The establishment by the Chinese government of Confucius Institutes in various parts of the world has evoked a wide variety of responses from simplistic appreciation to less than veiled hostility.

It is ironic that the name of China's best-known thinker, in his day a bastion of conservatism, buried along with his grave during the Cultural Revolution, should be respectfully resurrected as a symbol in contemporary China's new wave of soft-power diplomacy. There is a historical precedent.

When Luoyang was capital of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220) it became a huge centre of attraction and influence. Roman emissaries from the court of "Andun" (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, reigned 161-180) visited. It boasted the world's first mechanical clock along with a building designated as the centre of world government. The geopolitical ambitions of the age were subsequently served by creating a pax Buddhica in East and Southeast Asia through spreading Buddhist culture as a unifying force.

During the Tang Dynasty (628-907), Japan and the Korean peninsula both embraced Buddhism. During Japan's Nara (710-i94) and Heian (794-1185) periods Buddhist influence flourished. Some remained Buddhist such as Thailand. Buddhism in Japan by contrast was only briefly a political force. Japan eventually developed its own new strands of Buddhism, a process that continued into the 20th century. But that was a Sinophile Asia nurtured on Buddhist terms.

Fast forward to the present to see a similar scenario driven by a similar ideal of cultural hegemony, but with a different goal. It is no secret that the Chinese government views the post-1945 political and economic system as a western generated scenario in whose creation China took no part. There can be little doubt that the Chinese government has its own blueprint for change, However the future may develop, it is clear that the creation of the Confucius Institutes is a form of soft diplomacy that can be viewed at best as an exercise in cultural exchange.

A less sympathetic view might be to view them as Trojan Horses gifted to find entry points to revise the western view of modern Chinese history on Chinese terms. Promoting its global status appears to be part of the contemporary Chinese government strategy to retain the modern "Mandate of Heaven." Chinese dynasties have traditionally exhibited cyclical fragility over the centuries. Today's institutes might be seen as both propaganda tools but simultaneously as one among many diplomatic initiatives created to legitimize the present leadership. The goals may well be domestic as well as international.

Moving from the wider perspective to the local, the really puzzling issue arises of why Scotland has a higher density of these institutes than anywhere else in the world. Is it a test run to identify acceptable levels of presence, or simply an experiment in cultural cluster-bombing? When the Scottish Government under Jack McConnell decided to replace Japanese Studies with Chinese, the argument was that Japanese language was too difficult for Scottish students. I pointed out then that 2,000 characters would enable anyone to read Japanese. The equivalent in Chinese would be nearer to 10,000. In addition, most Chinese scholars insist that Chinese is primarily a written rather than a spoken language. Without the use of elaborate metaphors and sophisticated forms of expression, foreign speakers of Chinese do not sound impressive. The major question I have, however, is very simple: "How many Chinese speakers does Scotland actually need that would justify so many centres?" Given comparative data on trade, European languages should still be central in educational policy. But our record there is not too impressive. It seems to me a sad fact that the global

awareness so central to functioning in the contemporary world is simply absent from Holyrood. It is time for the Scottish Government to evaluate the situation realistically and decide what is in the nation's interests and what is not. Otherwise, it looks simply like impoverished Scottish universities gladly taking a handout. The time is overdue for serious discussion on a highly ambiguous situation.