China’s cross-border language promotion body, the Confucius Institute (CI), has proliferated along with the mobility of Chinese capital and people worldwide. It embodies the ‘Going Out’ state strategy that promotes the global spread of Chinese capital, ideas, culture and people. Often seen as a vehicle of China’s power and influence, the CI has attracted much suspicion and even rejection as compared to similar institutions of other states. This paper examines the mobility of the CI and the encountered frictions when it lands in particular places, problematizing the commonly assumed unidirectional impact of the cross-border institution as a mighty soft power instrument. Specifically, it analyses the frictions of the CI’s establishment in Indonesia, where racial and political narratives on China and Chinese-Indonesians have long prevailed. Three cases are presented: one at the national level in Jakarta and two at the local level in the cities of Bandung and Makassar. By elaborating how frictions are created, resisted and managed differently, this paper illustrates the interplay of actors and power relations in the mobility of the CI, which in turn gives rise to particular local surprises. This paper also underlines the role of the Chinese-Indonesian diaspora as important bridge-builders of their two homelands.
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