Zeng Guofan

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Zeng Guofan was a prominent late 19th century Chinese general and government official, known for his roles in defeating the Taiping Rebellion, and in guiding the Self-Strengthening Movement.

While some of Japan's top government officials were traveling the world in 1871 on the Iwakura Mission, visiting foreign countries in order to bring back ideas and techniques with which to strengthen and advance the Japanese state, Zeng submitted a letter along with Li Hongzhang to the Zongli Yamen (Bureau of Foreign Affairs) advocating that China undertake a program of sending young people overseas to study, so that they can then return and contribute that knowledge to the betterment of the Chinese state. In the letter he points out that while some young men from Fujian, Guangdong, and Ningpo were already in the process of studying abroad, they were mostly only studying language and certain other subjects so as to engage in business and gain prosperity for themselves, their families, and their family businesses - there was a need, rather, to send students to study government, engineering, and so forth, to bring back to educate other Chinese, to have a more direct and widespread impact upon the state as a whole. These suggestions met with stiff opposition at court, initially, but were ultimately adopted in 1872.

Zeng's son Zeng Jize would spend considerable time studying and working overseas, becoming a significant Qing Dynasty diplomat.[1]


  • Wm. Theodore de Bary and Wing-sit Chan, Sources of Chinese Tradition, vol 2, Columbia University Press (1964), 49-51.
  1. Gallery labels, "The Reformer’s Brush: Modernity and Traditional Media in China," University of Hawaii Art Gallery, March 2011.