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Tan Yew Fun


LaFargue Collection


Pinyin & Chinese characters Tan Yaoxun  谭耀勋

Variant Spellings & Other Names Yew Fun Tan
Yung Fu Tan

Other Chinese Name(s) 谭慕陶

Detachment 1
LaFargue No. 21

Date of Birth 1 March 1861 (but see Notes & Sources below)1
Place of Birth Hong Kong (family roots in Xiangshan, Guangdong)

Age at Departure for US 11 (Lunar Calendar)1

Date of Death 13 November 1883; died from T.B.

Place of Death Colebrook, CT; buried in the old Colebrook Cemetery

Place(s) of Residence in US 1872- Nov. 1873: Oakham, MA;2
Colebrook, CT;
New Haven, CT.

American Host Family/ies 1872-Nov. 1873: Miss Martha E. Burt;2
Edward & Sarah Carrington;
Rev. Leonard Bacon.

School(s), with dates Williston Academy, MA

Notable Activities/Awards in School 1877 June: Recited Wendell Phillips’s recent oration, "The Old South Church" for which he won 3rd prize and $10.00;3

1878 May: Charter member of the Chinese Christian Home Mission at Williston.4

College/University, with dates Yale, 1879 -1883.
Notable Activities/Awards in College

1879: Member of Freshman (secret) Society, Kappa Sigma Epsilon (The Yale Banner, Vol. 36, 1879-80, p. 60).

1880: In the summer of his Sophomore (2nd) year at Yale Tan was ordered to return to China together with Yung Kwai (Rong Kui 容揆 II, 34) who was about to enter Yale.  Both had converted to Christianity and showed reluctance to pay homage at the altar of Confucius.5  They were able to evade the recall by going into hiding.  Though formally expelled from the CEM, they were not forced to return to China with the termination of the Mission in 1881, and both Tan and Yung remained in the U.S. to earn their B.A. degrees at Yale.

1882: In his Junior (3rd) year Tan joined the national debate on policies seeking to ban or strictly limit Chinese immigration to the U.S.  His attack on such policies earned the praise of the well-known magazine, Harper's Weekly:

Mr. Page, of California, continues the Chinese debate by reporting to the Senate from the Committee on Education and Labor a new Chinese bill, prohibiting immigration for ten instead of twenty years. If Goldsmith were among us, the Chinese Philosopher would pierce the advocates of this extraordinary measure with ridicule. But an actual Chinese student of Yale College, Mr. Yew Fun Tan, handles the arguments with great skill in a letter to the Evening Post. He concedes that the importation of coolies ought to be prohibited, and states that the Chinese government would most cordially co-operate in that good work...

Meanwhile, "the fact that the United States," says Mr. Yew Fun Tan, "has committed two great wrongs, one on the negro and the other on the Indian, does not justify her in committing this third wrong."6

1883: Senior year, received Colloquies Appointment or mid-ranking academic honor (The Yale Banner, 1883-84, p. 57)

Degree/Diploma Obtained (date) B.A. 1883, Yale

First Assignment in China


1883 Interpreter in the Chinese Consulate in New York

Later Positions  
Employment Sector(s)

Diplomatic Service

Final Rank, if in Gov't Service Interpreter

Father's Name 谭伯村 Tam Pak Chun, a merchant with connections in Macao, Hong Kong & Guangdong
Mother's Name  
Family Relations w/ other CEM Students

Elder brother of Tan Yew Fong (Tan Yaofang 谭耀芳 IV, 102); Yew Fun was 2nd son, Yew Fong was 3rd son.  Tan's father was related (表亲) to Chang Hon Yen (Zhang Kangren 张康仁 I, 10) (Referenced from Tan Pak Chun's letter to Miss S. Carringtion, 9 July, 1888: see Note 6 for source of  documentary evidence)

In 1886, Chung Mun Yew (Zhong Wenyao 钟文耀 I, 2) married Tan's No. 3 sister, Tam Zhaoyun 谭肇云.  No. 4 sister Tan Juzhen 谭菊珍 married Jeme Tien Yau (Zhan Tianyou 詹天佑 I, 15).  Legally speaking, all three CEM colleagues thus became brothers-in-law.

Children's Names  
Other After his escape from the CEM's control, Tan was helped by Rev. Leonard Bacon,7 in whose home he lived at 247 Church St., New Haven, during his Sophomore and Junior years.  (Yale Banner 1881-82, pp. 6; 29).  In his Senior Year, he shared on-campus lodgings with Yung Kwai at No. 72, North Middle College. (Yale Banner 1882-83, pp. 29; 31). 

According to a report dated 23 May 1883 in The Willimantic Chronicle, a Connecticut weekly newspaper, Tan was "an adopted son of the late Dr. Leonard Bacon."8 Whether he was legally adopted and for what reasons await further inquiry.

After his death, it was noted by several of his former friends that he had suffered from heart problems and that his health was somewhat delicate. 

By the joint efforts of Tan's friends and of Sarah Carrington of Colebrook, funds were raised to endow a scholarship in the Christian College in Canton "as a memorial of his beautiful life and blameless Christian character."  In 1896 sufficient funds had been raised to establish the Yew Fun Tan Scholarship at Lingnan University.9

Notes and Sources

1. As given in Yale 1883 Book, 232; page reproduced in Qian & Hu (2003), p. 143; Qian & Hu (2004), p. 153. But the original Chinese sources gave Tan's birth year as Ren Xu 壬戌 (30 Jan 1862-17 Feb 1863 in the Western Calendar), which is later by nearly a year or more.

2. See Rhoads (2011), pp. 60; 72.

3. Rhoads (2011), p. 105. Wendell Phillips, 1811-1884, lawyer and brilliant orator, was a leading opponent of slavery and an advocate for women’s rights and Native Americans.

4. Rhoads (2011), p. 154.

5. Cf. the account in Sawyer (1917), pp. 8-10.

6. Harper's Weekly, April 22, 1882, p. 243 (Editorial); source: http://immigrants.harpweek.com/chineseamericans/Items/Item080.html.

7. Leonard Bacon, 1802-1881 (Yale, 1820), preacher and writer, was one of the foremost ministers of his time.  He held the renowned pulpit of The First (Congregational) Church in New Haven, CT, 1826 to 1866, after which he taught theology at Yale until his death in December, 1881.  Bacon had broad social influence: he was one of the founders (1843) of the New Englander, a leader in the temperance movement, and an opponent of slavery who disagreed with the radical views of the abolitionists.  In 1848 he joined other anti-slavery leaders to start the Independent, of which he was an editor until 1863.

8. Source: www.geocities/heartland/fields/4791/may1883.html.

9. Lingnan University Archives, Correspondence, Box 183, Folder 3264 & Box 184, Folder 3294, in Archives of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, Record Group No. 11, Special Collections, Yale Divinity School Library (photocopies of correspondence courtesy of Prof. Edward Rhoads).