PhDone! With Dr. Xiao Liu

In the second of a new series, we talk to recent doctoral graduate Dr. Xiao Liu about his  research project, viva, and plans for the future.

Xiao (Shawn) Liu just completed his PhD in History in the University of Bristol, studying with Prof. Robert Bickers and Dr Adrian Howkins. His research interest is modern Chinese history, especially the development of science during the period of the Republic of China.

Portrait picture of Dr. Xiao Liu

Q: Hi Xiao. First of all, congratulations on your successful viva! Can you tell us a bit about what your doctoral research was about?

My PhD project is about ‘Meteorology and Politics in Republican China, 1912-1949’, which aims to understand how science was applied by the Chinese Republican State to serve its state-building ambitions. As meteorology achieved a certain development during the Republican era, my thesis demonstrates meteorological achievements as well as explains aspects benefited from meteorological progress. This project intends to advance discussion of the relationship between science and the state, arguing that emerging nations in what we would now call the ‘global south’ also accorded strategic importance to science in national development, including both economic development and their challenge of imperialism. As a soft power tool, boosting national science became a means to contest foreign power in early twentieth century, thus with focusing on the case of the Chinese Republican State, my thesis provides some insight into understanding history of science in others countries as well.

 

Q: How did you become interested in the history of meteorology in China?

I always have a strong interest in history, especially Chinese history. Although my undergraduate major was not related to history, I did attend several courses from the Department of History, which laid a solid foundation for my future research.

In recent years, the history of Chinese science has received more attention than before, and I became curious about scientific development in China. I chose to focus on the period of the Republic of China. After I started my PhD project, I found that meteorological factors were involved in many historical events, so it motivated me to further study it through my research.

Black and white photograph shows esuit-made instruments at the Imperial Observatory in 1945

Unknown photographer. Image courtesy of Stanfield Family, University of Bristol (https://www.hpcbristol.net/visual/js04-045)

Q: What surprised you most doing this research?

Regarding my research, what surprised me most was that there were a huge number of materials relating to my project, much more than I expected.

I did make research on the archives I planned to consult but was a little worried about it because their online websites did not include much useful information for my own project. But when I visited the archives in China, they did store rich materials to support my research. Thus, basing on my experience, it is really important to do field research or archival trips.

 

Q: Any top tips for lunch spots near the Bristol University campus… or the archives you visited?

As my flat is very close to the campus of University of Bristol, I have rich time to walk around our campus and to explore it more comprehensively. There is a small garden behind the building on the Priory Road which is a very nice place, so it is quite convenient for people of our department to go for a walk there when they want to have some relax.

Regarding archives, most archives in China do not have café, so it is better to bring some food in case there is not any restaurant near the archives.

 

Q: Let’s talk about the viva itself. What would you advise someone who is preparing for their own viva?

I highly recommend the examinees to read their PhD thesis again before attending the viva. Do not take ready-made answers because the examiners may ask questions from the high-level conceptual to the detailed ones, so there are always some questions you do not prepare. If you have enough time, maybe read the work of the examiners in advance. When you attend the viva, be confidence with yourself, because it is your thesis, you are the expert on it.

 

Q: What’s next for you? Where can we find your research and/or writing now?

I just participated the 26th International Congress of History of Science and Technology on 30th July, during which I presented my paper about the ‘Application of Meteorology by the Republic of China in the Development of Rural Areas’.

I will return to China in the autumn and will pursue a post-doc.

 

A Chinese geologist at Bristol: Yu Jianzhang 俞建章 (1898-1980)

Today, 17 December 2020, marks the eighty-fifth anniversary of the first award of a PhD by the University of Bristol to a Chinese student, Yu Jianzhang. Yu received his award from Vice-Chancellor Thomas Loveday in a ceremony in the Great Hall. As part of the ‘100 Years of PGR’ project, being co-ordinated by the University’s Bristol Doctoral College, supported by the Brigstow Institute and our John Reeks, a team including two historians has been developing a bank of material about the history of PhD study at Bristol. Following on from our earlier story about the first Chinese undergraduate at Bristol, current history PhD student Liu Xiao — who is working on the history of science in China — has built on their work, and on materials provided by colleagues at Jilin University, to pen this introduction to Yu Jianzhang’s life and career.

