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Yale 62

A First For Yale

David Youtz, Cynthia Sung, WS, Adam Click, with 115th birthday cake

By Bill Stork

[Editor’s Note: This link appears at the bottom, but in case you miss it there, we’ve included here, too. All classmates are invited to join a webinar from Yale-NUS featuring Frank Yung talking at a Saga College Rector’s tea about his impressive grandfather, “Yung Wing – A Lasting Legacy of Yale in China.” This will happen 16 March, 7:00-8:15 pm (Singapore Time).

Please register at https://www.yale-nus.edu.sg/events/yung-wing-a-lasting-legacy-of-yale-in-china/]

When I was living in Singapore I met and made friends with Frank Yung.

The Yale-China Association (YCA) was celebrating its 115th anniversary. Myself, Cynthia Sung, and Adam Click, leaders of the Yale Society of Singapore, decided upon hearing that David Youtz, YCA president, was coming to Singapore to hold a gala event. Adam had connections with the Grand Hyatt Singapore, and was able to reserve its elegant and luxurious Collections Room for the occasion. Cynthia, spouse of the rector (college master) of residential Cendana College at Yale-NUS, had access to a marvelous invitation & reservations system.

My task was usually to make name tags and monitor finances, but in this instance YCA assumed those tasks. My easy role became one of name tags distributor and greeter, and to help David arrange gifts from YCA and various bits of YCA literature.

Per usual, the first part of our Yale Society events time was to allow arrivals to mingle, chat, to enjoy the free flow of wine and beer, and indulge in the hearty hors d’oeuvres provided by the Grand Hyatt. It was also a perfect time for David to get to reconnect with Singapore Yali members and to better get to know his YCA fans.

In addition to David, the special guest for the evening was Frank Yung.

Neil Clark (Rector-Cedana College YaleNUS), WS, Frank Yung

After Cynthia called us to order, Frank began, using the large screen mounted at the rooms front, for his visual presentation about his illustrious grandfather, YUNG Wing.

YUNG Wing (pictured), and grandson Frank Yung

(As you may know, in China the family is more important than any of its members, hence the family name comes first, often capitalized: XI Jinping, SUN Yat-sen, MAO Tse-tung)

Yung Wing, born in 1828, was sent off by his family in Zhuhai (just across the Pearl River Bay from Hong Kong) to a nearby missionary school in the Portuguese colony of Macau. It didn’t take. He attempted to run away, got caught, was humiliated in front of his peers. The death of his father served to release him from the bounds of school, as he went looking for ways to earn money to support his mother and four siblings. After a year a missionary doctor got him a place at Morrison Academy, which had moved to Hong Kong. But the principal, a Yale grad, became so ill he needed to return to America. Before leaving he addressed the school and asked for any schoolboy that wanted to accompany him to stand up. Young Wing was one of three. Upon arrival the three were sent to live with the principal’s mother in Munson Mass, and were enrolled at Munson Academy. Missionaries paid for their tuition at this prep school and also financially supported their families left behind.

It was not easy for Yung Wing when he entered Yale in 1850, as his classmates had had years of preparation in Greek, Latin and mathematics, where he had only had 15, 12, and 10 months respectively. He also paid for his own tuition, doing marketing, waiting tables, and working as an assistant librarian for the elite literary society Brothers in Unity, where he made good friends across the classes. He was very popular, and was asked to join the fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE). He became a naturalized American citizen in 1852, and in his final two years won awards in English composition.

In 1854 Yung Wing became the first Chinese to graduate from an American university.

His portrait was unveiled by President Levin in 2000, to be hung in the President’s Rotunda in Woolsley Hall.

On that occasion Frank Yung had this to say: “Yung Wing’s vision is well known. He wanted to see China catch up on the Western nations through the modern sciences. He wanted it possible for the rising generations in China to receive the same level of education he had received in the U.S. Ching Dynasty China needed a reform in education.”

L-R: Yale historian Jonathan D. Spence; Yale-China Association chair David A. Jones; United Technologies vice president Ruth Harkin; Zhang Hongxi, Consul General of China; Frank Yung, Yung Wing’s grandson; President Richard C. Levin; and Judith Reeve, who painted the portrait.

