Chinese Influence in U.S. Schools

How do you feel about the government of China paying for American public schools to teach our kids Mandarin? And sending teachers from China to the U.S. to assist in this venture?

Though one tiny corner of my conscience says sure, the more the Chinese spend IN the United States the less they’ll have left to compete with and undermine us. But most of me is outraged–and a little bit alarmed.

It’s not unusual for countries to propagate their language (as well as their literature, their culture, etc.) among the heathen and unwashed of other lands. The Alliance Francais does this for French, the Goethe Institute for German, the British Council for English. To my knowledge, however, they do these things after school, on weekends, at night,  and usually for adults, not “compulsory” students. Nor do they subsidize language instruction in the public schools themselves. And I don’t think they should, even though they are (most of the time) allies.

China is no ally, however, at least not on anything important. It is our most dangerous and menacing rival. It is the only country on the planet that the United States needs actively to worry about. It already wields enormous influence in our economy, our foreign policy, our defense strategy–not to mention the clothes we put on our backs and the toys we buy for our kids. It is hacking everybody’s computers and emails. It is censoring communications and information whenever and wherever it can. It shoots people it doesn’t like in the back of the head. It imprisons political dissidents til they get sick–and then sometimes shoots them in the back of the head.

Maybe we want more young Americans to learn Mandarin (and, possibly, other Chinese languages) rather than, say, Italian or even French. But we probably want more of them to learn Arabic, too, for similar reasons. Does that mean we should be receptive if the government of Syria or Iran offers to pay for it in our public schools? (OK, OK, if it were Iran it would be Farsi. But how do you feel about Yemen? Al-Qaeda?) Do we want the government of Myanmar subsidizing the study of Burmese in our schools?

Meanwhile, one U.S. school system after another–many of them aided and abetted by the Asia Society–is nodding appreciatively to the Beijing government and accepting language study courtesy of a branch of the Chinese government known as Hanban.

Is nobody else outraged and alarmed?

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College