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Tufts to close its China-funded Confucius Institute

The Tufts University campus in Medford. The Confucius Institute was launched at the college in 2015.
The Tufts University campus in Medford. The Confucius Institute was launched at the college in 2015.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File 2017

Tufts University announced Wednesday that it will close its Confucius Institute, a controversial language and cultural education center funded by the Chinese government.

The center, one of more than 50 across the United States, has been a source of debate at Tufts for years over concerns that the institutes promote censorship abroad and undermine human rights. The university renewed its contract with the institute in 2019 for two years but said Wednesday that it will let the agreement expire in September.

The university announced the planned closure in an e-mail to faculty from James M. Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and Diana Chigas, senior international officer and associate provost.

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The center was launched at Tufts in 2015 as a program within the School of Arts and Sciences to provide not-for-credit language and culture instruction and facilitate cultural exchange between the United States and China.

Confucius Institutes, which offer Mandarin language classes and other cultural programming, are controversial because they are funded directly by the Chinese government as well as by their host institution. Their staff are visiting professors from China on US visas.

A growing number of American universities have moved to close their Confucius Institutes, Inside Higher Education reported in 2019. At the peak there were more than 70 such centers in the United States. At least 10 have closed.

A 2019 US Senate investigation found that the Chinese government provided about $158 million over 13 years to establish and run more than 100 institutes in the United States, including at K-12 schools.

At Tufts, activists have staged a weekly protest outside the institute as well as the home of Tufts president Anthony Monaco, attended by Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese, and others and organized by Students for a Free Tibet in Boston with support from the Tibetan Association of Boston.

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Several Somerville city councilors, a School Committee member, and a state representative recently joined the protests, according to Lhadon Tethong, an activist who has campaigned against the centers.

Tenzin Yangzom, grass-roots coordinator for Students for a Free Tibet, called the closure a victory for all Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese, and Chinese activists and students, and their allies.

“We refused to accept that the Chinese government — the very regime that has driven us from homelands and is waging an unrelenting campaign of intimidation, persecution, and repression against our peoples — had a home at Tufts, and a presence in our own backyard,” Yangzom said in a statement.

US Representative Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, has pushed for years for universities in this state to cut ties with the institutes. University of Massachusetts Boston did so in 2019.

“Tufts University’s overdue decision to disband its Confucius Institute is the right one, and I hope it represents a sign that academia is finally waking up to the threat the Chinese Communist Party poses to colleges and our country,” Moulton said in a statement on Wednesday.

In light of the closure at Tufts, administrators told faculty the college plans to focus more attention instead on the institution’s relationship with Beijing Normal University.

“The CITU has made a valuable contribution to Chinese language and culture learning at Tufts and helped to facilitate Tufts’s important relationship with BNU. We appreciate all who have supported and contributed to its operation,” the e-mail said.

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That includes the “Tufts in Beijing” study abroad program as well as in-person learning options developed over the past year for Tufts students in China. The e-mail said Tufts hopes to explore more options for virtual and in-person exchange in Chinese language and culture.

“We remain committed to international engagement with our partners and are enthused by increased student interest in Chinese language and culture,” the e-mail said.


Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.