Text Size S M L
Print E-mail

Tong Kwo On


1. c. 1873-74, Ct. Hist. Soc.?  2. c. 1880, Ct. Hist. Soc.?  3. Yale collection?


Pinyin & Chinese characters Tang Guoan 唐国安

Variant Spellings & Other Names

K. O. Tong1
Kwoh On Tong
Tong Kok On

Other Chinese Names

Tong Kaison (hao) 唐介臣 (号)
Tong Guolu (zi) 唐国禄 (字)

Detachment 2

LaFargue No.


Date of Birth 

27 October 18582
Place of Birth Xiangshan, Guangdong  唐家湾鸡山村
Age at Departure for U.S. 16 (Lunar Calendar); 14 (Western)2
Date of Death 22 August 1913
Place of Death Beijing
Place(s) of residence in U.S.

(1) Plantsville (Southington), CT;
(2) Northampton, MA;
(3) Exeter, NH

American Host Family/ies

(1) Delight Twichell Hall, Plantsville (Southington), CT3;
(2) Martha Ely Matthews, Northampton, MA
(3) Laura A. (Graves) Colbuck, Exeter, NH (U.S. Census, 1880)

School(s), with dates Northampton High School, MA;
Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, NH (1879-1880)

Notable activities/ awards in school Graduated 1879, Valedictorian of High School class4

College/University, with dates Yale College, 1880-1881 (entered with Class of 1884, withdrew upon termination of CEM)

Notable activities/ awards in College Freshman Year (1880-81): 2nd prize, “Berkeley premiums” (awarded for excellence in Latin composition)5
Degree/Diploma Obtained, with date  
First Assignment in China Assigned to the Viceroy's Hospital Medical School, Tianjin 天津西医医学馆6 

Later Positions 1883-1889/90: Early 1883, left Medical School, but did not return; obtained positions at foreign-run businesses in Jiangxu and Zhejiang and with U.S. consulates in Tianjin, Zhenjiang and Ningbo; ca. 1889 – 1890, with help of his relative, Tong King Sing 唐景星, reentered government service7;

1890-98: English Secretary of Chinese Engineering and Mining Co. 开平矿务局 in Tangshan;

1899-1900: Resident manager of Imperial Chinese Railroad, Yingkou 营口;

1900-1903: During the Boxer crisis Tong took refuge and went into business in Hong Kong where he served as the first chairman of the newly formed Chinese YMCA8;

1903-06: Chief auditor, Canton-Hankow Railroad;

1905-?: Secretary to Anhui Railway Company;

c. 1905: Taught “documentary translation” in the Educational Department of the Chinese YMCA, Shanghai 中国青年会日夜书馆9;

1906-07: Co-founder and editor, South China Journal ("Nanfangpo")《南方报》Shanghai;

1907-08: Interpreter, Foreign Ministry;

1908 Oct. 30: With Liang Tun Yen (Liang Dunyan 梁敦彦 I, 11) and other high officials, entertained U.S. Atlantic Fleet on its formal visit to Amoy10;

1909 Feb.: Together with Liu Yu Lin (Liu Yulin 刘玉麟 IV, 91), represented the Chinese Government at the International Opium Commission held in Shanghai; gave introductory statement from China, a speech in English which received high praise and was widely circulated;

1909 Aug. 16: Appointed Vice-director of the Bureau of Educational Mission to the United States of America (Youmeixue wuchu 游美学务处), a body under joint jurisdiction of the Foreign Ministry and the Education Ministry and charged with the selection of students to be educated in U.S. with reimbursed Boxer Indemnity funds; escorted first group of forty-seven students on Indemnity funds to U.S.11;

1910: With Yung Kwai (Rong Kui 容揆 II, 34), supervised students’ housing in U.S.; returned to China to help found Tsing Hua (Qinghua) School 清华学堂 in Beijing11;

1911: Assistant Superintendent of Imperial Tsinghua Academy;

1912 May: Superintendent of Tsing Hua College;

1912 Oct. - 1913 Aug.: first President of Tsing Hua College.

Employment sector(s) Clerical/Commerical; Mining; Railway Service; Journalism; Diplomatic Service; Education

