Skip Navigation

Chinese Students and Beloit College

Chinese Students and Beloit College


Published in 1993


Honors Term Project  


                                                                     XINWEI CAI
                                                                   (class of 1993)

     First, I would like to thank the college, especially Vice President Parker Marden, for supporting my project.

     A very special thank to Archivist Fred Burwell who has tremendously helped my research and offered me various resources.

     I also would like to thank Professors Anita Andrew and John Rosenwald, and Mrs. Susan Welty, who have provided me with various information.

     At last, but not the least, I would like to thank all Beloit Chinese alumni who responded to my survey. Their eager and detailed responses provided me with valuable information.

     Without your support and help, my project would not be possible. Thank you very much!



     The connection between Beloit and China has a long history, tracing back to the 19th century. Beloit graduates becoming missionaries set the stage for the coming of Chinese students to Beloit. However, what happened at Beloit only mirrors the historical background of the relations between China and the United States. Large numbers of Chinese students poured into the U.S. after 1910, but it was not the first time they came to study in America. A brief review of the history gives us a general picture.


Contents: Chinese Students in the United States

Missionaries: Beloit's First China Connection

Boxer Rebellion Indemnity and First Chinese Student At Beloit

Survey of Beloit College Chinese Alumni

Chinese Students At Beloit College and Attraction of Beloit

The New Development Between Beloit and China




Chinese Students in the United States
-- brief history and background --

     In the late nineteenth century, China was in the reign of the Ching Dynasty. The government was so corrupt that various social and political problems developed into elements leading to the dynastic decline.

     In the Ching Dynasty, the primary path to upward mobility was through education and the civil service examination system. In fact, personal recommendation and bribery were popular means to be successful in the examinations and obtain positions in government. "One of corruption in officialdom, nourished and sustained by an elaborate patronage system that seems characteristic of Ching government." (Denis Twitchett and John K. Fairbank, P.144) This fact made scholars find it not only difficult to win positions in government but government positions unattractive.

     Social crisis in Ching times was deepened by rebellions in both aboriginal and Han societies. Some rebellions like the White Lotus Society, the Taiping Rebellion, and the Boxers Rebellion were widespread all over the whole country. The Ching government could not hold China together any more, "a fact which no doubt ensured that the revolutionary transformations of the twentieth century would take place in a national context." (Denis Twitchett and John K. Fairbank, P.107)

     The Chinese people in the late nineteenth century did not have a voice in China's political life. From the 1840s to 1850s an unequal treaty system was set up between the Ching government and the western countries including Britain, France, Germany, etc. The system allowed these western powers to trade in treaty ports without restriction. Since that time, the foreign influences transmitted primarily through the treaty ports and contributed heavily to the disruption and transformation of China's traditional state and society. "This period saw the emergence within the ports of a bourgeoisie and sprouts of liberalism." (Denis Twitchett and John K. Fairbank, P.214) The treaty system therefore can been seen as the opening phase in an intricate and portentous growth of foreign influence on Chinese life. The treaty ports were the centers of foreign influence.

     Beginning in 1861, the phrase 'self-strengthening' appeared frequently in memorials, edicts and the writings of the literati-officials. It expressed the realized that China needed to go all out to make the country strong and to meet the unprecedented change in its position in the world. Utilizing their military power, western countries conquered China. Their military power appeared to depend on technology; therefore the adoption of this technology became the primary 'self-strengthening' task. Some students in naval school were sent abroad to learn modern military technology. This was the prelude to Chinese students studying abroad.

     The unequal treaty system brought foreigners of all hues to China. "Traders came to China in the nineteenth century to extract profits. Diplomats and soldiers came to extract privileges and concessions." (Denis Twitchett and John K. Fairbank, P.543), but the Christian missionaries went to China with their interests to further the spirit of Christianity. Their efforts posed a revolutionary challenge to the Chinese traditional culture. The missionaries were considered pagans, especially as their rejection of ancestor worship went directly against the core of Chinese culture. Meanwhile there was a racial prejudice among Chinese people who had regarded their country as the center of the universe for a long time and still considered themselves as the sole source of world civilization. As a result, there were several hundred anti-Christian incidents or disturbances during the four decades from 1860 to 1900. The most famous was known as the Boxers Rebellion, an uprising against Western influence in China in 1900. The Boxers were supported by the Ching government. They destroyed everything that they considered foreign. Chinese Christians, missionaries, and any person supporting Western ideas were killed. Missionary schools and churches were burned. At last a force from eight nations crushed the uprising. Facing pressure from the eight nations, the Ching government signed "The Boxer Protocol" agreeing to pay a punitive indemnity to each country.

