First Modern College in China

  • Overseas
  • 1864

Calvin Mateer and his wife, Julia, were missionaries sent to China by the Presbyterian Church in 1864. They were charged with opening a free school for boys in what is today Shandong province. They set to work as soon as they arrived and, despite significant obstacles, planted China’s first Christian school for children. They and their funders back in the States provided the students with food, clothing, medical care, and supplies, in addition to an education. Both Christians and non-Christians were welcomed, and the school filled quickly.

Calvin used his language skills to produce and translate many Chinese materials for instruction and use in missions. He was the first American to publish primers on the Chinese language. And he presided over translation of the Bible into Mandarin. He and his wife gradually expanded their Tengchow School with financial support from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and summoned additional missionaries.

Eventually, the Mateers added college-level instruction, establishing Tengchow College as the first modern institution of higher education in China. They particularly emphasized science, and taught classes themselves in astronomy and mathematics. Their students played an important role across north China as teachers in early schools. Tengchow College grew into what is today Shandong University, a major national institution with more than 50,000 students.