Final rank, if in gov't service 5th Rank, Civil Grade (up to 1905-06)

Father's name 唐陶福 Tong Tao Fu12

Mother's name 

Liang Ah Chun12

Wife/wives Yueh Kwai Kwan, daughter of Yung Fa Kwan of Hong Kong; married  Sept. 188412

Family relations w/ other CEM students Probably a near relation of other CEM students of surname Tong: Tong Yuen Chan (Tang Yuanzhan 唐元湛 II, 53); Tong Shao Yi (Tang Shaoyi 唐绍仪 III, 61); Tong Wing Ho (Tang Ronghao 唐荣浩 IV, 105); and Tong Wing Chun (Tang Rongjun 唐荣俊 IV, 106).

Children's Names No children.

Descendants Tang Shao Ming 唐绍明 (grandnephew)


Tong wrote two English-language accounts of the experiences of the CEM students in the United States.  The first, entitled “History and Outcome of the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States,” appeared anonymously in 1888, in two issues of The Chinese Times (11 Feb 1888, pp. 86-88; 18 Feb 1888, pp. 101-104), an English-language newspaper published in Tientsin (Tianjin) by the Chinese journal Tianjin Shibao 天津時報.  It was reprinted later in the same year as a pamphlet, Tong (1888), again without attribution.  The second, “The Christian Experiences of the Students of the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States,” appeared in 1905 as a two-part article printed in the bi-lingual organ of the YMCA in China, Qing Nian 青年 (“China’s Young Men”): Tong (1905).  Both articles contain valuable reminiscences of the Chinese boys’ encounters with Christianity in American life, and the difficulties of trying to balance their responsibilities as subjects of the Chinese Emperor with their sense of personal and intellectual freedom gained in New England’s homes and schools. (See article "After the CEM: Lives and Careers" in the HISTORY section of this web site.)

As "Tong Kaison," Tong authored a number of articles in China's Young Men, e.g., "Moral Training for Chinese" (Vol. 1, No.2,, pp. 52-53); speech before International Opium Commission (reprinted Vol. 4, No. 1, Feb.1909, pp. 4-7, 8-15); "The Chinese Christian's Responsibility in the Social Reformation of China" (Vol. 8, No. 11, Nov. 1913, pp. 255-260); and "The Christian's Happiness" (ibid., pp. 261-263).  "Difficulties of the Chinese Clergyman," in The Chinese Recorder and Missionary Journal, Vol. 35, Feb. 1905, pp. 70-75.  As "Tong Kwoh Onn": "Obstacles to Christian Missions in China," serially in 1905 issue of The Missionary Review of the World, Aug.: pp. 561-568; Sept.: pp. 686-689; Oct.: pp. 761-769; Nov.: pp. 845-848; and Dec.: pp. 918-924.

1903: Secretary, Shanghai Chinese YMCA.

1906: As "Tong Kaison," Treasurer of the Shanghai Chinese YMCA Executive Committee for 4-5 years; Associate Editor of the National YMCA's organ, China's Young Men; also served on National Committee of the Association during his time in Peking as Principal of Tsing Hua College.13

1906: Listed on the Board of Editors, The World’s Chinese Students’ Journal, a bilingual monthly of the World’s Chinese Students’ Federation 寰球中国学生会.14

Tong served on the committee of the anti-footbinding body, the "Natural Feet Society" 天足会.

1910 Oct. 10: As Tong Kaison, spoke on "The Anti-Footbinding Movement in China" at the First American International Humane Conference in Washington.15

1911 March 14-16: Represented the Chinese YMCA's interests at the Interstate YMCA Convention in Washington.16

Notes and Sources 1. “K. O. Tong” is listed as “Secretary” among officers of the Societas Condita Causa Augendarum Rerum Chinensium Christiana, a Christian society organized ca. 1878-79 by CEM students; “K. O. Tong” is also listed among the “Committee” to draw up the society’s “Constitution.”

2. Some Chinese sources state Tong Kwo On was born in 1860; in Daggett (1914), p. 419 the date is 9 November 1859.  However, Tong family genealogical records agree with a lunar calendar date of Xianfeng 8.9.21 (咸丰戊午九月二十一日), 27 October 1858.