     However, the establishment of the unequal treaty system facilitated a considerable extension of missionary operations. Foreign churches were erected within the open ports. Extraterritoriality made missionaries immune to Chinese laws. Catholic and Protestant priests had the freedom to preach and practice their religion anywhere in China. The missionaries were concerned not only with religious but cultural and institutional issues. Missionary endeavors in certain fields were notably important, especially medicine and education. Missionaries operated numerous schools, including colleges, devoted to religious and Chinese classics instruction. English was taught to avoid relying on translated texts. The enrollment in missionary schools was 6,000 in 1877, but jumped to 57,683 by 1906. The most important achievement of missionary schools was to transmit Western learning in China. Non-religious subjects were also taught by missionary schools. Missionaries contributed tremendously to the introduction of Western science into China. The emergence of professional missionary educators brought about a great advance in missionary educational work. Among them was a world renowned missionary, Arthur Smith. It was he who suggested that the U.S. government use the Boxer indemnity to bring Chinese students to the United States to study at American colleges and universities.

     From 1912 to 1949, China entered a period known as the Chinese republic. Missionary schools continued to expand. The hey-day of Protestant and Catholic colleges was in the 1930s. In addition to these liberal arts schools, there were several theological schools and medical colleges. Liberal arts colleges were largely sponsored by American missionaries. "They sought to create in China replicas of the small denominational colleges of mid-western America from which they had themselves graduated.' (John K. Fairbank, P.175) By the influence of missionaries and missionary schools, Chinese students saw a world of new ideas.

     The May Fourth Movement which occurred in 1919 is usually thought of as a watershed in China's intellectual history. Beginning in 1915, young intellectuals started to attack traditional Confucian ideas and exalted Western ideas, particularly science and democracy. Liberalism, pragmatism, nationalism, anarchism, and socialism became their inquiry challenging the traditional Chinese ethics, philosophy, religion, and social and political institutions. On May 4, 1919, when the government decided to transfer the former German concessions in northeastern Shantung Province of China to Japan, these patriotic feelings and the zeal for reform culminated in an incident. More than 3,000 students from 13 colleges in Peking held a demonstration on that day. Later on, merchants and workers in Shanghai and other cities went on strike to support the students. At last the government yielded to public pressure, and China refused to sign the peace treaty with Germany. "As a result, the decline of traditional ethics and the family system was accelerated, the emancipation of women gathered momentum, a vernacular literature emerged, and the modernized intelligentsia became a major factor in China's subsequent political developments." (The Encyclopedia Americana, P.969) After the May Fourth Movement, a large number of Chinese students went to America. Hoping to absorb and grasp modern technology and knowledge, they studied in colleges and universities across the United States.

     After World War II, China became involved in a civil war between the communist party and Kuomintang, the Chinese Nationalist Party. Chinese students continued to pursue their studies in the United States. Some of them were government-sponsored; some were privately sponsored. This situation continued until 1949, when The People's Republic of China was founded. This newly established People's Republic was quickly recognized by the Soviet Union, some East European countries, and some Asian nations. At that time, China was trying to develop good relations with its socialist "elder brother," the Soviet Union. Some agreements of friendship, alliance, mutual assistance, and economic development were signed in the 1950s. China also sent large numbers of communist party members and students to the Soviet Union, to learn how the "elder brother" model performed then come back to serve China. The sending ended when China and the Soviet Union severed diplomatic relations in the late 1950s.

     The outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950 launched a nationwide feeling of resisting America. The Sino-American relation was in a frozen period. Then the Cultural Revolution began in the 1960s. At that time anyone who had any relations with foreign countries was regarded as not loyal to the country. People tried their best to avoid anything that might bring them into relation with foreign countries, especially the United States, let alone study in America. During the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s no one from China went abroad for professional training. "According to one source, unique in the precision of the figure it cites, from 1950 through 1979 China sent 16,676 students to study abroad -- a reasonable total." (Leo A. Orleans, P.21) The number of Chinese students in the United States dropped sharply.

     The normalization of the relations between China and the United States was motivated by President Nixon's visit to China in 1972. After 1976, China began to realize the importance of contact with the outside world. To drive toward modernization, China needed to acquire world-level scientific and technical knowledge. Therefore, once again, studying abroad became an ideal shortcut to the acquisition of modern scientific and technical knowledge. In July 1985 the Accord for Educational Exchanges was signed between the People's Republic of China and the United States. Since then, both government-sponsored and privately sponsored Chinese students could resume their studies in the United States.