My life in China and America/23 Appendix

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1615920My life in China and America — XXIII. Appendix: Address by Joseph H. Twichell (1878)Yung Wing


An address by the Rev. Joseph H. Twichell, delivered before the Kent Club of the Yale Law School, April 10, 1878.

A visitor to the City of Hartford, at the present time, will be likely to meet on the streets groups of Chinese boys, in their native dress, though somewhat modified, and speaking their native tongue, yet seeming, withal, to be very much at home. He will also occasionally meet Chinese men who, by their bearing, will impress him as being gentlemen of their race.

These gentlemen are officers, and these boys are pupils of the Chinese Educational Mission, although one of the most remarkable and significant institutions of the age on the face of the whole earth. The object of the mission, now of nearly six years' standing, is the education in this country, through a term of fifteen years, of a corps of young men for the Chinese Government service; that Government paying the whole cost — an annual expense of about $100,000. The number of the officers is five, viz, — the two Imperial Commissioners in charge, a translator and interpreter and two teachers. The function of the teachers is to direct the Chinese education of the pupils, which proceeds pari passu with their Western education. The number of pupils was originally 120, but now 112, one having died and seven having, for various reasons, returned to China. A fine, large house recently erected by the Chinese Government in the western part of the City, at a cost of fifty thousand dollars, is the headquarters of the Mission. There are the offices of the officers, and there is lodged the class that is present for examination and instruction in Chinese studies. For this purpose the pupils are divided into classes of about twenty, one coming as another goes, each staying at the Mission House two weeks at a time. A small part only of the whole number are permanently located in Hartford. Most of them are in other places, though not far away, generally two together attending school or receiving private instruction in families.

They come in yearly companies of tliirty, beginning with 1872, and the last detachment is still chiefly engaged in learning our language.

The plan is to afford these boys the advantages of our best educational institutions — academies, colleges, and, to some extent, professional schools — to assign them, by and by, as they shall develop aptitude, to various special courses of study and training in the physical, mechanical and military sciences, in political history and economy, international law, the principles and practice of civil administration and in all departments and branches of knowledge, skill in which is useful for public government service in these modern times. And through the whole process of this education, it is to be impressed upon them that they belong and are to belong to their nation, for whose sake they are elected to enjoy these great and peculiar opportunities. The result will be, if all goes well and the plan is carried out, — and there is apparently nothing now to prevent it, — that in the year 1887 or thereabout there will go from this country to China a body of somewhere near a hundred men who have grown up under exceedingly favorable conditions from early youth to manhood here among us, destined to hold places of importance in the government and in the society of their native land, better equipped in all save experience to do for that land what most needs to be done, and inspired for their work with a more enlightened sense of patriotic duty and responsibility than any other hundred of her sons of their generation. And who can forecast or estimate the consequences that Divine Providence is thus preparing?


Such in brief outline is the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States. The head and front of the whole marvellous enterprise, humanly speaking, is Commissioner Yung Wing. While others whose cooperation was indispensable, have, as will presently appear, contributed to it and still stand back of it, and justly share the credit of it with him, to him more than to any other man beside, probably more than to all other men beside, its existence is due. Its history, thus far, cannot be better told except in that connection, so intimately are the two histories related. But it becomes one who speaks of Yung Wing to observe the principle that we must be modest for a modest man, for so modest a man as he is is rare to find. He was born in 1828, of a worthy family in humble life, near the city of Macao in Southern China. In the year 1839 he became a pupil in a children's school, opened by Mrs. Gutzlaff, the wife of an English missionary, his parents consenting to it in the idea that it would be a profitable thing for him to learn the English language. Proving a bright scholar, he was in time promoted to the Morrison School, an institution founded by English merchants in Macao and named after Robert Morrison, the first English Protestant, but at this time under charge of the Rev. S. R. Brown, a teacher engaged by the Morrison Educational Society. When later this school was transferred to Hong Kong he went with it, and remained in it till he came to this country. He suffered, however, during this time serious interruption by the death of his father, which required him to go home and, a boy that he was, assist in the support of his family. This he did by wages earned in the printing establishment of a Portuguese Roman Catholic mission in Macao.

