- Roger Daniels
Yung Wing (17 November 1828–21 April 1912), educator and diplomat, was born near Macao, China, the son of Yung Ming-kun and Lin Lien-tai. He was educated in schools that had been established by western missionaries in Macao and Hong Kong. In 1847 Yung’s teacher Samuel Robbins Brown brought him and two other Chinese students to the United States, where their education continued at Monson Academy near Springfield, Massachusetts. He entered Yale and in 1854 became the first Chinese person to graduate from an American college. During his seven years in the United States he became a Christian and an American citizen. But the biblical text, “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” (1 Tim. 5:8), haunted him, and he resolved to devote most of his life to the modernization of China.
Yung returned to China in 1854 and became a protégé of the important regional leader Zeng Guofan. Zeng sent him to the United States to purchase machine tools to equip a modern Chinese arsenal. While there he volunteered for the Union army but was not accepted. Upon his return to China with the equipment, he was given an appointment in the Chinese bureaucracy even though he had neither a traditional Confucian education nor taken the imperial examinations based upon it. In 1870 he proposed that a number of young Chinese men be sent to the West for education, a project he had conceived while at Yale. The resulting Chinese Educational Mission, established in 1872, sent thirty teenagers a year to the United States for four successive years. The students were to study in America for fifteen years, be allowed to travel for another two years, and then return to serve China. Yung, who was second in command of the mission, first established it in Springfield and later in Hartford, Connecticut. But the educational mission was opposed from the start by cultural conservatives in China and was aborted in 1881. In the meantime Yung had become a Chinese diplomat, serving as assistant minister to the United States between 1875 and 1881, and in that capacity had written a harshly condemnatory report on the coolie trade that was conducted with Peru. In 1875 he married an American, Mary Louise Kellogg; they had two children.
After 1881 Yung traveled extensively and was involved in a number of unconsummated Sino-American ventures, including a railway company, and at one time had the Gatling gun concession for all of China. In 1898, when he sought the assistance of the American minister to China, that official was instructed by Secretary of State John Sherman (1823–1900) that the State Department “does not feel that it can properly recognize [Yung] as a citizen of the United States.” Despite the Chinese Exclusion Act, Yung returned to the United States in 1902. He died in Hartford and is buried there. His autobiography, My Life in China and America (1909; repr. 1978), a detailed account of his educational and political experience, is the first autobiography of a Chinese American published in English.
Yung’s papers, at Yale’s Sterling Library, are available on microfilm. There is no biography of Yung. The best account is Edmund H. Worthy, Jr., “Yung Wing in America,” Pacific Historical Review 39 (1985): 265–87. For a contemporary Chinese view, see William Hung, “Huang Tsun-hsien’s Poem ‘The Closure of the Educational Mission in America,’ ” Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies 18 (1955): 50–73. Y. C. Wang, Chinese Intellectuals and the West, 1872–1949 (1966), examines the education of Chinese in several western countries including the United States. Also useful is the chapter on Yung Wing in K. Scott Wong, “Encountering the Other: Chinese Immigration and Its Impact on Chinese and American Worldviews. 1875–1905” (Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Michigan, 1992).