By Chang Ping, published: June 9, 2015
Xin Jinping: “We encourage Chinese students studying abroad to either return to China to work, or serve the country in various other ways.”
The famous American Sinologist, Perry Link, once said that, in the 1980’s he often warned the Chinese students who had newly arrived in the United States that they should not think too highly of the U. S.; whereas since the 1990’s, Link has warned Chinese students who came to study that the U. S. is better than they think. Most of the Chinese students studying abroad are adults whose thoughts and perspectives have been shaped by the education and the information they have received before they left China.
At the recently convened Central United Front Work Conference (link in Chinese), Xi Jinping stressed that Chinese students studying abroad are an important component of the ranks of the talented, and they are also a new focal point for the Communist Party’s United Front Work. This is regarded as something new. But I would argue that the United Front Work aimed at students studying abroad starts as early as even before these students enter kindergarten. Or, we can say that the decade-long education these students have receive before they go abroad makes the work of the Party’s United Front Work towards them so much easier.
The Education of “Small Mindedness”
After the 1989 Democracy Movement, Chinese education underwent a huge change. I used to describe this change as an “education that deliberately blurs right and wrong.” But now I describe it in a more vernacular manner as moving from “False Nobility” to “True Small-mindedness.” “False Nobility” refers to CCP’s pretending to be a political party that represents justice, democracy, freedom, a prosperous country and strong defense, and the indoctrination that CCP is great, glorious, and correct. With a little light shed on them, these CCP claims go bankrupt, easily. After the June 4th Democracy Movement, the authorities changed their tactics. They acknowledged that they were at a “preliminary stage” of development; that it was true that China was not sufficiently just, democratic, and free, but other countries were no better, and no one could claim to be on the side of justice and conscience.
Such ‘small-minded’ education system that eliminates the argument about right and wrong has been a complete success. Not only has it fostered an educated class who do not ask about right and wrong and who are believers of winner taking all, but it also has influenced those Chinese who travel abroad to study or work. These people see that western societies have many issues, and as a minority abroad seeking a Chinese identity, it is very easy for them to concur with what they have been taught: “no society is really good” and “every society has a skeleton in the closet.” By so saying they blur the foundations of political systems and governance. Moreover, these highly-educated people absolutely hate it when someone suggests that they have been brainwashed. Their attempts to defend their “ability to think independently” more often than not provide positive propaganda for the Chinese communists’ despotic ideology.
Awful Human Rights Conditions, but High Approval of the Government
The western education the Chinese students have received overseas in their adulthood does have an effect on them. In 2014, there were 460,000 Chinese students studying abroad, up 11% over the previous year, of whom 60% were studying in the US. In 2013, the New York Times published the results of a survey on how Chinese students studying in the U. S. viewed the political systems in the two countries. Of the Chinese students who took the survey, only 5.7% considered China a democracy, while 51% did not consider China a democracy. Of the students surveyed, 49% considered the human rights situation in China bad or very bad, and 57% thought that China’s pace of political reform was too slow. When we hear these results, we think that they are quite close to mainstream western opinions on China. But these results in fact do not contradict the “small minded” education these students have received. There must be, among the senior echelons of the CCP, an even greater percentage of those who consider the human rights situation in China quite bad and that China is an undemocratic country. Otherwise, they would not be doing everything possible to move their wealth and families abroad.
The key is whether or not these students value democracy. The survey revealed that when these students were asked whether or not a western democratic system was suited to China, only 33.4% agreed, while 72.3% felt that Confucian political concepts, such as “the monarch and his subjects,” still have a real usefulness in governing China today. Of the students surveyed, 49% felt that, if western democracy were put into effect in China, it would lead to an economic upheaval, while 49.6% believed that it would lead to social instability. 54.4% of the students expressed satisfaction or great satisfaction with the implementation of Chinese government policies. From the numbers, it is clear that many of those students who considered China’s human rights conditions bad also expressed satisfaction with China’s implementation of government policies.
On Guard against “Hostile Western Forces”
China’s communists have not slackened their United Front Work towards Chinese students studying abroad even though the communists’ education of “small-mindedness” has been successful. In comparison with the leading democracies which, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, proudly declared the end of the Cold War, China, in which a quarter of the world’s population is ruled by a communist tyranny, has never abandoned guarding against, and attacking, “hostile Western forces.” Along with its economic development, China has continuously strengthened its broadside against the West. By means of China’s embassies and consulates, as well as such organizations as the associations of Chinese students and scholars abroad, China has intensified its “great overseas propaganda work” aimed at Chinese students studying abroad. In 2008, a lot of foreigners were startled by the eruption of the “Oppose Western Media” campaign that accused the western media of misreporting the March 14 riots in Tibet, as well as the “patriotic passion” in support of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But arousing such passions among Chinese students aboard and organizing such flag-waving spectacles had always been part of the deployment of the CCP’s United Front Work.
Knowing this background, you will have a better understanding of Xin Jinping’s instruction on United Front Work towards Chinese students studying abroad: “We want to uphold the policy that supports students studying abroad, encourages them to return to China, gives them the freedom of leaving and coming back, and explore the roles they can play; and we encourage Chinese students studying overseas to either return to China to work, or serve the country in multiple other ways.” You can begin to take note of how the party is making [Chinese students studying abroad] “a new focal point for United Front Work.”
 The mission of the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department is to unite all political forces in China in support of the CCP. – The translator.
 In China’s domestic media, the CCP frequently refers to itself as the “great (weida), glorious (guangming), and correct (zhengque) [Chinese Communist Party].” Netizens often refer to CCP sarcastically as wei-guang-zheng (伟光正). – The translator.
Chang Ping (长平) is a senior Chinese media specialist and commentator on current affairs. He lives in Germany after being forced first out of China and then Hong Kong.
Special Report: How China’s shadowy agency is working to absorb Taiwan, Reuters, November 26, 2014.
Columbia University Closes Chinese Students Group, Epoch Times, March 24, 2015.
Columbia University Closes Chinese Student Organization, Forbes, March 25, 2015.
The Hard and Soft Faces of China’s ‘United Front’ Work, RFA, May 22, 2015.
The Triumph of Propaganda, by Chang Ping, September 4, 2014.
Take a Considered Position through Disciplined Thinking – An Open Letter to Wellesley College, by Fengsuo Zhou, Yaxue Cao, November 4, 2014
(Translated by Ai Ru)
Chinese original 《长平观察：留学生不战而统》