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Accepted Paper:

Kung Fu vs. Radio Calisthenics: The Local Perception of the Confucius Institute and Chinese Language Education in Northern Madagascar  
Mingyuan Zhang (University of Oslo)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the local perception of Chinese language and culture education offered by the Confucius Institute in Madagascar. It argues that China's educational projects represent the features of discontinuity and disconnectedness entailed in Africa's participation in the global world.

Paper long abstract:

The Confucius Institute (CI) - a worldwide educational project sponsored by the Chinese government aiming to promote Chinese language and culture - has established two regional head offices in Madagascar since 2008. The rapid spread of China's educational projects represents one crucial aspect of China's intensive engagement in Africa since the late 1990s usually considered as a form of "soft power." Based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted over 16 months in northern Madagascar, this paper critically examines the local perceptions of the practices of teaching and learning Chinese language and culture. This paper argues that in countries where educational infrastructure is relatively weak, the classrooms of the CI provide much-desired yet unsatisfying opportunities for students to engage with the world hoping to achieve an alternative yet elusive form of "modernity." However, the Chinese instructors lack proper training of local languages, pedagogical methods and cultural awareness to provide effective teaching in Madagascar. Further, the CI represents "Chinese culture" as a timeless and homogenic entity by only emphasizing "traditional" elements such as Kung Fu in cultural events. Chinese educational projects as such benefit the CI itself rather than Malagasy students, and they represent the features of "discontinuity," "disconnectedness" and "exclusiveness" similar to many other China's projects in the Global South. They leave local communities shattered dreams of obtaining the better lives they imagine they might have if only able to learn Chinese and contribute to the fragmenting of understandings of what it means to be Chinese in the wake of Chinese interests in Madagascar.

Panel P041
The Local Perception: New Anthropological Horizons of the Chinese Presence in the Global South