College Years
U.S. Industry & Technical Training

Lee Yen Fu
By the summer of 1879 ― except for the few who had discontinued for reasons of ill-health, misconduct or early death ― the students of the 1st Detachment had all graduated from high school with a certificate in hand. In 1880, the students of the 2nd Detachment had reached the same crossroads. Their further education now depended on their being qualified to enter either a college or a technical institution in the eastern United States.

Wong Kai Kah, Yale Book (1883)
By fortunate timing, the Chinese Educational Mission came into being during a period of rapid development in American technology and technical education.  The boys arrived on its shores when iron steamships, railways and trains, the telegraph, electric elevators, gas lights and a great variety of mechanized gadgets had already transformed life on the continent.  As the 1876 Centennial Exposition proudly demonstrated to the world, the United States was now a significant industrial power.  During the students' stay in America, Bell invented the telephone (1876) and Edison invented the phonograph (1878) and perfected the electric light bulb (1879) ― three innovations crucial to modern life. To supply a critical need for engineers, technicians and skilled operatives to feed the great industrial demands of the nation, many now well-known technical colleges and polytechnic institutes were created, some by private endowments, others by public funding.  A cross-section of notable colleges established in the decade of the 1860s:


        Year founded

Sheffield Scientific School, Yale College, New Haven, CT

  1861 (from earlier Yale Scientific School, 1854)

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY


1861 (from earlier technical school, 1824; institute, 1833)
Columbia College School of Mines, NYC

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, MA

  1861, opened 1865

Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA (scientific & technical curriculum)


Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, MA

  1865, opened 1868

Yale's Old Campus 1870's
  Thus, once the CEM students had received their school diplomas, they were presented with a wide field of choice among institutions that could provide them with further technical training. They had achieved grades well above the average in their high schools and academies, yet admission to higher levels, especially at the academic colleges, required passing stringent entrance examinations.  For example, after studying for about three years at Monson Academy, one of the best schools in the country, Yung Wing himself had great difficulty in passing his entrance exams for Yale College which required a pretty good knowledge of Latin, Greek and Mathematics.1  Since the Yale academic curriculum remained quite stable during the mid-19th century, the CEM applicants would have faced a similar hurdle.  Technical institutions also had a policy of admission by examination, though the subject requirements were rather different. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for instance, required applicants “to give evidence by examination or otherwise of a competent training” in mathematics, English grammar, geography and rudimentary French.2

Tseng Poo
  In regard to courses of study, the older colleges followed the traditional curricula of the classical languages and literatures and the “liberal arts and sciences” and aimed at “the discipline and furniture of the mind.”  The newer technical institutions offered courses in civil and mechanical engineering, applied mathematics, applied chemistry, surveying, geology and technical drawing, among other disciplines. These courses usually took three years as compared with the four-year academic degree programs.


CEM College Enrollment

Chung Mun Yew, Yale U Library
  Although their high school experiences had frequently been covered by the local press in the towns where they had lived, much less seems to have been reported about the Chinese youths’ collegiate experiences.  Consequently there seem to be more questions than answers about this phase of their education. However, it is certain that they were still required to return to Hartford during the summer vacation for their Chinese studies. Many unknowns await further inquiry, among them:

  • How did they select their colleges and courses of study?
  • To what extent did the CEM Commissioners determine their selections?
  • How many of them remained with their host families and how many took new lodgings elsewhere?
  • Were they held to the CEM rules of conduct that applied during their schooldays?
  • Did any fail to qualify for college and if so, what happened to them?

Chung Mun Yew with Yale Crew, 1880-81, Yale U Library
 In 1878 Yung Wing wrote to the State Department to secure its approval for the admission of some of the CEM boys to the Military Academy at West Point and the Naval Academy in Annapolis.3 When the application was curtly denied, the Chinese Government was deeply aggrieved, protesting that the U.S. Government had violated the Burlingame-Seward Treaty of 1868 which, in Article VII, had stipulated that Chinese subjects would “enjoy all the privileges of the public educational institutions under the control of the government of the United States.”  Since a key objective of the CEM was the acquisition of Western military expertise, the prohibition dealt a major setback to the viability of the Mission itself.  However, due to the lack of access to official CEM records, it is not known how many students might have been considered for either military academy or how they were to be selected.

Paun Min Chung
Statistics of CEM enrollment in colleges and polytechnic schools are incomplete and vary according to different sources.  The earliest source was a Chinese manuscript list prepared for Commissioner Chen Lanbin 陈兰彬 by a student named Kuang Bingyuan 鄺炳垣 in December 1880.  However, there is no student with that name on the CEM’s register and the list itself contains some inaccuracies.  As of that date, it listed 33 students enrolled or studying in nine colleges, 41 studying in high schools and 20 students not yet enrolled in colleges and high schools, making up a total of 104.4 The table below has been compiled from the latest available data.





Yale College, incl. Sheffield Scientific School




Columbia College, incl. School of Mines & Law School




Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute




Massachusetts Institute of Technology




Lehigh University




Amherst College




Worcester Polytechnic Institute




Harvard College




Brown University




Johns Hopkins University




Lafayette College




Stevens College of Technology








[NB: Columbia School of Mines also admitted Liang Pao Chew (Liang Puzhao 梁普照 II, 58), as recently discovered by his grandson Liang Zanxun 梁赞勋.]

