Spreading the MIT "Gospel"

 

"Every graduate who has returned to China has been a missionary and the creed he has preached has been ‘Go to Technology.’" (Boston Globe, December 23, 1917)

 

MIT had early ambitions to become a leading international educational institution. By 1912, the President could boast that the percentage of international students at MIT was higher than any of its peer institutions. With international students constituting 6.8% of the total student body, the annual President's Report proclaimed: "the Institute has nearly twice as large a proportion of foreigners as any other institution in the country." (p. 17) The registrar's report that year similarly emphasized the growth of the international student body, which had expanded from a mere 10 students in 1902, to 100 students representing 23 different countries. A significant portion of this growth was driven by China, which sent 37 students in 1912, nearly three times the number of any other foreign country. 

 
 
MIT Technology Review, January 1923. Image courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.

MIT Technology Review, January 1923. Image courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.

A global institution

Justifiably proud of the Institute's ability to attract students from around the world, the administration and alumni association undertook concerted efforts to promote MIT internationally. Alumni Association President Jasper Whiting (Class of 1899, Course III) was sent to Asia in 1912 "acting as a special agent of the Institute" to make a study of educational conditions in the region and foster interest in MIT. Whiting in fact had a long-standing appreciation of China in particular, having traveled there in 1901 as a journalist covering the Boxer Uprising. Under Whiting’s leadership, in 1914, an Alumni Council Committee on Publicity recommended to the President and Executive Committee of the Corporation that a "foreign publicity" campaign be launched. Acknowledging the key role of alumni,

"especially the foreign graduate returning to his country, who by success shows what capacity the Institute training may develop"

in promoting MIT's reputation abroad, the Committee also asserted "that an opportunity is afforded of furthering the Institute by circulation of printed matter in foreign lands." (Technology Review, volume 16, 1914) Proposing that MIT prepare illustrated pamphlets containing general information about the Institute, entrance requirements, living expenses, and special opportunities for international students, the committee identified "two fields" for the publicity campaign: China and Latin America. Whereas booklets for Latin America were to be printed in Spanish, and perhaps Portuguese, those for China were to be prepared in English, since Chinese students likely to attend the Institute were already studying English.


a field for foreign publicity

To gain support for this initiative, Whiting spoke on the importance of foreign publicity at the Alumni Association meeting, addressing the opportunities presented by China in particular: "saying that there is no more important country than this. The members of the government are men of Western education, and the primary aim they have in view is the education of the people." Chinese student FT Yeh (Yeh Fong Teh, Class of 1914, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering) of Fujian, was also invited to address the meeting. Yeh declared that the future of China depended 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 students have already realized the benefit to their countrymen that a knowledge of the Institute will effect, and they have already sent to China on their own account translations of portions of the catalogue of the Institute that seem suitable for the purpose.
— Yeh Fong Teh (The Tech, March 26, 1914)
FT Yeh, MIT Senior Portfolio 1913. Image courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.

FT Yeh, MIT Senior Portfolio 1913. Image courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.

The Chinese Students’ Club was actively engaged in promoting MIT in their homeland. At the time of the 1914 graduation exercises, two students from the club prepared a Chinese press release on the record graduation of 17 Chinese students from MIT, which they sent to various newspapers in China. Their notice was published in the Beijing Daily News, Shanghai's Shun Bao, and various newspapers in Tianjin. The MIT publicity office encouraged this endeavor, which was also recognized in the Technology Review in May 1914. in addition to translating portions of the MIT catalogue, the students also prepared Chinese summaries of the MIT curriculum to send back to China. By 1917, MIT’s efforts had attracted notice in the Boston Globe, which printed a story on "Tech Gospel Spread by Every Tech Graduate: One Student in Every 15 Comes from a Foreign Country, China Leading the List with 48 – Reaching Better Understanding with South America." The Globe proclaimed that: "Every graduate who has returned to China has been a missionary and the creed he has preached has been ‘Go to Technology.’"


Prof. and Mrs. Jackson visit China, MIT Chinese Students Directory, 1931, p. 16. Image courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.

Prof. and Mrs. Jackson visit China, MIT Chinese Students Directory, 1931, p. 16. Image courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.

Alumni-faculty links

Furthering the links between China and their alma mater, Chinese alumni also actively invited MIT faculty to visit China, with the MIT alumni club sponsoring lectures, dinners, and other activities. Prof. Arlo Bates, for example, visited China in 1917, and was royally entertained by the alumni in various cities. Professor Dugald Jackson and his wife were guests of the club in 1929, following the World Engineering Congress in Tokyo. As Dean of Engineering at Tsinghua University, Ku Yu-Hisu was instrumental in inviting Prof. Norbert Wiener to Tsinghua for a year as a Visiting Professor of Electrical Engineering in 1935-36. Thus, MIT's influence among China's scientific and engineering elite grew.

By 1921 discussions were underway concerning a movement to establish an "MIT in China," an idea proposed by Dr. Edward Hume, the President of Yale-in-China, and endorsed by MIT Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education Alfred E. Burton at MIT. Unfortunately, the plans never came to fruition – though engagement with China remains central to MIT's mission.

Thus, even as MIT transformed the students from China, so too their presence at MIT transformed the Institute itself, serving as a key catalyst for its growth into a globally-oriented institution of research and education. Today, China once again sends more international students to MIT than any other foreign country, and more and more MIT students each year study Chinese or do internships in Greater China.


Sources: AC.0597 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Office of the President. Reports to the President, 1912, 17, MIT Report of the Registrar, 1912, 44-45, The Tech, April 21, 1914, vol. XXXIV, no. 15, “Publicity in China: How our Chinese Students Are Helping to Make Technology Known in Their Native Land.” Technology Review v. 16, n. 8, Nov. 1914, pp. 564-566, Technology Review vol. 3, 1901, 433, Technology Review, vol. 4, 1902, 247, Technology Review, volume 16, 1914, page 543, The Tech, March 26, 1914, The Tech, March 26, 1914, Boston Globe, December 23, 1917, p. 13, S.J. Shu, "An Open Letter to Students of Engineering and Applied Sciences," Chinese Students' Monthly, Volume 9 No. 3, 245-247, Gu, Yiqiao. One Family-Two Worlds. Philadelphia, Pa. (22G Academy House, 1420 Locust St., Philadelphia 19102: Y.H. Ku, 1982, 49, 70, 89, Bridge of Education: From Tsinghua to MIT, Hong Kong: Cosmos Point Limited, 2011, 21, 163-4, Boston Globe, December 23, 1917, p. 13, Chinese Students' Monthly, vol. 16, no. 4, 1921, p. 301,  MIT International Students Office, General Statistics 2015-2016.