In 1847, Mr. Brown, who had long noted his patient ardor in study, the marks of ability he showed and a certain original vigor of will and strength of character that were in him, brought him, at the age of sixteen, with two other native lads, also his pupils, of about the same age, to the United States; Andrew Shortrede, a large-hearted Scotchman, founder, proprietor and editor of The China Mail, published at Hong Kong, engaging to advance the means of their support for two years. The three boys were entered together at the academy in Monson, Mass., and were received into the family of Mr. Brown's mother, who lived at Monson, a royal woman whose name is memorable in the church of Christ as that of the author of the hymn, “I love to steal awhile away.” It was while a member of her godly household that Yung Wing became a Christian believer.

It will not be out of place to state here, as a fact, the significance of which will be readily appreciated, that he caused the son who was born to him in 1876 — his first-born — to be named in baptism Morrison Brown, an eloquent act of recognition and profession. Of Wing's two companions one, Wong Shing, was compelled, by want of health, to return to China the next year. There, in the office of The China Mail, he learned the art of printing. From 1852 or 1853 he was for several years connected with the press of the London Mission under Dr. Legge, now the eminent Professor of the Chinese Language and Literature in Oxford University. In 1873 he accompanied the second detachment of Chinese students to this country, and is at present under appointment as interpreter to the Chinese Legation soon to be established at Washington.

The other, Wong Fun, went to Scotland in 1850, and after two years general study entered the Medical Department of Edinburgh University, at which he graduated with very high honor. Returning to China in 1856, he began the practice of medicine in the city of Canton and is most highly esteemed on all that coast, both for his private character and for his professional talents, being held by many foreign residents the ablest physician in the whole region of the East beyond Calcutta. Wong Fun died Oct. 15th, 1878.


Yung Wing, after two years and a half spent at Monson, Mass., was, in 1850, though but poorly fitted for want of time, admitted to the Freshman Class in Yale College. His career in college was, in some respects, a remarkable one. Owing to his inadequate preparations, he did not, though he worked hard, take a high stand in general scholarship, yet he excelled in the departments of writing and metaphysics, and made a sensation that was felt beyond the college walls by bearing off repeated prizes for English composition. Throughout his entire course he contended with poverty, a circumstance the explanation of which deserves notice. When he became a Christian, at Monson, he heard and at once accepted his Divine call to devote his life to the Christian service of his nation. But the form of that service — what should it be? This question he had to answer, at least in part. The presumption was, and it was assumed by his friends and by the public so far as his case was known, that he would be a minister of the Gospel. But right then and there, after much careful and prayerful thinking, this boy of seventeen, though by no means doubting the value of Christian missions, fully recognizing the fact, indeed, that he himself was the direct fruit of Christian missions, — which, be it ever remembered, he was, — concluded, with an independence characteristic of him even at that age, that it was not best for him to be a missionary. He had a suspicion then, though indistinct, that he was wanted for something else. It was a costly conclusion and he was quite aware of it. It was against the views and hopes of the most of those who were around him, and by it, being without pecuniary means, he cut himself off from the resource of those charitable foundations that would have aided him as a student for the ministry. And so he was poor in college; he smiles now to remember how poor. Yet he received help from persons interested in him at New Haven and elsewhere, mainly through the medium of Professor Thatcher, whose care for him in that matter claims his liveliest gratitude to this day. And he got through. He came to college in his cue and Chinese tunic, but put off both in the course of his first year.

His nationality made him a good deal of a stranger, and this, together with his extreme natural reserve and his poverty, kept him from mingling much with the social life of college. He had not many intimates, yet he so carried himself from first to last as to merit and win the entire respect of all his class. It was in certain long walks and talks he had with his classmate, Carrol Cutler, now president of Western Reserve College, that he opened and discussed the project then forming in his mind of this Chinese Educational Mission. The idea was born, the dream was taking shape, but the way was long to its realization.

