“Mass Confucian” Documentary Selected for Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

Professor Nancy Wang Yuen shares about the controversy surrounding a local Confucius classroom

Apr. 23, 2014 By Jenna Bartlo

In 2010, a controversy erupted in California’s Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, just 10 miles from Biola University, over the implementation of a “Confucius classroom.” Funded by Hanban, a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, the classroom was seen by some as a valuable resource for learning another language. However, others saw the classes as an alleged instrument of Communist doctrine.

Biola sociology professor Nancy Wang Yuen with a team of filmmakers and artists decided to pursue the controversy for a documentary with the hope to present a clear narrative representing all voices within the conflict. The crew received a Community Stories Grant and gained support from Cal Humanities, a partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funded the film. On May 3, 2014, the documentary will premiere at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Here, Yuen shares more about the process of making “Mass Confucian” and the initial conflict.

What inspired you and the crew to dig into the Confucius classroom controversy for a documentary? 

We became interested in the topic because we wanted to explore how this conflict may symbolize larger tensions rising from demographic changes in the Hacienda Heights city from majority white to majority Asian American, as well as fears of China’s rise to power.

Tell us more about the documentary and the conflict it portrays. 

China establishes Confucius Institutes and classrooms worldwide to teach the Chinese language at universities and K-12 schools. In 2010, Hanban pledged $30,000 to the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District to start a Confucius classroom at Cedarlane Academy. The documentary is about the conflict over establishing a Confucius classroom at Cederlane Academy, a K-8 school in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District.

A vocal minority, comprised of community members, protested the Confucius classroom and argued that China has a hidden agenda to indoctrinate American children with communism. The majority of school board members (three of whom were Chinese American) supported establishing a Confucius Classroom and argued that it provided a valuable resource both in funding and in Chinese language and culture.

Do you feel the documentary provides a voice that wasn't heard in the height of the Confucius classroom discussion?  

We found that the two sides became increasingly polarized as the controversy went on. We hope that this documentary encourages greater dialogue and mutual understanding through its presentation of each perspective.

How has the documentary been received thus far? Has the community featured in the documentary seen the film and if so, what was their reaction? 

So far, the feedback received from audiences (largely students) has been positive. Many felt that the documentary was an eye-opening portrait of not just the local community but larger socio-political issues. A few members of the community have evaluated the film as a fair representation of both sides of the controversy.

As a sociologist, how did you approach the making of the film or interacting with those featured? 

As a sociologist, I wanted to provide a broader perspective by bringing in city and national issues through statistical data and media coverage of U.S.-China relations. Furthermore, when I interviewed participants, I tried to ask open-ended questions to investigate (rather than dictate) the issues at hand.

What does the documentary teach Biola students about the surrounding communities?

Hacienda Heights and La Puente are neighboring cities less than 10 miles from Biola. Both cities are ethnically diverse with large populations of Asian Americans and Latinos. Consequently, this documentary speaks directly to Biola’s goal to “develop a commitment to cross-cultural understanding and engagement in order to function and serve in a diverse world.”

What’s next for you in terms of documentaries?

Our team is working on another documentary, “Living In Silence: Toraichi Kono.” This is a digital documentary about the life of Toraichi Kono who came to America and found the American dream by becoming the personal secretary and confidant to movie star Charlie Chaplin only to have it all lost in an environment of fear, accusation and paranoia during WWII.

Watch the trailer for “Living In Silence: Toraichi Kono:” https://www.youtube.com/w atch?v=JrhqD0bwt0Y.

Purchase a ticket to see “Mass Confucian” at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.

Learn more about Nancy Wang Yuen.

For more information, contact Jenna Bartlo, media relations specialist, at 562.777.4061 or jenna.l.bartlo@biola.edu.

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