Forbes accuses Stanford of collaborating with Chinese spies via Confucius Institute

Oct. 24, 2014, 9:21 a.m.

A recent article on  wrote that the University may be collaborating with Chinese espionage efforts through its Confucius Institute, a suggestion that the administration denies.

Confucius Institutes are research institutions affiliated with the Ministry of Education in China and are present on many college campuses. Stanford’s Confucius Institute is one of hundreds funded by the Chinese government. According to the website of Stanford’s Confucius Institute, it “focuses on research and teaching on Chinese language and culture.”

Eamonn Fingleton, author of the Forbes piece, cautions to take that description of the institute with a grain of salt. The article quotes sinologist Arthur Waldron as saying, “Confucius Institutes may play a key role in affecting China’s espionage agenda.”

However, Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences Richard Saller, who directs the Confucius Institute, called these claims “sensational to the point of being ridiculous.”

According to Saller, Hanban, the authority that funds the Confucius Institute, has no input on staffing or curriculum. While the institute exists thanks to an irrevocable grant from Hanban, its governance remains solely within Stanford’s purview.

“This gift [from Hanban] is like any other endowment gift,” Saller said. “We don’t let them constrain any of our academic freedom.”

Saller conceded that the Beijing-funded institute holds symbolic value to some critics. Ultimately, though, he asked, “If we negotiated an agreement that protects our academic freedom at Stanford, why should we renege on that?”

The Confucius Institute declined to comment.


This article originally indicated that Fingleton’s story appeared in Forbes magazine. In fact, it only appeared on The Daily regrets this error.

Michael Gioia was Managing Editor of Opinions from Vol. 250-251; he also previously led the News division. He is from Plano, Texas and studied History and Modern Languages at Stanford. When Michael is not working for The Daily, he can generally be found reading or drinking coffee.

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