His graduation in 1854 was the event of the Commencement of that year. There were many, at least, who so regarded it, and some of them came to the Commencement principally for the sake of seeing the Chinese graduate. Among the latter was Dr. Bushnell of Hartford. He had heard of him and being strongly interested, according to the size of his great mind and heart, in the Chinese race, he desired to meet Yung Wing. An incident of their meeting on that occasion, which the writer has heard Dr. Bushnell tell, will bear repeating: When they were introduced, the Doctor gave it as one of his reasons for seeking the introduction that he desired to ascertain who had written certain newspaper articles on the Chinese question, as it then stood, which had attracted his attention as evincing marks of statesmanship. He thought Wing might know. Whereupon, as the Doctor said, Wing hung his head, and blushing like a girl, with much confusion of manner, confessed that he was their author. It is only fair to add that Mr. Wing says that he does not remember this incident. But it is equally fair to add again that in a case of this kind Dr. Bushnell's memory, or anybody else's, were more worthy to be trusted than Yung Wing's.

At the time of his graduation, Wing was as much tempted as it was possible for him to be, to change the plan of his life. He had been in this country long enough to become thoroughly naturalized here. He was, in fact, a citizen. All his tastes and feelings and affinities, intellectual and moral, made him at home here. Moreover, through the notice into which his graduation brought him, it came about that a very inviting opportunity was opened to him to remain and have his career here if he chose to. On the other hand, China was like a strange land to him. He had even almost entirely forgotten his native tongue. And there was nothing in China for him to go to. Except among his humble kindred, he had no friends there; nothing to give him any standing or consideration, no place, so to speak, to set his foot on. Not only so, but considering where he had been and what he had become, and the purpose he had in view, he could not fail to encounter, among his own people, prejudice, suspicion, hostility. A cheerless, forbidding prospect lay before him in that direction. The thought of going back was the thought of exile. He wanted immensely to stay. But there was one text of Holy Scripture that, all this while, he says, haunted him and followed him like the voice of God. It was this: “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” And by the words “his own” and “his own house,” it meant to him the nation of which he was born. The text carried the day. The benefits which he had been, as it were, singled out from a whole people to receive, his sense of justice and gratitude alike would not let him appropriate to his own advantage. And so, though he knew not what should befall him, he set his face to return; and he went to do what he has done.

He sailed soon after his graduation for Hong Kong which, after a voyage of 151 days, he reached in the month of April, 1855. When the Chinese pilot came on board he found that he could, with some difficulty, understand what he said, though he could not make the pilot understand him, which shows the condition of his knowledge of Chinese on his arrival in the country. It took him all the time he was not otherwise employed for two years to acquire facility in the use of it.


As for his grand scheme, he had settled it in his own mind that the first step to be taken toward carrying it out was to contrive a way of getting it before some influential public man or men — a thing itself of infinite difficulty. With this end in view, though, of course, to make his living also, he sought and obtained the position of private secretary to the Hon. Peter Parker, then Commissioner of the United States to China, hoping that it would be the means of affording him the access he desired. Becoming satisfied upon a sufficient trial that it was not likely to answer his expectations in this regard, he resigned the place after a few months. He now attempted another way of compassing the matter. There was at Hong Kong an English bar consisting of a dozen or so lawyers doing business for the foreign commercial houses of that City. Wing bethought him that the standing and acquaintance resulting from his becoming a member of that bar might not improbably bring him the opportunity he sought. Accordingly, he entered one of the offices as a student. But presently it got out among the lawyers who this young man was, what his education had been, and they saw that his competition with them for legal practice of a Chinese city was a thing not to be allowed if it could be prevented. And so his principal, pleading the commands of his legal brethren, informed him, with many courteous expressions of regret, that he must find another place to study law in. And as there was no other place, he had to give it up.

After this followed an interval of nearly two years, during which he occupied himself with Chinese and other studies, earning his bread by such commercial translation as he could find to do, and waited for the right thing to turn up. He then, in the same hope that led him to his previous experiments, took a place in the Customs Service at Shanghai. But neither did this, on trial, promise, in his judgment, a pou sto for his operations, and he soon abandoned it.