Yung Wing had long been a supporter of the reform movement growing in China, and upon graduation professed a goal, “I was determined that the rising generation of China should enjoy the same educational advantages that I had enjoyed; that through western education China might be regenerated, become enlightened and powerful. To accomplish that object became the guiding star of my ambition.”

The return to China was hugely eventful but uneven and unproductive, as so many factions were applying for leadership as China continued to weaken. During this time Yung Wing returned to the U.S. to acquire workshops capable of producing Western-style weapons, this eventually becoming the Jiangnan Shipyard several times. He next was sent to buy a revolutionary rapid-fire type of gun

called the Gatling gun, and presented an order of $100,000 (about $25 million today). While in the U.S., as an American citizen, he applied to join the Union Army during the Civil War (refused, as the general, who knew him from Yale, reminded him that he had more important tasks to accomplish in the U.S. for China).

Yung always worked to promote cultural understanding and connections between China and the United States and reform in China. A major success came as he persuaded the Chinese government to send young boys to the U.S. for study. Starting in 1872, the Chinese Educational Mission of 30 boys annually was

L. Photo courtesy Monson Academy. R. Mon Cham Cheong (MIT photo)

eminently hugely successful. Those students went on to become China’s “first generation of 20th-century railroad builders, engineers, medical doctors, naval admirals and diplomats,” Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh once noted in his talk “Yellow in a White World”.

The Chinese Educational Mission was disbanded in 1881 following a whispering campaign that questioned Yung’s loyalty to China, especially after marrying a white woman in 1876.

Mary Kellogg (WSU library)

The Guangxu Emperor, embarking on a movement called ‘the Hundred Days of Reform’ was quickly joined by Yung Wing. Short-lived

by a coup d’etat by the Empress Dowager Cuxi, he found that he had a price of $70,000 on his head and quickly retreated to the British concessions in Shanghai from which he returned to Hong Kong.

L: Connecticut Digital Archive; R: Smithsonian

In 1876 Yale awarded him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and the next year he proposed to establish a professorship for Chinese Language and Literature and to also create a collection of Chinese books at Yale. He donated his unique 1,237-volume Chinese book collection which formed the basis for Yale’s East Asian Collection, one of the finest book collections of its kind in the world, for which

photo: Yale Alumni Magazine

his bust can be found in the Memorabilia Room of Sterling Library
along with a first edition of his 1909 autobiography. In closing his

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


talk about Yung Wing, Dean Harold Koh summarized another lesson inherent in Yung Wing’s story, that of one’s obligation to others, with Koh urging audience members “to be a bridge between two cultures, to be a ladder for those who come behind, to be a beacon to those who look for us for leadership because of our unique educational advantages, and most of all, to represent not just those people who are like us in appearance, but those who stand for the same principles … that’s Yung Wing’s story. It is a story of what it means to be yellow in a white world. It’s a story of choices; it’s a story of hope; it’s a story of obligation; it’s a story of accomplishment.”

When leaving Singapore to return to Hong Kong, I invited Frank to lunch at the Singapore Cricket Club. Over a long meal Frank generously offered to arrange, for any Yale group, a tour of his Zhuhai ancestral home and its associated school and museum. I am hoping post-Covid that this can come about!

L: Yung Wing Museum, Zhuhai China. R: Yung Wing School, Zhuhai China

All classmates are invited to join a webinar from Yale-NUS featuring Frank Yung talking at a Saga College Rector’s tea about his impressive grandfather, “Yung Wing – A Lasting Legacy of Yale in China.” This will happen 16 March, 7:00-8:15 pm (Singapore Time).

Please register at https://www.yale-nus.edu.sg/events/yung-wing-a-lasting-legacy-of-yale-in-china/

 

Sources: ConnecticutHistory.org, MOCA, Yale Archives, Yale-China Association, Yale Events & Calendar, Yale Alumni Magazine, Phillips Exeter Academy, chinadaily.com.cn, Philips Academy Archives, Chicago History Museum, Liel Leibovitz, Matthew Miller: Fortunate Sons, Edward J.M. Rhoads: Stepping Forth into the World, Yale Council for East Asian Studies, City of Zhuhai

 

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