Yung Wing

Yung Wing (simplified Chinese: 容闳; traditional Chinese: 容閎; pinyin: Róng Hóng; Jyutping: Jung4 Wang4; November 17, 1828 – April 21, 1912) was the first Chinese student to graduate from an American university (Yale College in 1854). He was involved in business transactions between China and the United States and brought students from China to study in the United States on the Chinese Educational Mission. He became a naturalized American citizen, but his status was later revoked under the Naturalization Act of 1870.[1]

Yung Wing
Róng Hóng
Yung Wing Frontispiece My Life in China and America 1909 FRD 4814.jpg
Born(1828-11-17)17 November 1828
Died21 April 1912(1912-04-21) (aged 83)
Spouse(s)Mary Kellogg

Early lifeEdit

The first edition of My Life in China and America by Yung Wing (1909)
Page One

After receiving his early education at a Mission School in Canton,[2] Yung studied at Yale College to become, in 1854, the first-known Chinese student to graduate from an American university. He was a member and librarian of Brothers in Unity, a prominent Yale student literary society. His time at Yale was sponsored by Samuel Robbins Brown (1810–1880).[3] In 1851, at the end of his freshman year, Yung wrote to Albert Booth, a fellow alumnus of Munson Academy and "old Yale, where you have the satisfaction + honor to have gone through." Yung asked for Booth's help in acquiring study materials and stated, "Now you know probably the many disadvantages in which I labor aside from these additional studies."[4] He was a member of the Phi chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity.

After finishing his studies, Yung returned to Qing Dynasty China and worked with western missionaries as an interpreter. He was thought perhaps the first Chinese person to almost entirely master the English language.[2]

Republican activismEdit

In 1859, he accepted an invitation to the court of the Taiping rebels in Nanjing, but his proposals aimed at increasing the efficiency of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom were all eventually refused. In 1863, Yung was dispatched to the United States by Zeng Guofan to buy machinery necessary for opening an arsenal in China capable of producing heavy weapons comparable with those of the western powers. The arsenal later became Jiangnan Shipyard.

He persuaded the Qing Dynasty government to send young Chinese to the United States to study Western science and engineering. With the government's eventual approval, he organized what came to be known as the Chinese Educational Mission, which included 120 young Chinese students, to study in the New England region of the United States beginning in 1872. The Educational Mission was disbanded in 1881, but many of the students later returned to China and made significant contributions to China's civil services, engineering, and the sciences.

In 1874, he and the writer Joseph Twichell traveled to Peru to investigate the living conditions of Chinese citizens working there.[5]

Yung was a lifelong supporter of reform in China. He had followed the lead of the Guangxu Emperor, whom Yung described as the great pioneer of reform in China.[6] The coup d'état of 1898 by the Empress Dowager Cixi aborted the reforms, and many of the reformers were decapitated.[6] A price of $70,000 was placed on Yung's head and he fled Shanghai to Hong Kong.

While in Hong Kong, he applied to the US Consul to return to the US. In a 1902 letter from the US Secretary of State John Sherman, Yung was informed that his US citizenship, which he had held for 50 years, had been revoked and he would not be allowed to return to the United States. Through the help of friends, he was able to sneak into the United States in time to see his youngest son, Bartlett, graduate from Yale.

In 1908, Yung joined "General" Homer Lea, the former American military advisor to Kang Youwei, in a bold and audacious military venture in China called the "Red Dragon Plan" that called for organizing a revolutionary conspiracy to conquer Liangguang. Through Yung, Lea planned to solicit a united front of various southern Chinese factions and secret societies to organize an army that he would command for the revolution. If successful, Yung was slated to head a coalition government of revolutionary forces while Lea and his fellow conspirators hoped to receive wide-ranging economic concessions from the new government. The Red Dragon conspiracy subsequently collapsed.[7]

After the Wuchang Uprising in the late fall of 1911, Sun Yat Sen wrote to Yung Wing requesting help to build the newly-founded Republic of China, however Yung was unable to go due to old age and illness. He requested his two sons to go in his place.[8]

Family and legacyEdit

Yung was naturalized as an American citizen on October 30, 1852, and in 1876, he married Mary Kellogg, an American. They had two children: Morrison Brown Yung and Bartlett Golden Yung. At Yale's centennial commencement in 1876, Yung received an honorary Doctor of Laws.[9]

Yung lived his twilight years after the failed 1908 uprising in poverty in Hartford, Connecticut, and died in 1912.[7] His grave is located at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford.

Yung Wing's family plot at Cedar Hill Cemetery.

P.S. 124, a public elementary school at 40 Division St. in Chinatown in New York City, NY, is named after Yung. Yung had been considered as a possible namesake for one of Yale University's new colleges to be completed in 2017.[10]

In the prefecture city of Zhuhai, Guangdong, Yung Wing's hometown, there is a private school named in honor of Yung Wing, the Yung Wing School -- one of the most elite schools in the city. There is also a Yung Wing International Kindergarten there.


  1. ^ Gold, Martin (2012-07-04). Forbidden Citizens: Chinese Exclusion and the U.S. Congress : a Legislative History. The Capitol Net Inc. pp. 31–. ISBN 9781587332524. Retrieved 10 May 2013.
  2. ^ a b Andrews, Stephen Pearl (1854). Discoveries in Chinese. New York. p. 17.
  3. ^ Cornelia E. Brooke (January 1975). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Sand Beach Church". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  4. ^ Ravi D. Goel Collection on Yale (RU 1081). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. (Accession 2008-A-176. Yale letters and memorabilia, Box 1, Folder 10)
  5. ^ Courtney, Steve. "Joseph Hopkins Twichell". Retrieved 29 February 2020.
  6. ^ a b Yung Wing, My Life in China and America, p.83, Henry Holt Co., New York, 1909
  7. ^ a b Chu, T.K., 150, Years of Chinese Students in America, p.9, Harvard China Review, Spring 2004; Lawrence M. Kaplan, Homer Lea: American Soldier of Fortune (University Press of Kentucky, 2010), 145-157.
  8. ^ Lee, Khoon Choy. Pioneers of Modern China: Understanding the Inscrutable Chinese.
  9. ^ Schiff, Judith Ann, "When East Met West," old Yale, November/December 2004
  10. ^ Peter Perdue (October 17, 2014). "For Wing College". Yale Daily News. Retrieved 2015-06-05.


  • Edward J.M. Rhoads, Stepping Forth into the World the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81 (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Univ. Pr., 2011).
  • Liel Leibovitz, Matthew I. Miller, Fortunate Sons : The 120 Chinese Boys Who Came to America, Went to School, and Revolutionized an Ancient Civilization (New York: W.W. Norton, 2011).

Further readingEdit

  • For a comparative perspective on Yung's Sino-American Educational Mission of the 1870s and Prosper Giquel's Sino-European Educational Missions of the same period see Steven A. Leibo's The SINO-EUROPEAN EDUCATIONAL MISSIONS 1875-86 Asia Profile, vol. 16, no. 5 1988.
  • Kaplan, Lawrence M. Homer Lea: American Soldier of Fortune. University Press of Kentucky, 2010. ISBN 978-0813126166.
  • Yung appears as a fictionalized character in Li Bo's Beyond the Heavenly Kingdom 2017 ISBN 1541232216

External linksEdit

  • Yung Wing papers (MS 602). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library. [1]