Temple and Chinese university partner with new Confucius Institute

 Dr. John Smagula (courtesy of Temple University)

Dr. John Smagula (courtesy of Temple University)

Tonight, Temple University will hold a public demonstration about the nuances of Chinese tea.

It will be the first public event of Temple new Chinese partnership, the Confucius Institute, an international organization that has run into some controversy.

The Confucius Institute is mostly about language instruction. Temple does not currently have a Chinese major. It’s partnership with a sister university, Zhejiang Normal University (a public, state-run university in the city of Jinhua, Zhejiang province), has allowed Temple to offer more language classes toward a future major program.

Zhejiang provides instructors and teaching materials through the Confucius Institute, which is co-directed by one Temple faculty, Louis Mangione, and one Zhejiang faculty, Benjamin Zheng.

“Culture is another aspect. We want to introduce Chiense culture to the local community,” said Zheng. “We want to focus the healthy lifestyle of traditional Chinese culture. For example, Chinese cooking and Chinese way of exercising. Chinese herbs and tea are certainly part of wellness.”

That is where tonight’s tea demonstration comes in. Dr. John Smagula, a faculty member in Temple’s Beasley School of Law who runs the school’s office in Beijing, will tease out the nuances of Chinese tea varieties.

“He is the tea expert. He is an American and he knows more about the tea culture than I do,” said Zheng, who relocated to Temple from the Zhejiang province.

There are 109 Confucius Institutes on American college campuses. Because the Institutes are coordinated through the Chinese government (via the office of Chinese Language Council International, or Hanban) there has been worry about how much control and academic censorship that government is able to exercise at American universities.

The institutes at the University of Chicago and Penn State were shut down due to worries about academic freedom. The American Association of University Professors has criticized the Confucius Institutes.

But Zheng says the partnership gives Temple University control over hiring and course material.

“There are 109 Confucius Institutes in America alone. Two out of 109 is not a very big number,” said Zheng. “Also, my status here is a guest, so I don’t have authority in budget control. The textbooks and content are chosen by faculty at Temple. Curriculum is decided by faculty here.”

The Confucius Institute is funded by both Temple and Zhejiang. Zheng says it designed to act as a cultural exchange program.

“Green or Black? Understanding Chinese tea”  will be held Monday, January 25, at 3PM, Anderson Hall (1114 West Berks Street) room 821.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.