Making "Tech" Known in China


"…it is just because of this one weakness of ours [in scientific advancement] that we have to receive humiliating demands from our neighbors every now and then. Engineers, therefore, will have just as direct influence on the future of China as statesmen and diplomats; and it is only the successful engineer that will be our asset."  


K.Y. Mok, Chinese Students’ Monthly, 1917


There have been three major waves of students sent by the Chinese government for higher education in the US, each with the aim of advancing China's modernization. The first came under the auspices of the Chinese Educational Mission (1872-1881); the second under the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program (1909-1949); and the third launched in 1978 as a key feature of the "reform and opening up" movement. In addition to these and other government-sponsored students, self-supporting and other students also played an important role at the Institute.

The government-sponsored students came to America with specific educational goals in mind. Under the "Self-strengthening" movement, Chinese reformers came to see the acquisition of Western scientific, military and technical knowledge as the key to saving China from imperialist aggression, which had forced China to submit to a series of humiliating unequal treaties. The need for engineers was felt to be particularly acute, and by 1914, engineering had become the favorite course of study for the government scholarship students.[1] In the eyes of many Chinese students, engineering was not simply a practical skill, but a means of serving the nation.[2]

Dedicated to solving China’s pressing problems, MIT’s early Chinese students concentrated heavily in engineering and applied sciences.[3] By 1914, MIT could boast the largest number of Chinese engineering students in the US, with 33 enrolled students in engineering that year, followed by the University of Michigan with 23.[4] Owing to the terms of their scholarships (as well as US immigration restrictions), the majority of the students returned to China, where they made important contributions to the advancement of science, engineering, manufacturing, commerce, agriculture, education, and other sectors. The Chinese Educational Mission students in particular are renowned for the vital role they played in modernizing China's navy, and in pioneering modern mining, railways, and telegraphy -- proving to skeptics that Chinese could be first-class scientists and engineers. A number of the students demonstrated their patriotism through military service, and four MIT men lost their lives in important Chinese naval battles of the late nineteenth century. MIT-educated Chinese students were also central in pioneering Chinese aviation, which was crucial in the war against Japan.

Through their numerous achievements, returned students helped to promote MIT's reputation in China: making "Tech" known throughout their homeland. In 1915,  the first MIT alumni club was formed in Shanghai, with monthly luncheon meetings, and clubs soon sprang up in other major cities across China.



[1] Chinese Students Monthly (CSM) 10.1

[2] K.Y. Mok, Chinese Students Monthly (CSM), March 1917, Volume XII, no. 5, 264.

[3] Electrical Engineering (71 students), Mechanical Engineering (59), Chemical Engineering (47) and Civil Engineering (41) were the most popular majors for Chinese students at MIT until 1930, followed by Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (30), Chemistry (28), and Mining Engineering and Metallurgy (27.) Physics and General Science, in contrast, attracted only one major each. Chinese Students Directory.

[4] CSM 9.8