Congressional Republicans and Asia policy experts are sounding the alarm over the Chinese Communist Party’s influence on K-12 education as well as colleges in America through what are called Confucius Classrooms and Confucius Institutes.
“Confucius Institutes and Classrooms allow the Chinese Communist Party to wield influence throughout the American education system, projecting the CCP’s preferred message in the United States,” Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., chairman of a new House select committee on China, told The Daily Signal in an email.
The full name of the panel created Jan. 10 by Republican leadership is the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party.
“The Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party will fight back against the malign influence of the CCP wherever it impacts American interests and national security, whether that be in the private sector or in the classroom,” Gallagher said.
Confucius Institutes, founded in 2004, are China-funded “cultural” centers that operate on college campuses. In the past few years, these centers have come under increased scrutiny as operations of Chinese state influence.
“For years, the Chinese Communist Party has been using Confucius Institutes as a Trojan horse to push their propaganda and revisionist history in American universities. Their goal is to control what we see, hear, and think about China,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn, who introduced related legislation called the Transparency for Confucius Institutes Act in 2021, told The Daily Signal in an email.
“No foreign government should have the ability to influence American education—especially a rogue regime that commits egregious human rights violations and consistently undermines our democracy. Confucius Institutes, in any form, must be erased from U.S. society immediately,” Blackburn said.
An estimated 500 K-12 schools in the U.S. have had Confucius Classrooms, according to a National Association of Scholars report, “After Confucius Institutes: China’s Enduring Influence on American Higher Education.”
“Confucius Classrooms are essentially the K-12 parallel to Confucius Institutes, but they’re a lot less well documented. In many cases, they have survived even when the Confucius Institutes they were attached to have closed, which is particularly interesting,” John Metz, president of the Athenai Institute, told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
The Athenai Institute describes itself as a nonpartisan, student-founded organization focused on removing the influence of the Chinese Communist Party from American college campuses.
“A number of them were established alongside or sort of in conjunction with the Asia Society,” Metz said of Confucius Classrooms. “But in January 2022, they announced that they were discontinuing their formal affiliation with Hanban.”
Hanban, also known as Confucius Institute Headquarters, changed its name in July 2020 to the Center for Language Education and Cooperation, Fox News reported. The center is part of the Chinese Ministry of Education.
“But a lot of those Confucius Classrooms remain, and in a nutshell, we see Confucius Classrooms as yet another way that the CCP tries to exercise control over, really, the way Americans think about China,” Metz told The Daily Signal.
I think a lot of people might think that because Confucius Classrooms don’t necessarily provide access to cutting-edge research and because K-12 schools don’t necessarily, in a lot of people’s minds, play the same role in sort of shaping a generation of leaders, that therefore they’re not as important. But there are hundreds of [Confucius Classrooms] around the country.
At least 500 American school districts, K–12 school districts, have established … Confucius Classrooms at one time or another. And a lot of them provide the same kind of opportunity to shape discussion, not just of the Chinese language, but also of sensitive subjects like Chinese history in a way that’s favorable to the CCP.
Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms are “just one other example of how the CCP manipulates the interests of U.S. educational institutions for its gain,” said Michael Cunningham, a research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s multimedia news organization.)
“So, they fund programs in the U.S., and they are able to staff them with their own teacher, their own instructors. They’re able to prescribe the curriculum that’s used and really create the curriculum,” Cunningham told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
Ian Oxnevad, program research associate at the National Association of Scholars and co-author of the report “After Confucius Institutes: China’s Enduring Influence on American Higher Education,” warned of the potential threats and dangers associated with Confucius Classrooms, which he said “are largely the same” as Confucius Institutes.
“You still have foreign influence, obviously, shaping of the views of China of American kids, and that’s going to affect future public sentiment toward China,” Oxnevad told The Daily Signal in a phone interview. “China’s not a benign regime, so … the influence operation matters.”
But on top of that, the fact that it’s just a matter of educational sovereignty. This is not something that really gets talked about. But if you have sovereignty as a concept, it should be applied to education as well. You shouldn’t be inviting a foreign power in to teach your children.
What country in their right mind would do that? Neocolonial powers do that. Colonial powers back in the day did that in developing countries. That’s not a healthy thing that a country should do.
Oxnevad also outlined what he thinks should be done about Confucius Classrooms.
“Make them illegal and shut them down,” Oxnevad said. “There’s no Catch-22 here. You wouldn’t let the Soviet Union come in and teach Russian to children, nor would you let Nazi Germany do the same with German. Why would you want China doing this? Especially when there’s plenty of resources here to teach Chinese as it is.”
Jarrett Stepman contributed to this report.
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