The CCP’s Influence in Elite British Schools Is a Threat to Democracy

Britain and allies should legislate against schools selling out to China
October 20, 2021 Updated: October 23, 2021

News Analysis

Chinese affiliates of British schools are not upholding values such as democracy and human rights. They likely influence British classrooms more than the opposite.

With the world’s attention riveted on China’s recent hypersonic missile test, a less dramatic but perhaps more consequential shift toward Beijing’s power is flying under the public’s radar. In an article appearing in the Times of London titled, “Top English private schools put Chinese communists on boards,” investigative journalists Jacob Dirnhuber and Ben Ellery detailed the shocking extent to which individuals and organizations with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have infiltrated the world’s most elite schools, on the back of tens of million of dollars paid or loaned in licensing fees.

Elite primary and secondary schools attract pupils from around the world and include its wealthiest and most politically-influential families, which network and engage in business throughout the educational experience, producing friendships that last lifetimes. Their students are then tracked into top universities that provide onramps to influence leading governments and corporations globally.

Harrow School, which educated boys who became British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, and King Hussein of Jordan, has a franchise in Hong Kong with a board that includes four senior CCP members, according to Dirnhuber and Ellery.

That Harrow educates impressionable children ages 11 to 18. The school accepts CCP members into its educational leadership—this is unethical. But perhaps that was the Faustian bargain they made to get an interest-free loan of £22.5 million (about $31 million) for their Hong Kong campus.

In exchange for a £19 million ($26 million) donation, according to the authors, “a Cayman-based company formed by the Chinese billionaire Daniel Chiu and Ian Taylor, a deceased Tory [conservative] politician,” licensed the Harrow name. According to the Times, the independent governors include chairman of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute, “a Communist Party-affiliated think tank that campaigns for closer ties between Beijing and Hong Kong, and Johnny Mok, a barrister who defended Hong Kong police against accusations of brutality in 2016.”

CCP influence goes well beyond Harrow, according to the Times. Dulwich College, which educates children ages 0 to 18, has nine associated Chinese campuses, where it “lists policies and procedures for turning children into party members.”

A CCP party secretary and a businessman who provides Beijing with advice on Tibet are founding members of Westminster School’s primary Chinese campus. Westminster school in London likely dates to 960 A.D., and educates children ages 7 to 18.

The Shanghai affiliate of Shropshire’s Concord College is partnered with a businessman who has ownership in a supplier to the Chinese military, according to the Times. He is a commissioner of the All-China Youth Federation, which compels members to “promote the reunification of the Motherland” and “hold aloft the banners of patriotism and socialism.” Concord College educates children ages 13 to 18.

One might argue that these British schools are a positive influence on China, bringing much needed notions of democracy and free markets to its highly-censored educational system.

However, the idea is risible that a few British schools could make much ideological headway in China against the fully-entrenched and enforced principles of the CCP. Especially since Beijing’s new national security law, it is a criminal offense to be critical of China. Elite British school teachers are unlikely to risk their liberty by criticizing the Party in their Chinese or Hong Kong classrooms.

More likely, the CCP uses elite British schools to provide a patina of respectability and normality to its totalitarian worldview, and to socialize the children of elite Party cadre for politically delicate careers abroad.

The chair of Harrow International School of Hong Kong, for example, outlines on the school’s website his philosophy to instill Hong Kong youth with “a strong commitment, unity, and a sense of belongingness towards the Motherland.”

The website of the main Dulwich-affiliated Dehong campus “lists policies and procedures for turning children into members of the Chinese Communist Party, alongside articles announcing elections for a party branch secretary and propaganda committee member,” according to the Times. Dehong claims that its Dulwich partnership will help students access “top universities around the world, including the Ivy League,” Cambridge, and Oxford, according to the authors.

“Lang Sheng’s education arm runs Shanghai Concord while acting as an overseas admissions office for eight British independent schools,” they wrote. “Its website claims to have [sent] ‘hundreds of outstanding students to prestigious private high schools in Britain and the US.’”

teacher student classroom england uk
A teacher and her students in a class in England on Sept. 12, 2018. (Ben Birchall/PA)

To maintain revenues in China, British primary and secondary schools with lucrative Chinese affiliates will discourage critical voices of the CCP not only in China and Hong Kong, but in their British classrooms back home. The financial incentives to do so are powerful.

In total, Dirnhuber and Ellery tally 20 British schools that established international franchises, mostly in China, from which they garnered £67 million ($92 million) over 15 years. That’s a lot of money for cash-strapped schools, and a big feather in the cap of their principals who in large part justify their own high salaries by how much they can obtain in donations and outside revenues.

China is unlikely to continue lucrative relationships with British schools that lean forward to educate their students, even those back in Britain, on sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen massacre, the frequent Chinese military threat of a Taiwan invasion, or genocide against Uyghurs, Tibetans, and Falun Gong practitioners. Yet with the growing power of China, these issues are increasingly important to British citizens, and the citizens of Britain’s allies, including the United States and Australia.

The United States, Britain, Australia, and our allies around the world should immediately legislate against CCP influence in primary and secondary schools, remove the CCP-linked funding found there, and replace it with other private or state funding as necessary. While the extra funds are substantial to a handful of primary and secondary schools, they are pennies in our government budgets, and pennies well spent.

That our democratically-elected governments have not already taken stronger measures to protect our children, and children in China and its territories, from CCP influence under the name of elite British schools is unconscionable, and a dereliction of our collective duty to protect our democracies and fully present our democratic values to the next generation.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Anders Corr
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).