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Living and Learning in New England Print E-mail

Centennial Reception

The American public was given a chance to observe the work of the Educational Mission in August 1876 when the Chinese students were escorted by their American and Chinese teachers to the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia.  An exhibition of the boys’ efforts in map-making, drawing, English composition, and other skills was set up in a gallery prepared by the Connecticut State Board of Education where visitors could view examples of the students’ schoolwork.  During his visit to the Exposition President Grant asked to meet the boys, and at a specially arranged introduction, he and Mrs. Grant made a point of shaking hands with each of the students.  A Chinese customs official assigned to the Chinese delegation, Li Gui 李圭, noted in his travel journal that the Mission students made a good impression on visitors to the Exposition and expressed approval of some “tolerably good” essays in Chinese included among the students’ other efforts.5

Prize Winners and Athletes

CEM Building, Hartford, CT
The press in the communities where the boys lived and studied paid close attention to their academic progress, noting prizes and awards, especially when these were earned for accomplishments not usually associated with Chinese culture.  Some students gained considerable notice as orators; others were praised for their command of Latin and Greek and their facility in classroom translation or public recitation from the great authors; still others won recognition for the excellence of their penmanship.  By some accounts, in the social arena the boys were equally graced with success.  An American classmate at Hartford Public High School recalled that “at dances and receptions, the fairest and most sought-out belles invariably gave the swains from the Orient the preference.”6

Chin Mon Fay
Scholastic and social honors were paralleled by success in athletics, which had never been a feature of school life in China.  The Chinese boys quickly mastered American field games such as football, baseball, and hockey, their long queues hidden from sight so as not to afford “too strong a temptation for opponents,” 7 thereby winning the lasting admiration of their contemporaries.  They made up a baseball team from their own ranks (six boys from the First Detachment, three from the Second) and called themselves the “Orientals”— immortalized in a photograph taken in 1878 in front of the elegant new Headquarters on Hartford’s Collins Street.  For the few who would return to the United States in later years as diplomats or other representatives of the Chinese Government, it was often as the champions of their youthful days that they were hailed in the press and remembered by their American friends.

Chinese Studies

Ting Sze Chung
While the Chinese boys were acquiring Western learning, manners, and athletic prowess, they were receiving training in the Chinese language and the Confucian classics.  The Commissioners prescribed one hour every day to be devoted to the study of Chinese.  However, because classroom exercises in Chinese could only be held in Hartford, every three months the students were required to travel to Hartford where two weeks were given over to the memorization and recitation of the ancient texts, with composition and writing of Chinese in the approved style.  In the summer, while their American classmates were enjoying the long vacation, the Chinese students were required to spend six weeks in Hartford attending Chinese class, from 9:00 to 12:00 in the morning, 2:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon, and 7:00 to 9:00 at night.  In addition, the boys were required to assemble on days specified by Chinese astrological formulas to hear the Commissioners read the sixteen moral maxims excerpted from the Kangxi 康熙 Emperor’s “Sacred Edict” 圣谕, and to perform ceremonial obeisance to the reigning Emperor.  These ritual activities had been stipulated in the terms of the Educational Mission’s creation with the express aim of “counteracting the seductive influence of foreign learning” on the youths.8

Tso Ki Foo
 This schedule of bilingual education was hard to bear.  Furthermore, the emphasis upon rote memorization of Confucian texts, together with the demand for unquestioning obedience to their teachers and to conventional etiquette, proved extremely distasteful to the Chinese boys as they grew into young men.  The mansion on Collins Street was splendid, comfortable, and well equipped.  But for the students it was “The Hell House,”9 where the monotony of their enforced study of the classical texts of their native culture contrasted painfully with the sense of personal freedom they had acquired in the schools, the homes, and the playing fields of New England.  Nevertheless, the strict training in their Chinese studies probably gave the students the linguistic and cultural competency necessary to enable them to function as bureaucrats in the various departments of Government where they were placed in later years.

High School Graduates

The Chinese students had adapted remarkably well to life in New England.  They had been warmly welcomed in the communities where they lived and studied; and despite increasingly strident anti-Chinese sentiments, voiced primarily in California, they do not appear to have encountered the kinds of abusive racial discrimination and violence directed against immigrant Chinese laborers in the West.  Discipline and perseverance in spite of the constraints of a system of bilingual education assured the academic success of the CEM students.  By the summer of 1879 the boys of the First Detachment had received their certificates of graduation from their high schools or academies.  In seven years they had reached a level of competence equal to that of their American schoolmates, while at the same time adhering to the demanding schedule of their Chinese studies.  As high school or academy graduates they were now fully qualified for higher levels of training or study in American institutions.  The students of the later detachments were expected to follow in their turn.  The next step in the Mission’s educational program would be gaining admission to a college or technical institute.



1. Yung Wing (1909), 189.

2. Robyn (1996), 42.  From 1881 the building's adddress was 352 Collins Street (on the site of today's St. Francis Hospital).

3. Yung Wing's own estimate in his letter to the editor, printed in article, "Chinese Education," Harper's Weekly, 18 May 1878, 398. Cf. Hung (1955), 61: "$43,000"; LaFargue (1987), 41: "$75,000".

4. Yung Kwai (2001), 16§.

5. Hung (1955), 62.

6. Phelps (1939), 85.

7. Ibid., 83.

8. Qian & Hu (2003), 75; Qian & Hu (2004), 86.

9. Yung Shang Him (1939), 8.