Spreading the MIT "Gospel"

MIT had early ambitions to become a leading international educational institution. By 1912, the President could boast that the percentage of international students at MIT was higher than any of its peer institutions. With international students constituting 6.8% of the total student body, the annual President's Report proclaimed: "the Institute has nearly twice as large a proportion of foreigners as any other institution in the country."[1] The registrar's report that year similarly emphasized the growth of the international student body, which had expanded from a mere 10 students in 1902, to 100 students representing 23 different countries. A significant portion of this growth was driven by China, which sent 37 students in 1912, "almost three times as many as any other country."[2]  

Justifiably proud of the Institute's ability to attract students from around the world, the administration and alumni association undertook concerted efforts to promote MIT internationally. Alumni Association President Jasper Whiting (Class of 1899, Course III) was sent to Asia in 1912 "acting as a special agent of the Institute" to make a study of educational conditions in the region and foster interest in MIT.[3] Whiting in fact had a long-standing appreciation of China in particular, having traveled there in 1901 as a journalist covering the Boxer Uprising.[4] Under Whiting’s leadership, in 1914, an Alumni Council Committee on Publicity recommended to the President and Executive Committee of the Corporation that a "foreign publicity" campaign be launched. Acknowledging the key role of alumni, "especially the foreign graduate returning to his country, who by success shows what capacity the Institute training may develop," in promoting MIT's reputation abroad, the Committee also asserted "that an opportunity is afforded of furthering the Institute by circulation of printed matter in foreign lands."[5] Proposing that MIT prepare illustrated pamphlets containing general information about the Institute, entrance requirements, living expenses, and special opportunities for international students, the committee identified "two fields" for the publicity campaign: China and Latin America. Europe, with its numerous universities, was not considered worthwhile (though the number of students from Russia was gradually increasing). Whereas booklets for Latin America were to be printed in Spanish, and perhaps Portuguese, those for China were to be prepared in English, allowing for the fact that Chinese students likely to attend the Institute were already studying English.

To gain support for this initiative, Whiting spoke on the importance of foreign publicity at the Alumni Association meeting, addressing the opportunities presented by China in particular: "saying that there is no more important country than this. The members of the government are men of Western education, and the primary aim they have in view is the education of the people."[6] Chinese student FT Yeh (Yeh Fong Teh, Class of 1914, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering) of Fujian, was also invited to address the meeting. Yeh declared that the future of China depended on the

"quality of the men who are receiving their education. These now come mostly to the United States, there being a thousand such students here, and the Institute is the favorite place for those desiring scientific training. The students have already realized the benefit to their countrymen that a knowledge of the Institute will effect, and they have already sent to China on their own account translations of portions of the catalogue of the Institute that seem suitable for the purpose."[7]

The Chinese Students’ Club was actively engaged in promoting MIT in their homeland. At the time of the 1914 graduation exercises, two students from the club prepared a Chinese press release on the record graduation of 17 Chinese students from MIT, which they sent to various newspapers in China. Their notice was published in the Beijing Daily News, Shanghai's Shun Bao, and various newspapers in Tianjin. The MIT publicity office encouraged this endeavor, which was also recognized in the Technology Review in May 1914.[8] The Chinese students also prepared Chinese summaries of the MIT curriculum and led the way in the national Chinese Students’ Alliance efforts to prepare a comprehensive bibliography of engineering reference works to be sent back to China.[9] Beginning in 1929, MIT alum Prof. Ku Yu Hsiu (Electrical Engineering, Class of 1925, PhD 1928) led a group of Chinese students in translating the MIT textbooks for Electrical Engineering 600 and 601 into Chinese.

Furthering the links between China and their alma mater, Chinese alumni also actively invited MIT faculty to visit China, with the MIT Club sponsoring lectures, dinners, and other activities. Professor Dugald Jackson and his wife, for example, were guests of the club in 1929, following the World Engineering Congress in Tokyo. As Dean of Engineering at Tsinghua University, Ku Yu-Hisu was instrumental in inviting Prof. Norbert Wiener to Tsinghua for a year as a Visiting Professor of Electrical Engineering in 1935-36. Thus, MIT's influence among China's scientific and engineering elite grew.[10]

As early as 1917, MIT’s efforts had attracted notice in the Boston Globe, which printed a story on "Tech Gospel Spread by Every Tech Graduate: One Student in Every 15 Comes from a Foreign Country, China Leading the List with 48 – Reaching Better Understanding with South America." The Globe proclaimed that: "Every graduate who has returned to China has been a missionary and the creed he has preached has been ‘Go to Technology.’"[11]

By 1921 discussions were underway concerning a movement to establish an "MIT in China," an idea proposed by Dr. Edward Hume, the President of Yale-in-China, and endorsed by MIT Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Alfred E. Burton at MIT. [CSM 16.4, 1921, 301] Unfortunately, the plans never came to fruition.

[1] MIT Report of the President 1912, 17.

[2] Report of the Registrar, 1912, 44-45.

[3] The Tech, April 21, 1914, volume XXXIV, number 15, http://tech.mit.edu/V34/PDF/V34-N15.pdf, “Publicity in China: How our Chinese Students Are Helping to Make Technology Known in Their Native Land.” Technology Review v. 16, n. 8, Nov. 1914, pp. 564-566.

[5] "In the field of foreign publicity we believe that the most effective element is always the graduate, especially the foreign graduate returning to his country, who by success shows what capacity the Institute training may develop." Technology Review, volume 16, 1914, page 543

[6] The Tech, March 26, 1914, http://tech.mit.edu/V33/PDF/V33-N161.pdf

[7] The Tech, March 26, 1914, http://tech.mit.edu/V33/PDF/V33-N161.pdf

[8] Boston Globe, December 23, 1917, page 13

[9] CSM

[10] Gu, Yiqiao. One Family-Two Worlds. Philadelphia, Pa.] (22G Academy House, 1420 Locust St., Philadelphia 19102: Y.H. Ku, 1982, 49, 70, 89, and Bridge, 21, 163-4.

[11] Boston Globe, December 23, 1917, page 13