Is Congressional Candidate Jay Chen a Communist?

(Tiếng Việt)

Claim: Congresswoman Michelle Steel is currently running for reelection, she serves California’s 45th District, which includes Little Saigon. Steel recently released fliers of her opponent Jay Chen, who is a Democrat, claiming that he is a Communist sympathizer. 

Rating: This claim is FALSE. Jay Chen is a member of the U.S. military, he is a Lieutenant Commander of the Navy Reserve, and he is also the son of Taiwanese immigrants who fled Communist China — it’s highly unlikely that Chen is a Communist. Steel also said that in 2010, Chen supported the Confucius Institute, which is funded by the Chinese government. But at the time, that was a program supported by President George W. Bush and President Obama, as a way for American students to learn Mandarin.

Congresswoman Michelle Steel, who is Republican, is currently running for reelection. She represents California’s 45th District, which contains Little Saigon. Recently, Steel released campaign fliers featuring a false image of her opponent Jay Chen, who is a Democrat, holding a copy of The Communist Manifesto. The text in the flier says, “Jay Chen invited China into our children’s classes,” and that “Jay Chen voted in favor of inviting the Confucius Institute, an organization funded by the Chinese state, to the Hacienda La Puente school district to teach.” 

The image in Steel’s campaign flier was doctored, and is not a real image of Chen. And Steel’s claim is an exaggeration. 

In 2010, the school board of the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District, which Chen was a part of, voted in favor of creating a new program to teach Mandarin to its students, funded by the Confucius Institute. 

Funded by the Chinese government, the Confucius Institute was created in 2004 to promote Chinese language and culture through programs at schools and universities. Said Chen at the time, “​​From Oregon to Rhode Island, public schools have implemented the same program. As far as I can see, nothing sinister is going on.” At the time, there were around 200 Confucius Institute language classes in K-12 schools, including in Los Angeles and San Diego, and the school districts had to approve the materials taught in those classrooms. 

In the early 2000s, the Confucius Institute sent hundreds of Chinese teachers to the U.S. as part of a George W. Bush-era, then later Obama-era policy to increase the teaching of Mandarin to American youths, to help them be competitive in the global economy. So at its inception, the Confucius Institute was supported by the American government.

Notably, in 2011, Republican Senators viewed Confucius Institutes in a more positive light, their main objection not to the opportunities for Americans to learn the Chinese language but rather the lack of opportunities for the U.S. to create similar institutes in China, a problem that persists today.

It was later discovered that the Confucius Institute also acted as propaganda for the Chinese government, and many of those programs in the U.S. were ordered closed by the U.S. State Department in 2020. 

Chen is a member of the U.S. military, he is a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve with top-secret security clearance, and he is also the son of Taiwanese immigrants who fled Communist China — it’s highly unlikely that Chen is a Communist. In supporting Chinese language programs in American schools, he was echoing a popular sentiment at the time.

Chen has called the fliers “ridiculous.” He told the Los Angeles Times, “I thought it was really absurd and, beyond that, really dangerous the way she is exploiting fears within the immigrant community for political gain,” he said. 

Steel’s fliers also contained a statement saying that Chen studied at Peking University in China. This is an exaggeration. While he was a student at Harvard University, Chen received a fellowship to study abroad for a period at Peking University. Peking University was also founded in 1898, before the country was Communist. 

Steel’s fliers have been criticized for red-baiting, when candidates accuse their opponents of being Communists in order to undermine their credibility. “This is red-baiting, since it entails a Taiwanese American being accused of bringing Maoist thought into American classrooms,” Long T. Bui, a professor of global and international studies at University of California, Irvine, told the Los Angeles Times. “None of this is part of Chen’s educational platform.”

Steel also has a history of falsely accusing her opponents of being Communists. In 2020, she falsely accused then Congressman Harley Rouda of being pro-Ho Chi Minh.

Says an opinion article published by Việt Báo: “Knowing that Vietnamese refugees are still highly anti-Communists, labeling political opponents as Communists is a very common tactic. This is especially true for Democratic Party candidates in Little Saigon, who are often called ‘pro-Communist’ in a fabricated, baseless way.”