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An Administrative Success and a Political Failure: The Nationalist Policy Toward Studying Abroad, 1928-49 Hongshan Li As part of its effort to build a strong and prosperous nation, China began to send students abroad for higher education and training during the 1870s. Since the Qing court was weakened and exhausted by internal upheavals as well as external humiliation, early overseas study programs were largely supported and regulated by provincial governments. Overseas study remained decentralized until the first decade of the Republic. It was after the Nationalists came into power that the central government was able to put overseas study under its effective control. By the end of the 1930s, the central government, for the first time, replaced provincial governments in selecting, sponsoring, and supervising students sent abroad. Since then, China's overseas study programs have always been under the direct control and management of the central government. To the Nationalists, the establishment of central government administrative control over overseas study programs was not the purpose. It was, instead, merely the first step to consolidate their rule in China. With unprecedented administrative control in their hands, the Nationalists attempted to exert tight political control over students and scholars who were chosen to be sent abroad. Through the overseas study programs, they tried to tum those students and scholars into both academic leaders and also staunch political supporters of the Nationalist regime. However, despite painstaking effort made by the Nationalists, few students and scholars would lend their support to the Nationalist regime. Even fewer would follow the Nationalist regime to Taiwan when the Nationalists were soundly defeated by the Communists at the end of the 19408. Thus, Chen Lifu, the Minister of Education of the Nationalist government between 1938 and 1944, lamented nearly half a century later that most of the young talented people trained abroad during the 1940s served either the enemy, the Communists, or foreign countries, especially the United States. "It's a great pity," he complained, "that we [the Nationalists] could not use them."! The Nationalists' inability to use the students and scholars educated overseas was not the result of the lack of a central administration.2 The Nationalists, * The author is indebted to Gerard Clarfield, William Kirby, Douglas Reynolds, Stephen Averill, and anonymous readers for their valuable comments and sugges-tions . Twentieth-Century China, Vol. XXIII NO.1 (Nov. 1997): 63-99 64 Twentieth-Century China as pointed out by Robert Bedeski, expanded the power of the central government during the Republican era and laid a firm foundation fora modem sovereign state.3 Although the Nationalist government might have had difficulties extending its political power beyond the lower Yangtze valley, its control over education in general and overseas· study programs in particular actually reached an unprecedented level. The Nationalists' .failure to win sympathy and political support from students and scholars was caused by their attempt to extend tight control over students' thought and behavior. It is this authoritarian nature of Nationalist control, I argue, that alienated students and scholars and turned them from enthusiastic supporters for a strong and effective central government into staunch opponents to the Nationalist regime. ESTABLISHING EFFECTIVE CENTRAL ADMINISTRATION Inspired by Sun Yat-sen's Three Principles of the People, namely Nationalism , Democracy, and the People's Livelihood, the Nationalists were determined to build a unified and independent China under a strong central government . They began to establish centralized administration and planning for education , including overseas study programs, right after the Northern Expedition, the military campaign launched by the Nationalists against Northern warlords between 1926 and 1927. Beginning with the takeover of Qinghua University, the most important venue in sending government-sponsored students abroad, the Nationalist government adopted a series of laws and rules to regulate all the overseas study programs in China in the late 1920s and early 1930s. By the end of World War II, it had become the sole authority in managing and regulating all the nation's overseas study programs. China finally established an effective central administration over the overseas study movement. Prior to the Nationalist takeover in 1928, provincial and local governments played the most active role in sponsoring and managing overseas study programs. The first educational mission...


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