by ROWAN CALLICK, ASIA-PACIFIC EDITOR
The Australian, 13 August 2012
THE Confucius Institute at Sydney University is being attacked for presenting a lecture on Tibet by a Chinese academic who is a staunch critic of the Dalai Lama.
Australian supporters of the Dalai Lama and a leading international academic have joined in the attack on the lecture by Zhang Yun, scheduled for Wednesday.
Kyinzom Dhongdue, the communications and government relations manager of the Australia Tibet Council, said the practice of sending “so-called Tibetologists” into Western universities was not new. “And the Confucius Institute is a very good outlet for Chinese propaganda,” she said.
“Discussion of Tibet is usually discouraged by China. I think it is part of a political agenda to reshape the Western narrative on the Dalai Lama, who is becoming so popular, and as so many Tibetans — now 46 — have been setting themselves on fire in protest against Chinese rule, and expressing devotion to the Dalai Lama.”
It was sad and unfortunate, she said, that Sydney University should host “such a one-sided event”, at which the Tibetan perspective was not being presented.
Sydney University’s Confucius Institute is one of more than 300 such institutes around the world, including 10 in Australia, all on university campuses except for one at the NSW Education Department, and all funded through Hanban, an agency of China’s Education Ministry.
A spokeswoman for the Confucius Institute at Sydney University said: “We were very concerned that there might be some controversy: we understand that the subject is quite sensitive, so we have tried to make this lecture as non-political as possible, to make it purely academic.”
She said Professor Zhang had been asked to focus his remarks on the history of Tibetan Buddhism and of the dalai lamas before Chinese control was established in 1959. “We are more interested in the process of the selection of dalai lamas” by reincarnation, she said.
In recent interviews, Professor Zhang has said: “China has always governed Tibet.” But before “the democratic reform in 1959” when China reassumed control, Tibet was “a society of feudal serfdom even darker and more backward than medieval Europe . . . a dictatorship of monks and aristocrats”. He said the Dalai Lama wanted “restoration of the feudal serfdom system”.
Christopher Hughes, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and an expert on China, aroused a debate in Britain recently after criticising his own institution for accepting $600,000 from the Chinese government to establish a Confucius Institute there.
Of the Sydney talk, Professor Hughes said: “This completely undermines the claim by some that CIs are only engaged in language teaching. Such apologists will no doubt say this is an example of CIs being open enough to allow discussion of sensitive issues, and may defend Zhang’s appearance on grounds of freedom of expression. This is a red herring.”