What prompted a Chinese scholar to study for a doctorate at the University of Bristol?[1] The city had very little by way of a profile in China in the 1930s, and there were very few Chinese undergraduate students there, nor was there any sort of Chinese community in Bristol. The story of the first Chinese PhD student of the University of Bristol illustrates an individual’s pursuit of advanced knowledge as well as his ambition to serve his motherland.

Yu Jianzhang (俞建章, known in his time at Bristol as Chien Chang Yu), born in 1898, was an influential geologist and educationist in twentieth century China. Growing up in a poor family in Anhui Province, Yu realised the importance of knowledge from a very young age and that the only way to improve his life was through education. Therefore, by making great efforts in learning, Yu achieved excellent grades among his classmates, on the basis of which he was admitted to Peking University, one of the top academic institutions in China, to study for a bachelor’s degree in 1920.[2]

Fig 1. Yu Jianzhang in 1927. Source: Qingnian Lizhihui Huiwu Jiwen 2, 1927.

At Peking University Yu commenced what would become a distinguished lifetime’s career in geology. There Yu met his long-term mentor Li Siguang 李四光, widely regarded as the leading geologist in modern China. Under Li’s guidance, Yu participated in two field trips during his undergraduate study, which laid a very solid foundation for his future academic research.[3] In addition, due to his outstanding achievements, Yu was also given the opportunity in 1924 to visit Japan on behalf of Peking University, which helped him develop a better understanding of overseas geological research.[4]

Yu Jianzhang commenced his PhD study in the University of Bristol in the winter of 1933, nearly a decade after graduating from Peking University in 1924. Before his trip to Britain, Yu taught at Zhongzhou University in Kaifeng (1924-28) and later worked as an assistant researcher in the Institute of Geology in Shanghai. This was part of Academia Sinica, the Republic of China’s highest-level official scientific institution.[5] Li Siguang had been appointed director of the Institute in 1928, and Li’s appreciation of Yu’s talent led him to bring Yu south to work with him. For China in the first half of twentieth century, a major problem faced by the scientific community was a shortage of trained scientists. Li had received his PhD from the University of Birmingham and this had equipped him to make a leading contribution to the development of the study of geology in China. Yu realised that studying abroad was the way to further improve his academic research level to an international standard. Hence, following in Li’s footsteps, Yu Jianzhang was sponsored by the Institute of Geology to study in Britain in 1933.[6]

To achieve his ambition, Yu decided to study in the University of Bristol, which was undoubtedly the ideal institution for him. Yu’s mentor in the University of Bristol was a British geologist – Stanley Smith (1883-1955), who was regarded as a world expert in the study of Palaeozoic corals.[7] It should be noticed that China did not have any specialist studying corals at that time, and Yu’s task was to become the authority in this field. Accordingly, the achievements of Dr. Smith attracted Yu’s attention and motivated him to study in Bristol. He wrote at the time that ‘in comparison with Woods and Elles who taught in the University of Cambridge, it seems that studying with Dr. Smith was the best choice in terms of my research field’.[8] Moreover, ‘compared with spending more than 300 pounds a year for living in Cambridge, the relative low-cost of living in Bristol’ was also another reason attracting Yu to select there.[9]

As was to be expected, Yu found no Chinese compatriots in the city of Bristol, but such circumstances also made him more open to the Western way of life and learning. He spent his weekends in London or Cambridge attending lectures or searching for materials. During holidays, he would start an internship in the British Museum.[10] In his daily life, British etiquette also impressed him a lot, which he summed up as the ‘maintenance of order’, illustrating an embodiment of civilisation. Yu attributed it to the benefits of education and thought that ‘developing education was a priority for China to realise national salvation because it could shape youth’s ideology and form habits’.[11]

Of his life in Bristol, we have few other traces. It is probable that Yu took part in events held by the university’s Geological Society, and the monthly meetings of the Geological Section of the Bristol Naturalists’ Society, which met to hear talks in the university, or went on field trips led by department staff which might finish with refreshments and snacks courtesy of the landed gentry across whose estates the members had rambled. The first of these that took place during his time in Bristol involved a walk across the Suspension Bridge, into Leigh Woods, and the last was an excursion to Chipping Sodbury. One talk that might have resonated with Yu, given the underlying politics that concerned him, was given by Dr. F.S. Wallis, deputy director of the City Museum & Art Gallery on ‘Geology and the Citizen’, which outlined ‘modern methods of mass instruction in popular science’.[12]

