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After the CEM: Lives and Careers Print E-mail

Proving Their Worth         

Tong Shao Yi
  Before very long, the ex-CEM students began to earn the respect of senior officials by virtue of their honesty, ability and dedication to duty.  Building up a modern navy for self-defense was China’s most urgent priority.  As many as 43 men had initially been sent to the naval schools in Fuzhou and Tianjin.  Among those who remained in the Navy, 16 fought for their country; four of them perished in the Sino-French War in 1884 and three died in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-5. Yung Wing’s “Chinese foreign devils” had now proved their loyalty by putting their lives at risk and dying for China.

Young Yew Huan
  They also played a notable role in developing a modern infrastructure for their country.  A high national priority was telegraph communications, which were seen as a strategic necessity. The return of the CEM fraternity coincided with the first stages of laying cables to connect major Chinese cities.  Of the 20 individuals who worked in the telegraph service, nine rose to senior management and several were promoted to high-ranking mandarins after the turn of the century. To arm itself against foreign domination, China also needed iron and coal mines to build and power its warships and trains to quickly transport men and materiel to its seaports, not to mention the need for their peaceful uses.  Eight CEM alumni were numbered among China’s first generation of mining engineers and operatives.

Won Bin Chung
  After its humiliating defeat in 1895 by Japan, and later by the eight-nation coalition that suppressed the Boxer uprising of 1900, China became a virtual colony.  Each of the foreign powers extorted concessions, and some used railway projects as a tool for penetrating the country and gaining control of its hard assets.  To help stem this imperialist tide, the Government relied on the American-educated students, who greatly contributed to the railways sector as well as to foreign affairs.  As many as 30 CEM men at one time or another worked for the railways, and a dozen of them became managing directors of various lines across the country.  Foremost among them was the Yale graduate, Jeme Tien Yau (Zhan Tianyou 詹天佑 I, 15), China’s pioneer railway builder and designer, who gave 31 years of his busy life to the nation.  His construction of the Beijing-Zhangjiakou Railway 京张铁路 across the most challenging terrain, solely with Chinese funding, manpower and resources and in record time, has earned him the status of a national hero whose name is a household word among Chinese people.

Yung Kwai
  Members of the CEM fraternity also proved adept in foreign policy and diplomacy.  Soon after their return home, they were sought out as secretaries or aides by reformist leaders like Li Hongzhang, Zhang Zhidong 张之洞, Sheng Xuanhuai 盛宣懷 and Yuan Shikai 袁世凯. These officials were shrewd enough to value their modern outlook and knowledge of foreign languages and cultures.  No less than 21 CEM alumni were sent abroad to form a significant part of China’s Consular Service.  The most capable and highest-ranking among this former CEM band of government emissaries and senior administrators was Tong Shao Yi (Tang Shaoyi 唐绍仪 III, 61).  They were instrumental in defending China’s interests against Russia and Japan in Manchuria and Korea and against Britain in Tibet.  They were active in protecting the rights of the overseas Chinese in USA, South American countries, the Philippines and elsewhere.   It was Liang Pe Yuk (Liang Pixu 梁丕旭 IV, 118), a.k.a. Liang Cheng 梁诚, known abroad as Sir Chentung Liang Cheng, who, as the Chinese Minister to the United States, 1903-1907, initiated the process of recovering the overpayments of the Boxer Indemnity funds 庚子赔款 paid to that country.  Liang also helped to persuade the Chinese Government to spend the rebates on opening new schools, and on funding overseas study in America. Sir Chentung's acuity in uncovering the excess amount together with his personal skills in diplomacy contributed to saving for China some 27 million U.S. Dollars, inclusive of interest over the payment period.

Liang Pe Yuk
  Given their relevant experience and deep interest, members of the CEM fraternity became key players in advancing modern higher education in China.  Tsai Shou Kee (Cai Shaoji 蔡紹基 I, 1) had a hand in establishing the Zhong Xi School 中西学堂 in Tianjin, which in 1903 was reorganized as Beiyang University 北洋大学, and eventually he became its first Director.  When the Qing Government replaced the old imperial examination system with a modern one in 1906, Tang Shaoyi was appointed by the Ministry of Education as Chief Examination Officer, while Zhan Tianyou and the British-educated Yan Fu 严复 were appointed as Deputy Examiners of the returned foreign-educated students.5   To select and prepare students for study in America under the Boxer Indemnity scheme, another CEM alumnus, Liang Tun Yen (Liang Dunyan 梁敦彦 I, 11) established the Qinghua School 清华学堂 in Beijing, which eventually became Qinghua University 清华大学.  As Minister of Foreign Affairs (1908), and then President of the Board of Foreign Affairs (1909), Liang negotiated with the United States Minister at Beijing for about $12,000,000 of the Boxer Indemnity funds to be set aside for the purpose of sending Chinese students to America.  In 1910, he placed his CEM colleague Tong Kwo On (Tang Guoan 唐国安 II, 49) in charge of the School and of the selection of students to America.  The first Principal of Qinghua University was therefore a CEM alumnus.  At the other end of the scheme, Yung Kwai (Rong Kui 容揆 II, 34), Secretary and Councillor at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, was appointed to manage the disbursement of the scholarship funds and put in charge of student affairs.6 In 1909, yet another CEM alumnus, Tong Yuen Chan (Tang Yuanzhan 唐元湛 II, 53) was appointed by the Office for Selection of Students for America (on Boxer Indemnity scholarships) as its Commissioner in Shanghai.7 It is peculiarly apt that this pioneer group of Government-funded students played such a crucial role in facilitating the next generation of Government-sponsored youth to study in America.