History lessons

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Yung Wing (1828–1912), Class of 1854
Artwork: 2000, by Judith Reeve, born 1966
Campus Art Collection storage

When I moved to New Haven in January 2016, the first community event I attended was Lunarfest, a celebration of the Lunar New Year cosponsored by the Yale-China Association and the New Haven Museum. While I was familiar with the existing relationship between Yale and China, I was eager to learn more about how that relationship began. As I soon learned, it can all be traced back to one very talented, brave, and ambitious young man.

Born in China’s Guangdong Province in 1828, Yung Wing (Róng Hóng) graduated from Yale in 1854, making him the first Chinese person to graduate from any
American university. In Yung’s 1909 My Life in China and America, he writes about the many challenges he faced as a student studying in a foreign country and describes his career; he was dedicated to maintaining an academic relationship between students in his homeland and his adopted nation. Yung received an
honorary doctorate from Yale in 1876, and his donation of over 1,200 volumes from his personal collection form the core of Yale’s East Asian Library.

Yale remembers Yung through the annual Yung Wing Scholarship, the life-size statue in Sterling Library, and this striking portrait, commissioned by the Yale-China Association in 2000. The portrait was unveiled at a ceremony attended by both Zhang Hongxi—the Consul General of China—and Frank Yung, Yung Wing’s
grandson.

Artist Judith Reeve called the commission a major highlight of her career and is proud that a copy of her work was gifted by Yale to the Ministry of Culture in Beijing in 2006. It seems that Yung’s lifelong pursuit of international academic collaboration continues to this very day.