Overcoming the Odds: A Look Back at Our Earliest Chinese Students

Items from the Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections

Editor’s Note: All the names in this post are presented as they appeared in the original Purdue publications.  The preferred Anglicized spellings of names may have changed since that time.

Continuing in our series on Purdue firsts, we take a look at some of our earliest Purdue alumni from China.

1916 Purdue Alumni Directory

One can search the earliest Purdue Alumni Directories to see who these students were. The 1916 Alumni Directory, which can be found in the Purdue Archives, shows this list of men as the first alums in China.  Upon further research, one learns that G.L. Hagman was from Louisville, Kentucky; H.H. Arnold hailed from Denver, Colorado; and L.E. Crowell was from Portland, Indiana, when they attended Purdue. One can deduce that they must have moved to China after graduation.

Fuchen K. Sah, the first Chinese student to graduate from Purdue, 1910 Debris. Click image to view larger version.

That leaves F.K. Sah, 1910, and P.L. Yang, 1911, as the first Purdue graduates from China.

Fuchen K. Sah (sometimes spelled Fuchuen Sah) graduated from Purdue in 1910 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering.  He later became Engineer-in-Chief on Chiou-Chi Railway (The Chinese Students at Purdue, 16).

The earliest membership of the Purdue C.E. Club, 1910 Debris. Click image to view larger version.

Further research shows that another student from China was also part of the class of 1910 at some point. The membership roster for the Civil Engineering Club for 1910 lists L.C. Yen as a member and a part of the Class of 1910.

Cosmopolitan Club, 1909 Debris. Click image to view larger version.

L.C. Yen also appears in this 1909 photograph of the Cosmopolitan Club. The Cosmopolitan Club was first established at Purdue in 1907 and its membership comprised international students.

Per the listing for Yen in The Chinese Students at Purdue booklet, Yen “swung himself into action immediately after graduation. He served as District Engineer for the Szechuen-Hankow Railway and the Caton-Hankow Railway from 1910-1916. Then he took his own initiative in promoting an engineering company in Shanghai, China” (18).  Yen led the Pacific Engineering Company, while also managing the Pacific Trading Company.

Both Sah and Yen made tremendous contributions to the infrastructure of China in the early 1900s. They were pioneers in their efforts, and made important contributions to improve transportation in China.

From The Chinese Students at Purdue, Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 3. Click image to view larger version.

The Purdue Chinese Students’ Club was founded in 1909 with only six students in the initial club. (The Chinese Students at Purdue, p.12). The Club’s 1925 publication The Chinese Students at Purdue is a valuable resource about both the club and its members. As stated in the text, “As an instrument for developing a cooperative spirit among the Chinese students in American universities, and for cultivating and promoting friendly relations with the people of the United States, the club has proved itself worthy of its existence.” Cora Whang, one of the first female Chinese students appears on the first row. The Chinese Students at Purdue booklet lists her as “Cora Wang, Sc., ex-’25.” (15) Note the difference in the spelling of her last name. There are no other photographs of her in the Debris yearbook under Whang or Wang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following profiles highlight several other early Chinese alumni.

Chi Ting Sun, 1915 Debris

Chi Ting Sun graduated in Electrical Engineering in 1915. Sun reminisced about his time at Purdue in Purdue in China, a 1961 publication by the Purdue Alumni Association of Taiwan: “I arrived at W. Lafayette in September 1911 by rail and was welcomed by a Y-man at the station. At that time a rough game, Tank Scrap, was to take place at the beginning of each school year. In the evening when the Scrap was going to start, Mrs. Goldsmith treated me as her own son. She pulled down the curtains of my room and told me to be quiet. Soon I heard shouting outside, ‘Freshmen out!’ She answered from downstairs, ‘He has been out already.’ She then turned and said to me, ‘Our American boys are accustomed to games of rough nature and they are near to their parents. You come to America for education and your parents are far away, on the other side of the Pacific. I must act as your mother. I want you to stay away at such occasions.’ Her lovely attitude toward a foreigner made me remember her forever.

