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Confucius Institute for Scotland vandalised

Editors note: This article was submitted for publication on 15th October.

The University of Edinburgh has condemned recent vandalism which appeared on signage at the Confucius Institute headquarters as “totally unacceptable”.

Signs promoting the Institute at its Abden House Headquarters were defaced with slogans declaring the institute ‘CCPHQ’ (Chinese Communist Party Headquarters), and ‘Tibetan’.

The graffiti comes at a time where abuse against Students of East and South East Asian origin (E/SE) has been growing in prominence.

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Last December, hundreds of people rallied in George Square, expressing solidarity with an E/SE Asian student who was racially assaulted outside the Main Library.

The organisation that organised that rally, Racism Unmasked, has since been working to raise awareness of the racism that many E/SE Asian students experience.

Speaking to The Student, a spokesperson for Racism Unmasked highlighted the disparity between abuse faced by E/SE students and bodies, saying:

“We haven’t seen the same outcry and support towards the victims of the attacks and vandalism as we have seen in cases of Caucasian equivalents,”, adding that “it would have been nice to see Edinburgh locals coming to support and show sympathy towards the institute, and to show empathy towards the people who work there – this might also help prevent repeat [incidents] from happening.”

Racism Unmasked also suggested that “more positive representation, especially [with] inclusive teaching in schools” could help to deter future attacks.

The University of Edinburgh were unable to comment further, as the vandalism is part of an ongoing investigation by Police Scotland.

However, Racism Unmasked said that the University needed to go further to “make their literature more diverse, make sure they’re not still teaching outdated material, and have a policy to address problematic views raised by students”, citing the “interpersonal violence and bullying” that can result from making a formal complaint.

The Confucius Institute in Edinburgh was established in 2007, and operates within both the University of Edinburgh and the Chinese Ministry of Education.

It offers various Cultural and Business courses as well as Chinese Language programmes.

Among its listed key objectives in Scotland are the development of “effective Sino-Scottish business, cultural and academic links” and “to be[come] a major point of reference for Sino-Scottish relations”.

As tensions between China and the West have increased in recent years, relationships between the Confucius Institute Programme and various countries have become strained, with the organisation being banned in several Universities in the United States, Australia and Sweden amidst concerns over academic freedom.

However, a University of Edinburgh spokesman previously stated in the Daily Express that “there has been no loss of academic freedom nor inhibition of academic debate at the University of Edinburgh as a consequence of its relationship with the Confucius Institute”, and Racism Unmasked have also added that “the rhetoric that vandalism and intimidation could be justified with a thin veil of political standpoint is one that is repeatedly used to justify racist actions such as what happened to the institute”, adding that “much of the discourse is ignoring the positivity and necessity of the institutes in connecting cultures and providing classes to the community”.

Image: Confucius Institute for Scotland, Abden House. Photo credit: Ronnie Leask via geograph.org

By Callum Devereux

Editor-in-Chief, May-September 2022
Former Deputy EiC & Opinion Editor