Although materials about Stanley Smith’s valuation on Yu have not been found yet, it seems that he was quite satisfied with the progress made by the first Chinese PhD student in the University of Bristol. After only two years’ research, Yu was able to complete his doctorate in the winter of 1935. On 17 December 1935, at a short ceremony in the Great Hall of the university, the award of PhD was conferred on Yu by the Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Thomas Loveday.[13] The thesis, ‘The Tengninian (Lower Carboniferous) Corals of South China’, received great attention among the university’s geological community.[14] Yu’s friendship with Dr. Smith did not end with graduation. Supervisor and student co-authored an article – ‘A Revision of the Coral Genus Aulina Smith and Descriptions of New Species from Britain and China’, which was published in the Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society in 1943.[15] When both China and Britain struggled during the Second World War, we see that the alumnus of the University of Bristol still kept in touch and maintained a link through scientific exchange and cooperation.

Fig. 2. Li Siguang (first from left) and Yu Jianzhang (in the middle) on a field trip in Guangxi Province in 1939

As Yu was assigned by the Institute of Geology, he remembered his responsibility in developing China with advanced science. While studying at Peking University, he had joined the Youth Inspirational Association青年励志会, an organisation formed by young intellectuals to promote education aiming to ‘save’ China. Subsequently, when Yu studied in Bristol, he remained a member of the association and expressed his opinions in its official journals, particularly encouraging Chinese youth to receive modern education. Benefitting from his experience overseas at University of Bristol, Yu put this belief into practice in his later career.

Being an expert on coral research in China, he established the “Mesocorallia” order and discovered many new genera and species of heterocorals. His research on heterocorals filled the gap of this category in China. After the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Yu became a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the supreme national academy for the natural sciences in the PRC. In 1951, Yu engaged in the preparation work for the establishment of China’s first geological junior college—the Geological Junior College of Northeast China. The former first Chinese doctoral student at University of Bristol, now began to recruit and train the first batch of geological doctoral students in the PRC.[16] He also maintained close connection with Li Siguang in terms of geological education, thus opening a new chapter in the training of scientific talent (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Letter from Yu Jianzhang to Li Siguang, 1965 March 15th.
Source: Ma Shengyun, Ma Yue & Ma Jin, eds., Li Siguang he Tade Shidai [Li Siguang and His Era], Beijing: Science Press, 2012, pp. 246.

Yu devoted the rest of his life to teaching and scientific exploration. From 1964, Yu was vice-chancellor of the Changchun College of Geology, which was incorporated into Jilin University in 2000. Besides, he actively participated in comprehensive regional geological research in Northeast China, laying a foundation for the collection of geological information and contributing to the large-scale economic construction of this region. In 1979, Yu was elected as a member of the International Sub-commission on Carboniferous Stratigraphy at the 9th International Conference on Carboniferous Stratigraphy.[17] He died in Jilin in 1980.

Today, the Chinese government continues to support students to pursue doctoral study at the University of Bristol. In the light of this continuity across nine decades, we might well remember Yu Jianzhang, who set an example through his own efforts for succeeding generations – as a Chinese scientist who applied knowledge to realise his ambitions for himself personally, and for China.

Figure 4. Yu Jianzhang working in Changchun College of Geology
Source: Photo provided by Jilin University

 

Bibliography:

China Association for Science and Technology, Zhongguo Kexue Jishu Zhuanjia Luezhuan 中国科学技术专家略传[Brief Biography of Chinese Scientific and Technological Experts], Vol.1 of Geology, Hebei: Hebei Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 1996.

Lai, Jiang & Fen, Xiao, Li Siguang李四光[Li Siguang], Beijing: China Juvenile and Children Books Publishing House, 2005.

Shengyun, Ma, Yue, Ma & Jin, Ma, eds., Li Siguang he Tade Shidai李四光和他的时代 [Li Siguang and His Era], Beijing: Science Press, 2012.

Yu, Jianzhang, ‘Huiyi Lisiguang Laoxiansheng回忆李四光老先生[Memories of Li Siguang]’, in Tong Zongsheng, ed., Daxue Xiaozhang Yi Laoshi Sanwen Xuan 大学校长忆老师散文选, Hunan: Hunan Wenyi Chubanshe, 1995.

