Until COVID-19 began to ravage the globe, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) influence on American life largely flew under the radar. It was not until the CCP “disappeared” doctors, jailed reporters, and withheld information on COVID-19 to hoard medical supplies that at least some Americans began to realize the threat China poses to America and the world.

But even after these devastating maneuvers, China maintains a grip on the minds of not only its own people but numerous Americans. According to a new poll from Young America’s Foundation and The Federalist, nearly half of high school and college students believe the coronavirus crisis impacting America is mostly our own government’s fault and not the fault of Chinese leaders who covered up the severity and devastating impact of the disease.

We should not act surprised at these poll results, because the CCP has deep roots in American life, especially at colleges and universities. For years the CCP has funneled millions of dollars to American institutions of higher education by sponsoring students, funding Confucius Institutes, and even creating cells of the Chinese Communist Party at schools.

According to one report to the U.S. Department of Education, American universities between 2010 and 2017 received more than $17 million from the Chinese Ministry of Education. This estimate is conservative because only transactions over $250,000 trigger reporting requirements.

Indeed, the CCP has made American colleges and universities dependent on their funding. According to one report in the New Republic, paying full tuition, the approximately “350,000 Chinese students at American universities play in the self-censorship regime: not as individuals contributing to censorship, but as a financial punishment or reward. Beijing’s ability to direct Chinese students to cash-strapped universities—or take them away—gives universities a powerful incentive to act carefully.”

The report noted several examples of American universities caving to CCP pressure. For example, when the University of California, San Diego invited the Dalai Lama to speak at its commencement, China stopped funding Chinese scholars hoping to attend the school. Chinese foreign students made up approximately 14 percent of the student body. North Carolina State University ultimately canceled a visit from the Dalai Lama in 2009 when faced with similar pressure.

This report also outlined several examples of professors and graduate students self-censoring their criticism of the regime in hopes of attaining visas to study in China. One graduate student said: “It has gotten to the point where I don’t engage with anything overly political relating to the Chinese state.”

Beyond funding, the Chinese students at American universities sponsored by the CCP have created party cells at the schools they attend. According to a report from Foreign Policy, students or visiting scholars, at the direction of their home institution’s party committee, create the party cells to strengthen “ideological guidance” during their time in the United States. According to the report, we know cells have existed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of California, Davis; University of California, San Diego; West Virginia University College of Business and Economics; University of Bridgeport in Connecticut; Ohio State University; Northern Illinois University; and the University of North Dakota’s aviation department.

We should not give the CCP more credit than it deserves, but we should also be alarmed at the significant impact its efforts have on graduates of American universities. When graduating high school, 50% believe China is a threat and only 20% of students believe China is an ally according to the new YAF/Federalist poll. After students graduate from American colleges and universities, only 39% believe China is a threat, and 33% believe it is an ally.

Whether it is self-censorship caused by funding, work of party cells, or the extreme “political correctness” on college campuses that the CCP taps into, these poll numbers should be a frightening wake-up call for the American people.

Thankfully, the President recently announced a pause on student visas, and the Department of Education is beginning to look into the issues surrounding CCP influence within American education. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of rethinking our entire relationship with China, as well as its CCP-backed infiltrators within the United States.


Grant Strobl is the National Chairman of Young Americans for Freedom.