China’s Propaganda Arm on U.S. Campuses

More than 100 U.S. colleges and universities have allowed Confucian Institutes on their campuses. These institutes, sponsored and paid for by the Chinese government, yield a good deal of sway to  China over the curriculum and hiring of teachers, sometimes outsourcing control. As a result, several universities, including the University of Chicago, have closed their Confucian Institutes, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS) have urged that they all be shut down.

In April, NAS issued a report on Confucian Institutes in NY and NJ, Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, and this week two NAS officials—president Peter Wood and director of research projects Rachelle Peterson–sent letters to the Trustees of the SUNY system asking for the “soonest” closing of CIs at SUNY’s six institutions that have them: Stony Brook University, the University at Albany, the SUNY Global Center in New York City, Binghamton University, the University at Buffalo, and the State College of Optometry.

The letter said:

“An agency affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, known as the Hanban, oversees all Confucius Institutes worldwide. The Hanban’s governing council consists of the heads of twelve Chinese government agencies, including the State Press and Publications Administration (which handles state-run media and propaganda) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hanban’s executive director, Xu Lin, is also a Counselor in the State Council, the 35-member top-ranking administrative arm of the People’s Republic of China….

“While each university selects a professor or administrator who serves as the American director of the Confucius Institute, and who then serves as the immediate supervisor of all teachers and classes, a significant amount of authority remains in the hands of the Hanban.

These measures permit the Chinese government an unparalleled degree of access to the college classroom. Many nations send teachers abroad to promote their language and culture. But most build separate, stand-alone institutions, such as France’s Alliance Française or Germany’s Goethe-Institut.  China is unique in insisting its cultural ambassadors are located at colleges and universities. Such direct influence on a college campus by a foreign government is alarming.

“The Hanban itself considers the Confucius Institutes to be key parts of the government’s propaganda initiative directed against Western societies. In 2009, Li Changchun, then the head of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party and a member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, called the Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup.”


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

One thought on “China’s Propaganda Arm on U.S. Campuses”

  1. I don’t get why you have a problem with Confucius Institutes. 1) You sound like a hypocrite when the one hand you rail against the left’s assault on free speech on campuses (which is a real and serious problem) but on the other hand you try to prevent a particular group from expressing its ideas. Why not let every group be heard–which is something you, a self-proclaimed advocate of free speech, supposedly support–and let the students decide for themselves? 2) I don’t know what these institutes actually try to teach but Confucianism itself is a conservative ideology. Conservatives in the West ought hold many of the same values that Confucius tried to instill in people. From 1949 to 1980 the Chinese Communists relentlessly attacked Confucianism because of its cultural and social conservative nature. There was a great article in the American Conservative back in December 2016 that basically says that the cold war geopolitical rivalries are no longer relevant today and that conservatives ought to revaluate Russia as it is the last bastion of conservative values ( Perhaps the same ought be said for China.
    Asians are very socially conservative, which can be largely attributed to the influence of Confucianism in their upbringing, and it is for this reason that many Chinese Americans, including myself, actually supported Trump in 2016. They didn’t necessarily love Trump but they’re disgusted with the left’s support for LGBT, illegal immigration, attacks on the law and order (and Asian Americans), Hollywood’s propaganda for sex and violence, and affirmative action. Do some research yourself on Quora and Zhihu–and elsewhere on the Internet–and see how the Chinese and Chinese Americans really feel about the left. It’s true that Asian Americans tend to vote for Democrats, but they have increasingly strong incentives to join the Republican Party, and the Republican Party needs them to broaden its base and ethnic diversity. Commentaries like this don’t do conservatives any good in terms of gaining Asian American support.

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