Supporting Research on Confucius Institutes in East Africa

posted Mar 22, 2013, 12:15 AM by Catherine A. Honeyman   [ updated Dec 23, 2013, 1:06 AM ]

Ishya is currently supporting a research collaboration between academic faculty the University of Oxford (UK) and the University of Wisconsin (US), to investigate cultural and linguistic transformations involved with participation in Confucius Institutes in three East African countries.

Since 2005, the Chinese Ministry of Education has opened 25 Confucius Institutes and 7 Confucius Classrooms in 21 different African (Saharan and Sub-Saharan) countries, as well as in many other countries around the world. Designed to promote the teaching and learning of Hanyu (Mandarin) Chinese, as well as to “provide information and consultative services concerning Chinese education, culture, economy and society”, these Confucius Institutes offer courses and cultural events to African university students, local teachers, government employees, members of the business community, and workers at Chinese-owned companies.

To date, little is known about how African youth and communities see or understand China and the Chinese as a people and country. Likewise, very little scholarship has focused on how Chinese teachers working and living in parts of Africa regard and interact with African culture. The proposed research will thus investigate the ways in which Confucius Institute teaching of Chinese language and culture is transforming, and being transformed by, the African students participating in Confucius Institute activities. Through ethnographic fieldwork at three particular East African Confucius Institutes, this research will explore such questions as: How do Chinese teachers perceive Africa and African students?; How do African students actively interpret and refashion Chinese language and Chinese cultural lessons in relation to their own conceptions of history, China, and cultural norms?; and What is the impact of these Chinese educational initiatives on the social identities and practices of student and professional communities in East Africa? The results of this research will contribute to a body of scholarship on international educational and cultural exchanges, and will particularly develop understanding of how language learning and translation mutually influence the cultural practices of Chinese and East Africans.