The 1872 Chinese Education Mission
Updated: Mar 26
A Look Back on its 150th Anniversary
The Chinese Education Mission (CEM) sent 120 young Chinese boys to America beginning in 1872 to train them in order to help China modernize. In this, the 150th anniversary year of the CEM, the Chinese Historical Society of New England (CHSNE) has launched an effort to further explore this momentous time. A CHSNE webinar on March 19, 2022, profiled three of the seven (or eight) of the students who either did not return to China or ultimately came back to America after the Qing government cancelled the program in 1881. The Chinese leaders feared that the boys were becoming too Americanized (though rising anti-Chinese sentiment in America which led to the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 likely also played a role).
These 120 boys indeed became men who were leaders in industry, science, government, and more in China both before and after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Of the three men profiled,
Yan Phou Lee became a noted children's author. He once wrote that "I desire to follow up a literary career, and I think I can do a great deal of good in this country by simply correcting erroneous American ideas concerning Chinese affairs." His book, When I Was a Young Boy in China (1887), was the first book written and published by a Chinese person in America.
Hong Yen Chang, was the first Chinese person regularly admitted to the bar as a lawyer in America (1888). It only took a New York judge to grant him naturalization when that was illegal for a Chinese person, a special act of the NY legislature allowing him to sit for the bar exam, a NY governor who allowed the law to be enacted without signature, and another NY judge to ultimately allow him into the Bar after an earlier NY judge said no. When Hong later tried to join the California bar, the CA Supreme Court said no because he was neither white nor a US citizen.
Yung Kwai defected in Springfield, MA, when the then-21-year-old was on the train back to the West Coast and China after the Qing recall. He had previously converted to Christianity and later was baptized and cut his queue. Yet he fulfilled his promise to his original benefactor and served the Chinese government in various diplomatic capacities in America almost continuously between 1884 and 1943.