Muscatine, Iowa students receive trip to China paid for by Chinese government


Muscatine Community School District in Iowa sent two dozen students to China in January after receiving an invitation from the Chinese Ministry of Education at the behest of Chinese President and Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping. Further emails reveal that district employees considered establishing a sister school partnership with schools in China, and a model sister school contract appears to suggest that disputes in fulfilling the agreement would be subject to adjudication under Chinese law. 

Xi announced at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in November 2023 that he is prepared to bring 50,000 American students to China over the next five years. This announcement comes as China faces accusations of genocide from the United Nations and the United States for their treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Xi led the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on the ethnic and religious minority population, whistleblower documents published in 2019 found.

Muscatine resident Sarah Lande, who met the dictator when he visited Iowa in 1985 and hosted him in her home in 2012, wrote to Xi to ask if Muscatine students could take him up on his offer. 

The Chinese Ministry of Education replied to Lande’s letter on January 13 and invited Muscatine students to visit China. Within days, the district’s Chinese and World language teacher, the Chinese Consulate in Chicago, and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security—a local nonprofit organization—planned the trip and sent 24 students to visit the People’s Republic of China. 

A Stanley Center employee included a copy of the letter from the Chinese Ministry of Education in what appears to be an email to parents of students who traveled to China in January.

The language teacher who coordinated the trip mentioned that “China will cover all of the costs” in a January 16 email to district officials:  

“In the past few days, the Chinese consulate has been in contact with me regarding the upcoming China trip. We have been invited by the Ministry of Education of China to visit at the end of January.

The details are in the attached document.

If you would like to join, please let me know asap. You’re all invited and China will cover all of the costs.

We will need to get everyone’s visa this Friday or next Monday. The Chinese consulate will help us get everything asap.”

In a separate January 16 email, the language teacher informed colleagues that the Chinese Consulate in Chicago was scheduled to visit the district the following day to discuss the trip.

The language teacher forwarded visa application forms for students who planned to travel to China. One of the forms required additional steps for applicants “born in China.” According to the form, that includes Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan. Another email appeared to indicate that students needed to list their religion. 

During the trip, students visited the Great Wall of China and the Chinese Ministry of Education. The Chinese Minister of Education Huai Jinpeng and Vice Minister of Education Weng Tiehui—both members of the Chinese Communist Party—announced to the students during the trip that the Chinese government will provide 200 additional scholarships for Muscatine students to visit China. 

Students wrote a letter to Xi while in China, according to a February 2024 email from the language teacher who organized the trip. The teacher translated Xi’s reply to the students’ letter:

I am delighted to receive this letter from the students of Muscatine and I am very grateful. The Chinese characters are beautiful, and your drawings are excellent. I am also pleased to know that you have visited many cities and seen many things, and I’m glad you had such good experiences. As the Chinese saying goes, “Seeing once is better than hearing a hundred times!

I have also heard that you have made many Chinese friends, such as those from Renmin University High School and Fudan University Affiliated Secondary School. It warms my heart to hear that Muscatine has also invited Chinese students for a return visit. Friendship is truly moving!

After my visit to Iowa in 1985, I have had a very deep impression and good friendship with Iowa.

I am glad that the younger generation of teachers and students from Muscatine can come to China in person to have a better understanding of China. Welcome back to China! I welcome all American students to come to China and build friendship with Chineses students.

This year is the Lantern Festival in China. Wishing you all a happy holiday!

Xi Jinping

Chinese state-owned media outlets asked to interview district officials after the trip. The world language teacher sent a list of questions from China Central Television (CCTV)—which she describes in the email as “a propaganda outlet”—to a teacher that chaperoned the January trip.

“According to the plan of President Xi, 50,000 students will be invited to visit China. In the future, more young Americans, including Muscatine students will visit China. How do you think it will help promote friendship and understanding between the people of the two countries?”

Emails obtained by Parents Defending Education, as well as reports in Chinese state media outlets, indicate that additional Muscatine students visited China again in April. 

In an email to district leaders, the language teacher said she received offers to establish sister school partnerships from two high schools in China. One model agreement with the high school affiliated Renmin University notes that “any inconsistency between the Chinese and English versions, the Chinese version shall prevail.” The model agreement reads:

“Any dispute about this agreement between the two schools shall be resolved first through negotiation. If negotiation fails, a lawsuit shall be filed to the People’s Court with jurisdiction over the location of The High School Affiliated to Renmin University. This agreement shall be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of the People’s Republic of China.”

It’s unclear whether Muscatine has signed onto this agreement based on the emails Parents Defending Education reviewed.

The district has coordinated several other events with the Chinese consulate in Chicago. The language teacher planned a field trip for students to visit the consulate in 2023, and administrators and teachers have been invited to attend celebrations and events with Chinese consulate officials. Muscatine Community School District has also hosted art troupes and orchestral performances for Chinese performers. Sarah Lande’s foundation has provided students with scholarships to study in China.

After the January trip, language teacher requested the formal creation of a China Committee to coordinate various trips and events with China.

In February 2024, the language teacher inquired about coordinating a Zoom presentation for students with officials from Zhengding Hebei, a region in China. The email from the language teacher asked district officials for approval, as the Zhengding Hebei officials coordinating the presentation “needs to report this project to the government today.” 

The Chinese Communist Party has a lengthy history of committing human rights abuses, notably the ongoing Uyghur genocide and the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. The CCP routinely commits intellectual property theft and espionage targeting U.S. institutions, including schools.

Confucius Institute and Confucius Classroom programming—Chinese state sponsored language and culture programs at American universities and K-12 school districts, respectively—are a vital part of the Chinese Communist Party’s overseas propaganda campaign. Parents Defending Education found last year that at least 143 American school districts had fostered ties with China over the past decade.

Expanding Chinese language and education programming in U.S. schools is a top priority for the Chinese Communist Party, a 2019 United States Senate report found.U.S. State Department declared Confucius Institutes a “propaganda arm” of the Chinese Communist Party in 2020. 

A Voice of America newscast about the trip noted that the trip “came with few strings attached” and that “it was hard to find any signs of U.S.-China tensions.” Voice of America is a taxpayer-funded news network.