By Liel Leibovitz, Matthew Miller, Norton & Company, $26.95, 319 pages

10In 1872 Beijing sent 120 young boys to America as members of the Chinese Educational Mission. The story of their lives, struggles, achievements, triumphs and heartbreaks are featured in Liel Leibovitz and Matthew Miller’s book Fortunate Sons: The 120 Chinese Boys Who Came to America, Went to School, and Revolutionized an Ancient Civilization. The boys were China’s best and brightest. They came from a place where society and culture rarely, if ever, changed. But with the onset of financial problems, the Qing Empire accepted the fact that they needed a way to bring new ideas to the country. Readers will gain insight into one of the early steps taken to strengthen U.S.-China relations. The Empire placed all hope on these boys.

Youngsters from ages 8 to 13 were shipped to America, a relatively new country. They were instructed to become part of the culture, learn all they could, and to meet dignitaries and prominent politicians. Then they were expected to return home to China and help rebuild the imperial regime by implementing all they had learned abroad. The main goal was to positively influence Chinese culture by bringing back the experience and knowledge gained in America. But readers will find out that the presence of the “Fortunate Sons” also impacted the United States in unexpected ways. Unfortunately, the boys were forced to return early and found an unwelcoming climate.

Learn about the extraordinary achievements this small group of men made in the face of adversity. Included in the book are photographs capturing some of these profound moments. Other first-person accounts such as letters and diaries give a personal touch to a very significant story. This is a must read for those interested in American history and/or Asian American history. Leibovitz, an author and professor, and Miller, a New York writer, add a unique voice to the history of the Asian experience. While the book focuses on the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the authors make it clear that the cross-cultural lessons learned then apply just as much to the contemporary political and international issues of today. Consider yourself fortunate to get your hands on this captivating book.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Franklin