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Stepping Forth into the World

The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81

Edward J. M. Rhoads

Publication Year: 2011

The Chinese Educational Mission was the earliest effort at educational modernization in China. As part of the Self-Strengthening Movement, the Qing government sent 120 young boys to New England to live and study for a decade, before abruptly summoning them home to China in 1881. The returned students helped staff numerous other modernization projects; some rose to top administrative and political posts in the Qing government. This book, based upon extensive research in US archives and newspapers, sheds new light on the students during their nine-year stay in the United States, and it compares their lives with those of the Japanese students in New England at about the same time. This detailed study of one of the most important projects in China's Self-Strengthening Movement will appeal to historians of modern China as well as to comparative historians of China and Japan. The book also contrasts the experiences of the Chinese Educational Mission students with those of other Chinese in the United States during a period of anti-Chinese sentiment, which was to culminate in the enactment of Chinese Exclusion in 1882. Its conclusion that the anti- Chinese movement may have been as much class-based as race-based will provide much food for thought to scholars of Asian American studies.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

List of Illustrations, Maps, and Tables

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pp. ix-xi

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pp. xiii-xvi

East Coast of the United States in the 1870s, the shoemakers of North Adams, Massachusetts. As I tediously scoured the microfilmed pages of the Springfield Republican from the early years of that decade—this was in the not-so-distant era before newspapers were digitized and easily searchable—I came across frequent references ...

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pp. 1-6

Study abroad, or more precisely overseas study in the United States, has been from the start a key feature of the “reform and opening” (gaige kaifang) policy that China has been pursuing since 1978. Before then the People’s Republic had sent an untold number of students to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, but because of its diplomatic and economic isolation from the rest of the world, ...

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Chapter 1. Origins

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pp. 7-12

The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States was an unprecedented undertaking by the Chinese government. Down through the nineteenth century, Chinese education had at its core the Confucian classics and their ethical teachings; its purpose was to prepare students for the civil service examinations and, if the students were successful, for a career in the government. To seek ...

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Chapter 2. Recruitment

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pp. 13-30

To carry out the work of the Chinese Educational Mission—which in Chinese was called Youtong chuyang yiye (lit., Youths going abroad to study)—two ad hoc “bureaus” (ju) were established, one in Shanghai and the other, later on, in the United States. Heading the Shanghai office—the Going Abroad Bureau (Chuyang ju)—was Liu Hanqing (also known as Liu Kaisheng), a longtime member of Governor-General...

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Chapter 3. Preparatory Training

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pp. 31-37

Applicants for the Chinese Educational Mission were sent to Shanghai, where in December 1871 a school was established, which both screened the candidates and prepared them for their studies abroad.1 What intellectual baggage did the students Despite its distance from the Pearl River delta, where most of the candidates were from, Shanghai was designated as the site of the school because it was ...

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Chapter 4. En Route to the New World

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pp. 39-47

When Zeng Laishun and Yung Wing first traveled to the United States in the 1840s, it was a slow and circuitous journey. Both went by sailing ship, and the route took them through Southeast Asia, across the Indian Ocean, around Africa and across the Atlantic Ocean. Yung Wing’s trip from Guangzhou to New York aboard the Huntress took ninety-eight days.1 A quarter of a century later, when ...

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Chapter 5. The American Host Families

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pp. 49-75

While the first cohort of CEM students was making its way to the United States in the summer of 1872, Yung Wing, who had been designated the associate commissioner, had gone on ahead to prepare for its arrival. Earlier in the year Yung had written to his old philosophy professor at Yale, Noah Porter, who, unbeknownst to Yung, had just been elevated to the position of president of the university. In his letter Yung informed Porter of the broad outlines of the CEM project ...

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Chapter 6. The Chinese Educational Commission

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pp. 77-86

Although Springfield was where all the boys detrained and some were assigned to their host families, Hartford, thirty miles to the south, was where the CEM located its American headquarters. More so than Springfield, Hartford was in the center of the region where the boys were first sent; served by the New York, New Haven and Hartford railroad, it was relatively accessible to them all in their new homes. ...

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Chapter 7. Elementary and Secondary Schooling

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pp. 87-113

The two New England states where the CEM boys were sent were at the forefront of American educational reform in the second half of the nineteenth century. Influenced by Horace Mann and Henry Barnard respectively, Massachusetts and Connecticut had by mid-century each established a statewide system of free, compulsory, co-educational schools at the elementary level. Furthermore, by the ...

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Chapter 8. The Students in College

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pp. 115-133

A college education was still very uncommon in the United States in the 1870s; at the beginning of the decade, according to historian Frederick Rudolph, “but 1.7 per cent of the young people aged 18–21 were enrolled in colleges and universities.”1 Nevertheless, by the time the Centennial Exhibition ended in November 1876, three of the CEM students had already advanced beyond high school and had enrolled in college. In the next half-decade others followed. What ...

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Chapter 9. Becoming Americanized?

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pp. 135-165

The possibility of cultural assimilation—that during their extended stay abroad the boys could become Americanized—was a concern to the promoters of the Chinese Educational Mission from the very beginning. According to the original regulations promulgated by Zeng Guofan and Li Hongzhang, students were, it may be recalled, barred from applying for naturalization as a foreigner. But the ...

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Chapter 10. Recall and Return

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pp. 167-181

The Chinese Educational Mission came to an end in the summer of 1881, when all the students were ordered back to China. What were the circumstances for their recall? How did they return home? ...

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Chapter 11. The Returned Students

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pp. 184-214

The CEM students were mere boys when they left home for the United States. When they returned, they were young adults; the median age of the ninety-four who came back in 1881 was nineteen and a half sui. The six to nine years they were abroad had changed them enormously. They had to a great (though varying) extent acquired a Western education. Notwithstanding the Chinese ...

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pp. 215-222

The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States in the 1870s is usually considered only within the context of modern Chinese history, but it was more than simply a Chinese event. By its very nature it was a transnational undertaking, and as such it should be examined also from the perspective of Asian American From the point of view of modern Chinese history, the significance of the ...


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pp. 223-277


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pp. 279-302


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pp. 303-313

E-ISBN-13: 9789888053445
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888028863

Page Count: 332
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Chinese students -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Students, Foreign -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Chinese Educational Commission.
  • United States -- Relations -- China.
  • China -- Relations -- United States.
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