It has been noted before that the current Confucius Institutes are shaping a new generation of scholars who will not only have a distorted, pro-Chinese Communist Party vision of Chinese history, but who also will be unable to read Traditional Chinese. This is, of course, an exaggeration because, as the PLA Daily put it in May 22, 2013, “the doctrine in which we trust is none other than the truth of the universe”. And of course, sinologists and Chinese Studies scholars will be able to read traditional characters as well which, after all, are not so different from Communist simplified writing.
But, is it so?
This weekend I was at the Forgotten Books conference in Taipei Tech, Taiwan (the Republic of China), where I met some young scholars whose field of study and interests are related to Sinology. At least one of them is affiliated to and studies at a Confucius Institute center, while others were simply studying Chinese as a second language at the university. But when in our last night in Taipei we decided to experience the Taiwanese karaoke, something disturbing happened.
Not only were these young scholars unable to browse around the karaoke machine, which was of course in traditional characters, but they were not even able to sing some of their favorite songs because, although familiar to them, they could not read the Chinese subtitles written with traditional writing.
And if they cannot read something as simple and fishy as Richie Jen’s songs, how do we expect them to read serious scholarship or Classical texts?
This new generation of scholars will only have access to Chinese history through the pages of books published in the People’s Republic of China. They will not have direct access to anything written before the 1950s, including ancient China, the Republican period, or the early and bloody days of the Chinese Communist Party. They also won’t be able to read anything published in Taiwan or Hong Kong, including “forbidden books” that fill “second-floor” bookstores in the ex-British city. How convenient.
It seems that the educational failure of the Confucius Institutes will be compensated by their political success.
Why this is not a matter of concern to sinologists truly escapes me…