Tongwen Guan

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W. A. P. Martin, headmaster, and other faculty members of the Tongwen Guan c.1900.

The School of Combined Learning, or the Tongwen Guan (Chinese: 同文館) was a government school for teaching Western languages (and later scientific subjects), founded at Beijing, China in 1862 during the late-Qing dynasty, right after the conclusion of the Second Opium War, as part of the Self-Strengthening Movement.[1] Its establishment was intimately linked to the establishement of the Zongli Yamen, the Qing office of foreign affairs. The establishment signifies the Qing Empire, after years of reluctance, at last tried to learn about the West of their own accord.


Small, specialized government foreign language schools have long existed in China since the Ming dynasty. As early as 1407, China had an Office for the Languages of Nations of Four Directions (四夷馆 sì yí guǎn), for the purposes of translating documents from minority and nomadic groups including the Mongols, Jurchens, Hui, and Burmese, who delivered tribute to the court. This office was under the Hanlin Academy, and selected students from the Guozijian. These students were made translation officials after graduating, and were to be re-evaluated every three years in order to stay on or be dismissed. In the Qing Dynasty, the Office for the Languages of Nations of Four Directions also had an affiliated Interpreter's Institute(会同馆 Huitongguan). [2] Hanlin Academy#Bureau of Translators

The Eluosi Wenguan (俄羅斯文舘 "Russian College") was set up by the Qing Dynasty Lifan Yuan in 1708, due to the importance of Russia as a security threat to Qing-dynasty China's north-west border. Its students were selected from the Eight Banners. There were twenty-four students for each grade level, and they were examined every five years. The Russian college was merged into the Tongwen Guan in 1863.

Establishment and Organization[edit]

In 1860, Qing China was defeated by Britain and France in the Second Opium War. This event, which led to the invasion of the capital of Beijing and the fleeing of the Xianfeng Emperor to Chengde and his subsequent death, as well as the burning of the grand symbols of imperial glory, the Summer Palace and Old Summer Palace, created an urgent sense of crisis amongst the Chinese elite. A powerful faction of Chinese reformers began to call for political and educational change, calling for the shedding of old educational ways and an increase of dealing with and learning from the West in order to reform and save China. Following the Convention of Peking which concluded the Second Opium War, the Qing Empire created Zongli Yamen, the first Qing office for foreign affairs, in 1861, and one year later, founded the Tongwen Guan to supply the language skills required for the Zongli Yamen.[3]


When the college was first started in 1862, it only had ten students and only English instruction under John S. Burdon, a British missionary. . By 1866, astronomy and mathematics were added and enrollment was up to the tens. In 1869, Dr. Willian Alexander Parsons Martin, a famed American missionary and translator in China, was appointed the first Dean of Studies.[4][5] By 1877, the school had expanded to teach English, French, German, Russian and Japanese, as well as chemistry, medicine, machine-making, astronomy, mathematics, geography and international law, and enrollment was over one hundred.

Similar colleges were later set up at Canton and Shanghai. Tongwen Guan published several influential works introducing Western knowledge into China.[6]

The college's operations were interrupted by war in 1900.


The Tongwen guan became an important founding component of the Imperial University of Peking (now Peking University) after 1902. Its language programs form the direct precedent for Peking University's various language programs.

Tongwen Guan staff[edit]


  1. ^ Lackner, Ph.D., Michael; Vittinghoff, Natascha, eds. (2004). Mapping Meanings: The Field of New Learning in Late Qing China ; [International Conference "Translating Western Knowledge Into Late Imperial China", 1999, Göttingen University]. Volume 64 of Sinica Leidensia / Sinica Leidensia (illustrated ed.). BRILL. p. 249. ISBN 9004139192. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  2. ^ Mu, Fengliang (2004), 四夷馆与同文馆名称考 (A Survey of the Name Change from Siyi Guan to Tongwen Guan) (PDF) 
  3. ^ Emily Hahn (28 July 2015). China Only Yesterday: 1850–1950: A Century of Change. Open Road Media. pp. 191–. ISBN 978-1-5040-1628-5. 
  4. ^ Emily Hahn (28 July 2015). China Only Yesterday: 1850–1950: A Century of Change. Open Road Media. pp. 194–. ISBN 978-1-5040-1628-5. 
  5. ^ Emily Hahn (1963). China Only Yesterday: 1850-1950. p. 194. 
  6. ^ Hao, Ping (2012). Peking University and the Origins of Higher Education in China. Translated by Shen, Yuping. Peking University Press. ISBN 9787301201954. 


  • Biggerstaff, Knight. The earliest modern government schools in China, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1961.
  • Evans, Nancy. "The Banner-School Background of the Canton T'ung-Wen Kuan." Papers on China 22a (1969): 89-103.
  • Zhongguo da baike quanshu. First Edition. Beijing; Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe. 1980-1993.
  • 《漢俄合璧韻編》掌院修士巴第遺篇,1888年,北京同文舘 (Chinese-Russian Dictionary by Archimandrite Palladius, 1888, Tungwen Guan) Volume 1[1] Volume 2[2] 1896 edition
  • Hao, Ping (2012). Peking University and the Origins of Higher Education in China. Translated by Shen, Yuping. Peking University Press. ISBN 9787301201954.