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Fortunate Sons: The 120 Chinese Boys Who Came to America, Went to School, and Revolutionized an Ancient Civilization

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  158 ratings  ·  57 reviews
At the twilight of the nineteenth century, China sent a detachment of boys to America in order to learn the ways of the West, modernize the antiquated empire, and defend it from foreigners invading its shores. After spending a decade in New England’s finest schools, the boys re-turned home, driven by a pioneering spirit of progress and reform. Their lives in America influe ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published February 14th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published January 3rd 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Cheryl
Exceeded my expectations and then some. Highly readable, it is amazing to me how much I learned easily thanks to the superb writing of these authors. The incredible dedication of Yung Wing is an inspiration.

I found myself intrigued by the decisions that went into sending young children to a foreign country, awed at the sacrifice of their parents, appalled the incredible ugliness of how San Francisco treated its Chinese immigrants unfortunate enough to live there, proud of the kindness and care
...more
Rick F.
The beginning sentence in the book synopsis "At the twilight of the nineteenth century, China sent a detachment of boys to America in order to learn the ways of the West, modernize the antiquated empire, and defend it from foreigners invading its shores." only hints at what is an utterly engrossing account of a little chapter in Sino-American relations. Fortunate Sons: The 120 Chinese Boys Who Came to America, Went to School, and Revolutionized an Ancient Civilization is quite well written and t ...more
Nancy
This is an interesting story of the lives of some of the 120 boys who were sent to the United States to study in 1872 with the intent that they would remain for 15 years. The political winds changed so they were recalled to China in 1881. Even though only a few had completed college, these young men changed China.

My complaint about the book is that it is either too broad or too short. A book this length probably should have focused on the life of one man with stores of others woven in from his p
...more
Patricia
Because I have read a lot of Chinese history (for more than 30 years), I have a fairly good background in Chinese history so I found this book at times both boring and occasionally surprisingly interesting but the ratio (8:2) was insufficient to hold my interest. It would have made more sense for me to skim through the background sections and just read the pages that told the story of these 120 young men who came to America to learn 'about the west', but unfortunately I didn't. The stories of th ...more
Waven
Fortunate Sons delivers so much more than I'd even hoped for. Don't let its size fool you; it packs a lot into 300 pages, including the better part of a century. The journey begins at Yale, in October of 1850, where readers meet Yung Wing, the man pivotal in later bringing the 120 "fortunate sons" to the United States for schooling. Following him back to China, the authors begin to delve deeper into China's rich and complex history, culture, character, because the story of China's sons is also t ...more
William Blair
This is another one of these books that are ostensibly about one thing, but actually about another. It's really Chinese History, which means that I have just admitted that I knew very little about it. The book ends with "The Last Emperor, Starring John Lone, Joan Chen and Peter O'Toole" (no, not the movie, but the history). It starts ... somewhere, but inbetween China sends some young boys to America to study. They return and eventually play huge parts in bringing China into the 20th century. I ...more
Hayward Chan
It isn't the first book I read on this topic, but definitely the most readable one. Most other books are either dry narrative of who did what when or hopelessly propagandic (ever since the Opium War, the western never stopped harassing Chinese people....) This book covers one thing that most books missed: the psychology of the boys. These boys, who left home when they were small and spent their formative years studying in New England, were lively characters in the stories together with their hos ...more
Nick Pohl
I got this book compliments of First Reads, and it's my first one.

Overall, for a history book, it reads very smoothly and is not hard to get through like some books in the genre can be. It is packed with interesting anecdotes and stories that focus on just a few of the 120 students sent to the U.S. to study. It gives a good background view of the China they are a part of and gives you a sense of the struggle China has gone through (and might even continue to grapple with) growing out of its Con
...more
Laura
Is this a sad story or a happy one? Liel Leibovitz asks the question, but I can't answer it. His story of Chinese boys being educated in America starts as a flat-out hilarious one, with a football game and a Chinese student in silk robes. At times it's optimistic, with opportunities for learning, exchange, and acceptance. But in the end there's too much xenophobia (on both sides), political corruption, and war. The Chinese Mission project may have been good for China, may have even been good for ...more
Tim Giauque
I received this book gratis as part of one of Goodreads' wonderful giveaways. Thanks, folks!

