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Living and Learning in New England Print E-mail

Yung Wing’s Educational Plan

Mrs. Fannie P. Bartlett
The CEM’s educational plan had two components: to educate the Chinese students in Western science and technology by placing them in American schools and colleges; and, simultaneously, to continue the boys' Chinese studies under Chinese teachers who would accompany the students to America.  It was assumed that the youths, all in their early adolescence, would quickly master the English language, enabling rapid progress in their Western studies; and that their Chinese studies would provide them with a grounding in the traditional moral and cultural precepts ensuring their loyalty to the existing Confucian state.  After fifteen years of study and practical experience in America, the students would return to China as adults fully equipped to become leaders in China’s efforts to cope with a rapidly changing world.  It fell to Yung Wing 容闳, as the architect of this scheme, to create on American soil the structures of living and learning that would allow the Mission to begin its work.

Liang Tun Yen
He modeled his plan upon his own experiences in New England where he had lived with the Bartlett family of East Windsor, Connecticut, while gaining an education, first at Monson Academy in Massachusetts, later at Yale College in New Haven, Connecticut, graduating with the Class of 1854.  In July 1872, about one month before the departure of the First Detachment, he left Shanghai for the United States with the aim of preparing the foundations for the CEM’s operations and its administration in the part of the country where he himself felt most at home.  At Yale he consulted the president and faculty of Yale College, then, acting upon their advice, sought practical guidance from the Secretary of the Connecticut State Board of Education, Dr. Birdsey Grant Northrop.  Northrop recommended that the students be domiciled two or more at a time with families throughout New England, “where they could be cared for and at the same time instructed, till they were able to join classes in graded schools.”1 To this end, Northrop distributed a circular letter to churches throughout Connecticut and Massachusetts asking that families volunteer to house the “children” who were coming to America.  The response was prompt: by October 1872, more than 120 families had offered to accept two students each into their homes.

Yung Kwai
 The families who boarded the CEM students were distributed in some forty separate communities, most clustered in or near the Connecticut River valley, and all within a day’s journey of the Mission’s headquarters.  Though surviving records are not complete, available sources indicate that a total of about sixty families hosted the foreigners in their homes.  Some students seem to have resided with one host family for the duration of their school years; others moved from one location or host family to another as changes in their educational or domestic circumstances required.

Headquarters in Hartford

Woo Yang Tsang
Although Yung Wing had intended Springfield to serve as the administrative center of the Mission, Dr. Northrop persuaded him to locate the headquarters in Hartford.  After the American Civil War, Hartford had become one of the most prosperous cities in the country, with well-developed manufacturing and service industries as well as residential housing.  During its early years the Mission’s offices and classrooms for the boys’ Chinese studies were in rented rooms on Sumner Street, while the Commissioners and other staff lived in one half of a nearby duplex house on Willard Street.  However, Yung believed that a permanent residence for the Educational Mission in Hartford would create a stronger bond with the United States and lessen the possibility of the Chinese Government’s withdrawing its support for the venture.  Thus in November 1875 the Chinese Government authorized him to purchase land for the construction of a permanent home for the Mission.  A large three-story brick structure, with up-to-date conveniences of steam heat and gas illumination, was erected at No. 400 Collins Street, on spacious grounds planted with “fruit trees, grape vines, and hundreds of square feet of lawn.”2 The total cost of the project was about $55,000.3 The new headquarters, containing offices, classrooms, and living quarters for administrators and 75 students, opened in April 1877.

Families and Schools

Tsai Shou Kie
The homes where the CEM students were lodged were those of well-educated, deeply religious and respected families of New England.  They treated the young foreigners as their adoptive children, providing firm but supportive discipline infused with Christian beliefs and traditions, though not to the degree of actively proselytizing them.  Many boys were tutored by their American guardians in English and other subjects prior to attending school.  Once settled in their new homes, the boys generally thrived on this mixture of nurture and discipline and came to view their hosts as foster parents.  The warm and loving friendships that developed between the students and their American families would last for the rest of their lives.  In this home environment the boys rapidly became fluent in American English, and were soon able “to enter the arena of student life on equal terms with American boys of the same age.”4 However, since their braided queues and long gowns were the objects of ridicule, the Commissioners permitted the boys to wear Western clothing but ordered them to retain their queues (prescribed by Chinese law) which they coiled under their hats or tucked beneath their shirts.

Chang Hon Yen at high school graduation
Secondary education in New England high schools and the privately funded academies had reached a high level of development by the last quarter of the nineteenth century.  In its essentials the curriculum was derived from the classical European model, which stressed close study of the languages and texts of Greek and Roman antiquity, but included some history, mathematics, and natural science.  Progressive schools, many of which were attended by the CEM boys, offered instruction in practical skills such as navigation, surveying, and cartography, as well as music and other fine arts.