Yale-China History

60 Years with New Asia

Yale-China kicked off the celebrations in honor of 60 years of partnership with New Asia College on June 2 and 3, 2013. Festivities included a historical exhibit in Exchange Square, a benefit gala, and a performance by the Yale Glee Club that included the premiere of a song, commissioned by Yale-China, dedicated to New Asia College.

History Slideshows

60 Years with New Asia

Yale-China History 1901-1949

Yale-China History 1950-Today


Changing Times, Changing Names

The Yale-China Association was first incorporated as the Yale Foreign Missionary Society, and was known informally as Yale-in-China as early as 1913. It was nondenominational from its beginnings and by the 1920's had ceased to be an overtly missionary enterprise. It was re-incorporated in 1934 as a secular organization, the Yale-in-China Association, and in 1975 as the Yale-China Association.

1901 - 1951

A reflection of the religious fervor sweeping American college campuses at the end of the 19th century, Yale-China was founded in 1901 as the Yale Foreign Missionary Society by a group of Yale graduates and faculty members committed to establishing a Christian missionary presence overseas. The founders chose China as the focus of their work, in part to honor the memory of a Yale graduate from the class of 1892, Horace Tracy Pitkin, who had worked in China as a missionary and died in 1900 during the Boxer Rebellion. The city of Changsha in Hunan Province was chosen as the base of operations in China after consultation with other foreign missionaries.

At the urging of the home office in New Haven as well as other missionaries in China, the Yale Mission early on assumed more of an educational than evangelical function. With the arrival of Dr. Edward Hume in 1905, medical education and care became a major focus of the endeavor. The educational compound that began with Dr. Hume's medical clinic eventually grew to comprise a preparatory school, the Yali Middle School; the College of Yale-in-China (later moved to Wuhan, where it joined two other missionary colleges to form Huachung University); and the Hsiang-Ya Medical College, Nursing School and Hospital. Over the years, Hsiang-Ya (a compound of hsiang, denoting Hunan, and ya, denoting Yale-China; transliterated today as Xiangya) developed a reputation for providing the most advanced training in Western medicine in all of central and southern China. More than at other foreign-affiliated institutions, an effort was made early on to bring as many Chinese faculty and administrators on board as possible. By the late 1920's, all major leadership positions were held by Chinese, and Yale-in-China was very much a joint Sino-American enterprise.

The war years (1937-45) placed enormous strains on the Yale-in-China institutions, especially the Hsiang-Ya Hospital, which cared for the seemingly limitless war casualties and refugees. As the Chinese Nationalist armies retreated towards the southwest, these institutions followed to escape the advancing Japanese. In July of 1938, Huachung University moved to Guilin, but bombing raids there forced it to move to Xizhou in the remote reaches of Yunnan province the following year. Yali Middle School moved to Yuanling in western Hunan in September of 1938 and the medical college and nursing school moved to Guiyang, in Guizhou, the following month.

Yale-in-China's wartime experiences were difficult, and many of the Changsha facilities were damaged by invading Japanese troops. Nevertheless, these challenges served to inspire renewed commitment on the part of both American and Chinese faculty and administrators. The Yale-in-China staff who returned to Changsha in September of 1945 were determined to rebuild the campus and resume their pre-war operations. Within four years, however, a Communist insurgency toppled the Nationalist government and Yale-in-China's future seemed uncertain in the face of growing hostility between the United States and China.

By 1951, the new Communist government had taken possession of Yale-in-China's Changsha properties and renamed the Yali Middle School as "Liberation Middle School." Dr. Dwight Rugh, Yale-in-China's last representative in Changsha, spent most of 1950 under house arrest as the only American on campus, and was eventually expelled from China in May of 1951. With his departure, the ties between Yale-in-China in New Haven and the institutions in Changsha and Wuhan were broken for nearly 30 years.


