Author: Howe Wee Chong
Date: 05-11-07 00:14
This story (Part V of the series) gives an insight of the roles these Boy Students played in the last 50 years of the Qing dynasty.
Story of the Boy Students (Part V)
After finding out that there were women teachers in the school, Li Hongzhang wrote to the bureau in 1875 asking whether the women teachers could be replaced by men. He also said there were three months of vacation at American schools.
So he instructed the bureau to enhance the students’ education in Chinese. After learning that some students who left school earlier than scheduled were hired by foreigners at a high monthly salary, Li ordered that those students be put under strict control. He sent them to various arsenals. The slow students were only provided with food ration, so as not to set a bad example for students continuing with their studies.
The score reports of the 1878 graduates show that the Chinese students were the top in almost each school they attended.
The Hartford graduation ceremony was a grand occasion in this city. The Chinese students were always the most outstanding stars on these occasions.
Liang Dunyan delivered a speech titled “The Northern Bear” at the Graduation Ceremony in 1878. He addressed the roles that different countries had played in the recently ended Russian -Turkish War.
He said: “Now let us look at the most absurd thing on this subject: ‘Turks are Asiatics. Therefore they ought not to be allowed to stay in Europe.’ According to that argument the Americans ought to be driven back to Europe, the Russians themselves from Asia.”
The delivery of Liang’s oration excited the greatest enthusiasm in the audience who responded with prolonged applause. Liang was called out to once more bow his thanks to the audience. As was reported by the local newspaper, this scene had never occurred in the history of Hartford Public High School.
It was the same Liang Dunyan who drew this picture of “Fabby Gray” who attended Yale University upon graduation in 1878.
Another graduate from Hartford in 1878 was Cai Shaoji, who later became the first president of Bei Yang University. In his graduation speech he addressed the subject of the opium trade. He said he had witnessed the destructive effects of opium and it was worse than murdering a man with a knife to sell him this poison. Cai spoke of the Opium Wars that caused the opening of the treaty ports in China.
He said that, while Chinese officials were somewhat to blame, Britain had committed the greater wrong in their drug trade. He said: “China is not dead, only sleeping, and will eventually rise to the proud station in the world which God has destined her to fill.”
China was being awakened in the 1870s by the gunshots from the western world. It was woken up even more by the fast developing Japan who had entered the modern period at the same time as China.
The “Ryukyu Incident of 1874” was a serious warning to China.
In 1876, Li Hongzhang was invited to visit the foreign warships anchored on Yantai Sea. He noticed that some young Japanese officials were receiving training on the western warships. This prompted his decision to send Chinese students abroad for military studies.
Li Hongzhang hoped that the students could attend American military academies after graduation. In 1877 he sent students to naval academies in the UK, France, and Germany.
These overseas students all came from Foochow Shipbuilding College in Mawei founded in 1867. They included Yan Fu, Liu Buchan, Lin Taizeng, Sa Zhenbing and others. They either attended the Greenwich Royal Naval College, or were sent for internships on British or French fleets.
They were the earliest elites of Chinese naval force, who later became the captains of the capital warships of Northern Navy.
After sending a group of students to Europe to study military affairs, Li Hongzhang wrote to the Chinese Educational Mission in Hartford. He ordered clever children to study law and mining. He forbade them to study religion and medicine, for China had no such need.
The education budget had increased as more Boy Students were ready to attend college. According to Rong Hong’s budget, the overseas education project needed a total of 1,200,000 liang (Chinese unit of weight) of silver to continue. The Chinese Educational Mission reported to the royal court in 1878 that the project ran short of money due to the soaring prices in US.
According to the original plan, the expenses for the overseas education would come from the Jiang Customs Bureau. But the departments concerned all felt reluctant to pay the money.
Li appropriated 280,000 liang of silver from his naval funds to the Chinese Educational mission. He wrote that the overseas education project was vital to the development of China. So it couldn’t be abandoned halfway. Every single cent invested should have its future value.
In 1878 the Chinese students began to attend American universities. Yale University, one hour’s ride from Hartford, admitted more than 20 boy students.
Yale’s Sheffield scientific school founded in 1847, was the first American college at the time dedicated to scientific research. Ouyang Gen and Zhan Tianyou attended this school in 1878.
