The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has, or has had, ties to 143 school districts in the United States, including 20 near military bases, through its "Confucius Classrooms," according to a recent report, "Little Red Classrooms: China's Infiltration of American K-12 Schools" by Parents Defending Education (PDE), a grassroots organization.
Confucius Classrooms, are, purportedly, "centers that teach Chinese language and culture."
According to the book Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World, by Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg:
"Initiated in 2004 as an innocuous way to spread the Party narrative... ostensibly devoted to teaching Chinese language and promoting Chinese culture they are, as former propaganda chief Li Changchun put it, 'an important part of China's overseas propaganda set-up.'"
In 2020, the US Department of State and the US Department of Education warned about the Confucius programs at American colleges and universities, and designated them as foreign agents:
"There is increasing evidence that they are also tools of malign PRC influence and dissemination of CCP propaganda... with the Beijing-based funding that comes with it, [they] can provide an institution with financial and other incentives to abstain from criticizing PRC policies, and may pressure the institution's faculty to censor themselves."
Attention to Confucius Institutes has mainly been centered around colleges and universities, but less so on K-12 education. This means that Chinese state propaganda is probably now pretty much all over American K-12 classrooms.
Nicole Neily, president of Parents Defending Education, said recently:
"The alarming evidence uncovered by our investigation should concern parents, educators, and policymakers alike. Families deserve to know who is influencing the American education system so that they can make informed choices about what their children are learning behind closed doors.
"The Trump administration took steps to rein in Confucius Institutes at colleges and universities. It is frightening, however, that no such transparency mandate exists at the K-12 level. Accordingly, it is imperative that elected officials at both the federal and state levels take immediate action to gauge the extent of these programs in order to ensure that American schoolchildren receive a high-quality education free from undue foreign interference."
PDE observed that more than $17 million had been spent by the CCP on Confucius classrooms in the US between the years 2009-2023. According to PDE:
"Three of the nation's top science and technology high schools have ties to Chinese government affiliated programs including Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology has had ties to Tsinghua University High School—the high school affiliated with one of China's top military schools, Tsinghua University...The CCP has had ties to school districts near 20 U.S. military bases. While the United States is not officially part of China's Belt and Road Initiative, Chinese state media has touted the work done by Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms to further the Chinese Communist Party's global influence."
According to Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, China's propaganda in American K-12 schools works through omissions and praise of the Communist country that influences how children will see China as they grow up. Wood told the Daily Signal in a recent interview:
"Part of this is simply propagandizing the students so that they learn about China, but they don't learn about the South China Sea, which is being heavily militarized by China. They don't learn about the plight of the Uyghurs, the efforts to gauge in organ harvesting, the efforts to suppress Tibet.
"There are in China so many policies that violate human rights and which signal the aggressiveness of the regime there, which has its designs on becoming a worldwide hegemon, that need to be presented to Americans in a softer light.
"So what's happening in these schools is that they learn that China is a benevolent institution, the heir of an ancient civilization that means nothing but goodwill to the rest of the world...
"And the notion that you can take children who have some aptitude for the hard sciences and math and get them to view China as a potential partner and friend, I think, is very disturbing as well.
"So we have, on one hand, the broad misleading imaging of China, but also the notion that China can be a partner to these students all through their educational careers. We're creating an assembly line for talented young men and women who will be unable to distinguish the American national interest from the Chinese national interest. They're getting blurred together at a young age and that's very difficult to undo once it's done." [Emphasis added.]
Wood noted that CCP infiltration of American K-12 schools is "almost everywhere."
"That is, in every state that we've looked at, we have found instances of it, but I would say it's concentrated in the feeder schools to elite education, which means mostly West Coast and East Coast, but not exclusively those.
"The effort here is, China's not just spreading around its resources promiscuously across the land. It's looking for places where buying influence will yield results in the long term. So, it's widespread, but much more prevalent here on the East Coast and California."
China's influence in New York schools, for example, is so prevalent that several Republican Members of Congress from New York sent a letter to New York Governor Kathy Hochul, asking her to take action:
"An alarming new report has exposed how millions of dollars of funding from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have flowed into America's K-12 classrooms. Programs vetted and managed by China's government have infiltrated 34 states and Washington, D.C., which impacts approximately 170,000 students across 143 school districts. Unfortunately, this investigation discovered 12 school systems in our own state have received money from the CCP. This includes the New York City Department of Education, which received $375,575.00 in CCP-connected funding. Considering China's adversarial relationship with the United States, this is deeply problematic and presents a national security concern for our constituents and state...
"We are writing to not only share this dangerous situation, but to request that you address this concerning report and the underlying issue of CCP influence in New York K-12 education." [Emphasis added.]
Hochul reportedly has close relations with CCP representatives in New York. She has repeatedly met with Huang Ping, China's New York Consul General, who once described Hochul as "an old friend," an honorific bestowed on those who have "rendered great services to China," as Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg write in their book, Hidden Hand.
Huang has denied any Chinese wrongdoing on human rights, Taiwan or the Uyghur concentration camps, which he has said are mere "campuses" for reeducation. Most recently, Hochul sent Elaine Fan, a senior aide who is Director of Asian Affairs at the New York State Governor's Executive Chamber, to participate in an annual Chinese propaganda event, known as "An Evening of Chinese Culture" jointly hosted by the New York Mets and the Sino-American Friendship Association, a CCP-linked outfit.
Perhaps it is time for a deep-dive investigation by the US House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, chaired by Rep. Mike Gallagher?
Robert Williams is a researcher based in the United States.