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Mendota Project



Students have long used the poetic phrase “meng dao ta” (dreaming of her) to refer to Lake Mendota, a favorite campus hangout.

Photo: The 1920 UW China Club's soccer team. Fifth from the left is Chen Daisun, who went on to become a leading economist in Beijing.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has been training leaders in China for over 100 years.  From the early 1900s until today, the UW has been a destination for top Chinese students and Badger alumni have been returning to the China region to head schools, universities, governmental organizations, businesses and more.  These graduates have advocated for reforms, advanced scientific understanding, and helped modernize China.
UW-trained pioneers in their fields include:

Chen Daisun 陈岱孙and Fang Xianting  方显廷, economics;
Ding Sixian 丁嗣贤 and P.T. Sah 萨本铁 in chemistry;
Liu Guojun 刘国鈞 in library science;
Xie Jiarong 谢家荣in  oil exploration;
Zhou Yichun 周诒春, in education.

The Wisconsin China Initiative is launching the Mendota Project to document this rich history through student  research projects, print and web publications and the production of a documentary film.  We believe that this is an inspiring story that needs to be told and celebrated.

Goals and priorities:

  • Document and make public the rich  history of the UW-Madison’s students from  China and their path-breaking  collaborations with UW faculty.
  • Use current UW undergraduate and graduate students to tell this story.
  • Produce a film about this unique subject.
  • Celebrate this story with our alumni.

Two key leaders served, at critical times in the 20th century, as bridges between Madison and China, exemplifying the Wisconsin Idea:

Zhou Yichun (Ye-Tsung Tsur)   周诒春 wrote his 1910 master’s thesis in education on the development of Wisconsin High Schools.  He returned to China to transform Beijing’s    Tsinghua high school into today’s leading university.  He designed the campus and developed curriculum based on his experience in Madison, all the while encouraging students to study at his alma mater.

Chancellor Irving Shain led one of the first university delegations to China of the post-Mao era, in the process launching a visiting scholar program that attracted hundreds of Chinese academics to Madison.  Many of these scholars returned to China to become leading scientists and engineers.

What brought the first students from China to the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the early 1900s? 

The Department of Political Science points to the appointment of one of its own, Prof. Paul Reinsch, as the first American minister to post-imperial China in 1913.  Department historian Crawford Young writes that Reinsch sparked “a striking flow of  doctoral students to the department in the interwar years.  Between 1929 and 1936, 7 of the 28 doctorates awarded went to Chinese scholars.” An even earlier influence was the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program 庚子賠款獎學金.

This fund was established to send students to study in the U.S. as part of the negotiations to end the Boxer Rebellion in China.  Over the course of two decades, starting in 1909, the fund sent almost 1,300 students to universities across the U.S., The UW-Madison was the fourth largest recipient overall, and the largest among all public universities. 

One goal of the Mendota Project is to fully document the 95 students who came to Madison through this program. Initial investigations have revealed that:

  • Liu Guojun (Liu Kwoh-Chuin)  arrived at the UW-Madison in 1922 and went on to earn his PhD in Philosophy.  He returned to Nanjing, and went on to modernize China’s library   classification system. Liu headed Library Science at Peking University through 1980.
  • Boxer Indemnity fund scholars from UW-Madison launched at least three    departments at Tsinghua University: political science (Stewart Yui 余日宣), history (Lu Maode 陆懋德) and chemistry (Yang Guangbi 杨光弼).

Along with these early reasons for students from China to come to Madison is a 1908 news note from the LaCrosse Tribune: “It appears that the Badger Institution was recommended to Chinese students (by Wu Tingfang, the Qing ambassador to the U.S.) as the best school for them in this country.” 


Photos, stories, news clippings and other information about our China alumni, our faculty projects in China, our American  alumni who worked in China, etc.  We want to collect as much information as possible about connections that faculty and students created between Madison and China.
Financial assistance.  Your donation of:

  • $1,000 could support an hourly student job for a semester.
  • $30,000 could support a graduate student researcher for a year. 
  • Any amount could help defray research, staffing, printing and other costs for this project.

Please contact Project Director and Professor Jerry Yin, jcyin@wisc.edu, or WCI Associate Director Laurie Dennis, ldennis@eastasia.wisc.edu





Copyright © 2011 Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System.

Wisconsin China Initiative, Division of International Studies, 500 Lincoln Drive, Madison, Wisconsin 53706

phone: 608.265.6640 email: ldennis@international.wisc.edu