Chinese Communist propaganda in American public schools

Is it really wise to allow a foreign state propaganda agency to control the content of education about that country in our public schools? That’s what is happening now, thanks to the Confucius Institute, and arm of the Chinese government, funding Chinese language instruction in American schools.  David Feith reports in the Wall Street Journal:

Hanban—the Chinese state agency that supervises, funds and provides staff to Confucius Institutes—may bully teachers or censor lessons within American classrooms. (snip)

In a mere 10 years Hanban has established nearly 1,100 Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in 120 countries, with more than 450 at U.S. grade schools and colleges. Chinese media boast that these programs today reach more than 220,000 American students, a reflection of the booming demand for Chinese-language training as China rises in economic and strategic importance. With U.S. education dollars so often wasted, it's no surprise that administrators appreciate Beijing's offer of money (often $150,000 per year), plus instructors and teaching materials.

In return, Beijing wants a PR boost. Confucius Institutes "are an important part of China's overseas propaganda setup," said Politburo Standing Committee ideology czar Li Changchun in 2009. Hence the online materials (since deleted from the Hanban website) that blamed America for drawing China into the Korean War by bombing Chinese villages, or the account still there that identifies Taiwan as "China's largest island."

Hence also the self-censorship by educators attuned to the sensitivities of their funders in Beijing. "Look, there are topics that are best not to engage in," Australian Education Department official Phil Lambert admitted during a 2011 controversy over K-12 Confucius Institutes in New South Wales. Obvious sore spots include the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, the Dalai Lama and Taiwan. Then there are the "seven taboos" that Beijing last year warned its domestic university professors to shun, including freedom of speech, universal values, judicial independence and the mistakes of the Communist Party.

After North Carolina State University rescinded an invitation to the Dalai Lama in 2009, officially citing logistical difficulties, Provost Warwick Arden cited pressure from the campus's Confucius Institute director: "I don't want to say we didn't think about whether there were implications. Of course you do. China is a major trading partner for North Carolina."

“Seven taboos” chills me to the bone. Let me stipulate that I am all for Chinese language education in our classrooms. Having struggled with Japanese and Chinese at the university level, I realize that the younger one gets a start, the better off one will be. Especially with a tonal language like Chinese, youngsters have the flexibility to learn and incorporate sounds that are much more difficult to master later on. And studying the writing system, with a couple of thousand ideograms to memorize, really stretches the mind. You see, the characters are permutations and combinations of sub-parts, usually called “radicals” in English. Learning to categorize them, and see how different parts can yield different families of meaning, is one of the factors behind the high level of excellence many East Asian youngsters achieve in math.

But allowing China, with its many taboos and political sensitivities to dominate topics studied, is a huge mistake. This is a corrupt and brutal dictatorship. The youngsters studying Chinese are likely to remain interested in and in contact with Chinese affairs the rest of their lives. They should not be propagandized into an outlook towards the politics of East Asia that is dictated by the Beijing bullies.

The average aid supplied, 150k per school, is roughly the cost, with benefits and pension, of a middling school administrator, of whom we have a super-abundance. Since this covers onl a fraction of the total costs of education, in effect, American taxpayers are subsidizing Chinese propaganda.

Keep Chinese language instruction, but don’t keep foreign funding with propaganda strings attached.

Hat tip: Cliff Thier