Dr. Yen studied at the St. John's College and at Anglo-Chinese College, Shanghai in 1891-1893; at Tuiig Wen College, Shanghai in 1893-1895.
He went to America in December 1895 to study with private support. He prepared for college at Episcopal High School in 1895-1897. In 1897 he entered the University of Virginia where he studied Liberal Arts and Law and graduated from there in 1900 with the degree of B. A.
Dr. Yen was member of secretary of the Blackford Literary Society in 1896-1897; was awarded gold medals and other prizes for English composition, debate and general proficiency in June 1897 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in June 1909.
Dr. Yen returned to China in August 1900 and became professor of the English language and literature at St. John’s University. In 1906 he accepted the offer of the Commerical Press to be its English editor. During his connection with that big publication institution, he translated and edited many useful books among which might be mentioned the Standard English-Chinese Dictionary (a work of 3,000 pages).
During his residence at Shanghai in that period Dr. Yen interested himself in student and social activities. He was one of the founders of the World’s Chinese Students’ Federation of which he was subsequently appointed honorary secretary. He was a member of the Committee of the Education Association of China, Anti-foot-binding Society and other associations with the object of promoting civic welfare.
Dr. Yen received his degree of Doctor of Literature from the Imperial government at Peking in 1906. Two years later he was appointed Second Secretary of the Chinese Legation at Washington at which Dr. Wu Ting-fang was Minister. He was recalled one year later to Peking to organize a press bureau, which he afterwards headed and directed with efhcency. In 1911 he was admitted to the Hanlin Academy and appointed Junior Councillor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After various promotions Dr. Yen became Under-Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 1912, when the first government of the Republic was organized. In 1913 he was appointed Minister to Germany and Denmark. He stayed in Germany until after China’s declaration of war upon that country. When the war began, he went to Denmark and functioned there as Chinese Minister until May 1920 when he returned to China at the instruction of the Peking government.
In August 1920 Dr. Yen was appointed Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs. In October 1920 he received the First Class Tashou Chiaho Decoration from his own government and the First Class Grand Cross Decoration from the King of Denmark. In May 1921 he became Minister for Foreign Affairs. In that capacity he signed the Sino-German Peace Pact. In November 1921 he was awarded the First Class Tashou Paokuang Chiaho.
In December 1921 the King of Sweden awarded on him a decoration. In January 1922 he was appointed to act as Prime-Minister. In March 1922 he received the First Class Wenfu. In June 1922 he was appointed Acting Prime-Minister, temporarily holding the portfolio of Foreign Affaire. In August 1922 he was relieved of both of these posts.
In August 1923 Dr. Yen was appointed President of the Financial Reorganization Commission. In January 1924 he entered the Cabinet again as Minister of Agriculture and Commerce In April 1924 he became President of the Chinese Red Cross Society. In September 1924 he was appointed Prime Minister and concurrently Minister of the Interior.