It was now 1860. Five years and nothing accomplished! To one only looking on the outside Yung Wing would appear to have thus far pursued an uncertain and rather thriftless course; but not if he penetrated his real policy and the purpose that lay ever nearest his heart; most assuredly not if he knew — what was the fact — that all this time that he was going from one thing to another and keeping himself poor, he was refusing offers of employment at rates of remuneration that to him, so long familiar with a straightened lot, seemed little short of princely. In 1860, however, overtures were made him by one of the leading silk and tea houses of Shanghai to enter its service as traveling inland agent, which, for the reason in part that it would send him touring through a wide extent of country and possess him, by observation, of a knowledge that he deemed would be useful to him, he determined to accept. This business he followed for a year, and then, seeing a good chance for it, set up in a business for himself which proved so profitable a venture that, had he continued in it, he would, to all appearances, have speedily become rich. As it was, he made a very considerable sum of money.

But in 1862 the door of the opportunity which he had been constantly feeling after from the day he landed in China, unexpectedly opened to him.

It was in this wise: While in the city of Shanghai, he made the acquaintance of a Chinese astronomer — a man of rank and of eminence in learning. Or rather, the astronomer, who had in some way gained intelligence of Wing's antecedents, sought his acquaintance for the sake of talking astronomy with him. In repeated interviews through which their acquaintance progressed to the degree of mutual friendly regard. Wing, who had carried away from college a better knowledge of astronomy than most graduates do, told him all he knew, which was a long advance upon his own previous acquisitions in that science. This astronomer was an officer of the great Tsang Kwoh Fan, viceroy of Kiang Su and Kiang Nan provinces, generalissimo of the Imperial forces and one of the very most prominent and leading men in the whole Empire. Through representations made to him by the astronomer, he soon sent a message to Yung Wing desiring to see him, and hinting a desire to take him into his service. Though returning a favorable reply to the message, under all the circumstances and for reasons that cannot be explained, Wing delayed responding to it in person for a considerable time. The situation was a delicate one, requiring extreme caution and circumspection on his part.

But at length he paid Tsang Koh Fan the promised visit. He felt the occasion to be a critical one, and when ushered into the great man's presence found it difficult to retain his composure. Tsang Koh Fan first bent upon him a long, intense, piercing gaze. As Wing says, he had never been looked at in his life as he was then. Then causing him to be seated, he required of him an account of his history, which he gave. He then questioned him as to his views respecting China, — her needs, her outlook, her public policy, and so on. A long conversation followed in which the Viceroy disclosed his views, to which Wing listened with amazement. For, behold, here was a man such as he had not supposed existed in that country — a man reared in China, and not a young man either — who had light in his head; who recognized the causes of many of the disadvantages China was contending with in taking her place among the family of nations; a man of marvellously liberal and progressive sentiments.


The result of the interview was that Wing entered his service and was made a Mandarin of the fifth rank, there being nine degrees of that dignity in the Chinese official system. At this time the great Taiping rebellion was at its height and Tsang Koh Fan was in the field. In fact, the interview had taken place at his camp in Ngankin, on the Yang Tse River. The Viceroy first tendered Wing a military command which, on the score of lack of qualification, he asked leave to decline. He was then, shortly after, 1864, at his own suggestion, despatched abroad to purchase machinery for the manufacture of arms, for which purpose the expenditure of a large sum of money was intrusted to him. On this errand he visited France and England as well as the United States, but finally gave his orders here. On returning with his purchases to China in 1865, what he had done was so satisfactory to his chief that he was advanced to the next higher grade of official rank, viz, — the Fourth. The machinery he had bought was the foundation of the Kiang Nan Arsenal. It is curious to remark that the first work of a man whose supreme ambition it was, from Christian motives, to set his country forward in civilization, should have been the establishment of an arsenal. But it quite consisted with Yung Wing's ideas, which were intensely patriotic.