Zhan Tianyou majored in railway construction in the Civil Engineering Department. A year before he attended Yale, the first foreign-built railway, 14.5 kilometers long, was built in his homeland, China.
But people firmly believed that railway would destroy their ancestors’ tombs and Fengshui. Within one year, this railway was demolished by the Qing government. The time for train hadn’t come yet.
Zhan Tianyou studied German, English, physics, chemistry, engineering, irrigation, astronomy and other subjects. He became the first Chinese railway engineer to receive strict and systematic education in this field.
From the year 1878, more than 20 other Chinese students such as Liang Dunyan, Zhong Wenyao, Cai Shaoji, Rong Kui, Huang Kaijia, Tang Guo’an, Tan Yaoxun, Li Enfu, and Rong Xingqiao attended Yale. Just as in high school, these boys not only excelled in study, but also participated actively in various sports.
Zhong Wenyao became the coxswain of Yale’s rowing team after he attended the university in 1879. The boating contest between Harvard and Yale had started in 1852. Yale lost the races most of the time. But this small Chinese guy deeply impressed Yale by his unusual performance as a coxswain. Zhong Wenyao looked very gentle sitting in the middle of the team. How did he boost the morale of the members? The fact was that the Yale rowing team beat Hartford in 1880 and 1881 when Zhong Yaowen was the coxswain.
William Phelps was not only the schoolmate of the Chinese students at Hartford but also at Yale.
According to incomplete statistics, about 50 Chinese boy students attended American universities by 1880, 22 of them went to Yale, 8 to the MIT, one to Harvard, and three to Columbia University in New York.
Other universities that they attended were Lafayette College, Amherst College, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Brown University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Lehigh University, Johns Hopkins University, and Rensellaer Polytechnic institute.
The boy with Zhan Tianyou in the picture was Pan Mingzhong. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at 15. This genius boy, as he was later called, died from hard work a year later.
This is Pan’s tomb at Hartford Cemetery. For 120 years, none of his relatives had ever been here.
Rong Hong returned to Monson, his home in the US, in June 1880 to attend the funeral of Reverend Brown who had brought him to America.
30 years before, Reverend Brown had taken Rong and other two Chinese students to America. And now Rong himself brought 120 Chinese students here.
The Chinese Educational Mission existed for eight harsh years now. Rong Hong knew it too well.
On February 24th, 1875 Rong Hong married Mary Louise Kellogue from Connecticut. His colleagues were alarmed. They thought Rong was setting a very bad example for the Chinese students.
From the day the Chinese Educational Mission was established, Chen Lanbin and Rong Hong, the two commissioners were in constant conflict.
Chen Lanbin returned to China in 1880 when the fourth group of Chinese boys arrived in America. Rong Hong had a foreboding that the 8th year of Chinese Educational Mission could be disastrous.
A new supervisor Wu Zideng assumed office at CEM in 1880. The new supervisor made himself known to the Chinese boy students and the citizens of Hartford in a surprising way. He published an English letter in the Hartford Newspaper. The letter read: “As is known to all, the Qing Government spent a huge amount of money supporting your education. After graduation, you are expected to serve your motherland, and honor your family and ancestors. There are millions of other Chinese young men at home who hadn’t had the opportunity to study abroad. The purpose is for you to learn western technology and skills, not to forgo Chinese conventions. You should work hard to gain knowledge. But the conventions should not be altered.”
Obviously, the new commissioner wanted the students to understand that he well understood the changes the students had undergone before he assumed office.
Wu Zideng believed the boys in western coat had gone too far. Measures must be taken to stop the situation from worsening. So Wu ordered a new set of rules to be released.
Rong Hong understood the changes the boys had undergone. He wrote in his biography: ‘Now in New England the heavy weight of repression and suppression was lifted from the minds of these young students; they exulted in their freedom and leaped for joy. No wonder they took to athletic sports with alacrity and delight. The boys took off their robes and boots, and learned boating, skating, dancing, singing, and camping. When they fell in love with the alien culture, they were on the edge of danger.’
Rong Kui wrote: ‘A bird born in captivity cannot indeed appreciate the sweet odor of the woods; but let it once have free space to exercise its wings, off it flies to where natural instinct leads, choosing rather to suffer the privations of freedom than to enjoy the luxuries of captivity.’
