Foreign Language Education

In his lifetime, Feng did see some early steps towards education and civil service reform. Feng quickly identified the need for Chinese students who could excel at foreign languages and began lobbying for the creation of institutes for the study of foreign languages and science. As Li Hongzhang argued to the Qing court, paraphrasing Feng,

Are Chinese wisdom and intelligence inferior to those of Westerners? If we have really mastered the Western languages and, in turn, teach one another, then all their clever techniques of steamships and firearms can be gradually and thoroughly learned.

Feng’s lobbying was successful in encouraging the spread of such schools around China, but these innovations did not sit well with more conservative thinkers, who weren’t ready to undermine a millennium of Confucian education. Pioneering “overseas students” like Yung Wing, who told his life story in My Life in China and America, often faced an uphill battle when they tried to use their Western learning back home.