New books allege Chinese communist influence sullies US universities

The Chinese Communist Party is corrupting American higher education, claim two new books.

Red-handed: How America’s elites get rich helping China win, by Peter Schweizer, reports that Chinese donations to the University of Pennsylvania soared after Joe Biden set up a center there. Biden worked at the center after serving as vice president of the United States but before being elected president.

“After the Biden Center announced its opening at the University of Pennsylvania, donations from mainland China to Penn nearly tripled,” Schweizer writes. It documents a $950,000 contribution to Penn on April 19, 2018 from China Merchants Bank, a state-owned company. And it mentions an August 2, 2019 donation to Penn by “a mysterious Chinese company called Cathay Fortune.”

“Entire institutions of higher education are influenced by the flow of money from China via large donations from wealthy alumni linked to the mainland’s power structure. We will never know how important this flow is because it is chronically (and illegally) underreported,” Schweizer says.

Penn’s then-president Schweizer speaks of, Amy Gutmann, is now the US ambassador to Germany. An April 2020 article in the China Daily, owned and operated by the Communist Party of China, about a China Merchants Bank executive delivering a shipment of personal protective equipment to Penn quoted a Penn professor and vice-dean saying: “It’s great to have friends from The Wharton School like China Merchant Bank, our long-time partner.

The college-related material in the book goes beyond the University of Pennsylvania. The chapter on higher education focuses on Yale, which Schweizer says “has deep and entangled financial ties to Beijing and is working to obscure them.”

Spokespersons for Penn and Yale did not respond to questions from Education Next demanding a response to Schweizer’s book, which spent weeks atop the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list. Schweizer, a former Hoover Institution Scholar at Stanford, is president of the Government Accountability Institute, a nonprofit research organization based in Tallahassee, Florida.

America 2n/a: How America’s elites are making China stronger, by Isaac Stone Fish, argues that China’s influence comes not just from donations and grants, but also from the roughly 300,000 Chinese students who pay tuition at American colleges. “Beijing’s ability to steer Chinese students into cash-strapped universities — or threaten to pull them out — prompts universities to tread carefully,” Fish writes.

He suggests, as an example, the University of California at San Diego. “After the Dalai Lama’s speech in early 2017, Beijing froze funding for Chinese scholars wishing to attend the school,” Fish writes. UCSD’s student body is “about 14% Chinese foreign students”, so, as Fish puts it, “it reminds other universities of the financial consequences of opposing Beijing”.

Fish, who is fluent in Mandarin and has lived in China for six years, warns that the risk of “self-censorship” extends beyond obvious issues such as the Hong Kong protests, the oppression in Xianjiang and the “three Js” of Taiwan, Tibet and the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The most sensitive issue, he says, is the control of the Communist Party: “Should the Party rule China? And if not, what should the Chinese and the rest of the world do about it? »

Good luck discussing this issue publicly at the Wenzhou satellite campus of Kean University, a public university in New Jersey. Fish reports that “a 2015 job post for the University’s Residence Life Specialist and Student Conduct Specialist stated that ‘Chinese Communist Party membership is preferable’.” Students at some US satellite campuses in China cannot even access the internet without censorship. .

In the United States, the issue of the Chinese Communist Party’s undue influence on campuses is often met with accusations of racism. MIT President L. Rafael Reif wrote in 2019 about the danger of what he called “a toxic atmosphere of unfounded suspicion and fear.” His letter read: “Looking at cases across the country, a small number of Chinese-born researchers may indeed have acted in bad faith, but they are the exception and very far from the rule. Yet faculty members, post-docs, research staff, and students tell me that in their dealings with government agencies, they now feel unfairly scrutinized, stigmatized, and nervous—because of their ethnicity alone. Chinese.

The challenge is to “be vigilant without being racist,” as Fish puts it.

If opposing bigotry is the key issue for Americans to consider, it certainly also requires a clear-headed look at what the Chinese Communist Party is doing in Xianjiang. Both the Trump and Biden administrations have called it genocide. A November 2021 report from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum said that between one million and three million people, mostly Uyghurs, are held in detention centers where they are forced to “strip away Uyghur culture and their Islamic faith and to replace it with a Han”. Chinese culture and CCP ideology.

Today, American campuses value their public moral example as they divest from fossil fuels and find new names for buildings and programs that have been named after drug company owners and Southern senators. . It might be tempting to advise American colleges to send a message by cutting all ties with China. As the book Fish reports, US government officials privately joke that a “win-win” relationship with China means China wins twice.

Yet neither Fish nor Schweizer go so far as to recommend this kind of clean break. And for good reason. For all the legitimate concern that America is educating its enemies or compromising its integrity, knowledge exchange is a two-way street. Back when the threat everyone worried about came from the Middle East rather than the Far East, members of Congress and think tanks sporadically proposed banning Iranians, Saudis, Iraqis or Syrians to study the exact sciences in American universities. The fear was that the students would take their knowledge home and use it to craft weapons with which to attack America and its allies. I used to smile and think of Ahmad Chalabi, the Iraqi who studied at MIT and the University of Chicago and who eventually helped overthrow the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq’s difficulties after Saddam notwithstanding, Chalabi’s example demonstrates that foreign students at American universities can learn to appreciate what it is to live in a country of freedom, democracy and the rule of law. . The Fish book cites a US Department of Commerce estimate that Chinese students contributed a total of $14.9 billion to the US economy in 2018. If even one of them comes back to make an impact on China of the type that Chalabi had on Iraq, the effect in terms of peace and human dignity could be enormous.

Schweizer’s book begins with a chapter titled “The Rope”, evoking the sentiment attributed to Vladimir Lenin that “the capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them”. Although Schweizer hears the metaphor as a warning, Lenin’s sentiment can also be a useful reminder. The Chinese would certainly not be the first Communists to make the mistake of overestimating the certainty of their triumph or underestimating the power of freedom.

Ira Stoll is editor-in-chief of Education then.