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The CEM Staff: Three Notable Figures Print E-mail

The Faith Factor

   Aside from their similar pursuits in intercultural exchange, these three CEM officers shared a common attachment to Christianity. Tseng Laisun and Wong Shing had both converted to Christianity long before their association with the CEM.  Tseng’s entire family joined the South Congregational Church in Springfield; while Wong Shing together with his three sons joined the Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford.

   Although Kwong Ki Chiu and his family were not known to have joined a local church,  there are several clues as to their possible religious affiliation.  Firstly, when his wife died in September 1877, she was given a Christian funeral and buried in Hartford.24  Even though Kwong was a man of some wealth and it was customary to ship the body of the deceased (both men and women) back to the native village to be interred according to the Chinese rites, Kwong chose to do otherwise.  Was his decision based on Christian belief?  Secondly, together with Yung Wing, Kwong Ki Chiu was alleged by some opponents of the CEM to have “enticed the students” into the Christian religion.25 However, although there is no clear evidence to support this charge, it is possible that Kwong’s conduct in regard to the students gave rise to such a perception by critics of the Mission.  One other clue may be found in Kwong’s biographical sketches of the lives of Confucius and Jesus appended to his Dictionary of English Phrases.  While he made it clear that the Chinese sage was only a moral teacher and not the founder of a religion, in his account of Jesus, Kwong cited many passages from the New Testament that proclaim Jesus’s divinity as if he accepted them at face value.  The mere fact of treating Jesus as a deity, with a higher status than Confucius, would have been considered heresy by a traditional Chinese scholar.  These various choices that he made strongly suggest that Kwong, if not an avowed believer, was at least highly sympathetic to Christianity.

   Moreover, soon after the closing of the CEM in July 1881, we can find more direct evidence of Kwong's personal beliefs.  After the death of his wife in September 1877, Kwong and their infant son were given support and a home in the house of Jay and Julia Filley, a devout church-going couple in Hartford.  After the death of Mrs. Filley, Kwong wrote a moving eulogy, "Tribute to a Good Woman", carried by the Hartford Daily Times of 16 September, 1881.  Besides conveying profound gratitude for her very generous hospitality, he added the following remarks about her faith: "Her church membership covers a period of about fifty years, during which her loving service of the Master has been uniform and known of all.  She died after an illness of about six weeks, departing in the peace and comfort of the Christian hope."  The use of such biblical language strongly implies Kwong's identification with Christian views of life and death.
Different Treatments

   As is well-known, the “boy students” were expressly forbidden to convert from Confucianism to Christianity during their stay abroad.  It is also common knowledge that one of the causes for the termination of the Mission was the alarm felt in China at the number of students who had embraced the Christian faith.  Nonetheless, the Chinese Government’s attitude toward the religious status of its officers in the Mission was more lenient and flexible.  Thus, while in America, even the more conservative officers were willing to attend Yung Wing’s Christian wedding to an American lady as well as several funerals for their CEM colleagues and students where Christian clergy were officiating at the services. Furthermore, besides Yung Wing and Tseng Laisun, there were: W. H. Kellogg (Yung’s brother-in-law), employed in Hartford as Assistant Secretary when Wong Shing was Secretary of the CEM (see Note 18), and D. W. Bartlett (an uncle of Yung’s wife), from September 1878 the American Secretary for the Chinese Legation in Washington.  All of these men were baptized Christians—yet that did not prevent them from being hired and entrusted with serving the Chinese Government.26  The overall evidence would indicate that the Chinese authorities were willing to employ Chinese Christians on American soil, provided that they observed the Chinese rites and proprieties and avoided proselytizing the CEM students under their tutelage.  As for Wong Shing, there is no evidence that his private Christian activities caused him to be dismissed from government service, either at the CEM or at the Legation, though his pastor the Rev. Twichell believed it to be the case (see note 21).  For, even after leaving both positions, he went on to serve as China's Vice-consul at San Francisco.  Under the reformist influence of Li Hongzhang, the Qing government was sufficiently pragmatic to recognize the usefulness of these employees to China's interests abroad, irrespective of their private religious sentiments.

   On the other hand, rebellious students who disobeyed the prohibition against conversion were another matter: some were severely reprimanded, while others were expelled and returned to China, knowing that they faced possible capital punishment,  though fortunately, none ever did. This strict policy is understandable: because the students had been selected for training to become future government officials, no dissent from the official ideology based on Confucianism would be tolerated. 

Common Endeavours

   Tseng Laisun, and Kwong Ki Chiu both forged for themselves larger roles in their service to the Chinese Educational Mission with much success.  They were effective cultural brokers between Chinese and Americans.  Significantly, all three men brought along their families to America to experience the educational and cultural interaction with Westerners, which meant that the impact of that experience broadened and spread to the next generation.  Kwong and Wong Shing shared a deep engagement with news media, and via their bilingual expertise in the dissemination of up-to-date knowledge they bridged the gulf between China and the outside world.  In their own unique ways, all three men worked incessantly to bring modern ideas and expertise to their country.  Open to the wider world beyond their boundaries, yet dedicated to the service of the Chinese wherever they lived, they embodied the spirit that Yung Wing sought to foster in China through the CEM.  In broader terms, they were among the earliest individuals in 19th century China who managed to resolve in their own lives and careers the tensions between East and West, tradition and modernity.

Essay by Bruce Chan
陈肇基, with editorial input from Dana Young.