Beginning in the late 19th century, New England saw its first residents from the Far East. Many of those residents were students in an historic program known as the Chinese Educational Mission.
The Chinese Educational Mission grew out of military defeats suffered by China at the hands of the British and French between 1856-60. This conflict had shocked Chinese statesmen into realizing their weaponry was antiquated and their transportation systems inadequate for the military needs of modern warfare. Basically, the plan of the Chinese Educational Mission was to send yearly contingents of about thirty Chinese boys, between twelve and twenty years old, to the U.S. to be schooled in western ways, particularly as they related to technology and engineering. After fifteen years in America, they were to return home for careers in service to the Chinese government, designing and building telegraph systems, railroads, warships and other armaments.
The program was the brainchild of Yung Wing who was one of the first people from China to receive a western education — first, at the Morrison mission school near Canton, then at Monson Academy in Massachusetts, and finally at Yale College. When he returned to China in 1854, he began promoting his project to government officials. His ideas largely fell on unreceptive ears and may never have been taken seriously, if not for the pressing need to reform the Chinese military. It was believed by some that the best way to prepare for future wars against the nations of the Occident was to “know thy enemy.” Thus, the first contingent of students set sail for America in the summer of 1872, accompanied by a staff of Chinese instructors to be sure they did not lose touch with their Confucian teachings.
At the suggestion of Yale’s President Porter, students were housed in twos and threes in homes of prominent citizens of the Connecticut River valley, so the boys would be immersed in the language and culture of their hosts. Local ministers, teachers, doctors, and other people well-established in their communities readily volunteered to host the students. They were amply compensated for their services by the Mission. Hartford became the Mission’s headquarters.
This website will present accumulated information about the host families and individuals who lived in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts. For more information about the Chinese Educational Mission, visit the CEM Connections website.