[1] Jianzhang Yu, ‘Yu Jianzhang Zi Yingguo Bulisituo Laihan [Yu Jianzhang’s Letter from Bristol]’, Qingnian Lizhihui Huiwu Jikan 6/7 (1934):844.
[2] China Association for Science and Technology, Zhongguo Kexue Jishu Zhuanjia Luezhuan [Brief Biography of Chinese Scientific and Technological Experts], Vol.1 of Geology, Hebei: Hebei Jiaoyu Chubanshe, 1996, pp. 229.
[3] Yu Jianzhang, Baogao Shanxi Dizhi Lvxing Baogao [Report on Shanxi Trip], Beijing Daxue Rikan Daily, 1923 June 6th; See also Yu Jianzhang, Diaocha Lu Tangshan Qinghuangdao Shanhaiguan Yidai Dizhi Lvxingji Futu [Geological Travel Notes of Shanhaiguan, Qinhuangdao, Tangshan with Picture], Beijing Daxue Rikan Daily, 1923 December 28th. Li Siguang (1889-1971), was a Chinese geologist and politician. Li was the founder of the geomechanics in China, as well as one of the main leaders and founders of modern geoscience and geological work in China. For more information see Jiang Lai & Xiao Fen, Li Siguang[Li Siguang], Beijing: China Juvenile and Children Books Publishing House, 2005.
[4] ‘Beijing Sanda Xuesheng DiR’ [Students of Three Universities in Beijing Arrived in Japan], Shenbao, 1924 March 28th.
[5] China Association for Science and Technology, Zhongguo Kexue Jishu Zhuanjia Luezhuan, pp. 229-30. Zhongzhou University is the forerunner of today’s Henan University.
[6] Jianzhang Yu, ‘Huiyi Lisiguang Laoxiansheng [Memories of Li Siguang]’, in Tong Zongsheng, ed., Daxue Xiaozhang Yi Laoshi Sanwen Xuan, Hunan: Hunan Wenyi Chubanshe, 1995, pp.195.
[7] Stanley Smith (1883–1955) was a British geologist and academic. Dr. Smith became assistant lecturer in geology at the University of Bristol in 1922 and eventually retired from the university in 1948.
[8] Yu, ‘Yu Jianzhang Zi Yingguo Bulisituo Laihan’, pp. 844.
[9] Yu, ‘Yu Jianzhang Zi Yingguo Bulisituo Laihan’, pp. 844.
[10] Yu, ‘Huiyi Lisiguang Laoxiansheng’, pp.197-8.
[11] Yu, ‘Yu Jianzhang Zi Yingguo Bulisituo Laihan’, pp. 844.
[12] Western Daily Press, 8 September 1933; 25 October 1934, 28 September 1935.
[13] Western Daily Press, 18 December 1935.
[14] Yuan Tongli, ‘Doctoral Dissertations by Chinese Students in Great Britain
and Northern Ireland, 1916-1961’, Chinese Culture 4:4 (1963): 135.
[15] Stanley Smith & Chien Chang Yu, ‘A Revision of the Coral Genus Aulina Smith and Descriptions of New Species from Britain and China’, Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 99 (1943): 37-61.
[16] Information provided by Jilin University.
[17] China Association for Science and Technology, Zhongguo Kexue Jishu Zhuanjia Luezhuan, pp. 238.

Featured Historian: Robert Bickers

Robert Bickers is Professor of History and also the University’s Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor for Postgraduate Research. As well as supervising nine PhD students with colleagues in the Department, he coordinates the University’s work with all its research postgraduates. He works on the history of modern China, and within that specifically how this intersects with the wider history of colonialism and imperial power.

Early visit to a Chinese archive: Shanghai 1994.

Hi Robert! Thanks for joining us. Could you tell us the title of the new book?

China Bound: John Swire & Sons and its World, 1816-1980 has just been published.

What’s the book about?

John Swire & Sons is a British-based conglomerate that has a substantial presence in East Asia, and especially in Hong Kong. It’s 150 years since it opened a branch in what was then a British colony, having established itself in Shanghai in 1866. It’s probably best known today as the owner of the airline Cathay Pacific. I use the story of the firm’s development from its roots as a one-man import-export business based in Liverpool as a different focus for a history of the globalization, modern China, and the rise and decline of British empire and British power.

I’m primarily interested in the people involved, whether they were from Liverpool or Guangzhou, Bristol or Shanghai, and whether they were its owners, Cantonese crewmen on its ships, dockyard staff at Hong Kong, or the passengers on its ships or aircraft.

How did you become interested in this topic?

