This article has been written by an established Chinese scholar who has dedicated a career in academia, including over a decade at large and prestigious Chinese universities. The Macdonald-Laurier Institute has agreed, at the author’s request, to publish this article without a by line to protect the individual. At the same time, MLI has taken significant efforts to authenticate and verify the author, their background, and their integrity.
February 18, 2022
Before emigrating to the West, I was a faculty member at prestigious Chinese universities for many years. I and everyone I knew thought I had a great job, but when I looked at myself in the mirror, I felt guilty. I knew that in fact I was a coward who dared not reveal my true thoughts or speak the truth to my students. Instead, I served as an accomplice of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) system that brainwashes the young people in China.
When I came to Canada, I was shocked by how broadly and deeply Western universities and colleges were collaborating with Chinese institutions, government and industry. What surprised me even more was how academics viewed their counterparts in China. Many of them probably understood that Chinese universities are different from the Western institutions they knew, but perhaps didn’t appreciate how different they truly were. This is a crucial point for academics, government and the public, as they cannot make wise decisions if they do not accurately understand who they are dealing with.
In Western democracies, universities are dedicated to advancing knowledge, developing students’ independent and critical thinking, and advocating for universal values that hold up strong democracies. In today’s China, such institutions do not exist. There are more than 4,000 higher education institutions in China, some of which are ranked highly in various global university rankings. However, to comprehend what they really are, one must understand a fundamental reality in China – namely that the CCP is Almighty, controls almost anything it wants to, and can use virtually all of China’s natural and human resources to advance its goals.
Among those goals, the CCP’s ultimate, never-changing aim is to maintain and strengthen its absolute power in China and advance its regional and global dominance whenever possible. In fact, every institution that is allowed to exist and thrive in China – the government, military, courts, media, schools, state-owned enterprises, private companies etc. – must obey and ultimately serve the Party-State. Universities and colleges are no exceptions.
Throughout the CCP’s history, its leaders have always stressed the extreme importance of Party’s absolute control of two vital tools to safeguard their rule – the “gun” (the military) and the “pen” (propaganda and information control). As a critical component of the latter, higher education institutions have been held tightly by the Party without academic autonomy and freedom.
Unlike Western intellectuals, Chinese scholars essentially function as special types of officials who serve the Party-State instead of exploring knowledge freely. And while university presidents (most of whom are Party members) are responsible for the operations of their institutions, that responsibility is subject to the authority of each university’s Party Secretary of the Party Committee, whose job is to ensure the organization’s loyalty to the Party. At the grass-roots level, a Communist Party branch or group exists in every academic unit such as schools, departments and research institutes. Composed of faculty members, administrators and students who are Party members, these groups play a key role in almost all aspects of the unit’s operations and decision-making, including appointing academic and administrative leaders, promoting faculty members and staff, approving and evaluating teaching and research, and managing students. Throughout China, the Party has grown within every university and research institution, working as its commander.
Domestically, the higher education system functions like a giant factory to manufacture the CCP regime’s most vital products – humans equipped with useful skill sets but also strong faith in and absolute obedience to the Party. For every single college student in China, years and years of compulsory instruction in Marxism-Leninism, Maoism and the CCP paramount leaders’ thought has ensured that these doctrines have been carved into their brains as the foundation of their mindset, whether or not they find that these “theories” make sense.
In social sciences and humanities courses, questions or discussions about issues that are not in line with the Party’s narratives are basically not allowed. For example, as faculty members, my colleagues and I were forbidden to talk about topics that the Party did not want students to understand, such as the rule of law, democracy, universal values, and more. Our teaching of many historical or contemporary issues was full of lies so that we could ensure that students would have no doubts regarding the Party’s infallibility, and would hate whichever person or country the Party directed them to.
After being “educated” in this manner and living in a strictly controlled media environment, the ability of most young people to think independently and critically was eradicated, their understanding of history and the current world was based on lies, their values were incompatible with the universal principles that uphold modern liberal democracies, and most importantly, they were in complete awe of the Party and its leaders. With these fundamental “qualifications” and specific skills in different fields, they became transformed into higher-end tools to serve the CCP regime in one way or another.
Higher education is also a crucial component of the Party-State propaganda machine. Using the public’s trust and respect of people with specialized knowledge, the Party has successfully used “intellectuals” and scientists to disseminate lies and “theories” to convince Chinese people that the CCP has been China’s savior, that negative things happen in China primarily because of the West’s efforts to destruct China’s development (out of envy or racism), that freedom and democracy will devastate China or Chinese people actually enjoy the freedom and democracy defined by the CCP (such as the so-called “Whole-process People’s Democracy”) which is superior to the Western version of democracy, and that they cannot live without the CCP’s rule. Thus Chinese academia, together with other brainwashing tools, have been great servants to the Party and helped to shape the Chinese population’s mindset into a condition that people from normal countries can barely understand – the existence of groups such as the “Wolf Warriors” and the “Little Pinks” are examples of this distorted state of mind.
Outside of China’s boundary, Chinese universities are irreplaceable tools which serve the Party-State’s goals in unique ways that other entities cannot.
Firstly, Chinese universities and research institutions play an extremely important role in acquiring intellectual property (IP) from the West. By taking advantage of Western academia’s openness, Chinese universities have effectively served the CCP regime by reaching out to foreign researchers, engineers and institutions pioneering in high-tech research fields and acquiring intellectual property illegally and unethically. Many books, articles and reports describe how this has been taking place for decades.
