Foreign Policy Blogs

Florence Fang’s “100,000 Strong Foundation”: Education or Indoctrination?

Florence Fang interviewed by Chinese Communist Party media , 2015 (RedNet).

Florence Fang interviewed by Chinese Communist Party media, 2015 (RedNet).

Prominent San Francisco businesswoman and former U.S. federal official Florence Fang’s activities on behalf of the Chinese government have been previously noted in this blog and elsewhere. Under her Chinese name, Fang Li Bangqin (方李邦琴), Florence Fang is the honorary president of the Northern California Association for the Promotion of the Peaceful Reunification of China, also known as Chinese for Peaceful Unification-Northern California.

Fang’s organization is just one of many overseas chapters of the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful National Reunification in Beijing, an “external propaganda” agency focused on asserting mainland Chinese control over Taiwan.

In comments to Chinese government media Fang has plainly expressed that her “mission” in the United States is to “put our ideas about peaceful reunification into mainstream American society” and to “prevent the spread of ‘Taiwan independence’ ideology.” At appearances with Chinese Communist Party officials Fang has called Taiwan a “fake democracy,” and in statements to Communist Party media she has expressed her undying patriotism for China despite living in the United States since 1960 and serving as a U.S. federal official under the George H.W. Bush administration.

Florence Fang with former President and First Lady Bush, from Chinese news website also noting Fang's service on behalf of the Chinese government (Sohu).

Florence Fang with former President and First Lady Bush, from Chinese news website also noting Fang’s service on behalf of China’s “peaceful reunification,” 2015 (Sohu).

Her numerous appearances at the Communist Party’s flagship People’s Daily and other Chinese government and state-run media websites include frequent meetings and photo-ops with high-level Communist Party officials, among whom she appears to be something of a celebrity. In these appearances her statements are virtually indistiguishable from those of the Chinese government. Her public profile at Chinese website Baike lists her not as a U.S. citizen, but as a citizen of China.

In addition to her “peaceful reunification” activities, Florence Fang’s efforts include educational exchange initiatives aimed at enhancing mainland Chinese influence in the United States. International educational exchange with countries including China is a worthy endeavor that should be encouraged, but Fang’s motives in doing so are highly suspect given the nature of her relationship with the Chinese government. In 2013, Fang launched the “100,000 Strong Foundation” to promote Mandarin language education in the United States and study in China for U.S. students.

Fang’s foundation was greeted enthusiastically by U.S. public figures including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. As always, however, Fang’s statements on this initiative in Chinese media differ sharply from what has been presented to U.S. audiences (Should any of the sources cited in this article mysteriously disappear, archival web captures are available here).

In statements on her “100,000 Strong Foundation” to the Hubei Provincial Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese repeated in Chinese at her own Florence Fang Family Foundation website, Fang described “American ‘grassroots’ youth” as an impressionable “target group” of community members and voters whose ideas and opinions are not yet fully formed and would therefore potentially be open to ideological influence from their mainland Chinese peers while studying in China. Fang’s emphasis on American youth as a “target group” of voters clearly suggests a political motivation for her program.

Florence Fang and Chinese vice-premier Liu Yandong meet to discuss Fang's "!00,000 Strong" initiative (Xinhua)

Florence Fang meets with Chinese vice-premier Liu Yandong, 2014 (Xinhua).

Fang’s efforts on the “100,000 Strong” project have been in close consultation with Chinese vice-premier Liu Yandong, former Communist Youth League official and secretary of the Communist Party’s United Front Work Department, with whom Fang has had extensive contact through the years. Liu is a noted member of what is known as the “Youth League Clique” associated with former president Hu Jintao. Liu’s role further suggests that these organizations would be involved in how U.S. students are channeled through the program and which Chinese students they would be grouped with (in all likelihood students handpicked for them from the Communist Youth League).

The United Front Work Department is a notorious propaganda agency under the direct authority of the Communist Party Central Committee, and is charged with asserting Communist Party “leadership” over non-Party groups at home and abroad. It is also an agency that is involved in almost everything that Florence Fang does on behalf of the Chinese government.

Florence Fang meets with Hunan Provincial United Front Work Department secretary Li Weiwei, 2014 (Hunan United Front Work Department, Central United Front Work Department).

Florence Fang meets with Hunan Provincial United Front Work Department secretary Li Weiwei, 2014 (Hunan United Front Work Department, Central United Front Work Department).

The October 2013 inauguration of a language institute at Beijing University to host U.S. students funded by Fang included prominent appearances by officials from the United Front Work Department, the People’s Liberation Army, and the Confucius Institute in addition to Fang herself. The Confucius Institute is a noted part of Beijing’s “overseas propaganda” apparatus, and its presence on Western university campuses has been described as “academic malware” and as an educational “Trojan horse” due to its overtly propagandist character.

Also in attendance at Fang’s Beijing University event were officials from the State Council Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs, another agency of the Chinese government’s external propaganda system. Its main purpose is to co-opt and exploit ethnic Chinese communities abroad (which it views as “overseas Chinese” rather than as citizens of the countries in which they live) for use as instruments of mainland Chinese foreign policy. Like the United Front Front Work department, this is an agency that figures prominently in Florence Fang’s dealings with the Chinese government.

Florence Fang meets with State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office deputy director Tan Tianxing, 2013 (State Organs Work Committee of the Communist Party of China).

Florence Fang meets with State Council Overseas Chinese Affairs Office deputy director Tan Tianxing, 2013 (State Organs Work Committee of the Communist Party of China).

Comments by Fang to the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office on her “100,000 Strong” project express a thinly-veiled political purpose in line with China’s “public diplomacy” goal of “bringing foreigners to understand and accept China’s core values,” which of course include its national obsession with gaining control of Taiwan regardless of the wishes of Taiwan’s own citizens (most of whom in every public opinion survey are clearly opposed to reunification with mainland China for obvious reasons).

The involvement of these agencies in Florence Fang’s “100,000 Strong Foundation” makes it as questionable as any of her other activities in relation to China. In the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party, there is no such thing as education or cultural exchange for its own sake: everything is political, everything is ideological, and everything must be made to serve the Party and the Chinese state. The “100,000 Strong Foundation” appears to be no exception.

The U.S. government might wish to choose its federal officials and educational “goodwill ambassadors” with greater care. U.S. students contemplating study in China might wish to choose a program that does not view them as a political “target group” for the Communist Youth League, the United Front Work Department, and the Confucius Institute.



Mark C. Eades

Mark C. Eades is an Asia-based writer, educator, and independent researcher. Located in Shanghai, China from 2009 to 2015, he now splits his time between the United States and various locations in Asia. He has spent a total of seven years in China since his first visit in 1991, and has taught at Fudan University, Shanghai International Studies University, and in the private sector in Shanghai. He is also widely traveled throughout East and Southeast Asia. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Social Science and a Master of Arts in Humanities from San Francisco State University with extensive coursework in Asia-Pacific studies. His previous publications include articles on China and Sino-US relations in U.S. News & World Report, Asia Times, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and Atlantic Community. Twitter: @MC_Eades