Making their way cross-country on the new transcontinental train, 120 young Chinese boys journeyed to New England for schooling in the 1870s. These students were part of the Chinese Educational Mission (CEM), organized by Yung Wing, the first Chinese graduate of an American university. This “study abroad” experiment took shape in the US northeast. The boys lived with host families in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and attended local and private schools. Some CEM students enrolled in Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts; during the 1879-1880 academic year, twelve CEM students were in attendance. Among them were Liang Cheng (also called Liang Pi Yuk) and Chang Hong Yen.
In 1881, Liang Cheng, Andover’s center fielder and a fine batter, helped his team beat arch-rival Exeter, with a final score of 13-5. Another CEM student, Chin Kin Kwai, was Exeter’s shortstop.
Liang Cheng is pictured on the right with his teammates. Returning to Phillips more than twenty years later to give an address, Liang fondly remembered:
“Feeling that the athletic reputation of the school was at stake, every member of the nine went into the game with a determination to win . . . In a twinkle we had two men on bases. It was my turn to go next to the bat. I succeeded in smashing the ball to the center for a three bagger. This enabled us to secure a commanding lead which our opponents could not overcome.”
Despite its successes, the Chinese Educational Mission was recalled in 1881, just one year before passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. Chinese officials ordered the boys home, angered by the students’ adoption of Western ways and their rejection from West Point and Annapolis, and alarmed by increasing violence against Chinese in the American West. Many CEM students later served China as engineers, architects, military leaders, and diplomats.
In 1903, Liang Cheng returned to the United States as the Chinese ambassador. He is pictured here in Chicago, en route to Washington, DC, where he helped to arrange the Boxer Indemnity Scholarships for Chinese students. In the program’s first twenty years, over thirteen hundred students used the program to study in the US at schools including Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and the University of Illinois, among others.
Chang Hon Yen, pictured here, graduated from Phillips Andover in 1879 and continued on to Yale University. In 1881, Chang and the rest of the CEM students were recalled to China. However, he soon returned to the US and attended Columbia College Law School. Initially denied admittance to the New York bar because he was not a citizen, Chang launched a successful campaign to become a licensed lawyer. In 1887, the New York Court of Common Pleas issued him a naturalization certificate, and he reapplied and passed the bar.
After passing the New York state bar, Chang applied to the California bar in 1890, hoping to serve the Chinese community in San Francisco. The California Supreme Court unanimously denied him admission. The Court stated that because federal legislation barred Chinese immigrants from naturalizing, Chang could not be a citizen and thus was ineligible to practice law in California. Chang went on to a career in banking and diplomacy.
Though the Chinese Educational Mission ended, students from China continued to enroll at Phillips Academy, Andover. In 1920, reflecting on the connection between Andover and China, the school’s principal Alfred Stearns commented on how Andover-educated Chinese students could best help to foster relations between Americans and Chinese: “A unique opportunity is offered this old American school to aid in breaking down those barriers of race prejudice and selfish provincialism that keep nations and men from accepting a true human brotherhood and that so often through ignorance breed hatred and strife.”
Phillips Andover continued its interest in positive relations between the United States and China. In the 1960s, it was one of the first preparatory schools to teach Mandarin and, starting in the 1980s, to arrange exchanges for students.
Images courtesy of Phillips Academy Archives & Special Collections and Chicago History Museum/Chicago Daily News.