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After the CEM: Lives and Careers Print E-mail

Twilight Years and Revolution

The surviving members of the CEM community had reached their middle age during the most turbulent years of the political scene, both before and after the Revolution.  Although Yung Wing himself supported the short-lived “Hundred Days’ Reforms” and continued to work for a republican regime, it is a curious fact that only one of his “boys,” Young Yew Huan (Rong Yaoyuan 容耀垣 III, 66), better known as Yung Hoy (Rong Kai 容開) or Yung Sing Kew (Rong Xingqiao 容星橋), joined the revolutionary cause.  Early on he had abandoned a government career to become a merchant, and much later became an aide and advisor to Sun Yat-sen and introduced Sun to his distant cousin Yung Wing. As for his peers, it would be fair to ask why none of the other American-educated men showed active support for Sun and his movement. The reason could hardly be that the returned CEM students preferred an autocratic monarchy to a constitutional democracy.  It is more likely because of the central role that they played in the Government — whose sovereignty they endeavored to defend against foreign powers, and whose administration they tried equally hard to render as honest and benevolent to their countrymen as possible under the circumstances.  However, in 1911, when Tong Shao Yi realized that the Qing regime was beyond repair, he cut his queue and, as the Government’s representative, signed an agreement with Sun’s negotiators to recommend the abolition of the Qing monarchy.  In fact after the Republic of China was established, he was appointed its first Prime Minister.

Making History

By the turn of the century, when a significant number of the CEM alumni had died from various causes, several of them made efforts to publicize the history of the CEM and to preserve biographical records for all 120 students.  Prior to these efforts, the first published, brief account of the voyage to America, “Chinaland, Across the Sea,” was written by New Shan Chow (Niu Shangzhou 牛尚周 I, 12) for his school magazine, The Exonian, issued May 29, 1880.  About 1884-1885, Yung Kwai (Rong Kui 容揆 II, 34) composed his “Recollections of the Chinese Educational Mission,” dedicated to his future American wife, and probably intended only for private circulation.  Adopting a third-person perspective, Yung’s extended essay about the entire Mission nevertheless drew upon his personal experiences and opinions, and included some trenchant criticism of the Mission’s conservative administration.  His reminiscence was not so much a record of events as an evaluation of the CEM’s accomplishment.  In his personal memoir, When I Was a Boy in China (1887; reissued 2003 as a print-on-demand publication), Lee Yen Fu (Li Enfu 李恩富 II, 40) briefly recalled his impressions of the CEM prep school in Shanghai, of the journey and of the boys’ initial experiences upon arrival in America.  However, none of these can be considered comprehensive histories in any real sense.

Possibly the earliest synoptic account of the CEM to be published was provided by Tong Kwo On (Tang Guoan 唐国安 II, 49) in two articles in English.  Because of the difficulty in locating copies of these articles, they have been almost completely overlooked by earlier CEM studies.  The long essay, "History and Outcome of the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States," appeared in The Chinese Times of Tianjin in two instalments on February 11th and 18th, 1888.  None of the students were named in this early account, though quite a number were identified in the second article written 17 years later.  Since it was reprinted as an anonymous pamphlet, it is reasonable to infer that the original two parts had also appeared incognito.  Given the backlash in the Government against foreign education after the closing of the CEM, and given that most of the alumni were still in low-level jobs, working under suspicions about their loyalty, Tong's decision to conceal both his name and theirs is understandable.  His narrative moves from the early education of Yung Wing, through the Mission's inception and closure, to a brief survey of the post-CEM conditions of the students to date.  This account is valuable for its many inside glimpses into the workings of the Mission and for its reflection of the students' perspectives.8

Much later, using his alias "Tong Kai-son", Tong Kwo On penned a second essay entitled, "The Christian Experiences of the Students of the Chinese Educational Mission to the U.S.", which appeared in two parts in the Chinese YMCA's periodical, China's Young Men, vol. 8, No. 3 and No. 4 (1905).9  Narrower in focus, this article offers a unique view of the CEM as seen through the impact of Christianity on the students' spiritual formation and on their daily lives.  As a prominent leader among them, Tong revealed many fascinating details about the experiences and mindset of these Christian converts and activists.  Both articles suggested that the religious aspect of the students' development while in America was a significant factor in the CEM's evolution and ultimate fate.

Possibly the earliest roster of the returned students giving their Detachment number, date and year of birth, with notes detailing later job positions for some, was compiled in Chinese by Tong Yuen Chan (Tang Yuanzhan 唐元湛 II, 53) sometime after 1904.  In 1923, Won Bing Chung (Wen Bingzhong 温秉忠 II, 36) gave a lecture in English on his CEM experiences to students of the Customs College, Beijing, and in 1924, compiled in Chinese a new students’ list giving further details.  Among those still active after the Qing era, Young Shang Him (Rong Shangqian 容尚谦 I, 6), was especially diligent in maintaining contact with the survivors and in collecting papers, photographs and other memorabilia connected with the Mission.  He gave a talk in English at the Shanghai American School in 1937 where he recounted the story of Yung Wing and the CEM in outline.  In 1939 Captain Yung produced a long article titled “The Chinese Educational Mission and its Influence,” first published in the T’ien Hsia Monthly and later issued together with his autobiography as a separate pamphlet.  The most detailed account of Yung Wing and the CEM then available, it included brief biographical notes on all 120 students arranged by Detachment.

Beyond their circle, the past exploits of the pioneer students were gaining the attention of the Rev. Arthur G. Robinson (1884-1964), an American missionary associated with the YMCA who had been working among students both in Hartford and in Tianjin.  Having gathered a sizeable amount of material about the CEM and having cultivated the friendship of several surviving alumni, on May 31, 1932 Robinson gave a long talk on the CEM at the North China Union Language School at Beijing.  The event was written up and published with his speech under the headline, "Pilgrims to Western Seats of Learning. China's First Educational Mission to U.S." by the Peking and Tientsin Times on June 24, 1932.  Reissued as a pamphlet on July 12, 1932 with the title, “The Senior Returned Students: A Brief Account of the Chinese Educational Commission (1872-1881) under Dr. Yung Wing,” it was intended as a dry run for a complete history by Rev. Robinson in both English and Chinese.  However, his heavy workload at the YMCA compelled Robinson to withdraw and to transfer all his materials to Dr. Thomas E. LaFargue, an American historian of China, who agreed to take over the project.  In 1940, LaFargue visited the aged survivors and interviewed them.  Thanks to their joint efforts, a great deal of information, including photographs and personal papers, was assembled and passed on for Dr. LaFargue to use in writing China’s First Hundred, the first book-length history in English of the Chinese Educational Mission, originally published in 1942, reissued in 1987.



1.  Shi (2000), 174.

2.  Cf. LaFargue (1987), 55-59.

3.  Shi (2000), 174.

4.  LaFargue (1987), 160.

5.  Qian & Hu (2003), 211; Qian & Hu (2004), 224.

6.  Boundless Learning (2003), 116 (item 101).

7.  Boundless Learning (2003), 115 (item 99).

8.  Our copy of the pamphlet was kindly provided by Reed Tang, great grandson of Wong Yau Chang (Huang Youzhang 黄有章 II, 41).  Tong’s authorship is referenced in Directory (1905), 3, and also in Daggett (1914), 419-421.

9.  Digital copy kindly supplied by Tang Shaoming, grand-nephew of Tong Kwo On.