William and Mary and the Chinese Communist Party – Dangerous Allies – Part One

By James C. Sherlock

The faculties of America’s elite universities, among which William and Mary (W&M) would eagerly self-identify, are the beating heart of the anti-American radical left in this country.

It would defy nearly impossible odds to fail to expect that some, perhaps many, of the William and Mary faculty join them.

But we taxpayers expect the Presidents and Boards of Visitors of our state-supported schools to tamp down their worst excesses.

That has not happened at W&M.

That school has ignored multiple warnings from multiple authoritative sources over the years about the dangers of partnering with the Chinese Ministry of Education’s Confucius Institutes (CIs) and the Foreign Ministry’s Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSAs).

W&M continues to support the CSSA and has transitioned the CI to a relationship with the same Chinese university.

The New York Times published investigative reports in 2012, 2017, and since then have laid out the threat in great detail.

The BBC published “Confucius institute: The hard side of China’s soft power” in 2014.

The American Association of University Professors in 2014 warned in On Partnerships with Foreign Governments: The Case of Confucius Institutes:

relationships with Confucius Institutes “sacrificed the integrity of the university and its academic staff”.  “Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom. Their academic activities are under the supervision of Hanban, a Chinese state agency which is chaired by a member of the Politburo and the vice-premier of the People’s Republic of China.

The U.S. – China Security Review Commission, an agency of the U.S. government, published China’s Overseas United Front Work in August of 2018.  Listed there under Other Organizations Involved in United Front Work are:

  • Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (page 10). It cites “use of CSSAs to politically mobilize students in support of Beijing’s foreign policy objectives and enforce support for the CCP”; and
  • Confucius Institutes (page 12) – “advance Beijing’s preferred
    narrative and subvert important academic principles such as institutional autonomy and academic freedom.” and are “funded by the CCP Propaganda Department”.

Stanford’s Hoover Institution and the Asia Society in 2019 produced China’s Influence & American Interests – Constructive Vigilance, which noted:

it is critical to remember that the PRC remains a Leninist regime in which the Communist Party not only reigns supreme over the state at home but also now presides over a vast and lavishly resourced bureaucracy to project global influence, through so-called “united front” ties, to willing or ill-informed constituencies around the world

“Willing or ill-informed constituencies.”

The Atlantic in 2020 titled a piece “The Moral Hazard of Dealing With China –
Academic institutions must grapple with the question of when engagement becomes complicity.”

Good question.

That makes William and Mary, which continues to maintain a relationship with its CI partner university and to host a CSSA, either relentlessly ill-informed or willingly complicit.

William and Mary’s Dr. Stephen Hanson was wrong (see the video at the opening of this piece) in 2011 about Confucius Institutes and Hanban, the CI’s management organization in the Ministry of Education. When you watch it, you can write it off as naive.

We all make mistakes, but as Vice Provost for Academic and International Affairs from 2011 to 2022, Dr. Hanson was remarkably persistent in his own.

Since 2004, Hanban had been providing cash grants to set up the “language and cultural centers” as those CIs were termed. The package included Chinese teachers chosen by Hanban.

Dr. Hanson and the rest of academia were warned about the dangers of the CI program by that New York Times article mentioned earlier before the William and Mary Confucius Institute (WMCI) was established in 2012.  

To no avail.  

By 2012 a contract had already been signed. Money was flowing. Students were arriving. And free Chinese language instructors.  

Hundreds of American colleges, universities and even K-12 schools had already done the same thing. There was a colossal amount of money in play.

At out-of-state tuition, room and board rates at a very conservative $50,000 per year not counting travel, the chart below shows $18 billion annually flowing to American universities in 2017-18 for full-time Chinese students, not counting the free teachers. And not counting summer students, another huge source of income.

And the Chinese liked the old, well-known names.


The timing of the WMCI was at best unfortunate.

That same year, 2012, Xi Jinping took control of both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Peoples Revolutionary Army (PRA).

Now leader for life, Xi changed the path of China to one of increasing confrontation with the west and reinforcement of both party control and Marxist dogma as state policy.

The CI’s and CSSAs, parts of Xi’s United Front Work Department, followed suit.

It was possible in 2012 that William and Mary’s International Affairs office was in fact naive. But by the new contract in 2016, it had to know. There were too many high-profile warnings.  

That office has exhibited over the years some combination of motives to protect its cash flow and agreement or lack of disagreement with the Chinese aims and methods. The exact mix I do not know.

I also have no idea what exactly the William and Mary President and the Board of Visitors knew about all of this and when.

So, as it became clear where my research for this series was leading, I asked them last week to comment. Both agreed. The Board of Visitors had a regularly scheduled meeting this weekend. They have promised me a response today or tomorrow.

I will print those responses as part of this series upon receipt.

Next: In Part 2 we will trace the disturbing saga of the William and Mary Confucius Institute and its new Chinese government iteration that was seamlessly adopted by the school.

Correction 20:20 Nov 13:  I have changed the language on W&M’s continuing relationship with BNU to more accurately reflect the post-WMCI contract.