3. Half-sister of Rev. Joseph H. Twichell. Rhoads (2011), p. 60. 

4. Springfield Republican, Sunday, March 30, 1902, 11.  Cf. Directory (1905), p. 3.

5. Holmes (1884), 44.

6. This was the name of the medical school attached to the hospital built in Tianjin in 1880 by the London Missionary Society with the approval of Viceroy Li Hongzhang.  In 1894, when both were no longer operated by the LMS, the school was reorganized and renamed the Beiyang Medical School 北洋西医学堂.

7. The details of Tong Kwo On’s career positions between 1883 and 1889/90 are not clearly known.  Information published in some Western sources, e.g. Daggett (1914), pp. 419-21, is inconsistent with data obtained from archives of the Beiyang regional government 《北洋纪事》 and from archives of the Zongli Yamen (Bureau of Foreign Affairs) as published in 《中美关系史料》.  These Chinese sources indicate that early in 1883, Tong took a three-months’ leave of absence from the Medical School, ostensibly to care for his ailing mother; but he never returned to his studies in Tianjin.  Over the next 5 - 6 years, at different times, he obtained employment as interpreter for British and American businesses (Jardine, Matheson & Co.; and Russell & Company) in Shanghai and Tianjin, and with the U.S. Consulates in Ningbo, Tianjin and Zhenjiang.  However, his failure to resume medical training, coupled with his work for the Western powers, constituted a violation of his obligation as a former CEM student not to leave government service after his return to China.  In 1885, Tong requested the assistance of the American Vice-consul in Tianjin, William N. Pethick, to help work out a compromise with Viceroy Li Hongzhang which would allow him to repay his debt to the Medical School while continuing his association with the foreigners, until a suitable position could be found for him.  In 1889 or 1890, Tong King Sing 唐景星 opened the way for him to reenter government service, working in the company his eminent kinsman had founded in 1876, as the English Secretary for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Co. Kaiping kuangwuju 开平矿务局 in Tangshan, Hebei.

8. Entry "Tang Guo'an" in Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity website, http://www.bdcconline.net/en/stories/t/tang-guoan.php (accessed 2012-01-06).

9. The Educational Directory for China: An Account of the Various Schools and Colleges Connected with Protestant Missions…, 2nd issue, comp. & ed. by Nathaniel Gist Gee (n.p.: Educational Association of China, 1905), p. 126 (digital page-scan courtesy Reed Tang);

10. New York Sun, 20 Dec. 1908, p.4.

11. Boundless Learning (2003), 116, item 101; Rhoads (2011), p. 209; p. 210, Illustration 11.5 (photograph of Tong with first group of Boxer Indemnity scholars, 1909). "As a companion, Mr. Tong was most congenial.... He could talk most entertainingly for hours about his experiences in Japan, Europe and America, and once, telling about his college days in Yale, he said: 'When you boys study in America, you want to get into the swing of the American college life.' Such an advice will do most of us immense good, if we only stop to think over it carefully." (D. Y. [Dau Yang] Lin, "The Late Mr. Tong Kai-chen", Chinese Students' Monthly, Vol. IX, No.1 [Nov. 10, 1913], 44-45. Source courtesy Bruce Chan.) 

12. Thomas E. LaFargue's statement (see LaFargue (1987), 99) that Tang Tingshu (Tong Ting-shu) 唐廷枢, a.k.a. Tong King-sing 唐景星, was the father of Tong Kwo On is in error.  Data on Tong's parentage and wife's family in Daggett (1914), 419; Chinese characters for father's name from article by Tang Shaoming: 唐绍明:“唐国安是唐廷枢之子吗─有关珠海唐家湾唐氏的三则史实”, 《珠海文史》第16辑 (Dec. 2006).

13. China's Young Men, New Series, Vol. 1, No. 2 (July 1906), p. 23.

14. Photo page in Vol. 1 of the Journal (copy of page kindly provided by Reed Tang).

15. Washington Times, 11 Oct. 1910, p. 7.

16. Washington Herald, 13 March 1911, p. 7.