, legislation was introduced in Congress that would require Confucius Institute staff to register as agents of a foreign government, as well as universities to disclose their funding and activities to the Justice Department.

Considering all of these very serious issues, and considering that UMass Boston is meant to be a university “dedicated to rigorous, open, critical inquiry –a gateway to intellectual discovery in all branches of knowledge” I can see no place for the Chinese government’s Confucius Institute at UMass Boston, nor in the UMass system.

I call upon the UMass Board of Trustees to terminate UMass Boston’s partnership with China’s Confucius Institute immediately.

Thank you for your time.

Thondup Tsering
UMass, Amherst