In 1881 Oberlin Graduate School of Theology students formed “The Oberlin Band” and began mission work in Shanxi Province under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) of the Congregational Church. In 1900 the members of the mission and many Chinese Christians were killed in the Boxer Rebellion. The Memorial Arch in Tappan Square was erected in 1903 by the ABCFM. In the fall of 1907 Oberlin graduate H. H. Kung (’06) returned to his native Taigu in Shanxi Province and consolidated the remnants of earlier mission educational efforts, creating Ming Hsien (for boys) and Beilu (for girls), the “Oberlin-in-China.”
In January 1908 the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association was founded as an independent non-profit organization to support this educational enterprise. In 1918 Oberlin students and graduates, selected by elected members of the Oberlin student body, began teaching English and participating in extra-curricular activities at the schools, thus starting the Shansi Rep (now Fellow) tradition.
In the 1920s Ming Hsien became co-educational, the first school in Shanxi to do so. A Shansi Rep who returned to the US for graduate work in agriculture founded the school’s Agriculture Department. A village reconstruction center, devoted to literacy education, public health and agricultural improvement, was established nearby.
The Japanese invasion of China in 1937 forced Ming Hsien into exile, and the war years were spent in Jintang, near Chengdu in Sichuan Province. With the victory of the Chinese Communist Party in 1949 the school made its way back to Taigu, where, taken over by Shanxi Provincial educational authorities, it became the agricultural university of the province, as it remains today.
The outbreak of the Korean War severed the China connection and Oberlin Shansi created new exchanges in Japan, Taiwan and India. At the same time it began to secularize. In 1972 any mention of Christianity was purged from the Regulations. After much experimentation with programs at several institutions, including in Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan, the organization currently has partner sites in Japan, India, Indonesia and China.
Today the organization carries on robust educational exchanges at nine partner sites at three levels: undergraduate grants, graduate fellowships and faculty/staff exchanges. It also has an extensive program on the Oberlin campus.
Interested in learning more? Please visit the online digital collection that documents the activity of Oberlinians in Asia from the 1880s to the 1950s.