Tan Yew Fun, LaFargue Collection
Several students that Qian and Hu included were not identified by name, awaiting further confirmation, but a high figure for those who entered a college would be upwards of 50.  Given the fact that about 100 potential CEM candidates would have been eligible for post-secondary education, this total is significant in several ways.

Anomalies in Enrollment

Yung Kwai
Firstly, the reason for the relatively low figure was that the Chinese Government prematurely closed the Mission in 1881, thus cutting out most of the students of the 3rd and 4th Detachments.  The multiple causes of this closure are discussed in the following chapter, “Termination and Recall.” Secondly, the majority of those in college came from the first two Detachments with seven from the 3rd Detachment, which means that the enrollment rate was extraordinarily high for the group ― in itself a testimony to their high academic standards.  One obvious anomaly is that over 40% of the CEM school graduates entered Yale College; it is hard to account for this imbalance when there were so many other fine institutions open to them at the time.  It is tempting to speculate that, being the first Chinese Yale graduate, Yung Wing himself might have worked to ensure a high rate of enrollment there.  Or it might also have been that many of his “boys” wanted to show their admiration for him and for Yale by applying for his alma mater.  But the true reasons lie beyond our present grasp.

Lee Kwai Pan
However, one very important question is raised by the data.  According to our best estimates, among the 52 or so undergraduates, some 25 were engaged in technical training: 4 at Yale-Sheffield, 1 at Columbia-Mines, 5 at Rensselaer, 8 at MIT, 3 at Lehigh, 2 at Worcester, 1 at Lafayette and 1 at Stevens.  In other words, only about half of these CEM men selected technological training, as compared with general academic courses.  In the case of Yale, less than a quarter of the CEM freshmen enrolled for the technical programs. In view of the original aim of the CEM to provide China with men qualified in Western science and technology, one would have expected a much higher ratio of students going into technical training.  The reasons for this discrepancy are unclear. 

Notable Experiences

Liang Pao Chew
Several specific details are also noteworthy. There were only three CEM students who graduated before the closure of the Mission. The first to enter a college, in 1874, and to graduate, in 1877, with a Ph.B. in civil engineering from Yale was Tseng Poo (Zeng Pu 曾溥 II, 46). Ouyang King (Ouyang Geng  欧阳庚I, 5) and Jeme Tien Yau (ZhanTianyou  詹天佑 I, 15) also obtained their Ph.B. degrees in engineering from Yale in 1881.  Chung Mun Yew (Zhong Wenyao 钟文耀 I, 2) enjoyed the historic distinction of being the first Chinese coxswain at Yale, leading the Varsity rowing crew to victory over Harvard in both the regattas of 1880 and 1881.  At fifteen years of age, Paun Min Chung (Pan Mingzhong 潘铭钟 I, 13) was the youngest CEM member to enter college (Rensselaer) but tragically died within one year of being admitted. Also remarkable is the fact that even though they had not completed their studies owing to the termination of the CEM, Chung Mun Yew, Wong Kai Kah (Huang Kaijia 黄开甲 I, 17),  Liang Tun Yen (Liang Dunyan 梁敦彦 I, 11) and Chang Hon Yen (Zhang Kangren 张康仁 I, 10) were retroactively granted their B.A. degrees with enrollment by Yale, respectively in 1904 (Chung and Wong), 1907 and 1913.  In addition, Liang received an honorary LL.D. from his alma mater in 1911. Though he barely finished high school when he was recalled to China, in 1903, after he returned as the Chinese Minister in the U.S., Liang Pe Yuk (Liang Pixu 梁丕旭 IV, 118) was awarded the honorary LL.D. by Amherst College, with which he had had a close relationship and, in 1906, the LL.D. (Hon.) by Yale.

Finally, seven students were no longer associated with the CEM by the time they graduated. Tan Yew Fun (Tan Yaoxun 谭耀勋I, 21) and Yung Kwai (Rong Kui 容揆II, 34) were both expelled from the Mission, in Tan’s case while in mid-course at Yale, but both remained in the U.S. and went on to receive their degrees from Yale.7  After their return to China with the closure of the CEM, Chang Hon Yen, Luk Wing Chuan (Lu Yongquan 陆永泉 I, 23), Lee Yen Fu (Li Enfu 李恩富II, 40) , Lee Kwai Pan (Li Guipan 李桂攀II, 48) and Jang Ting Shan (Zheng Tingxiang 郑廷襄 III, 88) all made their way back to the U.S. to resume their college education.  Chang earned a Bachelor of Laws from Columbia College (1886); Luk obtained a Ph.B. (1883) from Sheffield Scientific School; Lee Yen Fu graduated from Yale with a B.A. in 1887; in the same year, Jang graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a degree in mechanical engineering; as for Lee Kwai Pan, his academic results are unknown at the present time.  All told, the CEM students gave a fine account of themselves at college.



1.  Yung Wing (1909; 2000), 37.

2.  First Annual Catalogue…of the...Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1865), p. 10.

3.  Yung Wing (1909; 2000), 207-208.

4. Chuyang Huihua Zougao Xuesheng Xingming Lu" Mss. Chinese.

5.  Robyn (1996), 156-157.

6.  Qian & Hu (2003),106-109; Qian & Hu (2004), 114-117.

7.  See Chapter 5 “Termination and Recall.”