In China, the Middle Kingdom, there were wise heads who have said that the first two hundred years of a dynasty are the best. After that, the seeds of its destruction begin to take root.
The Manchus came south from their homeland in northeast Asia, overthrew the Ming Dynasty, named themselves the Qing (Pure) Dynasty, and ruled the country for 267 years (1644-1911). They admired the Chinese civilization, made few changes in its governance, but did add a layer of Manchu officialdom over the existing bureaucracy.
Tribes living along China‘s western provinces habitually plundered her frontier villages and towns. During the early years of the Qing Dynasty, expeditionary forces successfully subjugated the intruders, enlarged the empire‘s western territory, and permanently secured its expanded border against further invasion.
Since ancient times, Chinese daily life followed the rotation of the seasons and festivals and the marriages, births and deaths within the extended family. Farmers tilled the land—scholars studied the Classics, passed the examinations, became mandarins and brought honor to their clans. The arts, cultivation of the inner self and filial piety were valued. It was a sustainable lifestyle that had been in existence for millennia and was expected to continue.
During the 19th Century, outside China‘s gates, the world raced by. The United States, after the Civil War, entered a period of scientific and mercantile expansion. European powers, with Japan following, sought colonial and economic gain everywhere.
It was Imperial China‘s misfortune that at this same time the country was at its nadir, each contact with the outside world brought humiliation and loss of treasure and territory. China faced a different group of aggressors who came perilously close to sweeping the empire from the pages of history.
First Viceroy Zeng Guo Fan and his small group of progressive thinkers decided that in order to survive, China had to modernize. The Chinese Educational Mission (1872-1881) was founded to educate young men for this task.
Boys between the ages of 10-15 were chosen to study science and technology in the United States and upon their return, be the forward-looking mandarins of the land.
Viceroy Li Hong Zhang assumed the sponsorship of the project after First Viceroy Zeng‘s untimely death in 1872….