I passed that winter without an overcoat for some unavoidable reasons. But Prof. Cole questioned me about the overcoat every time I met him. He watched over the foreign students so closely that it impressed me deeply.

I was in Purdue for four years and was getting on well with the professors and classmates. In the fall of 1915 I registered in M.I.T.  But before long I was badly homesick for Purdue. I am having the same feeling for Purdue in Taiwan now as I did in Boston 49 years ago.” (26)

Chi Ting Sun taught at Nan Kai College after he left Purdue. He later gave up teaching and went on to hold prominent positions with the famous Chiou-Chi Railway. It is said that many students held his recommendations in high regard. (The Chinese Students at Purdue, 16).

Kwo-Chun Lee, 1918 Debris

Kwo-Chun Lee (later spelled Kuo-Chun Li) also shared his accomplishments in Purdue in China.  He wrote, ”Just before the war broke out in July 1937, I joined the Ministry of Railways and was assigned to supervise the construction of a large railway workshop in Chuchowm Huan. Having completed this job the following year, I took up a post as section engineer of the war time construction of the Huan-Kwangsi Railway. My section was located half-way between Kweilin and Liuchow, in Kwangsi Province, winding alongside a small stream through a narrow deep valley fully infested with malaria. In worst cases, victims died within three days and due to this disease we had lost several thousand men within a period of two years.” (Purdue in China, Purdue Alumni Association of Taiwan, p. 19).  After the war, Li went on to help rehabilitate the war torn railroad system in three provinces. He was able to accomplish the rehabilitation by May 1949, the railway was opened to traffic, and an extension of the railway was undertaken. Li reported that he left the mainland for Taiwan about this time. His first job in Taiwan, as reported by Li, “was the erection of sixteen spans of 205 feet steel trusses for the Silo Bridge, the famous highway bridge in central Taiwan.” (Purdue in China, 20). Li later went on to hold prominent positions within the Military Construction Bureau, Ministry of National Defense. In his words, “The Bureau undertakes all kinds of construction projects, including designing and building airfields, harbor, roads, barracks, shops and all kinds of installations for the armed forces.” (20).

Practical knots, hitches and splices Norman, C. A. ; Purdue University. Division of Rural Engineering 1920. Click image to access the full publication.

Chen Yew Tang, 1921 Debris

Chen Yew Tang graduated in 1921 with a B.S. in Agriculture and was a skilled illustrator. His talent is shown in this Purdue Extension Bulletin he contributed to while a Purdue student.

 

 

 

J.C. Li, 1923 Debris

Ju Chi Li also contributed to agriculture worldwide.  He graduated from Purdue in 1923. As a student, Li wrote about agriculture in China in the October 1922 issue of The Purdue Agriculturist 

 

Purdue Agriculturist, October 1922. Click image to view larger version.

Purdue Agriculturist, October 1922, p. 14. Click image to view larger version.

This fictionalized diary page from the 1927 Chinese Students’ Year Book describes what it was like for a Chinese student at Purdue in 1927. “Rent $12.00…”

Page from a Chinese student’s diary, Chinese Students’ Year Book, Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 5. Click image to view larger version.

Alumni graduate students from China have also made major contributions to their fields.

Yong-piao Liu, Purdue in China, p. 35

Dr. Yong-piao Liu’s work was important to the field of veterinary science. As Liu recalled in the Purdue in China booklet, “Through the recommendation of Dr. I.E. Newsom, veterinary advisor of JCPR (the former president of Colorado Agriculture and Medical College) as well as the financial aid offered by China Foundation, I joined the Department of Veterinary Science of Purdue University to study veterinary bacteriology for one year from 1953-1954. I spent many a happy hour there in carrying out various experiments with adequate laboratory facilities, materials and assistance of the staff. Before going to the States I investigated Swine Pneumonia and this work I continued at Purdue University in order to determine the real cause. From 108 heads of the diseased pigs, I isolated Listeria organism from three cases. This was the first successful trial of isolation of Listeria organism for swine in Indiana.” (23).

