A Democrat running for Congress in California worked to bring an educational program sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party into his community’s K-12 classrooms.
As a member of the Hacienda La Puente school board in 2010, Democrat Jay Chen spearheaded an effort to bring the Confucius Classroom program to his district. The program is funded and run by China’s Ministry of Education, an arm of the Chinese Communist Party that provides American K-12 schools with teachers and curriculum materials to teach their students Chinese language and culture. It’s also linked to the CCP’s Confucius Institute program, which provides similar resources to colleges and universities across the United States. The State Department in 2020 labeled that program a Chinese propaganda entity aimed at “advancing Beijing’s global propaganda and malign influence campaign,” and CCP officials have acknowledged that Confucius Institutes are “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.”
Roughly a decade after voting to bring a Confucius Classroom to Southern California, Chen is running to unseat freshman congresswoman Michelle Steel (R., Calif.). But the Democrat isn’t distancing himself from his school board tenure—in fact, he’s fundraising off of it. In a recent campaign email, Chen accused Steel of engaging in “anti-Asian racism” and contributing to the “rise in violent, anti-Asian hate crimes” after Steel highlighted Chen’s support for “CCP-sponsored schools.” Chen also dismissed criticism of Confucius Classrooms, which he described merely as a “Chinese language and culture program” that is not tied to the CCP.
Steel spokesman Lance Trover brushed off Chen’s anti-Asian racism charge as “ridiculous,” noting that Steel is one of the first Korean-American women to serve in Congress.
“There is broad bipartisan agreement that Confucius Institutes are an indoctrination effort funded by the Chinese Communist Party,” Trover said. “Rather than condemn these indoctrination efforts, Jay Chen decided to double down on his support and call congresswoman Steel anti-Asian. This all raises serious questions about his ties to China, as well as his judgment for a ridiculous attack on one of the first Korean-American women elected to Congress. He owes voters an explanation.”
Chen, who did not return a request for comment, was not entirely successful in his bid to launch a Confucius Classroom in his district. Following pushback from local parents, the district rejected the CCP’s funding and teachers but accepted program textbooks from China, the Los Angeles Daily News reported in 2011. Chen defended that decision at the time, saying he didn’t “see anything sinister about using books from China” given that “practically everything we use is made in China.”
This is not Chen’s first congressional run. In 2012, the Democrat unsuccessfully challenged then-Republican incumbent Ed Royce, losing by roughly 40,000 votes. Steel, meanwhile, was one of four California Republicans to flip blue seats to red in 2020, marking the most successful year for the Golden State Republican Party in recent memory. Steel defeated former Democratic congressman Harley Rouda by 2 points, even as President Joe Biden narrowly carried the district.
Chen, who now serves as president of the Mt. San Antonio College board of trustees, will have to navigate Biden’s declining popularity in California if he is to successfully unseat Steel. According to a Berkeley IGS poll, just 47 percent of California voters approve of Biden’s job performance, down from 62 percent in April of last year. Biden won the state by nearly 30 points in 2020.