In the 1870s, under the auspices of the Hartford-based Chinese Educational Mission, 120 carefully selected Chinese boys were sent by their government to be educated in American schools. The boys, some as young as ten or eleven, initially stayed with host families, then enrolled in a number of private and public schools in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Many went on to enroll in New England colleges, including Yale and MIT. The students faced not only the challenges of language and curriculum, but of maintaining their cultural identities in an utterly foreign society, one in which anti-Chinese sentiment was growing. The program ended suddenly in 1881 and the students were recalled home, many to face suspicion over their newly acquired Western educations and mores.
Eleven Chinese Educational Mission students attended Williston Seminary. Many excelled in academics, and in such activities as oratory and debate. Several publicly embraced Christianity, an action sure to create controversy both back home and within the CEM. One of the founders of Williston’s Chinese Christian Home Mission, Tan Yaoxun ‘79, actually defected rather than return to China.
In the first scholarly study of the CEM since Thomas LaFargue’s China’s First Hundred (1942) Edward Rhoads’ research brought him to dozens of libraries and archives throughout the Northeast, including Williston’s. Dr. Rhoads (Professor Emeritus of History, The University of Texas) tells a compelling, highly readable story of students caught between two worlds.
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