The Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program

In 1908, after negotiations with the Chinese government, the U.S. Congress passed a bill enabling the establishment of a scholarship program for Chinese students to be educated in the US, using the excess funds from the Boxer Indemnity paid by China as reparations for American losses incurred during the Boxer Uprising against foreign legations in Beijing in 1900. Supporters of what came to be known as the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program had urged President Roosevelt to approve this initiative as a gesture of friendship to China, and also to solidify American influence over its new generation of leaders. As Univeristy of Illinois President Edmund James wrote in a letter to Roosevelt:

"China is upon the verge of a revolution […] The nation which succeeds in educating the young Chinese of the present generation will be the nation which for a given expenditure of effort will reap the largest possible returns in moral, intellectual and commercial influence.”[1]

In light of the urgency of China's self-strengthening efforts in this era, the government agreement stipulated that Boxer Indemnity Scholarship students should focus on the fields of Science, Engineering, Agriculture, Medicine and Commerce.[2] MIT was thus a natural choice for many of the students.

Beginning in 1909, the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program sent five cohorts of students, selected through a rigorous examination process, to study in the US before the program was interrupted by the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. Drawing candidates from across China, the examination for this prestigious scholarship was highly competitive: out of 630 candidates for the first examination of 1909, only 47 were selected. MIT was one of the most popular destinations.[3] The students included: Chen Hwang (Class of 1915, Chemistry, BS, MS); Chen Shao Ching (Class of 1914, Civil Engineering); Chang Tsun (Class of 1915, Chemistry); Hou Moo Ching (Class of 1914, Naval Architecture); Hsin Chee Sing (Class of 1914, Naval Architecture BS, MS); Hsu Paul Hwang (Class of 1914, Chemistry); Loo Wai Gyiao (Class of 1913, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, BS, MS); Tai Shui Tao (Class of 1916, Mechanical Engineering); Tseng Chao Chuan (Class of 1915, Electrical Engineering); Van Yung Tsun (Class of 1914, Sanitary Engineering BS, MS); and Yuan Tsang Kyien (Class of 1915 Electrical Engineering [received his BS degree from University of Colorado in 1916]).[4] 

In order to prepare students for their studies in America, the Tsinghua School in Beijing was established in 1911 as the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program’s official preparatory school. In 1929, the Tsinghua School officially became Tsinghua University. Since these early years, there has been a special link between MIT and Tsinghua, which is often known as the "MIT of China."

In the wake of the program's establishment, there was a dramatic increase in the number of Chinese students at MIT: from 11 in 1909, to 27 in 1910, and 36 in 1911. In 1914, the Technology Review posted a story celebrating the graduation of seventeen Chinese students from MIT – the largest number to date – a historic occasion that was also celebrated in Chinese newspapers.[5] In marked contrast to the CEM, which had been dominated by students from Guangdong Province, the students in the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program hailed from all across China. With a new critical mass of students from China, the MIT Chinese Students’ Club was formed on April 10, 1910.[6]




[2] It is interesting to note that in 1909, 33.9% of Chinese students in the US studied engineering, and only 16.4% humanities, but by 1931 this had evened out to 22.4% and 20.8%, respectively. Bieler, Stacey. "Patriots" or "Traitors"?: A History of American-Educated Chinese Students. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 389.

[3] 6 Harvard University,10 Columbia University, 6 Illinois, 3 Michigan, 5 Cornell University.

[4] Another eight came the following year.

[5] See Jiao Yu Zhi Qiao: Cong Qing Hua Dao Ma Sheng Li Gong = Bridge of Education: From Tsinghua to MIT. Xianggang: Cosmos Point Limited, 2011.

[6] CSM, Vol V, no 8, June 1910, p. 529.

For more information see the Boxer Indemnity Scholars blog.