Hello everyone, and welcome to the blog! Whether a love for history, Chinese culture, biographical and genealogical research, or just plain geekery over the investigation process brought you here, I hope you enjoy this blog. My handle is The Academic, since these blog musings are an outgrowth of my academic research. The posts you will see here will be very process-heavy, going into detail about the research process, as well as the results of that research. So, let’s get started with a brief introduction to the topic of this blog: Chinese students in America.
United States universities have always played host to international students from all over the world. Usually these students represent the best and brightest, or sometimes just richest, students of their native countries. Chinese students are no different; there is a long tradition of students from China attending US universities under their own initiative. But the Chinese government has also actively supported this cultural and educational interchange from time to time, which makes them somewhat unique on the world stage. This blog will be focusing on a specific group of these state-sponsored Chinese students who came to the United States between the turn of the 20th century and World War II; a fascinating but comparatively understudied group. The historical context to this group of students is really important to understanding them, so let’s get into a little background.
The Chinese imperial government’s first foray into international education occurred last in the 19th century. In 1871, under pressure from Yung Wing, the first Chinese graduate of Yale University, the Qing dynasty sponsored a group of students to study in New England schools. This program was known as the Chinese Educational Mission (CEM Connections). The linked website provides a great overview of the program, the students who participated, and the reasons for the program’s demise; basically, the program worked too well and the students were becoming westernized, something that alarmed the imperial officials, who quickly recalled the students. After this program was cancelled, students continued to come to the US individually, but the government largely stayed out of it.
China’s next official experiment with supporting foreign education came in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxers are known as 义和团 in Chinese, literally meaning “The Righteousness Group” or “The Justice Mission”. They practiced martial arts, hence the “boxing” of their English name. 义和团 was a secret society which was anti-imperialist and opposed foreign influence in China. With government support, the Boxers rose up against the imperialist forces in China, killing Christian missionaries and other foreigners in what was known as the Boxer Rebellion.
After the defeat of the Boxers in 1901 by eight imperialist powers – Japan, Russia, the British Empire, France, the United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary – China was forced to pay an indemnity to these nations. The Chinese government faithfully paid the reparations, until the Chinese representative to the United States, Liang Cheng, discovered that China had been accidentally overpaying due to the variable exchange rates between the two countries. After much lobbying and a petition by the president of the University of Illinois, the overpayment was set aside by the United States government to be used as a scholarship fund for Chinese students to come study at American universities. The first group of Indemnity Scholars, as they were known, came to America in 1909.
However, they were not the only Chinese students studying in American colleges and universities at this time. Around 1300 people came to the US under the auspices of the Indemnity Scholarship program, but because the Indemnity Scholars program was both official and highly publicized, studying in America was very popular at the time, even among non-Indemnity Scholars. Other students who went to America during this era were funded by provincial governments, the Chinese military, or were self-funded. The post-revolutionary era saw thousands of students come to America to study, not only Indemnity Scholars, and this blog aims to investigate each one in depth.
Posts will come once a week, on Fridays, and will discuss either individual students, family groups, specific universities or regions, historical background, or the source material. I look forward to having all of you readers along with me on this research journey!