Rong Kui publicly announced he had become a Christian and cut off his queue after graduating from Springfield High School in 1880.
On August 24th, 1880, Tan Yaoxun’s hostess, Madam Carrington wrote in her diary: ‘Tan came after we were in bed, and had his queue cut.’
Cutting off their queues, and becoming Christians were simply taboos. Rong Kui and Tan Yaoxun were recalled before the scheduled time.
The two 17-year old boys ran away when the train reached Springfield. They announced their intention to break away from CEM and stayed in America.
Rong Kui and Tan Yaoxun’s escape in the summer of 1880 alarmed CEM.
On Dec. 17th, 1880, Li Shibin, supervisor of the Jiangnan Circuit attacked CEM. He reported that the overseas students were forbidden to join a foreign religion. But more and more of them did. In their letters home, they regretted at not having converted earlier. And that CEC was under loose administration. It needed thorough rectification.
Wu Zideng’s report wrote: ‘alien customs are harmful. The Chinese students studied few Confucian classics. They have loose morality and were thus susceptible to evil habits. They spent more time playing American games than studying. Patriotism dwindled in their hearts as time went by. They would harm instead of benefiting China. Hence even a thorough rectification would do no good. CEC must be closed.’
The future of CEM was dim in the winter of 1880. Rong Hong wrote to his good friend, Rev. Joseph Twichell of the Asylum Hill Congregational Church, asking for help.
Twichell graduated from Yale, was a member of Yale Board of Trustees, and was thus a prestigious figure in educational circles. He contacted almost the presidents of all the universities with Chinese Boy Students. He asked them to petition the Central Foreign Office of the Qing Government.
The letter written by Porter, President of Yale said:
‘… these young men have made good progress in their studies. Their morals have been good; their manners singularly polite… In many ways they have proved themselves eminently worthy of the confidence reposed in them to represent the great Chinese Empire. Though children and youths, they have seemed always to understand that the honor of their race and their nation was committed to their keeping. As a result, many of the prejudices of ignorant men towards the Chinese have been removed. We deeply regret that the young men have been taken away just at the time when they were about to reap the most important advantages from their previous studies.’
In this letter the president denied the rumors that the students received harm rather than benefit from overseas study. They believed the rumors ruined the reputation of the US and its education.
December 15th, 1880:
Rong wrote to me (Rev Twichell) asking me to go to New York and see Gen. Grant, and try to enlist his services.
The tree that was planted behind President’s Grant Memorial Hall in New York was sent by Li Hongzhang in 1896 when he visited America.
Mark Twain recorded the whole process of meeting General Grant with Rev. Twichell.
Joe (Rev Twichell) had been sitting up nights building facts & arguments together into a mighty unassailable array, hoping Grant would sign the petition to the Viceroy of China.
After almost three months, Reverent Twichell received Rong Hong’s letter on March 10th, 1881.
‘General Grant’s letter has done its work. Viceroy’s telegram to Woo instructs him not return to China with the students at present but to consult Minister Chen. Chen and I are one in this matter. He would never allow it to be broken up.’
Rong Hong was full of hope that all his endeavors would save the Chinese Educational Mission.
He also hoped that Chen Lanbin, its former Commissioner, would support the Mission at this critical time. However, Chen Lanbin quoted Wu Zideng in his report to the emperor: ‘foreign cultures are fraught with defects, the lack of Confucian inculcation rendered the students weak in moral bearing.’ His report obviously cast a dark shadow on the future of the Chinese Educational Mission.
When The Mission’s fate was uncertain, the Sino-US relationship also deteriorated. In the 1880’s, an anti-Chinese movement spread from the west coast of the US. As Chinese laborers were more competitive in jobs, dissatisfaction began to simmer. The images of Chinese laborers were distorted and anti-Chinese riots broke out. This sentiment was exploited by politicians, who stirred up racial discrimination aimed at overturning the 1867 Burlingame Treaty and curbing the inflow of Chinese laborers. In 1882 the U.S. passed the Chinese Exclusion Act.
According to the 1867 Burlingame Treaty, if Chinese wished to study in American colleges and academies, the US should grant them the most preferential treatment. Li Hongzhang was anxious to have his Boy Students attend US military schools. However, this was thrown into question by the anti-Chinese movements across the US.
By Courtesy of CCTV International