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Yale, Hong Kong and China


Few universities in the West can rival Yale in the strength and breadth of its historic ties with China and its people. Here are a few snapshots from a much larger album that chronicles Yale's ongoing engagement with China and Hong Kong.

Yung Wing, Yale B.A. 1854
Yale-China Association
Yale University Press China project
Yale-New Asia Student Exchange
Hong Kong Club at Yale
Yale-Beijing-HKU summer program
Recent developments

Yung Wing, Yale B.A. 1854

The first Chinese person ever to receive a degree from an American university - indeed, perhaps from any university in the West - was Yung Wing , who graduated from Yale College in 1854.

Born near Macau in 1828, Yung was tutored as a boy by a missionary's wife at a Macau primary school, and later enrolled in the Macau Missionary School, where he studied English, Chinese, geography and arithmetic. In 1847, at the age of 19, he traveled to the United States with funds provided by local Western merchants. After three years at a preparatory school in Massachusetts, Yung worked his way through Yale. Later, he married an American woman from Hartford, and their two children enrolled at Yale.

After returning to China, Yung assisted the Qing Dynasty by traveling back to the United States in 1864 to purchase machine equipment and arms. During his trip, Yung attended his tenth Yale reunion and, as a naturalized American citizen, volunteered to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. (His offer was declined.) He went on to a noteworthy career as a teacher and businessman who worked to improve relations between China and the United States, and in 1876 he received an honorary degree from the Yale Law School.

In 1877, Yung Wing donated his 1,237-volume Chinese book collection - the first of its kind in the United States - to Yale. It formed the nucleus of the University's East Asian Collection, which ranks today as one of the finest in the West.

Yale-China Association

A private, non-profit organization, the Yale-China Association promotes mutual understanding between the peoples of China and the United States through cultural and educational exchanges in the fields of medicine, public health, American Studies, and English language instruction. The Association's work is based on the belief that sustained, one-on-one contacts between Chinese and American people not only enrich the lives of the individuals involved but ultimately contribute to more peaceful relations between the two nations.

Founded in 1901 as the Yale Foreign Missionary Society, the Association was reincorporated in 1943 as the Yale-in-China Association and in 1975 as the Yale-China Association. It is headquartered near the Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut, and also maintains an active field office in Hong Kong. The Association's programs include:

  • Teaching Fellowship Program

The fellowship sends recent Yale graduates to China to teach English and American Studies for two years. Fourteen Fellows currently serve at five sites: the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hunan Medical University and Yali Middle School in Changsha, Zhongshan University in Guangzhou, and Huizhen Academy in Ningbo.

  • American Studies Summer Institute

The American Studies Summer Institute provides intensive graduate-level seminars in American Studies at Yale for 25 young scholars and professionals from throughout East Asia every year.

For further information on the Yale-China Association's many programs and activities, visit its website.

Yale University Press China Project

In a ground-breaking project that made the front pages of major newspapers around the world when it was announced in 1995, China's most eminent scholars and their counterparts in the U.S. and other countries are working on a series of books to be published in English worldwide by the Yale University Press and in Chinese by the China International Publishing Group in Beijing.

The project, organized by Yale and entitled "The Culture and Civilization of China," will result in the publication of some 75 books over a ten-year period. It is expected to revolutionize the field of China studies in the West - not only because of the extensive cooperation among leading Western and Chinese scholars in creating it, but also because it is giving Western scholars access to study ancient paintings, philosophical documents and cultural materials that have never before been examined firsthand.

Special publication events in Beijing and New York celebrated the official inauguration of the project in November 1997 when the first volume, Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting , was published. When President Jiang Zemin of China arrived for his summit meeting with President Clinton that month, he brought copies of this book to give as gifts.

The substantial funds necessary to sustain and successfully complete such an enormous undertaking are being raised throughout the world. Yale University Press's contribution, including moneys raised from foundations, corporations, and private individuals in the United States and Asia, has reached over US$1 million. For more information on this monumental project, visit the Yale University Press's website.

Yale-New Asia Student Exchange

Launched as an annual program by Yale undergrads in 1994, the Yale-New Asia Student Exchange has become an enduring way of promoting cultural and academic interchange between Yale and Hong Kong.

Students from New Asia College visit Luce Hall at Yale in February 2002.

Every year, during the Chinese New Year holidays between late January and mid-February, eight students from New Asia College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong travel to Yale and stay on campus for about a week, living in the dorm rooms of eight Yale undergraduates who then reciprocate with a visit to Hong Kong during Yale's spring break in March. The visiting students take classes, meals and activities with their hosts, and compare notes along the way about university and civic life in both places.

Each year's program has a theme. In 1996, it was environmental studies; in 1997, urban issues; in 1998, sex and gender; in 1999, religion; in 2000, family; in 2001, youth culture; in 2002, media and its role in society; in 2003, public service; in 2004, law and society. During both visits, theme-related seminars, conferences and lectures are held, with the hope that the visits will promote greater cross-cultural understanding between students in Hong Kong and the United States .

The Yale Club of Hong Kong supports this program by underwriting the transportation costs of the faculty member who accompanies the Hong Kong students to Yale, and by hosting an informal dinner for the Yale students during their visit here.