I was commissioned to write this by the firm, and given a free hand in how I did so.

John Swire & Sons is a family-owned enterprise, and this has encouraged a strong interest at the top of the company in its own long history. The original John Swire first appears in any records in Liverpool in 1816. One challenge in writing the book is that I had five John Swires to deal with across the period.

You can imagine my relief when I got to its  Chairman in the 1930s, Warren.

What is the importance of Swire today?

Really? Have you read the news recently? But put it another way: whenever I ask an audience what they learned about China at school the answer is almost always nothing. And that’s not just ‘nothing about Chinese history’, that’s nothing about China.

But the British presence in China was the most visible and most disruptive the country suffered over most of the century before the Japanese invasion began in 1931. All schoolchildren in China know the outline of this story, and they know much of the detail too.

What advice would you give to a student interested in doing this kind of work?

Challenge yourself; dive in!

I can’t say I knew much about maritime history, the history of commercial aviation, or sugar refining, before I began working on the book.

What’s the best advice you ever got about history?

Well, I learned from marginal comments on my undergraduate essays by my UCL tutors Conrad Russell and John Hale not to mistake rhetorical flourish for argument.

The advice I give, though: read, read, read, read, read, read, read.

And read anything and everything.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve read in the last twelve months?

My reading highlights in the last year have included reading through all six volumes of Virginia Woolf’s letters, and most of John Le Carré. Much to learn from both about writing, structure, their times.

If you had a time machine, where and when would you most want to go?

I’d like to travel out 1st class to Hong Kong on a P&O steamer, say in about 1851.

In June that year I might have caught the Ganges, stopping at Gibraltar, Malta, and Alexandria, changing to travel overland then along the Nile to Cairo and on to Suez by carriage (the canal would not open until 1869), there taking another steamer stopping at Aden, Galle, Penang, and Singapore before arriving in Hong Kong seven weeks later.

Who wouldn’t want to do that?

What’s your must-do Bristol activity?

Eat a Pitta, Chilli Daddy, Swoon;

Bosco Pizza;

Pieminister.

…which actually makes a really unimpressive haiku. This is why I am a historian and not a poet.

What are you working on next?

Returning to an incident that took place in south China in 1932, digging into which led me back and forward in time, and across the globe. It all began when I spotted the words ‘abduction’ and ‘lighthouse’ in a file title in a catalogue back in, er, 2004. These things sometimes take time.

Looking for Chan Ching Yau: the first Chinese undergraduate at Bristol

Chan Ching Yau: The first Chinese undergraduate at the University of Bristol

‘In passing’, a colleague in our Library Special Collections recently wrote in an email to me, ‘I saw the attached entry in the ‘Register of Undergraduates’. ‘Passing’ being relative, he appended the file reference number and all the details: Chan Ching Yau, of 3170 Great Western Road, Shanghai (date of birth: 21 August 1897; matriculated: 27 November 1916).[1] Mr Yau’s entry was no 1,027. ‘I wonder what happened to him?’, he signed off, provocatively.

So began a lockdown project. In academic year 2019-20 over 2,300 students from China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, were studying at the University of Bristol, but Yau’s is the first Chinese name ever to have appeared in the register. The annual University Calendar, which cumulatively recorded the names of all graduates up to the 1939-40 edition, showed that he graduated with a BSc in Civil Engineering in July 1919, and what immediately happened next to Chan Ching Yau is easy to find out: on 22 October 1919 he boarded the White Star line’s SS Lapland at Southampton and sailed to New York.

The immigration record notes that Yau was born in Beijing, and was 5ft 5in tall, but what struck me immediately about the passenger list is that Yau was accompanied by his wife, Ivy. Gloucester-born Ivy Hillier, daughter (according to her baptismal record) of a cowman who later became a farm bailiff, had married Yau in Somerset in 1917. It seems likely that she was in domestic service when they met, for in the 1911 census she was listed as a nursemaid at a school in Weston-Super-Mare.

