By James Bradshaw and Colin Freeze
McMaster University’s experiment with hosting a controversial language and culture school sponsored by China’s government is over.
The university will shutter its Confucius Institute this summer, severing a five-year relationship with Hanban, the Chinese government agency that has hundreds of similar outposts around the world and 11 others across Canada.
McMaster will pull the plug when the current contract, which is up for renewal, expires July 31.
The decision to abandon the partnership comes in the midst of a human rights complaint against McMaster from a former teacher at the institute.
It was sealed by concerns over hiring practices – reported last year by The Globe and Mail – that appeared to prohibit teachers Hanban hired and sent abroad to staff the schools from having certain beliefs.
The closing is a black mark on what’s been called China’s global soft-power “charm offensive.” Confucius Institutes, a key component, are regarded warily by academics and intelligence officials alike.
“It’s really around the hiring decisions, and those decisions were being made in China,” said Andrea Farquhar, McMaster’s assistant vice-president of public and government relations.
“We were uncomfortable, and felt that it didn’t reflect the way the university would do hiring.”
McMaster’s Chinese partners replied with a letter expressing “some disappointment,” Ms. Farquhar said.
Chinese authorities have maintained Confucius Institutes are harmless, designed as a “a bridge reinforcing friendship and co-operation between China and the rest of the world” through teaching the Chinese language and culture.
But Sonia Zhao, who came to Canada to teach at McMaster’s institute in 2011, says she is pleased.