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Termination and Recall Print E-mail

Students' Progress

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1881: Group Departing from San Francisco
In the summer of 1881, only nine years into the career of the CEM, the Chinese Government disbanded the Educational Mission and recalled all the students. The causes of this premature closure were complicated, but they had nothing to do with the academic performance of the students themselves.

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Chen Lanbin
On the contrary, the 120 boys were generally well-settled in their new homes and local schools and academies.  In the much freer, if still disciplined, environment of privileged New England society they had acquired a great variety of American traits.  They were well-liked and respected for their good manners, their academic achievements, and their keen participation in sports, outdoor recreation, dance parties and other extracurricular activities.

Administrators in Conflict

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Yung Wing
However, from the outset, Commissioner Chen Lanbin 陈兰彬 and Associate Commissioner Yung Wing 容闳 strongly disagreed as to the amount of freedom permitted to the students.  Chen, a conservative Hanlin 翰林 scholar, wanted to keep a tight leash on the youths; Yung fought to allow them the freedom to integrate with American society.  Yung seemed to have won the early fight on issues such as “the school and personal expenses of the students; their vacation expenses; their change of costume [from Chinese to Western]; their attendance at family worship; their attendance at Sunday School and church services; their outdoor exercises and athletic games.  These and other questions of a social nature came up for settlement.  I had to stand as a kind of buffer between Chin and the students, and defended them in all their reasonable claims.  It was in this manner that I must have incurred Chin’s displeasure if not his utter dislike.”1  Although the students looked up to him, the conservative officials always viewed Yung Wing with some suspicion as being more foreign than Chinese in mentality.  These suspicions were reinforced when, on 24 February 1875, Yung married Mary L. Kellogg, a young American lady who might have tutored some of the boys.  Yung’s critics must have seen his marriage to a foreigner as the worst kind of example he, as their mentor, could set his admiring protégés.  Thus, from the beginning, these conflicts over the issues of individual freedom, participation in religious observances and assimilation of American culture had destabilized the functioning of the CEM.

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Mary L. Kellogg at time of marriage to Yung Wing, LaFargue Collection
This disharmony at the top did not bode well, especially since the administration of the CEM became quite disjointed.  The Chinese Government made a series of personnel changes to the Mission that introduced different senior officers and redefined their responsibilities.  In effect, the CEM became a springboard for launching China’s first diplomatic mission abroad.  In 1874, Yung was sent to investigate the mistreatment of Chinese labourers in Peru and Chen was assigned to do the same in Cuba.  After these assignments, in 1875, Chen left the CEM, returning to China for other duties and was then reappointed as Minister to the United States, Spain and Peru.  At the same time Yung was appointed Deputy Minister. Chen was succeeded as CEM Commissioner by Ou Eliang 区谔良, fall 1875 to spring 1879, and Rong Zengxiang 容增祥, February - March 1879, who resigned because of a death in the family.  Yung, meanwhile, remained Associate Commissioner, while simultaneously serving as Acting Minister until 1878, when Chen returned to the States to officially present his credentials as Minister Plenipotentiary.  Thereafter, until the closing of the CEM, Yung did double duty as both Deputy Minister and Associate Commissioner, though no longer located in Hartford.  As Yung Wing became preoccupied with foreign affairs in Washington, the students had lost their staunch defender.

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Mark Twain
The fourth and final Commissioner appointed within seven years, Wu Jiashan 吴嘉善, aka Wu Zideng 吴子登 (also spelled Woo Tsze Tung), arrived in the Fall of 1879.  Wu was a puzzling figure: he was a brilliant Hanlin scholar who nevertheless taught himself foreign languages, was deeply interested in Western science and published extensively on mathematics.  Yet in social and cultural matters he was rigidly conservative.  Perhaps for that reason, his appointment was strongly recommended by Chen Lanbin.  Wu proved even more hard-line than Chen for, in April 1880, he issued a set of stringent regulations governing the students’ expenses and behavior.  As well, he addressed the students in an open letter published in the Hartford Daily Courant in which he lectured them to work hard at their studies and remember their “Chinese etiquette.”  Despite the mild language, his use of such a public medium to admonish them sent a clear warning that he would be strict with them.  Perhaps not without reason, Yung Wing believed that Chen had brought Wu in to shut down the CEM for good.  Whatever the case may be, both Chen and Wu looked upon the boys’ Westernization with repugnance and alarm.  In their opinion, the students were becoming too American, they were neglecting their Chinese heritage, and becoming “denationalized.”

Conduct Unbecoming

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President U.S. Grant
  Aggravating this ideological conflict, during the closing years of the Mission, certain acts of indiscretion and insubordination, committed by some of the more spirited students, had a negative effect on the future of the CEM.  Over the years, some youths had been returned to China owing to poor health or misconduct, but the first one known to be dismissed for disobeying Mission rules was Sze Kin Yung (Shi Jinyong 史锦镛 I, 29).  Sze had visiting cards printed, calling himself “Sydney C. Shih,” perhaps showing the extent to which he had assumed a Westernized identity.  In 1876 Sze participated in Church activities, exchanged letters with a female schoolmate, and socialized with other females.  Although the situation was unclear, it would appear that in 1877 he was dismissed from the Mission and denied entry to Yale, which he had hoped to enter.  On his journey home, Sze cut off his queue and dressed in Western clothing, probably as a gesture of defiance.  Since the Qing regime considered the severing or loss of a man’s queue an act of disloyalty, Governor Li Hongzhang 李鸿章, the official responsible for the CEM, pronounced the whole Sze affair “abhorrent.”2  We know that several students were returned to China for various acts of misconduct though no further details about them have come to our attention.  Hence, besides the known case of Sze Kin Yung, there could well have been other students who had been sent home for similar breaches of cultural boundaries, thus bringing the Mission into disrepute among government officials back home.