A Little-Known Story of Chinese Boys in America


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Woo Ka-Leong (Leon) is nearly 12 years old when he comes to America with his big brother. They were sent by the Emperor of China--to live with an American family, learn English, and stay away from home for at least ten years. In those days, the 1870s, all Chinese boys had to wear their hair in a single braid down their back. Can you imagine? A lot of kids make fun of Leon, but he has no choice. To cut off his braid would be treason.

Still, Leon learns to love baseball—and trains—and all things American. But his brother hates it. He just wants to go home. As he gradually adapts to life in small-town Connecticut, Leon has to decide whether to be loyal to his brother—or to stay in America.

The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball is a lively, nuanced novel for children ages 10-14 based on the real-life experiences of 120 boys sent to American by the Emperor of China in the 1870s, expected to live with American families, get into college, learn technology, and return home to modernize China. These real 120 Chinese boys formed the Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, organized by education pioneer Yung Wing. This book brings their story to life for children of today. 

 Here's what early readers have to say:

A smart, authentic, and engaging look at the Chinese experience in America through the eyes of an adventurous and loyal boy who journeys into the sometimes welcoming, often hostile environment that was nineteenth-century America. You’ll be drawn in by the absorbing history (which is little-known but true) but stay for the characters—and the story that brings them to life.

      —David Patneaude, author of Thin Wood Walls

 Through the eyes of the ever curious "Leon" (Woo Ka-Leong), America is a play of both dazzling light and layered shadows. The Forbidden Temptation of Baseball turns our assumptions of America, and the Chinese impact on our history, upside down. A riveting and revealing story for the ages.

       —Conrad Wesselhoeft, author of Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly

As I read this story, I was continually amazed about what those boys went through not only in traveling to the States but in adjusting to life, education, and customs here.

      —Kirby Larson, author of Newbery Honor Book Hattie Big Sky

The much-published Dori Jones Yang, in writing this novel, has drawn on historical accounts of the 1870’s Chinese Educational Mission, as well as her own extended residence in China as a foreign correspondent. She knows whereof she writes.

      —Edward Rhoads, author of Stepping Forth into the World: The Chinese Educational Mission to the United States, 1872-81

Set against the backdrop of the true story of 120 Chinese students sent to New England by their government to study, Dori follows the lives of Woo Ka-Leong (Leon) and his brother Woo Ka-Sun (Carson), their time with the Swann family of Suffield, Connecticut, and their conquest of baseball in a thoroughly satisfying book that will teach young readers about the Chinese, and to see their own culture through foreign eyes.

      —Scott D. Seligman, author of Tong Wars and The First Chinese American

The story shows what it feels like to move to a different country, and how frustrating it is when you have limited language skills. It illustrates the contrasts between the American and Chinese cultures—and how conflicted you can feel when two cultures collide and you’re caught in the middle.     

      —Anna X., age 11, Mercer Island, WA, descendant of one of the 120 scholars from the Chinese Educational Mission

My great grandfather, Wen Bingzhong, was one of the “First 100” and I often wondered about his experiences in America.  This was a fascinating period in modern Chinese history and Dori Jones Yang has written a story which describes how this group of young Chinese males might have felt.  A great tale!

      --Martin Tang, retired chairman, Asia, Spencer Stuart & Associates

Although the book takes place in 1876, the conflicts and issues raised are completely modern and relevant today as communities wrestle with the integration of traditional values and changes in technology, job requirements and evolving social mores.  As Dori Jones Yang brings these characters to life, they spark lots of thought-provoking questions – fantastic for school or home.      

      --Nancy Kennan, mother of a middle schooler, avid reader of historical fiction, and investment banker in New York City