Who Speaks for China?

Translating Geopolitics through Language Institutes in Costa Rica

In: Journal of Chinese Overseas

Abstract

Drawing on ethnographic analysis of a Confucius Institute and two private schools, this article analyzes how diverse Chinese language institutes in Costa Rica have sought to capitalize on a growing local interest in learning Mandarin Chinese. It argues that a shifting global geopolitics has increased the perceived value of Chinese language acquisition and, thus, the stakes for language institutes seeking to assert their cultural authority as legitimate purveyors of Chinese and Chineseness. Through analysis of these schools’ projected identities and pedagogical styles, I show how they distinguish themselves from one another on the basis of public versus private ownership, choice-based versus authoritarian instructional style, and Taiwanese versus Mainland or diasporic roots. Building on the concept of the “Sinophone,” I highlight both the diversity of the forms and locations of Chineseness these initiatives represent and their implications for who can legitimately speak for China in Costa Rica.

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