Termination and Recall

Students' Progress

1881: Group Departing from San Francisco
In the summer of 1881, only nine years into the career of the CEM, the Chinese Government disbanded the Educational Mission and recalled all the students. The causes of this premature closure were complicated, but they had nothing to do with the academic performance of the students themselves.

Chen Lanbin
On the contrary, the 120 boys were generally well-settled in their new homes and local schools and academies.  In the much freer, if still disciplined, environment of privileged New England society they had acquired a great variety of American traits.  They were well-liked and respected for their good manners, their academic achievements, and their keen participation in sports, outdoor recreation, dance parties and other extracurricular activities.

Administrators in Conflict

Yung Wing
However, from the outset, Commissioner Chen Lanbin 陈兰彬 and Associate Commissioner Yung Wing 容闳 strongly disagreed as to the amount of freedom permitted to the students.  Chen, a conservative Hanlin 翰林 scholar, wanted to keep a tight leash on the youths; Yung fought to allow them the freedom to integrate with American society.  Yung seemed to have won the early fight on issues such as “the school and personal expenses of the students; their vacation expenses; their change of costume [from Chinese to Western]; their attendance at family worship; their attendance at Sunday School and church services; their outdoor exercises and athletic games.  These and other questions of a social nature came up for settlement.  I had to stand as a kind of buffer between Chin and the students, and defended them in all their reasonable claims.  It was in this manner that I must have incurred Chin’s displeasure if not his utter dislike.”1  Although the students looked up to him, the conservative officials always viewed Yung Wing with some suspicion as being more foreign than Chinese in mentality.  These suspicions were reinforced when, on 24 February 1875, Yung married Mary L. Kellogg, a young American lady who might have tutored some of the boys.  Yung’s critics must have seen his marriage to a foreigner as the worst kind of example he, as their mentor, could set his admiring protégés.  Thus, from the beginning, these conflicts over the issues of individual freedom, participation in religious observances and assimilation of American culture had destabilized the functioning of the CEM.

Mary L. Kellogg at time of marriage to Yung Wing, LaFargue Collection
This disharmony at the top did not bode well, especially since the administration of the CEM became quite disjointed.  The Chinese Government made a series of personnel changes to the Mission that introduced different senior officers and redefined their responsibilities.  In effect, the CEM became a springboard for launching China’s first diplomatic mission abroad.  In 1874, Yung was sent to investigate the mistreatment of Chinese labourers in Peru and Chen was assigned to do the same in Cuba.  After these assignments, in 1875, Chen left the CEM, returning to China for other duties and was then reappointed as Minister to the United States, Spain and Peru.  At the same time Yung was appointed Deputy Minister. Chen was succeeded as CEM Commissioner by Ou Eliang 区谔良, fall 1875 to spring 1879, and Rong Zengxiang 容增祥, February - March 1879, who resigned because of a death in the family.  Yung, meanwhile, remained Associate Commissioner, while simultaneously serving as Acting Minister until 1878, when Chen returned to the States to officially present his credentials as Minister Plenipotentiary.  Thereafter, until the closing of the CEM, Yung did double duty as both Deputy Minister and Associate Commissioner, though no longer located in Hartford.  As Yung Wing became preoccupied with foreign affairs in Washington, the students had lost their staunch defender.

Mark Twain
The fourth and final Commissioner appointed within seven years, Wu Jiashan 吴嘉善, aka Wu Zideng 吴子登 (also spelled Woo Tsze Tung), arrived in the Fall of 1879.  Wu was a puzzling figure: he was a brilliant Hanlin scholar who nevertheless taught himself foreign languages, was deeply interested in Western science and published extensively on mathematics.  Yet in social and cultural matters he was rigidly conservative.  Perhaps for that reason, his appointment was strongly recommended by Chen Lanbin.  Wu proved even more hard-line than Chen for, in April 1880, he issued a set of stringent regulations governing the students’ expenses and behavior.  As well, he addressed the students in an open letter published in the Hartford Daily Courant in which he lectured them to work hard at their studies and remember their “Chinese etiquette.”  Despite the mild language, his use of such a public medium to admonish them sent a clear warning that he would be strict with them.  Perhaps not without reason, Yung Wing believed that Chen had brought Wu in to shut down the CEM for good.  Whatever the case may be, both Chen and Wu looked upon the boys’ Westernization with repugnance and alarm.  In their opinion, the students were becoming too American, they were neglecting their Chinese heritage, and becoming “denationalized.”

Conduct Unbecoming

President U.S. Grant
  Aggravating this ideological conflict, during the closing years of the Mission, certain acts of indiscretion and insubordination, committed by some of the more spirited students, had a negative effect on the future of the CEM.  Over the years, some youths had been returned to China owing to poor health or misconduct, but the first one known to be dismissed for disobeying Mission rules was Sze Kin Yung (Shi Jinyong 史锦镛 I, 29).  Sze had visiting cards printed, calling himself “Sydney C. Shih,” perhaps showing the extent to which he had assumed a Westernized identity.  In 1876 Sze participated in Church activities, exchanged letters with a female schoolmate, and socialized with other females.  Although the situation was unclear, it would appear that in 1877 he was dismissed from the Mission and denied entry to Yale, which he had hoped to enter.  On his journey home, Sze cut off his queue and dressed in Western clothing, probably as a gesture of defiance.  Since the Qing regime considered the severing or loss of a man’s queue an act of disloyalty, Governor Li Hongzhang 李鸿章, the official responsible for the CEM, pronounced the whole Sze affair “abhorrent.”2  We know that several students were returned to China for various acts of misconduct though no further details about them have come to our attention.  Hence, besides the known case of Sze Kin Yung, there could well have been other students who had been sent home for similar breaches of cultural boundaries, thus bringing the Mission into disrepute among government officials back home.

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.