From 1865 to 1870 he was variously employed in different places, being under command now of one superior and now of another. Among the work that he did during this period, that of translation was prominent. He translated into Chinese Parson's Law of Contracts, and a book of English Law. He also translated large portions of Cotton's Geography, deeming that geographical knowledge was as likely to prove beneficial to his countrymen as any.

But the thing that lay nearest his heart and that was continually before him, was the question of how to accomplish the plan he had so many years held in hope. He now had ample opportunity to expound and advocate it, and he did so with inexhaustible perseverance. The main argument he used was this: China, in her international relations, in her commercial and other intercourse with foreign peoples, suffers disadvantage and much detriment from want of men capable by education of acting as her representatives. She is forced to employ in many most important places, that ought to be occupied by her own citizens, foreigners by whom her interests are liable to be neglected or betrayed. Her forts, her ships of war, her military forces, her customs, are largely in charge of foreigners. How was it proper, he asked, that Anson Burlingame, an American, should be her chief agent in arranging a treaty with his own country and other western governments? This was his general line of reasoning.

The most to whom he brought the matter heard him with indifference, but there were three men upon whom he made an impression — all men of high rank and commanding influence. They were the Viceroy, Tsang Koh Fan, already named; Li Hung Chang, now Viceroy of the capital province of Chihli and the foremost Chinese statesman; and Ting Yi Tcheang, then Governor of the Province of Kiang Su. Yet these men, convinced as they were by Wing's reasons and avowedly favorable to his project, with all their eminence of position and their influence, were not ready to venture the attempt to carry it through with the Imperial Government. All the forces of conservatism would be opposed to it; the time for it had not come.

In 1867, however, the Governor Ting, who was the most willing of the three, had made representations to an Imperial Minister named Wan Cheang, on the strength of which he was adased to address a memorial on the subject to the Imperial Council at Peking, Van Cheang undertaking to commend it to the attention of the Council. The situation was at this juncture moderately hopeful, but before the memorial reached the Council, the mother of Wan Cheang died, by which event he was, under the law of Chinese high official etiquette, retired from public life three entire years, and the whole business was set back to where it had been. These were years of great trial to Yung Wing. He was prospering, indeed, in one point of view, but the hope to which he was devoted was so long deferred that his heart was often sick. Understand that he was leading there in China an essentially solitary life. He had, soon after his return in 1855, in accordance with his views of what was due to his purpose, resumed his native dress and identified himself not only thus externally, but also in large measure in every other respect with his own people. Especially from the time he became a Chinese Government official, he had dwelt in Chinese society, and had disappeared almost wholly from other society. He had his books and kept up diligently with what was going on in the world of learning and letters outside — it was his only resource — but he was exceedingly alone and lonely notwithstanding. The discouragements to his endeavor that faced him were so numerous and so solid that he was sometimes half disposed to give it all up; but only half disposed.

One of the things that held him to it was not of a nature of an encouragement exactly, but it did excellently well as an antidote to the effect upon his spirits of his discouragements. It began to come to his ears now and than that his American and English friends in China were whispering it among themselves that he was a failure, that he had had a noble chance and had not known how to improve it; that he was impracticable; and that this scheme of his was utterly visionary and could never be successful. Whenever Wing heard of this, he set his teeth and took a new hold. But altogether his faith and manhood were put to an extreme test.

The end came though, as it always does in such cases, and came in a manner almost dramatic. In the month of June, 1870, occurred the woeful tragedy at Tientsin called the Tientsin Massacre, in which a considerable number of French Roman Catholic missionaries, male and female, were murdered by a Chinese mob. It followed that a commission appointed by the foreign powers, diplomatically represented in China, met that same year at Tientsin to investigate the outrage and determine the satisfaction that was to be required for it, together with a like commission appointed by the Chinese Government authorized to bring the affair to a settlement. The Chinese Commission consisted of five, and three of these five were the three men of whom mention has been made, — the viceroys Tsang Koh Fan and Li Hung Chang, and the Governor Ting Yi Tcheang.


