Chinese Educational Mission

The pioneering Chinese Educational Mission (CEM) was launched at a time of crisis for China, when the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) was in decline and severely weakened by foreign imperialism. Under this program, 120 Chinese youths were sent to live and study in New England, where they were to receive American college educations before returning to contribute to China's modernization and "Self-Strengthening" efforts. The CEM was the brainchild of Yung Wing (1828-1912), the first Chinese student to graduate from an American university (Yale, Class of 1854), and an avid reformer who was

"determined that the rising generation of China should enjoy the same educational advantages that [he] had enjoyed."[1]

The first cohort of thirty students arrived in the US in 1872, and boarded with American host families while they studied at local secondary schools in preparation for entering college. A second detachment arrived in 1873, followed by a third and fourth in 1874 and 1875. The majority of the students hailed from Guangdong Province, with smaller numbers from Fujian Province, Shanghai, and other coastal locations. Progressing through secondary school, the students began entering college, where they elected to study either humanities and social science subjects, or science and engineering. Unfortunately, various factors – including rising anti-Chinese sentiment in the US, as well as opposition to the program from conservatives within the Chinese government – led to the abrupt recall of the CEM in 1881, with the students ordered back to China.

Before the recall, a total of forty-three CEM students had entered college: eight chose MIT, making the Institute the most popular choice behind Yale (which had twenty).[2] These students were: Kwong Yung Chung; Fong Pah Liang; Kwong Hein Chow; Kwong King Yang; Sik Yau Foke; Sung Mun Wai; Tyng Se Chung; and Yang Seu Nam. They came to MIT from various secondary schools, including Williston Seminary, Phillips Academy Andover, the Hartford Public High School, Holyoke High School, and Somerville High School. Regrettably, despite protests from the MIT faculty, the recall of the CEM in 1881 forced the students to abandon their studies and return home that summer without completing their degrees.

Although they had studied only briefly at MIT, the training these students received at the Institute served them well, as recalled in a letter from Fong Pah Liang to his class in 1909:

The education received at the Institute proved a training of the mental powers, – memory, judgment, the reason, and will, – so that one can turn to any one of many lines of work and in a short time dovetail one's self into the position one has chosen. Should have desired a more liberal education, and regret that I did not even complete my course of studies at the Institute.[3]

After returning to China, the MIT-trained students were mainly deployed along two tracks: the Navy; or in mining and railway engineering. They also contributed to the development of telegraphy in China, as well as agricultural reform, business and other endeavors. Hence they made vital contributions to China's modernization in several key sectors. Three MIT men lost their lives in the infamous "Battle of Pagoda Anchorage" of August 23, 1884, the opening battle of the Sino-French war of 1884-1885. The achievements of these pioneering students were honored in the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Book of the Class of 1884, and letters from Kwong King Yang and Sung Mun Wai were read at the reunion dinner.




[1] Yung Wing, My Life in China and America, New York: Henry Holt, 1909, 41. (First translated into Chinese in 1915) Information on the CEM is heavily indebted to the CEM Connections, 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, and Thomas La Fargue, China's First Hundred. Pullman: State College of Washington, 1942. See also the Pioneer Valley History Network website on the CEM, and this feature.

[2] The students attended ten different colleges: Yale 20, MIT 8, RPI 6, Lehigh 3, Amherst 1, Columbia 1, Harvard 1, Lafayette, 1, Stevens Institute of Technology 1, WPI 1. 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.