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Journey to America: Shanghai to Springfield Print E-mail

After making courtesy calls on local officials and the U.S. Minister in Beijing, the boys, shepherded by the CEM’s tutors and officers, embarked on the journey to America, leaving Shanghai aboard a small intercoastal steamer for Yokohama, Japan.  One of the students with the First Detachment, New Shan Chow (Niu Shangzhou 牛尚周 I, 12), described the “beautiful afternoon” when the parents, relatives, and friends of the boys came to bid them good-bye at the Shanghai wharf: “Many tears were shed and the scene was very affecting to those who witnessed it.  At last the captain gave the order to get ready and our friends went back to the shore.  The whistle blew, the engine began to move, and we sailed out of the harbor amid the cheers and yells of the multitude on the shore.”1

The weeklong trip to Yokohama could be rough. A Mission official, Qi Zhaoxi 祁兆熙, traveling with the Third Detachment in 1874, wrote of the extreme discomforts of seasickness, the tossing of the ship in the waves, water blown into the passageways and cabins, and the frightened cries of the boys.  At Yokohama, grateful to be on terra firma once more, they strolled about the port city viewing the sights.  However, within days they and their escorts boarded one of the great wooden paddle-wheel vessels of the Pacific Mail Steam Ship Company for the voyage to San Francisco.  Since 1867 this line of American steamships—the Colorado and her sister ships, the Great Republic, the China, and the Japan, each with a capacity of more than a thousand passengers—had been providing regular transport services along the route from Hong Kong to San Francisco and back again, with stops at Yokohama and Honolulu.


Lv Shanghai
Arr San Francisco
On P.M.S.S.
12 Aug 1872
12 Sept 1872
Great Republic
12 Jun 1873
13 July 1873
20 Sept 1874
21 Oct 1874
14 Oct 1875
18 Nov 1875

Crossing the Pacific

New Shan Chow recalled that the boys of the First Detachment spent their time on board the Great Republic as they wished, some playing games, others reading in the captain’s “splendid library.” Qi Zhaoxi, however, noted that the boys’ education continued during their voyage—with time off from class if the teachers happened to be seasick.  "On Sundays," New wrote, "the captain read short passages from the Bible and the chaplain offered prayers, and we sung a few tunes."3 Although the Chinese students had been warned against participating in Christian services, it is likely that a few of the boys were already Christians before leaving China.  New himself, Tso Ki Foo (Cao Jifu 曹吉福 I, 20) and Chin Mon Fay (Qian Wenkui 钱文魁 I, 28), all of the First Detachment, were known to have attended an Episcopal missionary boarding school in Shanghai before being selected for the Educational Mission.4

 In the early days of their voyage the Chinese boys found it difficult to stomach the onboard meals prepared for American or European tastes.  But, according to Qi, by the time they were halfway across the ocean the boys had become accustomed to milk and bread.  Three meals were served daily: breakfast in the morning at 8:30; in the afternoon, lunch at 1:30 and dinner at 6:30.  For table service each boy had “a large plate, spoon, knife, fork, and a white napkin in a white copper ring.”5 Beef, mutton, fish, savory and sweet pastries, tea, milk, and ice water characterized the boys’ fare.  New’s fellow student on the Great Republic, Young Shang Him (Rong Shangqian 容尚谦 I, 6), in his account of their journey written more than sixty years afterward, recalled the “milch cows and sheep carried on board to supply fresh milk and meat for the table.”6

The trans-Pacific crossing was interrupted only by a brief coaling stop at Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands.  Lee Yen Fu (Li Enfu 李恩富 II, 40), who sailed on the Colorado with the Second Detachment, described the ocean as “gentle as a lamb for the most part, although at times it acted in such a way as to suggest a raging lion.”7 Young Shang Him remembered how the ship “creaked and groaned in an alarming manner when the weather was rough.”