Hong Kong Club at Yale

The Hong Kong Club at Yale, an undergraduate student organization, brings together people in the Yale community who have ties to or an interest in Hong Kong. The Club serves to provide social and cultural activities for its members, as well as to raise awareness of political and economic issues in Hong Kong.

Each year, the Club holds a welcoming dinner for incoming freshmen from Hong Kong. Throughout the year, the Club's members celebrate traditional Chinese festivals and hold social events both on and off campus. They also meet weekly at Trumbull College, an event popularly known as the Cantonese Table, where they can catch up on each other's lives and foster a spirit of camaraderie. And from time to time they sponsor movie screenings to introduce Yale students to Hong Kong culture and entertainment, such as Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express and John Woo's Hard Boiled .

The Club also seeks to raise awareness of the political, economic and cultural aspects of Hong Kong in the Yale community.

Yale-Beijing-HKU summer program

In 1998, Yale joined with Beijing University (BeiDa) and the University of Hong Kong in a first-time experimental summer program which brought students from Yale and Beijing to Hong Kong to study Mandarin and various aspects of Hong Kong Chinese culture. The program, entitled "Dynamics of Hong Kong Society," was conducted over five weeks in July and August.

The program focused on improving students' spoken Mandarin and written Chinese, and all lectures were conducted in Chinese. In addition to morning lectures, there was a small-group component to the program, with students dividing into teams to do field research on specific aspects of Hong Kong society, such as banking, business, filmmaking, newspapers, Hong Kong as a part of China, etc.

Two well-known Yale professors, Helen Siu of Anthropology and Valerie Hansen of History, were instrumental in organizing this program under the auspices of the Yale Council on East Asian Studies. The program was generously underwritten by Shiu Lee (Yale Graduate School '62, '65).

Recent developments

The past decade has seen an astonishing proliferation of Yale activity in Hong Kong. Some of the activities have been inspired in part by a major gift to Yale from two leading local businessmen, Cheng Yu-tung and Lee Shau-kee , which strengthened Yale's East Asian Studies program - particularly the study of South China - and is promoting joint educational activities between Yale and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Another generous gift was made in 1996 by former Yale associate faculty member Charles Kao, former Vice Chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. After Professor Kao was awarded the prestigious Japan Prize for his life's research in fiber optics - and received it during a Tokyo ceremony attended by the Emperor and Empress of Japan - he announced that he would donate the cash portion of the prize to Yale to help further joint scientific research between Hong Kong and the United States. In 1999, Yale University awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science Degree to Professor Kao, who in 2009 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "groundbreaking achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers for optical communication".

Highlights of other activities in recent years:

  • Yale 300 in Asia, a weekend-long celebration of Yale's Tercentennial which brought together nearly 400 Yale alumni and friends from all over East Asia. The event included panel discussions featuring Yale faculty members and distinguished guests; remarks by Yale President Richard C. Levin and Yale Secretary and Vice President Linda Koch Lorimer; the official launching of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, with a talk by the Center's director, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott; a cocktail party and exhibition to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Yale-China Association; and a gala black-tie anniversary ball.
  • Ongoing research by a team from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies into pollution and water management in the Pearl River Delta, jointly conducted with scientists from China, Macau and Hong Kong.
  • "The Jade Studio," a major show of one of the world's most important collections of Chinese art still in private hands, mounted by the Yale University Art Gallery and displayed at the Chinese University Art Museum.
  • The International Summer Piano Institute, a program conducted over three consecutive years that brought world-class young pianists to Hong Kong for master instruction by Boris Berman, Claude Frank and other professors from the Yale School of Music.
  • "The Transition of Hong Kong from British to Chinese Rule," a popular six-week e-mail course offered by a panel of five eminent Yale professors in the summer of 1997 through the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA). Yale Club of Hong Kong members signed up for the course by subscribing to a "listserv," an e-mail service through which texts and comments are exchanged.

Hong Kong and Chinese luminaries among recent visitors to Yale have included:

  • Martin Lee, chairman of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, who spoke on "The Future Path of Democracy and Human Rights" in an address at the Yale Law School.
  • Hong Kong political analyst T.L. Tsim, who spoke on "Asian Values: Is There a Lesson for America?" at the Yale Graduate School.
  • Hong Kong Legislative Councillor Margaret Ng, who participated in a panel debate at the Yale Graduate School with Professor Angang Hu of Tsinghua University on China's rule over Hong Kong. She also chaired a well-attended panel discussion in the Law School auditorium entitled "Legal and Constitutional Arrangements for Hong Kong: Framework and Challenge."
  • Chinese activist Harry Wu, who spent nearly 20 years in Chinese labor camps. Wu spoke on "Human Rights in Post-Deng China" at the Yale Law School.
  • Former Hong Kong Governor David Wilson, now a member of the House of Lords, who was head of the U.K. team for the Sino-British Working Group in the 1980s which drafted the Basic Law on how Hong Kong would be governed after 1997. Wilson spent a week on campus as a Chubb Fellow at Yale's Timothy Dwight College.
  • Chinese dissident Wang Dan, one of the leaders of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement in 1989, who spoke on "Human Rights Activism in China: An Eyewitness Account" at the Yale Law School. Wang was visiting the campus as a guest of the Law School's Orville H. Schell Jr. Center for International Human Rights.