Fortunate Sons is a well-written, engaging book about a time in history that perhaps few people know very much about. The core of the story is a program launched by the Chinese government in the nineteenth century to send some of their best students to the United States to attend college. In so doing, the imperial Qing government hoped to learn some of the secrets behind the United States' rise as a world
...more
Alix
This is a solid 3.5 stars.

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway and was initially very excited to read it, but found my interest waning toward the end of the book. It describes an interesting period of history when 120 Chinese boys were sent to America to be educated in the late 1800s, and then what transpired when they returned to China. I found the first half of the book a bit more engaging than the latter half, and I enjoyed reading about the boys' experiences together as students. I also f
...more
Vicky
What a fascinating book. This book introduces you to the first Chinese man to graduate from Yale, his journey to bring other Chinese boys to the US for a Western education, and the successes and failures they encounter in their attempts to modernize China.

The book was an eye opener for me because I had never heard about China sending boys to the US in the 19th century. It was unfortunate to read that the internal politics of the country and it's antiquated culture prevented the boys from develo
...more
Karen
I would give this 3 1/2 stars if I could. It describes an interesting chapter of history when 120 Chinese boys came to be educated in Connecticut in the 1870s and then what happened when they went back home. I thought the first half of the book was quite a bit stronger than the second half. The history of their teacher Yung Wing was very compelling and I really enjoyed reading about the recruiting of the boys and their experiences together as students. The authors also managed to weave in the hi ...more
Anne
I picked this book off the "newly acquired" shelf at the library and found myself immersed in a story unknown to me and fascinating in its historical significance. Who would have known that a young man from China entered Yale in 1850, sponsored by an American Missionary in China. From that one young man emerged a program several decades later to send a hundred young Chinese to study in America and bring back ideas for Chinese economic development. This book traces the travel of the group, their ...more
Gregg
I enjoy books that tell the true stories of extraordinary individuals. The men whose stories are related in "Fortunate Sons" are fascinating because their lives are intertwined with the modernization of China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. While the authors do discuss many events in Chinese history such as the Boxer Rebellion and the 1911 Revolution, these events are described in a way that is easy to understand for someone not familiar with them. This makes for a work that ...more
Rj
I received this book via GoodReads giveaways and am so glad I did. It is history at its best. Combination of personal history with textbook facts about both Chinese and American relations and policies in the late 1800's and early 1900's was truly fascinating. The books follows closely a handful of the 120 boys from China who come to America's east coast to learn new ways of modernizing their own country while still trying to fit in with the American way of life and hold on to their Chinese cultu ...more
Debby Stephan
I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway and I truly enjoyed it. This is exactly the type of book that you need to read if you want to learn about history because it personalizes it. It is well written and because I could relate to the characters, I learned a lot. Reading this book has deepened my appreciation for the Chinese and their civilization. Although the Chinese have been more advanced than the rest of the world throughout most of history, when that advantage was threatened, they has ...more
Jennifer
An interesting look back at an early 20th century Chinese program that sent young men who didn't know English to New England for years of education, and what became of them on return to a country in transition.