Between 1951 and 1954, hostility against the United States on the mainland and turmoil on Nationalist-held Taiwan led to a suspension of Yale-in-China’s work within China. During those years, Yale-in-China devoted its resources to financing the education of Chinese students in the U.S. while looking in Asia for new projects to support. Attention soon focused on a refugee college in the British colony of Hong Kong which had been founded by Ch’ien Mu (1895-1990) and other Chinese intellectuals determined to preserve traditional Chinese learning and values in the face of the Communist victory on the mainland. In early 1954, after a visit to the colony and months of negotiations, Yale-in-China’s trustees formally affiliated the organization with New Asia College.

Unlike in Changsha, Yale-in-China’s relationship with New Asia College was, by intention, one of support and assistance rather than direct administration. Yale-in-China secured funding from the Ford Foundation and other U.S. foundations to support the development of the college, and also provided fellowships for New Asia faculty to pursue further study in the United States. In 1956, Yale-in-China resumed the practice of sending two recent Yale graduates each year to teach English, though now to New Asia College instead of Yali Middle School.

In the late 1950s, the possibility of founding a university in Hong Kong that would use Chinese as the medium of instruction was explored. In 1959, the Council of British Universities selected New Asia, United and Chung Chi colleges to federate and form the new Chinese University of Hong Kong, which was formally inaugurated in 1963 on its Shatin campus. Yale-in-China contributed to the new campus by securing funds to construct numerous buildings, including the university health clinic, the Yali Guest House, Friendship Lodge and a student dormitory at New Asia College. Yale-in-China also contributed to the early internationalization of the campus by helping to establish the New Asia—Yale-in-China Chinese Language Centre and the International Asian Studies Program, which now enroll hundreds of international students every year. Meanwhile, the relationship with New Asia College, where the Yale-China Association (as the organization was renamed in 1975) has maintained a representative office for fifty years, remains a strong one.


By the 1970s, both New Asia College and the Chinese University of Hong Kong had achieved a level of institutional maturity and financial stability that decreased the need for Yale-China's contributions. At the same time, the normalization of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China presented the possibility of resumed activity on the mainland. In the fall of 1979, Yale-China staff traveled to Changsha to explore opportunities for academic exchange with administrators and faculty at Hunan Medical College, the successor to Hsiang-Ya, and several exchange agreements were concluded that led to the arrival of Yale-China English teachers in September of 1980 and exchanges of medical personnel between Yale University and Hunan Medical College. Two English instructors were also sent to Wuhan University the same year and later to Huazhong Normal University.

Despite the geographical continuities, however, the intervening years had brought substantial changes to Chinese higher education and within Yale-China itself. Political sensitivities in China and Yale-China's own evolution determined that any new activity in China would be of a nature substantially different from that of the pre-1949 years. Rather than seeking to resume the joint administration of the former Yale-in-China institutions, the emphasis was placed on shorter-term academic exchanges in the fields of medicine and American Studies and a resumption of the English language instruction program. Throughout the 1980s, Yale-China's medical program brought almost 50 Chinese medical personnel to the U.S. and sent over 40 Americans to China for exchanges of medical knowledge. During the same years, nearly 100 Yale graduates participated in Yale-China's English teaching program in China. Yale-China also continued to send English teachers to the Chinese University of Hong Kong and maintained its involvement with the university's International Asian Studies Program.

The decade of the 1990s brought an expansion of Yale-China's activities into new program areas and affiliations with institutions outside of Yale-China's historical bases in Hong Kong, Changsha and Wuhan. While maintaining its English teaching program, Yale-China initiated projects in environmental protection and pediatric cardiology and facilitated a drama collaboration between New Haven's Long Wharf Theater and the Shanghai People's Art Theater which resulted in a Chinese-language stage production of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club in 1994. Other areas of expansion have included the fields of American Studies, legal education, public health, nursing, and service in the non-profit sector for China and American students. Information on current programs appears on the programs section of this website.

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