Dana Young ’60 has a reason to appreciate the legacy of the Chinese Educational Mission. His grandfather, Yung Kwai, who graduated from Yale College in 1884, participated in the mission and was one of 120 children the Chinese government sent to America for educational purposes.
Young will be featured, along with other descendents of the original Chinese students, in a five-part Chinese documentary. The series, “You Tong” — or “Young Students” in English — tells the story of the Chinese Educational Mission and will air next year on China Central Television, the country’s only national television station. The documentary’s producers came to Yale last week for a shoot. Of the 120 students the Chinese government sent to the United States, 20 attended Yale.
Yung Kwai gave rise to a dynasty of Yale graduates, including Young’s father, Young’s uncle and Young himself. Young’s uncle, Dana Young ’26, became a Sterling Professor of Engineering.
“My family’s educations are all a result of the mission,” Young said. “In my grandfather’s four years at Yale he became really gung-ho about the school and never really considered sending his sons anywhere else.”
Yung Wing, Yale College Class of 1854 and the first Chinese person to graduate from an American university, founded the mission in Hartford. History professor Beatrice Bartlett, who specializes in Chinese history, said Yung Wing loved his Yale experience so much that he felt compelled to try to allow other Chinese students to study in the United States.
Bartlett, who also was interviewed for the documentary, said the Chinese government financed the project because it wanted the students to acquire technical education and use that knowledge to modernize China and help the country defend itself militarily.
“Yale was very important,” Bartlett said. “It had [the Sheffield Scientific School], it had the ability to train people in technical subjects, it had been a good experience for Yung Wing, and the students came here and learned what they had to learn.”
In 1881, the Chinese government discontinued the mission on the grounds that students were losing touch with their Chinese culture and heritage.
An American group led by writer Mark Twain appealed to former President Ulysses S. Grant to help stop the departure of the Chinese students. Grant’s intervention only succeeded in delaying the departure for about six months, Bartlett said.
But by the time the Chinese students had to leave, they had already made an indelible impression on the New Englanders they met, Bartlett said. Their integration into American society had also challenged many of the prevailing anti-Chinese sentiments that pervaded the country at the time.
“Instead of such hatred and dislike of Chinese, here in New England there was tremendous curiosity,” Bartlett said. “The Chinese were not laborers taking jobs away; they were these cute boys who are described at times as being utterly charming.”
While at Yale, the Chinese crew filmed many of the buildings that existed during the late 19th century and interviewed Jeohn Favors ’05, who works at the Yale Visitor’s Center, about the large picture of Yung Wing that hangs in the Center.
“[The crew] was trying to find out what the students knew about [Yung Wing],” Favors said. “The interview was a bit unexpected, but the experience was very cool.”