Yan Yangchu

Name in Chinese
Name in Wade-Giles
Yen Yang-ch'u
Related People

Biography in English

Yen Yang-ch'u (26 October 1893-), known as James Yen, leader of the mass education and rural reconstruction movements in republican China. In the 1950's, as president of the International Committee of the Mass Education Movement, he helped form the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, and in 1960 he became president of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction.

Little is known about James Yen's family background or early life except that he was born in Pachung, Szechwan, and that he was brought up as a Christian. After attending Hong Kong University, he won the King Edward Scholarship in 1913, refused it, and spent a short period in Europe before going to the United States to enroll at Yale University. Upon graduation from Yale in 1918, he accepted an invitation from the War Work Council of the American YMCA to undertake social work in the Chinese labor battalions recruited by the British in Shantung to help the Allies behind the lines in France. While writing letters home for these illiterate workers, he conceived the idea of teaching them several hundred basic Chinese characters. He later enlarged the number of characters to 1,000 and founded the Chinese Workers' Weekly, which used only those characters. This paper soon expanded its operations, and it was distributed to all Chinese workers in France after Yen was transferred to Paris as director of an educational program for the entire Chinese labor corps. At war's end, James Yen went to the United States, where in 1920 he received an M.A. in history from Princeton University. Upon his return to China in 1921, he became public education secretary of the national committee of the YMCA and immediately embarked on the development of the People's Thousand Character Reader, which was published in February 1922 by the Association Press of the YMCA in Shanghai. With this book in hand, he launched a large-scale literacy campaign at Changsha in March-June 1922. Elaborate publicity preceeded the campaign, and about 1,300 people enrolled in the course. A group of volunteer teachers was trained to aid in teaching others. Almost 1,200 successful students were awarded "literate citizen" certificates at the graduation ceremonies. The success of this pilot program in Changsha led the YMCA to sponsor programs in other cities. As the mass education movement gathered momentum. Yen began work on the problem of providing reading material for the newly literate, who had a limited vocabulary and different interests from the traditionally literate segment of the population. Thus began the "People's Library" of 1,000 booklets in basic Chinese ranging from the classics, folk tales, and songs to modern farming, rural hygiene, and cooperatives. In August 1923, after the YMCA-sponsored literacy program had demonstrated the practicability of its approach to the illiteracy problem, a group of educators established at Peking the National Association of the Mass Education Movement, with Yen as executive secretary. This association, committed to carrying out the literacy movement and related programs for the masses on a continuing basis, remained active under Yen's leadership until 1950, when it was dissolved by the Chinese Communist leadership. In 1925 James Yen attended the first meeting of the Institute of Pacific Relations at Honolulu. There he had occasion to speak to overseas Chinese about mass education in China, and he began collecting contributions for that cause. In 1928 he made a fund-raising tour in America and obtained about US$500,000, which subsequently benefitted some 400,000 people in Tinghsien, Hopei, through a project Yen had founded in 1926. A model village was created at Tungt'ing hsiang ch'u, and adults were taught to read, to be more sanitary in their living habits, and to improve their economic conditions. Yen soon succeeded in enlisting the aid of other American-trained Chinese in fields ranging from medicine to agricultural economics. In 1929 Yen and his associates moved with their families to Tinghsien in the belief that in order to teach the country people they themselves had to experience rural living. With this added impetus, the Tinghsien program blossomed, winning international recognition and drawing a number of sociologists from Peking to conduct social investigations and community studies. The best known studies about Tinghsien were those by Sidney Gamble and Li Ching-han. An integrated four-fold program of rural reconstruction was developed: livelihood, health, literacy, and self-government to combat poverty, disease, illiteracy, and misgovernment—the four basic problems of the peasants of China. James Yen's contribution to mass education was recognized both in China and abroad. In 1928 he was invited to lecture in the United States by the American National Association of Education and was awarded an honorary M.A. degree by Yale University; the following year, St. John's University in Shanghai awarded him an honorary doctorate. Although the National Government had given him little assistance in his venture, in 1933 it recognized his achievement by publishing "Plans for Establishing Experimental Stations in the Several Provinces." In 1931-33 Yen was a member of the National Economic Council; in 1935 he became chairman of the North China Council for Rural Reconstruction; and in 1935-37 he was president of the Hopei Provincial Institute of Social and Political Reconstruction, also known as the Hopei Provincial College of County Administration.

