Celebrating THE 140TH ANNIVERSARY OF CHINESE STUDENTS AT MIT
exhibit ON DISPLAY AT MIT'S MAIHAUGEN GALLERY,
Maihaugen Gallery, MIT Libraries, Building 14N-130 160 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA
Open Monday-Friday, 10am to 4pm
In 1877, the first student from China matriculated at MIT. By 1910, China was sending more students to MIT than any other foreign country. From these beginnings, the Institute became one of the most popular destinations for Chinese overseas students, especially those seeking to contribute to their country’s modernization through engineering, science, and commerce. Between 1854 and 1954, a pivotal century in China's modernization, MIT awarded 734 degrees to Chinese students, the third highest number of any American university. As Course XIII student FT Yeh (Class of 1914) declared:
The future of China depends on the quality of the men who are receiving their education. These now come mostly to the United States, there being a thousand such students here, and the Institute is the favorite place for those desiring scientific training. (The Tech, March 26, 1914, 3)
Harboring a dream of "saving China through science and technology," these trailblazing students went on to make vital contributions to China's development. MIT's Chinese alumni produced numerous inventions, from the world's first Chinese typewriter to the Model C training seaplane, and pioneered work in fields from microwave spectroscopy to nonlinear control theory. Equally important, they helped to promote American understanding of their homeland and its people, leaving behind a legacy of strong ties between China and “Tech” (MIT) that profoundly influenced the course of globalization.
Many today stereotypically associate Asians with STEM -- but the early students from China had to fight skeptics who considered Chinese incapable of first-rate science and engineering. "CHINA COMES TO TECH: 1877-1931" -- an exhibit at the MIT Libraries' Maihaugen Gallery -- tells their story.
"The Institute is justly proud of the splendid part which her graduates have played in the New China and is happy to be of service in the further training of the young men to whom will come the opportunity and responsibility to organize the resources of this great sister republic, especially in science, engineering and business administration." -- KARL T. COMPTON, MIT President, 1930
The exhibit, and this companion website, draw inspiration from a document held in the MIT Archives and Special Collections: the MIT Chinese Students Directory: For the Past Fifty Years was published in 1931 by the MIT Chinese Students’ Club, with support from President Karl Compton. Chronicling the history of their first half-century at the Institute, this booklet had two aims: to provide prospective Chinese students with a picture of student life at MIT; and to foster "the Tech spirit in China," compiling data on alumni to consolidate a network of MIT-trained engineers and scientists as a vital resource for China's national reconstruction. Following the Directory, the story we tell focuses on the years 1877 to 1931, and includes international students from China as well as students of ethnic Chinese heritage, some of whom were born in the US, Hawaii, Australia, or elsewhere. Chinese names are furthermore given as recorded in the Directory, which means that they are often romanized based on regional pronunciations, rather than standard modern Mandarin. We hope that this exhibit and website will serve as one example of how archival documents can help to bring the past alive.
"中國留學生，最早是在晚清政府推動洋務自強運動的浪潮中來到美國的。隨著1909年清華留美預備學校的創建，中國學生迅速成為MIT人數最多的外國學生群體。這些學生大多數都是從中國各地通過考試被精心選撥出來的，他們抱著學習西方工業技術的理想，成為MIT的重要成員。他們在此不但學習新型科學知識，也成為早期中美文化教育交融的見證人。在這里列出的中國學生，學成之后，無論是返回中國服務，還是留在美國或去其他國家，絕大多數都服務于科技、教育、行政等領域，表現出卓越才能，在二十世紀人類科技迅速發展過程中曾經扮演了重要角色。這些MIT的中國學生，后來也成為促進中、美兩國科技與教育交流的重要力量，其精神值得后人銘記在心." (Feng Xiaocai, Professor, History Department, East China Normal University)
This website is under construction and in draft format, please pardon the appearance, errors and omissions.