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Termination and Recall Print E-mail

Christian Activists

President Noah Porter Yale University
Around this time, a group of “rebels with a religious cause” came into being.  Contrary to the Mission’s prohibition against embracing Christianity, a number of students, not content with their own conversions, became eager to convert their compatriots as well.  In the winter of 1877, five youths attending Williston Academy wished to join a local church and make a public profession of their faith, but were dissuaded by Yung Wing.  Instead, they met informally for prayer and Bible study and succeeded in converting three other CEM boys.  In May 1878, now numbering 13, they formed The Chinese Christian Home Mission, an organization dedicated to the conversion of China to Christ.  However, not long after his arrival, Commissioner Wu uncovered its existence and set about bringing its ringleaders to heel. One of the founders was Tan Yew Fun (Tan Yaoxun 谭耀勋 I, 21), a fervent believer and already a freshman at Yale.  In the Spring of 1880, when Tan returned for Chinese lessons in Hartford, Wu confronted him.  During the Confucian rituals required of staff and students at CEM Headquarters, Wu was enraged when Tan showed reluctance to bow to the tablet of Confucius.  For this affront to traditional piety Tan was expelled from the CEM.3

Sze Kin Yung
Concurrently, other students wholeheartedly embraced the Christian faith during their senior high years.  They formed a society, complete with a constitution, by-laws and administrative officers, and bearing the Latin name, Societas Condita Causa Augendarum Rerum Chinensium Christiana (“Society Founded for the Increase of Chinese Christianity”).4  Whether this was a reorganized Home Mission under a different name is uncertain, but this body also declared its purpose to be the conversion of their fellow-Chinese in America and in China.  In 1880 its treasurer, Yung Kwai (Rong Kui 容揆 II, 34), joined the South Congregational Church in Springfield, cut off his queue and wrote to his father, announcing his decision to become a Christian.  As a consequence of their open defiance, Tan and Yung were dismissed and sent back to China.  However, they managed to slip away in Springfield on 21 August, went into hiding and received support from sympathizers, enabling them to complete their university degrees.

External Pressures

Tan Yew Fun
In addition to the dissension within the CEM, external pressures contributed to its untimely demise.  By October 1877, a rise in commodity prices had led Li Hongzhang to petition the Government for a 24% increase in funding.  As a result, the Court’s support of the Mission was questioned by various high officials, including Commissioner Wu.  They also believed that the students’ adoption of foreign mores made their loyalty suspect, jeopardized their future usefulness as civil servants and therefore represented a waste of government money.

Yung Kwai
In 1878, when Yung Wing applied to the State Department for the students’ admission to the Military Academy at West Point and the Naval Academy at Annapolis, their response was a curt “No.”  This was a violation of the Burlingame Treaty which had guaranteed access to both countries’ public educational establishments.  Since one of the core objectives of the CEM was the acquisition of Western military expertise, the rejection of the Chinese applicants called the whole Mission into question.  Yung attributed the about-face in U.S. policy to the violent protests against Chinese laborers on the West Coast and to the opportunism of American politicians riding the resulting wave of xenophobia.  The U.S. Government’s willingness to exploit anti-Chinese prejudice provoked China’s anger and a sense of betrayal, which undercut its commitment to the continued existence of the Mission.   

Mission Aborted

Meanwhile, unknown to Yung Wing, Wu Zideng was dispatching to Li Hongzhang and to Wu's political allies in Court a stream of reports, casting the students in the worst light and accusing Yung of indulging their neglect of Chinese studies and their adoption of foreign ways. His most explosive allegation was that “they formed themselves into secret societies, both religious and political.”5   When he learned of their effect at Court, Yung vigorously rebutted the accusations, but Li placed more trust in Yung’s superior and opponent, Chen Lanbin, whose opinions Li sought.  At a great distance from the situation, Li instructed Chen, Wu and Yung to resolve the crisis, but Yung was largely kept in the dark.  Initially, a partial withdrawal was considered, allowing those already in post-secondary institutions to complete their studies.  In a final effort to save the Mission, Yung rallied the support of his prominent American friends—including Mark Twain, President Noah Porter of Yale and President Julius Seelye of Amherst College—who dispatched a joint petition to the Zongli Yamen 总理衙门 (Bureau of Foreign Affairs), praising the students for their progress and good behaviour, and strongly urging the Chinese Government to let the CEM finish its task.  Even former President Ulysses Grant lent his weight by sending a personal appeal to his friend, Governor Li.  Li seemed receptive to their appeals but he was outranked by Prince Gong 恭親王, head of the Yamen, who favoured termination.  On 8 June 1881, the Court ordered the Mission to disband and to recall the students.

On 8 August 1881, the first group of CEM boys—now confident young men—began their long journey home.  Of the original 120 students, their number reduced by early death or departures due to ill health or misconduct, only about 100 returned to China.



1. Yung Wing (1909; 2000), 202.

2. Quoted in Qian & Hu (2003), 84-87.

3. Sawyer (1917), [9].

4. Young (2001), 2-3.

5. Yung Wing (1909; 2000), 204.