Their mentor Yung Wing, has perhaps the most vivid story, maybe because he left the most extensive autobiographical writings. The authors dish up a roster boys with colorful nicknames ("Fighting Chinee," "Cold Fish Chalie") but the balance between focusing on a few boys and giving some ac
...more
Adrian
Interesting story Chinese kids sent to America in the 1800s as factions of the Qing Dynasty attempted to modernize. The story starts with a young man Yung Wing, who with help from foreign missionary friends, went to Yale in 1850. After struggling upon his return to China, he eventually found his way to helping another 120 boys come back to the U.S. to CT in the 1870s as high school students. These kids went on to help shape the end of the Qing dynasty and the start of the next phase of China thr ...more
Jammies
This is an amazing book which tells a fascinating story, has a happy and sad ending, and has the advantage of being true. It reads like fiction, but has been painstakingly researched, with source material as diverse as imperial communications and private letters. While there wasn't room enough in one book to discuss every single one of the 120 Chinese boys who came to America at the turn of the nineteenth century, enough time is devoted to different boys to get a feeling for the highs and lows o ...more
Jan
I would recommend this book to anyone who wishes to understand the history of China in the past 170 years. Well written and easy to read, describing the workings of an ineffective government of a country with so many possibilities. Men who had visions and education in the 1800's, and who had the ability to bring about change for their peoples were rendered ineffective. The courage of the young men who had the vision is unfailing. Leibovitz & Miller bring the story of 120 sons of China to the ...more
Lauren
This was a very interesting book that provides details about a fascinating historic event that I was completely unaware of. The only reason I couldn't give it a 5 star rating is my frustration that the book didn't cover enough: the authors swung between giving personal details of some of the "Fortunate Sons" to providing the details of China's politics and culture. Granted, this is an awesome task. But there were so many characters that it would have been easier for me had they been fleshed out ...more
Barbara
Based on the description of this book, I really want to read it. And then I saw a review that my friend Rick shared here on Goodreads, and his review is so great that I really hope I win a First Reads copy of this book!!!
I'm fascinated by east/west relations, especially during the time period covered in the book (late 19th century.) There was (and still is) so much for the east and west to learn from each other, and I just find it fascinating that a group of Chinese boys were sent to schools in
...more
Georgia
A little-known and fascinating story about 120 Chinese boys who came to Connecticut to learn English, complete high school and attend college in the 1870's in order to return to China and help bring her into the modern world. The story of the boys is amazing and inspiring but I especially appreciated the authors' abilitly to synthesize the complexities of 19th century Chinese social and political history. I have a much greater understanding of the challenges China faced, especially during the pe ...more
Yvonne O'connor
The book is less a story of the 120 boys selected to go to America for schooling, than a history lesson about China in the late 1900's and leading up to the Boxer Rebellions and start of Chang Kai-Shek and Sun Yat Sen. The beginning and ending save the book from becoming a listing of the names and places and dates of history. The middle is VERY tough to trudge through. But, if you put in the time, you are eventually rewarded with a kind of "full circle" on at least a handful of the students, who ...more
Margaret Sankey
Starting in 1872, the Chinese government, at the urging of a handful of progressive (and mission-educated) scholars, sent 120 young boys to New England to be prepped for education at Yale--and to form the core of a new Chinese middle class civil service. Perhaps most interesting is the attitude of the New Haven grandees--they were enormously flattered to be sought after as an educational model, thus the boys were Confucian Scholars and should be exempt from 19th century racial assumptions as the ...more
Julia
I received a copy of this book through the First Reads program. It took me about a month to read the book because, as I discovered, I didn't actually know that much about Chinese history. Every page of this book was crammed with information and story. Trying to absorb it all could only happen at an imperial pace. The book is well-written and the ARC I received did not have the pictures that are supposed to in the published edition. I would like to see them. This is definitely a book for history ...more
Joseph
Again, didn't get all the way through because I was using it for research. But this is a really interesting story and I'll have to mark it to read again at some point.
Josiah
I loved it!! A comprehensive yet simple overview of China's relations with the West through the previous two centuries, Fortuante Sons delivers a textbook's information through the lense of a compelling story. This book cleared up several lingering questions I've had about cultural and political relations that were raised when I lived and worked in northern China. If you will be traveling to China, or are simply interested in learning more, put away thick history books and pick up this slim stor ...more
Susan
I enjoyed reading about the end of the Qing dynasty and how this group of young Chinese boys who studied in the US for several years went on to play key roles in modern China. What really surprised me, however, was how they didn't become revolutionaries. It was fascinating to read about the where the boys ended up some 50 years after they returned to China. I'd recommend this book to anyone who is interested in modern China, even though who are well-versed in Chinese history.
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Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet magazine and teaches at New York University. He is the coauthor of Fortunate Sons, Lili Marlene, and The Chosen Peoples. He lives in New York City.
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