Yung Wing was at this time under official control of the last named, who, on being summoned to Tientsin, sent him word, for he was at a distance from him, to join the Commission at Tientsin as soon as possible, for his services would be needed there. Wing, though hastening, arrived late on the scene and found the business concluded. But on receiving an account of the difficulties that had attended its transaction, and observing that the commissioners were conscious of their disadvantage in it, he perceived an auspicious occasion for making a stroke in behalf of his scheme, and he made the most of it. He restated his arguments, enforcing them by the illustration of the case at hand, and insisted with the utmost earnestness that there ought to be no delay. And this time he prevailed. The three friends of his idea being together and countenancing one another, then and there agreed that they would at once take action to have the thing he proposed done, and would cast their united influence with the Government in its favor. They kept their agreement. They set their names to a memorial recommending the education of a corps of young men abroad for the Government service and at the Government expense. This memorial they forwarded to Pekin, where they backed it by all means in their power and to the effect that in the month of August, 1871, the measure recommended was adopted by the Imperial Government and a sum equal to $1,500,000 appropriated for its execution.

Mandarin Yung Wing was scarcely able to support the joy of his triumph. For two days, as he has told the writer, he could neither eat nor sleep. He walked on air, and he worshipped God. It was sixteen years after his return to China and twenty years after he set out for this goal that heaven had at last granted his prayer. To him the organization of the enterprise was principally committed. The feature of the long term of fifteen years resolved upon for the course of study and training to be pursued, is particularly due to him and reflects the size of the man, the type of his mind and character.

A school of candidates was at once opened at Shanghai from which the pupils were to be selected by competitive examination, and, as has been already stated, the first detachment of thirty arrived in the United States in 1872. The location of the Mission was also for him to determine. He might have procured its establishment in England, or France, or Germany; but as he himself had expressed it, the light that had enlightened him shone from America and from New England, and to America and New England he was resolved from the first this Mission should repair.

He was appointed Chief Commissioner of the Mission, receiving with the appointment his second promotion in rank, viz, — to the Third or Blue Button grade. With him was associated, as co-commissioner, a venerable scholar and dignitary, — Chin Lan Pin by name, — who, however, remained in this country less than two years, yielding his place to a younger man, Ngau Ngoh Liang, well-born, distinguished for learning, and a most agreeable gentleman.

The students of the Mission have thus far, with very few exceptions, exhibited excellent ability as scholars, and in many instances extraordinary ability, and with fewer exceptions still have been marked by their exemplary conduct. They have everywhere been most hospitably received. They are certainly worthy to be objects of the highest and most friendly interest to every Christian citizen of the United States.

Yung Wing was appointed, December 11, 1876, Associate Minister with his former colleague in the Educational Mission, Chin Lan Pin, to the United States, Peru and Spain. On this occasion he was again promoted in rank, — that is, to Second or Red Button grade, and invested with the title of Tao-tai (or Intendant) of the Province of Kiang Su.

He expects, on the now approaching arrival of Chin Lan Pin in the country, to take up his residence in Washington, yet not to relinquish the general superintendence of the institution which is so dear to him and has cost him so much, and in which are bound up his best patriotic hopes for his native land, — for he is a patriot from head to foot, in every fiber of his body. He loves the Chinese nation and believes in it, doubting not that there is before it a grand career worthy of its noble soil and of its august antiquity.

If it were the aim of the writer to magnify Yung Wing, — which it is not, but only to tell the story of the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, — there are many things more that might be related of him, all going to show him to be of the stuff that heroes are made of, and one of the most significant characters in modern civilization. But because to relate them would be aside from the purpose in hand, and also because it would grievously offend Yung Wing to have them published, they are passed by. It must be said, for the last word, that even in attributing to him so much credit of the Educational Mission itself, the share he allows himself is very far exceeded. He is accustomed to assign the chief honor of it to those three men of China who helped it so potently with their influence. Tsang Koh Fan died in 1871. His portrait hangs on the wall of the Mission House in Hartford; and the portraits of the other two are there also. The boys are taught to reverence these men as their benefactors. And they are worthy of reverence. Their names deserve to be remembered, and will be, and not alone in China. Yet undoubtedly had there been no Yung Wing, that illustrious good deed of theirs had never been performed.