Stepping Forth into the World

The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872–81

(走向世界:中國留美幼童, 1872–81)

Edward J. M. Rhoads

ISBN : 978-988-8028-87-0


January 2011

332 pages, 6″ x 9″, 37 b&w illus.; 11 tables

  • HK$195.00

Also available in Hardback HK$350.00

The Chinese Educational Mission was the earliest effort at educational modernization in China. As part of the Self-Strengthening Movement, the Qing government sent 120 young boys to New England to live and study for a decade, before abruptly summoning them home to China in 1881. The returned students helped staff numerous other modernization projects; some rose to top administrative and political posts in the Qing government. This book, based upon extensive research in US archives and newspapers, sheds new light on the students during their nine-year stay in the United States, and it compares their lives with those of the Japanese students in New England at about the same time.

This detailed study of one of the most important projects in China’s Self-Strengthening Movement will appeal to historians of modern China as well as to comparative historians of China and Japan. The book also contrasts the experiences of the Chinese Educational Mission students with those of other Chinese in the United States during a period of anti-Chinese sentiment, which was to culminate in the enactment of Chinese Exclusion in 1882. Its conclusion that the anti- Chinese movement may have been as much class-based as race-based will provide much food for thought to scholars of Asian American studies.

Edward J. M. Rhoads is a historian of late nineteenth–early twentieth century China. He is the author of China’s Republican Revolution: The Case of Kwangtung, 1895–1913 and Manchus and Han: Ethnic Relations and Political Power in Late Qing and Early Republican China, 1861–1928. The latter work was awarded the Joseph R. Levenson prize in 2002 as the best book on twentieth-century China by the Association for Asian Studies.

Rhoads is also interested in the history of the Chinese in the United States. He has published articles on the Chinese in Texas and on a group of Chinese workers in a cutlery factory in southwestern Pennsylvania in the 1870s. His next research project is a history of the bicycle in China. He retired in 2003, after thirty-seven years, from the history department at the University of Texas at Austin. He is currently living in New York City.

“Professor Rhoads has meticulously constructed the individual and collective histories of the 120 young men and boys sent by a beleaguered late Qing government to live and acquire English and Western knowledge in white New England families, schools and universities. As the vanguard of legions of Chinese students who have studied in the U.S. since, and as contemporaries of the far more numerous Chinese coolies whose paths they never crossed, this compelling study adds a surprising new chapter to early Asian American history.” —Evelyn Hu-DeHart, professor of history and ethnic studies; director, Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, Brown University

“A remarkable chapter in trans-Pacific history. Drawing from a huge array of local archives and personal papers, Professor Rhoads has produced the most authoritative study of the Chinese Education Mission. This collective biography of 120 teenage boys presents life in home-stay families, at schools, and in colleges, sometimes tender, sometimes tension-filled. Terminated abruptly in 1881, the mission failed, but among those who partook of this trans-Pacific exchange, there were heart-warming as well as heart-wrenching stories.” —David Pong, professor of East Asian history, University of Delaware; editor-in-chief, Encyclopedia of Modern China

“Meticulously researched and well written, this book is an essential reading for anyone who wants to understand China’s past, present, and future through the lens of China’s first government-sponsored studying abroad program.” —Xu Guoqi, associate professor of history, University of Hong Kong; author of Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers and the Great War