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At the twilight of the nineteenth century, China sent a detachment of boys to America in order to learn the ways of the West, modernize the antiquated empire, and defend it from foreigners invading its shores. After spending a decade in New England’s finest schools, the boys re-turned home, driven by a pioneering spirit of progress and reform. Their lives in America influenced not only their thinking but also their nation’s endeavor to become a contemporary world power, an ...
At the twilight of the nineteenth century, China sent a detachment of boys to America in order to learn the ways of the West, modernize the antiquated empire, and defend it from foreigners invading its shores. After spending a decade in New England’s finest schools, the boys re-turned home, driven by a pioneering spirit of progress and reform. Their lives in America influenced not only their thinking but also their nation’s endeavor to become a contemporary world power, an endeavor that resonates powerfully today.
Drawing on diaries, letters, and other first-person accounts, Fortunate Sons tells a remarkable tale, weaving together the dramas of personal lives with the momentous thrust of a nation reborn. Shedding light on a crucial yet largely unknown period in China’s history, Fortunate Sons provides insight into the issues concerning that nation today, from its struggle toward economic supremacy to its fraught relationship with the United States.
Desperate to modernize in the final days of empire, China launches a bold educational experiment.
By the second half of the 19th century, the Qing dynasty ruled half-a-billion Chinese, with 40,000 civilian and military officials administering the government. The imperial system's calcified bureaucracy, resistant to change, wedded to Confucianism and wary of foreign intercourse, struggled with a tottering economy, domestic rebellions and repeated humiliations at the hands of Western powers. One powerful statesman, Li Hongzhang, sought to reform the educational system by sending students to America to learn the new ways of thinking and returning them to China as a core group of future leaders. Under the direction of the Yale-educated Yung Wing, over a period of nearly a decade, 120 boys attended high schools and colleges, mostly in New England, as a part of the Chinese Educational Mission. Under assault from court critics who feared Western corruption of the young men, Li recalled the mission in 1880. Although a remarkably large number of the boys eventually rose to power and influence in China, Leibovitz and Miller (Lili Marlene: The Soldiers' Song of World War II, 2008) wisely focus on only a dozen or so, tracking their journey to Hartford, Conn., the Mission's base of operations, their acculturation to Gilded Age American society and their troubled reentry to a China tumultuously passing from corrupt empire to shaky republic. The authors' effective, quick-stroke treatment of momentous historical events, their sensitive portraits of schoolboys who became technological, military, industrial and commercial reformers and their deft juxtaposition of two cultures, one on the rise, the other coming apart, make for a rich, multilayered tale. Today, China and America warily circle each other, and China is once again furiously attempting to modernize, busy recapitulating many of the same struggles and absorbing many of the same lessons that the Mission boys learned so many years ago.
A curious, little-known episode of Sino-American history vividly told.
Posted February 2, 2011
Highly readable, it is amazing to me how much I learned easily thanks to the superb writing of these authors. The incredible dedication of Yung Wing is an inspiration. I found myself intrigued by the decisions that went into sending young children to a foreign country, awed at the sacrifice of their parents, appalled the incredible ugliness of how San Francisco treated its Chinese immigrants unfortunate enough to live there, proud of the kindness and care the New Englanders gave to the children they fostered and the quality of the education they received even though it was abruptly cut short and fascinated by the internal workings of the Chinese government. The tales of these young men, and their roles in the politics of the time kept me reading and thinking and reading some more. The intrigue woven throughout this book is spell-binding. It was a blessed day when I was given the opportunity to read this book. It is unforgettable. *Note: This book was provided through the GoodReads First Read program with the expectation of an honest review. My opinions are my own.
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Posted July 29, 2011
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