Mar 6, 2017

'It's all a game of influence'

Filmmaker Doris Liu watches intently from a front-row seat at the world premiere screening of her documentary, In the Name of Confucius, at Downtown DocFest on Friday March 3, 2017 in Belleville, Ont. The film explores the growing global controversies surrounding China's multi-billion dollar Confucius Institute. Tim Miller/Belleville Intelligencer/Postmedia Network
Tim Miller
The Intelligencer
March 5, 2017

A foreign power targeting Canadian schoolchildren in an insidious plot to spread its influence sounds like the plot to a Hollywood movie.

But for Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Doris Liu it’s all too real, and much closer to home than some might expect.

The world premiere of her film, In The Name of Confucius, was held at the CORE Centre on Friday as part of Belleville Downtown DocFest.

The film details Liu’s unraveling of the mystery surrounding the Chinese government’s multi-billion dollar Confucius Institute program.

Taken at face value the program exists to teach Chinese language and promote Chinese culture in countries outside of China’s borders.

These institutes, which are currently embedded in close to a dozen schools across Canada, are directly funded and controlled by the Chinese government, giving them influence over the curriculum.

At the heart of the documentary is Sonia Zhao, a teacher who came from China to work at a Confucius Institute in Canada.

Zhao is a practitioner of Falun Gong, a belief system which has been heavily persecuted by the Chinese government since the late 90s. Practitioners of Falun Gong are routinely jailed and, according to some reports, are the victims of forced organ harvesting.

“I had been hiding my belief for many years,” says Zhao in the film. “But I didn’t expect that going abroad, a place I thought would be free, that I’d still be restricted”

Going through her employment contract Zhao was dismayed to find a prohibition against teachers being, or associating with, Falun Gong practitioners. Topics like Tibet and Taiwan were also taboo.

Zhao, on camera, said it was an example of how the institutes are exporting China’s persecution against Falun Gong to foreign countries in a hidden way.

”They are required to keep in line with the communist party,” said Liu,in a Q&A session following the screening.

“When I first started to make this movie I had no idea what Confucius Institute was all about,” she added. “I only knew the Confucius Institute was a Chinese language culture school. That’s all.”

A meeting with Zhao had Liu digging under the surface of the Confucius Institute.

“I was shocked. As a Chinese, I was shocked,” said Liu to the crowd at the CORE centre.

“There’s so many secrets behind that seemingly benign Chinese language and culture learning school.

“And this is how I got on this journey, and it’s a difficult journey to be sure.”

Liu’s film provides some of the propaganda existing in Confucius Institute materials. Textbooks promoting the teachings of Chairman Mao being taught to children in Toronto was one such example.

A large portion of the film is dedicated to the battle opponents of the Confucius Institute had with the The Toronto District School Board over those materials. A battle that begins with the then chairman of the TDSB, Chris Bolton, dismissing out of hand any of the concerns raised before kicking the filmmaker out of his office and ending with the resignation of Bolton under various controversies and a board vote to cut ties with the Confucius Institute.

“Many of the concepts are different than concepts inside Canada, or any other western country,” said Liu about the material. “But also conflict, because in China it’s a totally different political system and the ideology is totally different. It’s communism, it’s dictatorship.

“The basic propaganda tool is education.

“From kindergarten to university, every course contains the communist propaganda.

“Language can channel thoughts, which is very powerful.”

Liu says the concept of free teaching materials and teachers to a cash-strapped education system is enough for some officials to not look too closely.

As one TDSB board member put it in the movie, “you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” Even if that gift is a Trojan horse.

“So there’s money, teachers and textbooks. All you need to establish a Chinese-language program are already provided by the Chinese government,” said Liu.

“All you need to provide is schools and students. You just need to accept what the Chinese government is willingly providing to you.”

“Who would be against sharing culture, who would be against sharing language,” added Michel Juneau-Katsuya, former Asia-Pacific chief at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), who was also on hand for Friday’s screening. “Who would be against sharing friendship between countries. Only a fool would oppose those things.

“It’s all a game of influence.”

Juneau-Katsuya said the institutes are performing “spy activities.”

“They are literally here, not only trying to infiltrate the mind of the people, of the Canadians of the Chinese community, they are actively also doing economic espionage, political espionage and definitely trying to gain, as much as possible, a long-term strategy for what we call ‘agents of influence’.

“The Chinese government doesn’t think in years, it thinks in generations.

“If I learned anything at all in my years working on the Asian desk is that the Chinese government has understood a long time ago that influence is more powerful than control.”

There are currently 12 active Confucius Institutes in Canada. One at the school board in Coquitlam, BC with the remaining 11 at universities across the country.

More information on In The Name of Confucius can be found at http://www.inthenameofconfucius.com/

tjmiller@postmedia.com

http://www.intelligencer.ca/2017/03/05/its-all-a-game-of-influence

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