Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.


Journal of the Communist Party of Australia

ISSUE 61May 2016

Capitalist Trojan Horses:

The danger of returning Chinese students

Throughout modern Chinese history, students and scholars who studied abroad played important roles in the construction and modernisation of the Chinese nation. From the Qing Dynasty to the Peoples’ Republic, Chinese youth travelled overseas to learn advanced techniques and knowledge to apply to Chinese conditions. While they have traditionally played a positive role in the history of the country, current overseas students pose a serious threat to the socialist future of China.

Overseas students, particularly those sent to imperialist countries, are sent right into the belly of the beast where they are exposed to all of the tools at imperialism’s disposal to strip away their belief in Communism and replace their world-view with that of capitalism. Once thoroughly prepared, they are sent home where their newly acquired technical skills allow them to take up elite positions throughout society and industry. If the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is to be successful, if the China Dream is to become a reality, then it is necessary to prevent Chinese students who study abroad from becoming agents of western imperialism as a result of their internalisation of capitalist values and world-views.

This report uses historical evidence and the most up-to-date research to show that Chinese students who study abroad have historically had a large impact on Chinese society, that imperialist countries use the media and educational institutions to indoctrinate people with capitalist ideology and that Chinese overseas students’ values are currently being affected by this. The logical result of these points is: Students who return from abroad indoctrinated with capitalist ideology and values pose an existential threat.

The tradition of studying abroad and its local impact

Since the Qing Dynasty, successive Chinese governments have sent students abroad to learn from the West (Chiang 2003, Guo 1998, Zhang 2002). Before Liberation, approximately 150,000 Chinese students studied overseas (Zhang 2002). From 1978 to 1998, 270,000 Chinese went abroad for study (Gu and Liu 1998) while in 2014 alone, 459,800 students studied abroad (Gu 2015). It is clear then that there is an ever increasing trend of Chinese students leaving the motherland to study abroad.

Returnees have historically become elites and wielded a disproportionately large influence over Chinese society (Guo 1998, Han, Chen and Feng 2013). Of the 100 Late Qing Dynasty students who found work after studying abroad between 1872 and 1875, 30 of them took influential positions of power, with one of them, Tang Shaoyi becoming the first Prime Minister of Republican China (Zhang 2002, Guo 1998). Japan was the most popular destination for overseas study before the Boxer indemnity of 1907 and as a result, China’s first modern school system, which was decreed in 1903, was a copy of the Japanese education system (Guo 1998). It was the influence of students trained in Japan that caused this to happen.

Beginning in 1907, studying in the US became more popular and the graduates of US universities returned to China to reform the Chinese higher education system along US lines, in accordance with US values (Guo 1998, Zhang 2002). Foreign graduates not only dominated the top positions in Chinese academia, they also held the vast majority of top government positions in the Republican government. Seventy-five percent of the provisional republican cabinet of Sun Yatsen had studied in Europe or the US, while 15 out of 18 ministers had studied abroad (Guo 1998, Zhang 2002). The returnees of the Republican period were criticised for being too westernised (Shu 1973, Wang 1966) and attempting to simply copy western theory to apply to China (Chiang 2003). The Communist Party of China was also deeply influenced by returnees. Founding members of the CPC, Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao both studied in Japan, where Li studied Marxist works (Yu 2014). Future leaders of the CPC such as Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Zhu De studied in France and Germany while others, including Liu Shaoqi and later Jiang Zemin studied in the Soviet Union (Guo 1998).

So it is clear that students who study abroad return to China and take up elite positions in society. They become top scientists, economists, educators and politicians. From these positions of power, authority and influence in society, they use the values and techniques they learned overseas to dramatically alter society based on the ideas they learned while overseas. While important and useful information can be learned by studying abroad, students also accumulate harmful capitalist “values” and ideology.

