News & Events

April 2017

Appeal from Zhuhai Museum

Yung Wing and many of the CEM boys were born in places that now come within the boundaries of Zhuhai City. Zhuhai Museum therefore has a mandate to collect and display materials about the Educational Mission.  CEM Connections has no formal ties with the Museum but agrees to post their appeal.  They are requesting that CEM descendants everywhere donate relics related to their ancestors’ experiences.  Anyone interested may contact them via This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it


The Chinese Educational Mission

China's First Experiment in Education Abroad, 1872-1881

SHANGHAIAugust 11, 1872: a striking scene unfolded on the waterfront.  Dressed in fine silk garments, 30 teenage boys were bidding tearful goodbyes to their loved ones and boarding the intercoastal steamer bound for Japan.  From there, they took a big paddle-wheeler to sail across the Pacific to America, where they would begin 15 years of schooling and vocational training.  Over the next three summers, three more groups of 30 boys set out on the same journey.  All expenses were paid by their government.  What caused this self-contained and deeply conservative country, proud of its ancient traditions of learning and culture, to send its sons abroad to be educated? 

After 1839, a series of military defeats by Britain, France and other Western powers forced China to pay heavy indemnities, open the country to foreign merchants and missionaries and concede numerous rights.  The resulting loss of wealth and sovereignty eventually caused the government to recognize the foreigners’ technological superiority.  In 1871, the Chinese Educational Mission (CEM) to the United States was set in motion—120 students would be sent to America to acquire Western expertise and on their return would help to direct China's efforts to strengthen itself and repel foreign aggression.

That was the original goalbut after only nine years, the experiment was terminated. Why did the Chinese authorities pull the plug? How did the "boy students" fare in their living and learning abroad? And how did they turn out after the Mission came to a premature end? What was their impact, if any, on China's modernization effort in the subsequent decades? Or, was the Mission largely a waste of money? Check out our site for some answers and opinions…

The primary language of the web site is English. Where possible and appropriate, Chinese translations or equivalents of names and terms are included. For the convenience of the majority of Chinese language users, we have adopted the simplified forms of the Chinese characters. In the Romanization of Chinese personal names and place names, we have endeavored to use Hanyu Pinyin spelling wherever possible. However, when relying on older sources that use Wade-Giles or some other Romanization system, we have kept to the original spelling. In cases where an older form has become the accepted standard, e.g. "Sun Yat-sen" or "Hong Kong," we have retained it.

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