Tacoma Public Schools has ties to Chinese Communist Party


In what may be the closest and longest-standing relationship between a U.S. K-12 school and the Chinese government, Tacoma Public Schools in Washington has fostered ties with a Confucius program linked to a high-security risk Chinese military university—and Chinese Communist Party head Xi Jinping himself. Parents Defending Education discovered the relationship through a public records request seeking emails from the school district.

The ties extend back to at least 2008, when Lincoln High School signed a memorandum with “Fuzhou Education College,” according to China Daily, a Chinese state media outlet. Xi, the highest-ranking member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), visited Tacoma Public Schools in September 2015. The district established a partnership with YuCai Middle School from 2017 to 2019, according to emails uncovered by PDE. In October 2023, the co-director of the Confucius Institute of the State of Washington at Seattle Public Schools reconnected Tacoma Public School officials and the vice principal of YuCai Middle School.

The reunification came weeks before the Lincoln High School choir was set to perform for President Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan at the November 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in San Francisco. 

Seattle Public Schools’ partnership with the Confucius Institute of the State of Washington (CIWA) provides one of seven known remaining Confucius programs serving U.S. K-12 schools. Since at least 2009, 143 school districts in the United States fostered ties with the Chinese Ministry of Education and affiliated programs. Many schools—both at the K-12 and university level—ostensibly shuttered Confucius Classroom and Confucius Institute programming after a 2020 U.S. State Department report described the network as a “foreign mission” of the Chinese Communist Party. 

These emails reveal that Confucius Institute officials may be working with American schools to reignite relations after the coronavirus pandemic. 

The ties between Tacoma Public Schools and the Chinese government began as late as September 2015, when Xi visited Lincoln High School. A video posted to Tacoma Public School’s Facebook page shows then-principal Patrick Erwin inviting Xi into the school with a handshake. China Daily and CCTV covered the event. 

After Xi’s visit, Erwin claimed in a March 2016 interview that he received a letter from a teacher in China who asked to teach Chinese at Lincoln High School for free. Erwin claimed the woman wrote that she wanted to work at Lincoln because it’s “the most famous high school in the world.” Upon an invitation from Xi during his trip to Lincoln High School, Erwin said in the interview that he was coordinating a trip for 100 students to visit China. The Tacoma Public Schools Facebook account shared pictures from the October 2016 trip

A broadcast interview with graduating Lincoln High School seniors that King 5 Seattle aired the following summer reported that the students’ visit to China was “historic… Never before had American High Schoolers been the guests of the Chinese government, all expenses paid…” An Iowa high school received the same invitation in January 2024. 

According to Tacoma Public Schools’ Facebook posts, students visited China again in April 2018.

The conversation over re-establishing ties between Lincoln High School and YuCai Middle School began in October 2023, just weeks before the high school’s choir was scheduled to sing at APEC to President Xi and his wife. 

Liu Anping—the co-director of the Confucius Institute of the State of Washington’s K-12 Seattle Public Schools and an associated professor at Chongqing Jiaotong University in China—emailed current Lincoln High School Principal Karl Hoseth and Erwin, now the Director of Educational Pathways for Tacoma Public Schools, on October 12. Liu asked if the district officials would be interested in re-establishing ties with YuCai Middle School. 

“Lincoln High School and Chongqing YuCai Middle School have been sister schools since 2017, and Mr. Erwin visited… But unfortunately the exchanges have been suspended because of the Covid-19. Now the school authorities of YuCai Middle School are wondering whether they can be honored to connect with you again and resume the collaborations and exchanges?” Liu asked. 

Hoseth replied and asked to be reconnected with YuCai Middle School leadership. Liu Anping connected the principal with Sarah Xia, the vice principal of YuCai Middle School. 

Erwin added to the exchange and noted he would support the connection “from [his] new position in the Global Education Office” and that Hoseth “will be a great partner as the new principal of Lincoln.” Erwin was the principal of Lincoln High School from 2004 to 2022. 

Sarah Xia was “delighted” to hear about Tacoma’s decision to re-engage. She claimed in the exchange that she began working with Tacoma Public Schools in 2017 when a YuCai Middle School teacher “participated in the ‘Confucius Institute Volunteer about Chinese Language Teacher Program’” at Washington State and taught Chinese at Lincoln High School. Xia said the Washington State Board of Education members visited Chongqing the same year, and Erwin visited YuCai Middle School. Erwin paid a second visit to YuCai in 2019, according to the email exchange. 

Liu Anping then touted a “‘Chinese Bridge’ Chinese Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary Schools,” a program established by the Center for Language Education and Cooperation (CLEC), formerly called Hanban. Confucius Institutes operate under the CLEC. Hoseth replied to say he would connect with the Chinese language teacher at Lincoln to see how they might be able to participate in the competition. 

In the same exchange, Hoseth touted that he was able to shake Xi’s hand before a dinner banquet at the APEC conference, where the Lincoln High School choir performed.  

In February 2024, Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan replied to a Lunar New Years card from Lincoln High School students. He invited students to “visit China more often, including participating in the exchange and study programs.” 

Xi has stated that his goal is to bring 50,000 American students to China over the next five years. 

The CIWA is “an international partnership involving Pacific Lutheran University, Sichuan University in China, Seattle Public Schools, Chongqing Jiaotong University, and The Alliance for Education.” Sichuan University poses a high security threat, according to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s tracker of Chinese universities tied to the communist regime’s military. The university also has ties to Confucius programming from Arizona State University. 

President Xi currently faces allegations of committing crimes against humanity for his treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, according to a United Nations report. The United States State Department in 2021 declared Xi’s treatment of the religious and ethnic minority group as a genocide

As noted in Parents Defending Education’s Little Red Classrooms report, Confucius institutes are partially funded “by the Chinese government under guidance from the Chinese Communist Party’s United Front Work Department,” which is “the Chinese Communist Party’s overseas propaganda and influence operation.” The United States is not officially part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative—a program launched in 2013 with the goal of making foreign nations amenable to China’s policy initiatives. The CCP has touted the work of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms as being a vital part of China’s foreign influence campaigns.