Impact on ideology of studying abroad

That students are changed by their time overseas should not be a surprise. For as long as they have existed, capitalist societies have been carrying out ideological work against common people. Two particularly powerful institutions of bourgeois ideological work are the media and schools, particularly universities (Belmonte 2008, Chomsky and Hermann 1988, Schmidt 2000, Zhong 2015). Since the beginning of the Cold War, the US has attempted to win people over to capitalist ideology through all possible channels including media, dance, music, movies, books and other cultural products (Belmonte 2008, Li 2015). In their seminal work; Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of Mass Media, Chomsky and Hermann exposed the ideological functions of media in capitalist countries, calling them: “effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out system-supportive propaganda functions” (Chomsky and Hermann 1988). Chinese students who study in the US or similar countries are surrounded by local news and media which all act to indoctrinate them with a capitalist world-view and values.

Education in the West is carried out to strengthen the class rule of the bourgeoisie, and the university is one of those powerful tools (Zhong 2015). The famous book Disciplined Minds is an amazing exposé of the indoctrination that US universities carry out to produce people with “ideological discipline”, people who won’t dare to challenge the status quo (Schmidt 2000). According to Schmidt, the role of teachers is not just to present the curriculum but to extrapolate the ideology to cover new situations and to never challenge the curriculum (Schmidt 2000). He also said that teachers are rarely fired for being poor teachers, instead they are usually fired for challenging ideological discipline (Schmidt 2000). Ironically, after publishing Disciplined Minds, Schmidt was fired from his position as an editor of an academic journal. Chinese students studying abroad undergo the same ideological disciplining that local students do. They too are prepared to become unquestioning missionaries of capitalist ideology and values.

The example of Sheng Ding, a Chinese scholar living in the US, shows what happens when Chinese become “ideologically disciplined” by Western education. The scholar published an article introducing personal stories that inadvertently demonstrated his surrender to local ideology. One example was when he attended a speech by the Dalai Lama, following which he was confronted by an American student who said: “Why did the Communist Party invade Tibet, occupy his holy motherland and force him into exile?”(Sheng 2007). The author says that he wanted to tell the student the truth about feudal Tibet and how the Tibetan slaves were liberated in 1950 but for some reason couldn’t. In the author’s own words he “neutralised his ethnic identity”, i.e. rejected the truth in favour of a Western lie. Instead of defending the correct position of the CPC, the author uttered worthless platitudes to the American student. After this exchange the author claimed to feel relieved because he took another step towards becoming a “responsible academic”!

Empirical evidence proving the exact effects of studying abroad on the values of Chinese students is scarce. The reason for Samuel Huntington’s rethink characterised by the famous US intellectuals insightful quote about power: “Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.” (Huntington 1983). However there have been two-ground breaking research projects in the last few years which dared to present hard evidence on this question. A 2013 paper found, using highly robust quantitative methods, that Chinese who studied in the US had a more favourable attitude towards the US than students who stayed in China (Han, Chen and Feng 2013). This “favourable attitude” included their opinion of US political institutions. The paper concluded that this increases US soft power penetration into China (Han, Chen and Feng 2013). The researchers found that local media had the biggest influence on Chinese students, followed by interactions with local people, while also noting that patriotic feeling towards China did not protect students from foreign influence (Han, Chen and Feng 2013).

The evidence of the 2013 report builds on earlier research in 2010 which asked whether Chinese students who studied abroad are “more receptive to international values and universal norms”(Han and Zweig 2010). This is of course bourgeois double speak for uncritical acceptance of Western capitalist hegemonic ideology and values. The results of the study were similar to that of the 2013 paper: studying overseas changes the political positions and values of students (Han and Zweig 2010). The researchers tried to claim that studying overseas encourages Chinese to favour cooperative internationalism, however a more reasonable interpretation of the data suggests that students are influenced to accept the values and “public opinion” of their host country. This also increases Western soft power penetration into China. Han and Zweig specifically mentioned that students with “pro-Western” attitudes returning to China and taking elite positions in Chinese society could have a significant impact on government policy (Han and Zweig 2010).

