History of Yale & China

Yale has a long history of meaningful engagement with China. A few highlights follow:

First long-term contact between a Yale graduate and China: Yale College and Medical School graduate Peter Parker worked in and around the city of Guangzhou as a doctor in the 1830s and 1840s. His “medical mission” spurred considerable interest in China among students and faculty at Yale.

Yale & China Yale & CHina First graduate: Yung Wing graduated from Yale in 1854, becoming the first person from China to earn a degree from an American college or university. In 1876, he received an honorary degree from Yale Law School.

Prominent Early Chinese Students at Yale: After Zhan Tianyou graduated from Yale University’s Sheffield Scientific School in 1881, he returned to China and became renowned for his role as the engineering consultant for all of China’s railroad networks (known as the “father of China’s railroads.”)

Yung Wing (Class of 1854) vision for the joint-stock financing of a domestic Chinese steamship transportation company became the basis for China’s first domestically-owned modern corporation, The China Merchant’s Steamship Navigation Company, and the beginnings of a stock market in China.

Yale’s Chinese Library Collection: In 1878, Yung Wing made a significant donation from his Chinese book collection to Yale, forming the nucleus of Yale University’s East Asia Library. The Chinese collection has grown to over 477,424 volumes and is considered one of the major collections in the United States today.

China Enters the Yale Curriculum: The study of China at Yale began in 1878 and a formal program of Chinese language study was established in 1936. During the 1940s, Yale pioneered intensive methods of language instruction and developed textbooks that were widely used throughout the United States for decades by those learning Chinese.

East Asian Studies Council Promotes Scholarship and Culture: Currently the Council on East Asian Studies at the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies is the Center’s most prominent and active area studies program. The Center and the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures offer an extensive array of undergraduate and graduate courses in East Asian studies. Over a dozen academic departments regularly offer more than fifty courses annually on Chinese language, history, literature, society, politics, art, economics, and other subjects.

These academic offerings are supported by renowned library, art, and scientific collections that are among the finest in the world outside of China. East Asian culture and society are also present at Yale through concerts, dramatic and cultural performances, gallery exhibitions, and the activities of student organizations.

Educating China’s Academic Leaders: The University has a history of sustained collaborations with academic institutions and Chinese authorities. The University also has a long history of cultivating Chinese educators, with notable examples of graduates including: Tang Guo’an, Zhang Yuquan, and Zhou Yichun—three of the first four presidents of Tsinghua University and Li Denghui, who served as the first president of Fudan University.

Yale-China Association: Founded by Yale graduates in 1901, the Yale-China Association, a nonprofit organization that is closely tied to wider Yale efforts in China, seeks to promote mutual understanding between the Chinese and American people through teaching and service. Generations of Yale graduates have taught at schools and universities in China under the auspices of the Yale-China Association. The Yale-China Association also established and supported the development of numerous educational institutions in China, including Xiangya School of Medicine, Xiangya Hospital, Huazhong University, and Yali Middle School.

Over Six Hundred Chinese Students and Scholars at Yale Today: Since China initiated its “open door policy” in the late 1970s, academic exchanges and collaborations between Yale and China have expanded rapidly. In 2007–08, there were 300 Chinese students enrolled in Yale College and Yale’s graduate and professional schools, and 375 other Chinese scholars (fellows, postdoctoral researchers, etc.) in residence at Yale. Chinese students and scholars represent, by far, the largest complement of any foreign country in residence at Yale.