By 1937 Japanese aggression in north China had made the continuation of the Tinghsien program impossible, and Yen therefore carried his program to other parts of China. He was vice president of the Szechwan provincial planning commission in 1936-39 and executive director of the Hunan Provincial School of Public Administration in 1938-39. In 1938, when there was imminent danger of a Japanese invasion of the strategic rice-bowl province of Hunan, the provincial government invited the Association of the Mass Education Movement to help mobilize some 30 million people for resisting the Japanese. With the active participation of hundreds of intellectuals and professionals who had retreated to Hunan from the coastal provinces, 75 hsien governments were reorganized and some 5,000 civil servants and 30,000 village heads were retrained. The reorganization brought confidence to the people and stability to the province. After the fall of Changsha to the Japanese, Yen went back to Szechwan, where he joined with T'ao Hsingchih (q.v.) in founding the College of Rural Reconstruction and worked to train hsien administrative personnel at the Institute for Administrative Cadres. He also served as a member of the Supreme National Defense Council and the People's Political Council. James Yen was in the United States in 194445, probably for fund-raising purposes. During this sojourn, he was awarded honorary degrees by Syracuse University (LL.D., 1944), the University of Maine (L.H.D., 1944), Temple University (LL.D., 1945), and the University of Louisville (LL.D., 1945). In 1947 Yen again went to the United States. At the suggestion of Secretary of State George C. Marshall, he prepared a memorandum in which he recommended that a joint Sino-American commission be established to administer a program of rural reconstruction in China and that ten percent of United States economic aid to China be earmarked for this program. With a shrewd eye on his American audience, Yen argued that the expenditure of US S6 on a Chinese should effectively prevent him from being influenced by Communist ideology. The China Aid Act of 1948 subsequently allocated US$27 million solely to rural reconstruction, including a mass education program in Szechwan. In October 1948 the Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction (JCRR) became operational, with Chiang Monlin (Chiang Meng-lin, q.v.) as its chairman and James Yen and Shen Tsung-han (q.v.) as its other Chinese members. Although the JCRR had only a little over one year in which to operate on the mainland and although it spent only US $4 million of the total funds allotted, its programs in the fields of agriculture, land tenure reform, cooperative organization, public health, and literacy affected millions of Chinese peasants. Paul G. Hoffman, the first administrator of the Economic Cooperation Administration, commented in 1951 that "it was in the very provinces that the JCRR program had got underway—in Szechwan, Kwangsi, and Fukien—the Communist invaders found some of the most stubborn resistance to their drive. What a different story might have been told in China if this alternative to Communist strategy had been started a few years earlier." In November 1949 Yen left mainland China for Hong Kong. He remained optimistic about his mass education and rural reconstruction programs in west China even after the Communists took control of Szechwan. However, on 1 December 1950 the Chungking Military Control Commission dissolved the National Association of the Mass Education Movement, the College of Rural Reconstruction, and other affiliated organs. James Yen and his friends continued to believe that the basic problems of the masses throughout the Far East were the same, namely, a full rice bowl and human dignity, and that the mass education movement idea could be adapted to other Asian countries. In 1951, therefore, they formed the International Committee of the Mass Education Movement in New York to promote rural reconstruction in countries that requested it. As president of this committee, Yen made a survey trip early in 1952 to the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and Pakistan. With the enthusiastic backing of President Ramon Magsaysay of the Philippines, Yen helped form the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, which began operations in July 1952 with Neuva Ecija in central Luzon as its pilot area. The Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement aimed to give new purpose to educated young people who had been easy prey for Communist propaganda. As village missionaries, these young people began to find new outlets for their energies, patriotism, and idealism in helping rural people to achieve a better living. The techniques that Yen had perfected in 30 years of mass education in China proved successful in the Philippines. His contribution was recognized when he received the 1960 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding and an honorary LL.D. degree from the Philippine Women's University at Manila. Also in 1 960 the members of the International Committee of the Mass Education Movement decided to extend their activities to other countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa through the establishment of the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction in the Philippines, with Yen as president.

James Yen was married to Alice Huie, a sister of the wife of Y. Y. Tsu (q.v.). The Yens had three sons and two daughters

Biography in Chinese

All rights reserved@ENP-China