Protecting the youth: cooperation is the answer

So it is clear that Chinese students who study abroad are the target of ideological influence by foreign powers in order to inculcate them with capitalist ideology and values. Since almost half a million young Chinese leave the country to study ever year, this must be considered a serious threat. General Li Dianren, Vice commissar of the National Defence University commented that political threats come from ideology and that these threats are far more dangerous to national security than military threats (Li 2015). After all, the Soviet Union was not defeated by the US army but rather by capitalist ideological infiltration into elite sections of Soviet society, among other reasons (Li 2015).

What can be done to protect these students and by extension the future of China? I propose that the CPC cooperate with overseas Communist Parties to build a network of activity and life-based ideological education to take place overseas. Local Communist Parties can help guide students through the ideological minefield of living in a capitalist country through positive socialisation, provision of student services and undermining local propaganda. Person-to-person contact with local party members helps to show Chinese students that Marxism-Leninism is an international trend, it shows them that despite the propaganda they are surrounded by, capitalism is a deeply flawed, exploitative system. Local members can immunise international students by explaining techniques or arguments that universities and the media use. In this way, comrades living in the capitalist world can play an important part in defence of the socialist world.

Cited Works List

“459,800 Chinese Left for Study Abroad Last Year.” Ed. Liping Gu. Xinhua, 5 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015.

Belmonte, Laura. Selling the American Way: US. Propaganda and the Cold War. University of Pennsylvania, 2008. 1-49. Print.

Chiang, Yung-Chen. “Chinese Students in America in the Early Twentieth Century.” Chinese Studies in History 36.3 (2003): 38-60. Academic Search Elite. Web. 10 Aug. 2015.

Chomsky, Noam, and Hermann, Edward. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon, 1988. 1-40. Print.

Gu, Xuelin, and Wei Liu. “National Work Conference Convened on Students Abroad Returning to China.” Chinese Education & Society 31.2 (98): 22-26. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Aug. 2015.

Guo, Yugui. “The Roles of Returned Foreign-Education Students in Chinese Higher Education.” Journal of Studies in International Education 2.2 (1998): 35-58. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Aug. 2015.

Han, Donglin, Dingding Chen, and Changping Feng. “Images of the United States: Explaining the Attitudes of Chinese Scholars and Students in the United States.” Chinese Journal of International Politics 6.2 (2013): 183-207. Academic Search Complete. Web. 9 Aug. 2015.

Han, Donglin, and David Zweig. “Images of the World: Studying Abroad and Chinese Attitudes towards International Affairs.” China Quarterly 202 (2010): 290-306. EconLit. Web. 10 Aug. 2015.

Huntington, Samuel. American Politics: The Promise of Disharmony. Belknap, 1981. Print.

Li, Dianren. The 6th World Socialism Forum. Jianguo Garden Hotel Beijing, Beijing. 16 Oct. 2015. Lecture.

Schmidt, Jeff. Disciplined Minds : A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-battering System That Shapes Their Identities. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000. 3-33. Print.

Sheng, Ding. “Chinese Political Scientists in the North America: Can They Reach Epistemological Middle Ground between Ethnic Identity and Responsible Scholarship?” 2007 Annual Convention of International Studies Association. Chicago. 2 Mar. 2007. Lecture.

Shu, Xincheng. History of Studying Abroad in Modern China. Shanghai: Shanghai Culture Publishers, 1989. 216-268. Print.

Wang, Yiju. Chinese Intellectuals and the West, 1872–1949. Chapel Hill: North Carolina University Press, 1966. 150-156. Print.

Yu, Youjun. Socialism in China 1919-1965. First ed. Beijing: Foreign Languages, 2014. 1-29. Print.

Zhang, Yufa. “Returned Chinese Students from America and the Chinese Leadership (1846-1949).” Chinese Studies in History. 35.3 (2002): 52-86. Academic Search Complete. Web. 10 Aug. 2015.

Zhong, Hao. “The Essence and Function of the American University”. 中国社会科学院, 26 June 2015. Web. 9 Aug. 2015

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