Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 04/2011

China's Confucius Institutes: Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones

Maria Wey-Shen Siow

January 2011

East-West Center


Many observers view China's overseas Confucius Institutes as the most visible symbols of China's growing soft power, and a tool for the country to expand its international influence and advance its public diplomacy agenda. The institutes were first established in 2004, with the first institute opening in Seoul. The primary goal of these institutions is to promote Mandarin Chinese language learning. Other functions include promoting Chinese culture and developing positive opinions of China within a global setting. Maria Wey-Shen Siow reviews the establishment of Confucius Institutes worldwide, and considers what role they have, and potentially could have, as an instrument of Chinese soft power.