British Columbia

Toronto filmmaker makes B.C. debut of Confucius Institute documentary in Coquitlam

Toronto-based director Doris Liu told CBC's The Early Edition she was kicked out of the Confucius Institute in Coquitlam for asking tough questions.

Former journalist Doris Liu screens In the Name of Confucius in Coquitlam Public Library

The Confucius Institute in the Coquitlam School District is one of the locations where Doris Liu's documentary In the Name of Confucius was filmed. (Doris Liu)

A documentary tackling the issue of the Confucius Institute in Canada is screening Thursday night in Coquitlam, B.C., the city where its filmmaker was kicked out of an interview with Beijing's public diplomatic arm. 

Toronto-based filmmaker Doris Liu says the core nature of the Confucius Institute — Chinese government-funded language schools — is to "propagate the Chinese government's ideology" behind the facade of a cultural organization. She said the Institute is not in the same category with France's Alliance Française and Germany's Goethe Institute.

"Those Western institutions are independent from their own governments. Even though their governments fund them with money, their governments cannot tell them who to hire, what to teach, and how you teach."

Liu began researching In the Name of Confucius  after Sonia Zhao, an instructor with the Confucius Institute at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., resigned and filed a human rights complaint that her job contract included discriminatory terms prohibiting her from Falun Gong practice.

 This challenge led McMaster to close its office of the Confucius Institute for good in 2013.   

Director unwelcome at Confucius Institute

Liu is a former journalist and an immigrant from mainland China. She  told CBC's The Early Edition that her Chinese ethnicity helped her land an interview at the Confucius Institute in Coquitlam, but her critical questions fell flat.

 
Sonia Zhao in front of the McMaster University's Confucius Institute, which was already closed, in 2014. She filed a human rights complaint in 2012 about the Institute's discriminatory hiring practice. (Doris Liu)

"The Coquitlam school board representatives took it for granted that Asian or Chinese Canadians should have been supportive [of] this program, so they allowed me in. And once I started to ask them questions about the controversies surrounding the CI [Confucius Institute] program, they became unhappy and unwilling to continue the discussion. Until the point when I persist [with] them for an answer to react to all those controversies, they suddenly shut out of the interview," Liu told host Stephen Quinn.

Liu said the Confucius Institute director also filmed her with a smartphone and told her she would report the interview to "Hanban," the abbreviation for the Office of Chinese Language Council International under the Chinese government.

Liu said she suspected other branches of Confucius Institute in Canada denied her access after that interview. 

CI as a state propaganda machine

A 2013 intelligence report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warned that Chinese leaders identified Confucius Institute as "an organization for spreading propaganda and building soft power" and spoke of a "perception that CIs do not allow discussion of topics that the Chinese government deems sensitive," such as the political situation in Tibet and Taiwan or the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. 

Doris Liu interviewed Patricia Gartland (right), superintendent of School District No. 43 in Coquitlam, at Confucius Institute in Feb. 2014. The interview was cut short because of questions deemed too critical to the Institute, said Liu. (Doris Liu)

 Toronto School District Closed CI

In the Name of Confucius, which is one hour long, will be screened Thursday evening at Coquitlam Public Library. Liu said she made this arrangement on purpose.

The Coquitlam School District made a statement to CBC News, saying that the Confucius Institute in Coquitlam "primarily provides opportunities for community members to access Mandarin language learning and Chinese cultural classes." It also said "classes at the Institute are taught by Canadian instructors."

In 2014, the Toronto District School Board ended a planned partnership with Confucius Institute, citing the partnership was "not aligned with TDSB and community values." 

To hear the complete interview with Doris Liu on The Early Edition, tap the audio link below:

Filmmaker Doris Liu speaks with Stephen Quinn about why she tackled an organization that purports to only promote the Chinese language. 9:23

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian, Samantha Craggs and Thomson Reuters

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