1877: The First Chinese Student

The earliest Chinese student to matriculate at MIT was Cheong Mong Cham /Zhang Wenzhan 張文湛 (ca. 1858-?, Class of 1883), a native of Guhe village in Xiangshan county, Guangdong (廣東省香山縣古鶴村). Coming to the US via Hong Kong, Cheong studied in Hartford, Connecticut as early as 1874, before entering MIT.[1] Cheong first enrolled as a regular student in the School of Mechanic Arts in Sept. 1877, age 19, with conditional entrance in Reading, Spelling and Geography. In the Student Records, he was listed as a ward of Boston tea merchant, Oong Ar Showe (who had become a naturalized US citizen in 1860), at 25 Union Street in Boston. Cheong studied Algebra, Mechanical Drawing, Vice Work, Geometry, Foundry Work and Iron Turning, but left the school after May 1878. Cheong then enrolled as a student in Course II (Mechanical Engineering) from 1879 to 1882.

Cheong signature in Theodore Grover autography book. Image used courtesy of MIT Archives and Special Collections.

FW Rollins, Class of 1881, vividly recalled the single student from China in his freshman year of 1877, writing of Cheong as:

"a mighty good fellow, who was one of the best scholars in the class, and went back to China and became an admiral, and, I believe, was killed in the battle of the Yalu.”[2]

Although Cheong was the first Chinese student to matriculate, he did not receive a degree from MIT. The Chinese students would not reach this milestone until 1908.

In 1879, Cheong was joined by Kwong Yung Chung (1861-1884, Class of 1883), the first student from the historic Chinese Educational Mission (CEM) to attend MIT. 




[1] MIT School of Mechanic Arts Records (AC0499), Student Records, 1876-1881, pp. 38-39. Cheong was not a Chinese government supported student, but according to Edward Rhoads, he associated with the CEM students in Hartford in 1874. See Edward J. M. Rhoads, Stepping Forth into the World: The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872–81. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011, 107. In the academic year 1880-1881, Cheong was listed as a special student, taking courses in mechanical engineering, math, and physics. Between 1879 and 1882 he was listed as Course II.

[2] Technology Review, Volume 16, 1914, 572.