Dr. Y.P. Liu later became the head of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at National Taiwan University, in charge of Veterinary Bacteriology and Infectious Diseases of Domestic Animals.

Deng Jiaxian, 1950. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Another Chinese Ph.D. student from Purdue to make his mark in history was Deng Jiaxian, known as China’s “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” He received his Ph.D. in Physics from Purdue in 1950. After graduation, he returned to China and dedicated over 20 years working with a team of scientists who developed the nuclear and hydrogen bomb for China. Jiaxian’s contributions were critical to China’s nuclear program. In 1999 he was posthumously awarded the National Merit Medal for his contributions to Chinese Military Science.

The Purdue University Archives and Special Collections has a collection of articles that document some of the press releases after Deng Jiaxian’s death, from a local story by Jack Alkire of the Journal and Courier to publications from China. The Archives also has Jiaxian’s Ph.D. dissertation, The Photo-Disintegration of the Deuteron.”

The Chinese Students at Purdue booklet provides a list of the earliest Chinese Purdue alumni. Two women, Lillian Lee, (ex ’25) and Cora Wang, (ex ’25), do not appear in the Debris yearbook, but are noted as alumnae.

The earliest Chinese Purdue alumni. From The Chinese Students at Purdue, Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 3. Click image to view larger version.

 

The 1927 Chinese Students’ Year Book lists Anna Lee as the only female Chinese student at that time.

 

Pages from Chinese Students’ Year Book, Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 5

Programs from the Chinese Students’ Alliance Mid-West Conference, 1921. Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 4

Another important contribution Chinese students at Purdue made was participation in the Chinese Students’ Alliance. The Alliance was a nationwide organization of Chinese students studying in the United States, the first nation to which modern China sent students for an education. 

Program from the Chinese Students’ Alliance Mid-West Conference, 1925. Purdue University Chinese Students collection, MSP 155, Folder 4

The Alliance was divided into three sections; the Eastern, Midwest and Western. Each section was composed of a number of Chinese Students’ Clubs.

Chinese Students’ Annual Conference Closed Wednesday, Purdue Exponent, September 10, 1921. Click image to view larger version.

Each year during early September, an annual summer conference was held by each section at a convenient location for the purpose of bringing the Chinese students together to exchange ideas and discuss important problems. Purdue University was the site of the Mid-West Conference in 1921 and again in 1925.

There are so many other stories that could be featured as firsts among the Chinese Purdue students! This is just a sampling of those that made an early impact among the Purdue community and worldwide. Their efforts have made the world a better place.

Blog post by Mary A. Sego (’82), Processing Assistant, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections.

References

Purdue University. Chinese Students’ Club. Alumni Committee. (1924). The Chinese students at Purdue. LaFayette, Ind.: Purdue University.

Purdue Alumni Association of Taiwan. (1961). Purdue in China. Taipei, Taiwan.

Burg, David F. “Chinese Students’ Alliance.” Encyclopedia of Student and Youth Movements. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 1998. Modern World History Online. Facts On File, Inc. Web. 17 June 2014.

Yu, C.C. “The Chinese Students’ Alliance in the United States.” Young China, July 1921. Web. 17 June  2014.

Bevis, Teresa Brawner. “The Chinese Students’ Alliance.” A History of Higher Education Exchange: China and America.  New York : Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2013. Web. 17 June 2014.

File:鄧稼先普渡照片.jpg. (2017, October 3). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 20:28, July 18, 2018 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:%E9%84%A7%E7%A8%BC%E5%85%88%E6%99%AE%E6%B8%A1%E7%85%A7%E7%89%87.jpg&oldid=261298137.

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