There were 70 Japanese and 108 Chinese in American universities in 1880, compared with a dozen Japanese and just about no Chinese in European universities.
The Japanese students were mostly privately financed and unsupervised, while the great majority of Chinese students were financed by the imperial government and supervised by government representatives. However, the supervisors did not attempt to dictate what the students studied: “in the selection of his studies, great liberty is allowed each student.”
The key figure in persuading the Chinese government to pay the students’ expenses was Yung Wing
who had graduated from Yale in 1850. Originally from Nanping in Xiangshan [now Zhongshan] county, Guangdong province, Yung was not only a pioneering overseas student himself but a good judge of talent. Many of the students he hand-picked for his American high school and university program were to become leaders in China’s drive to modernization. The first group arrived in 1872. Most or all of that group were from Guangdong.
Another important academic link was provided by Ko Kun-hua, who in 1879 was hired by Harvard University to teach Chinese to American students. He was supported by a fund organized by Francis Knight, a Boston businessman who thought that young Americans needed to know Chinese in order to do business in China. As Anhui native who had worked for the British and American consulates in Ningbo and Shanghai, Ko already knew some English and was a good traditionally-trained scholar. He arrived in Cambridge with his wife, five children, two servants, and an interpreter, to teach at the then-princely salary of.$200 per month. He seems to have fitted in well at Harvard where he joined local poetry clubs and made friends with European-American intellectuals. Ko died of flu in 1882 but before his death at least one student from Yung Wing’s program, a Zhejiang native named Ting Sung-ki, had come to Harvard to study with him.
Charles Thwing noted in 1880 that Yung Wing’s students were doing well. Unlike their Japanese peers, who wore western-style clothes “in excellent taste,” the typical Chinese student “still braids his cue [pigtail] and wears his loose trowsers and blouse.” He also “learns the English language with greater ease, and uses it with greater facility, while the [Japanese student], after a residence of even five or six years, experiences, in the case of not a few individuals, difficulty in conducting an ordinary conversation. Both [Chinese and Japanese] manifest much deference to authority, and are models of decorum and politeness. The Japanese belong relatively to a higher caste; the majority of the Chinese students are from the middle class of the empire.”
In reality, however, the Chinese students had also begun to wear western clothes, date western girls, and absorb anti-imperial notions. The Qing government ordered all of them back to China in 1881. As the New York Times (July 3, 1881) commented, “It is unreasonable to suppose that the bright young men like those educated in the U.S. at the cost of the Chinese government should content themselves with absorbing the principles of engineering, mathematics and other sciences remaining, meanwhile, wholly irresponsive to the political and social influences by which they are surrounded. China cannot borrow our learning, our science, and our material forms of industry without importing with them the virus of political rebellion. Therefore she will have none of these things.”
No more Chinese government-funded students were to come to America until 1909, when the U.S. government decided that the Boxer Indemnity — the penalty payments exacted from the Qing government after the Boxer Rebellion of 1902 — should be used for educating Chinese students. Many hundreds came after that. In the Midwest, these attended most of the universities mentioned in the immigration records analyzed by Christoff (see below, “Early Interracial Marriages”) — the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Lake Forest Academy, the Armour Institute (now the Illinois Institute of Technology), North Central College, the Lewis Institute, the University of Illinois, Valparaiso University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Michigan, Hope College in Michigan, Garrett Biblical Institute, Taylor University in Indiana, Purdue University, and others.
All of the pre-1881 government-funded students probably passed through Chicago on the way to the East Coast schools and universities where Yung Wing had arranged for them to study. None of them is known to have stayed in the Midwest. But what about other, privately-funded or missionary-funded students, before or after 1881? We know that such students existed between 1881 and 1909 — a famous example is Charlie Soong (Song Yaoru), the father of the sisters who married Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, who graduated from Tennessee’s Vanderbilt University in 1885-6. But we do not have data showing that privately-funded students studied in the Midwestern states in pre-Boxer Indemnity times.
Current research in the Immigration Service’s archives, which contain a great deal of historical data on Chinese students at Midwestern universities, should tell us about any who came before 1909. Drs. Mary Stone and Ida Kahn, both of them Chinese from China, studied at the U. of Michigan in the early 1890s.
T. K. Chu Symposium, 150 years of Chinese Students in America, Harvard China Review, 2002
Ko Kun-hua, Collected Writings, ed. by Zhang Hongsheng (Jiangsu Guji Publishers, Nanjing, 2000) [in Chinese]
Charles F. Thwing “Chinese and Japanese Students in America,” Scribner’s Monthly, 1880, Vol. 20, No. 3, pp 450-3.
Research & writing by Ben Bronson and Chuimei Ho; copyright 2004-2006 by the Chinatown Museum Foundation.