By inviting foreign academics and engineers to give lectures at Chinese universities, participate in sponsored trips to China, conduct research with Chinese funds, develop joint academic programs with Chinese universities, or even by directly recruiting them to work for Chinese institutions with monetary and privilege rewards through programs such as the Thousand Talents Program, Chinese universities and authorities are able to acquire protected technological intelligence through voluntary cooperation, forced IP transfer or even theft. For targeted researchers who have family or business connections in China, it is difficult to decline these “kind” offers, as their family or business are effectively in the CCP regime’s hands.
In addition, sending visiting Chinese scholars and graduate students to do research in key scientific and engineering fields in Western universities also provides the Party-State with great opportunities to access and steal key technologies. While many of them do not function like typically-defined “spies”, once the Chinese authorities require some of them to serve the Party-State’s goals in some particular way, none of them can say “no”.
The Party’s goals which are pursued most aggressively are those related to upgrading its military power. Once you understand that the Party-State’s baton can control and direct people and organizations in China when it wants to, you will comprehend that, unlike in the West, a civil-military distinction is meaningless in China. A “whatever it takes” approach has been encouraged and enforced by the CCP regime throughout its history, by using its propaganda machine to convince the Chinese people that stealing technology was and is “normal” everywhere in the world and that China is being accused only because it is not powerful enough; by rewarding those who bring advanced technologies from overseas (even if by theft); and by setting up laws requiring any organizations and citizens to “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work” (such as China’s National Intelligence Law from 2017). In fact, even without such a law, people in China knows that the Party’s will is the real law.
Beyond acquiring IP, universities serve a critical outreach function for the Party-State, helping to export its censorship and promote its propaganda through academia in the free world. In past decades, Western academics might have believed that they could positively influence their Chinese counterparts through their engagement with Chinese universities by exposing them to Western ideas of academic autonomy and freedom of speech. But the reality is the opposite.
For example, while many Western universities successfully developed joint academic programs with Chinese universities, or even built satellite campuses in China, these programs must have the Chinese Ministry of Education’s permission and follow Chinese laws, meaning they must self-censor and implement Party and government orders. When Western universities collaborate with Chinese universities and governments to set up Confucius Institutes on their campuses, no matter how much their charters or agreements declare that academic autonomy and freedom will be guaranteed, the bottom line from the Chinese side will always be the same – no speech or behavior disliked by the CCP will be allowed. Employees of these programs must either avoid talking about so-called “sensitive topics” (such as the Great Famine, the Tiananmen Massacre, the persecution of practitioners of any religion who try to put their churches, temples or mosques out of the Party’s control, the oppression of Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong, to name but a few), or teach the CCP’s versions of these stories, which are mostly lies. Ironically, these CCP-censored programs can gain trust from students and the public in the West as they are endorsed by Western universities.
Moreover, various kinds of “academic collaborations” provide perfect opportunities for the Party-State to identify, cultivate and exploit “friendly” Western intellectuals. As Professor Anne-Marie Brady accurately pointed out, being a “friend” of the CCP Party-State comes with strings attached. Western academics who receive benefits for working with Chinese universities, and wish to keep doing so, must demonstrate that they are “friends of China” who defend the CCP regime’s behavior and praise its greatness, or at least keep silent on issues which show its true nature.
There is a famous Chinese proverb – “people’s mouths speak for the one who feeds them, people’s hands work for the one who pays them”. This helps explain the CCP regime’s philosophy – as long as you receive any benefit from them, even something as simple as getting a visa to enter China, you give them leverage to coerce you, and it becomes very difficult for you to speak the truth or do the right thing if it confronts the CCP regime’s interests.
For Western academia, one thing should be clearly understood – no matter how academic and civil your collaborations with Chinese counterparts may appear to you, any money or other resources that you and your program receive from the Chinese side is ultimately an investment by the CCP Party-State. The Party-State invests in you and your organization not because it values academic freedom, but because you are useful to it – either to endorse the legitimacy of its rule, help promote its censorship and propaganda, or enhance its ruling capacity and model, boosting its military and economic power to dominate the world as much as possible.
 The “Wolf Warriors” （战狼）: This word came from the hugely-successful series of jingoistic action films in China, “Wolf Warriors”, with a popular tagline “Even though a thousand miles away, anyone who offends China will be eliminated”. This mindset has been cultivated by the education system and other brainwashing apparatus of the Party-State throughout its entire history, which feature extreme nationalism, Chauvinism and the belief that the powerful can do whatever to the weak. With the economic and military rise, with the Party-State’s education and propaganda machines’ push, more and more Chinese people began to believe that the time for China to assert its power and control over other nations is coming. This mindset has been demonstrated by China’s “Wolf Warrior diplomacy”, as well as some average Chinese people’s unreasonable and aggressive affront to foreigners and fellow Chinese people who criticize the CCP and the Chinese government.
 The “Little Pink”（小粉红）: In Chinese, “小”means being small, young, or insignificant. “粉”, means (in this context) being a fan of something. “红”means red. “The Little Pink” is used to describe people who defend, support and praise the red Party-State and red ideology, who are usually young at age and not from families of the ruling class.
 A few recent examples:
China’s Quest for Foreign Technology: Beyond Espionage by William C. Hannas and Didi Kirsten Tatlow, published by Routledge in 2020.
Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada by Jonathan Manthorpe, published by Cormorant Books Inc. in 2019.
In Plain Sight: Beijing’s Unrestricted Network of Foreign Influence in Canada, published by Alliance Canada HK in 2021.
 Professor Anne-Marie Brady analyzed this topic in her book, Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic, which was published by Rowman & Littlefield in 2003.