Ivy proved to be key to unlocking Chan Ching Yau’s story, as far as I can recover it, for she is mentioned under her maiden name in a family history, The Zhangs of Nanxun, published in 2010 and co-authored by Laurence and Nelson Chang. While the couple were at sea, Yau’s older sister, Yau Hui 姚蕙, was fatally injured in a freak accident in a New York park when a tree branch fell and hit her. Ivy Hillier found herself on arrival in New York helping to look after Yau Hui’s five traumatised, ‘spoiled and headstrong’ daughters, who lived with their uncle, Foo Yau Chang and his wife in an apartment on W108th St. It is hardly surprising to find the family history noting that for an Englishwoman from rural Gloucestershire, this unexpected turn in the course of her life proved equally unsettling. But, as a result, the Changs record her in the text by her maiden name.[2]

In 1923 this ménage travelled to China, the couple accompanying Yau’s older brother, the girls, and their mother’s remains which were then taken to the Zhang family mausoleum in Nanxun, a town equidistant between Hangzhou and Suzhou in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. I do not know what Yau did in New York. He may have worked with his brother (although in the 1920 census he lists his occupation as ‘Engineer, Civil’), but he may well also have pursued further study. I have found a few brief references to Yau’s subsequent career. In 1926-28, he was employed by the Rockefeller Foundation-funded Peking Union Medical College as Chief Engineer, known there as Yu-Van Yau (or Yuvan, possibly a transliteration of the Chinese for John: Yuehan (in Mandarin)).[3] The was a grandly conceived ‘Johns Hopkins for China’, a medical school that would have a profound impact on the evolving new medical infrastructures being created across China. It is also probable that he is the man referred to in a 1927 note that ‘A highly qualified Chinese engineer has lately been placed in charge of the mechanical equipment, filling a position formerly held by foreigners’.[4] In the 1930s, Yau is said to have taught at a municipal school in the International Settlement. At the same time, between about 1932 and 1937, he privately tutored two sons of Zhang Shuxun, a cousin of his former brother in law, Yao Hui’s husband Zhang Jingjiang 張靜江, who is better known as Zhang Renjie 張人杰. Yau, wrote Chang, slightly mis-remembering,

was very Westernized, as he had been educated at Cambridge University and was married to a British woman. As a result, we learned much from him about Western customs, manners, and culture.[5]

Yao Hui (Yao Jingsu), from an article in Shennü Shibao 婦女時報 May 25, 1913

Some of these names are familiar to students of modern Chinese history and culture. Yao Hui was a prominent feminist and literary figure. A poet herself, she was, as Yao Jingsu 姚景蘇, a member of the editorial board of the magazine Shenzhou Nübao 神州女報, in which she published literary articles. Her brother, C. F. Yau – Chang Foo Yau 姚昌復 – was a prominent gallery owner in New York, managing his brother-in-law’s business, the Ton-Ying Gallery, which relocated from Paris during the First World War. Ton-ying (Tongyun 通运公司) had been founded by Zhang in 1902, when he was posted to Paris as a junior diplomatic official.[6] The New York branch had opened on 1 March 1915 on 5th Avenue. As well as operating a bank, and a teahouse in Paris, in 1909 Jiang with his friend Li Shizeng, had also founded Europe’s first beancurd factory.

Europe’s first beancurd factory

The Yau siblings grew up in a literary family, their father, best known as Yao Jupo (姚菊坡, also: 姚菊岐, 姚丙然)), was a scholar, and chief education official in Shandong Province before he was sacked for corruption. Yao was heavily involved in the International Institute of China 尚賢堂. Although its origins lay in the missionary world, and it was originally known as the Mission among the Higher Classes in China, this was in fact an enterprise aiming to promote what we would now call intercultural dialogue. It had been established in 1897 by American missionary Gilbert Reid, a controversial figure who was the subject of a scathing critique by Mark Twain, ‘The Ethics of Loot’, about his role in the aftermath of the Boxer Uprising. Very closely associated with reformist officials involved in 1898 in what was called the ‘One Hundred Days’ of radical reform that was cut short by a conservative coup, the Institute and its activities relocated from Beijing to Shanghai in 1903, where it offered classes and public lectures. Yao died in early February 1916, and Reid composed an obituary and presented a tribute to his friend of twenty years standing at a memorial service in Shanghai.[7] Here is Yau senior (one of the three men seated on the right) at a dinner to celebrate Reid’s fiftieth birthday in 1907.

Chan Ching Yau’s brother-in-law, Zhang Jingjiang, had long been involved in political activity, and was a strong supporter before the 1911 revolution in China of the revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen (who stayed in their apartment when visiting Paris). Zhang remained so, returning to China from France immediately after the revolution broke out. In Shanghai he became heavily embroiled in financial and political affairs, would become one of the right-wing elder statesmen in the political party Sun founded and led until his death in early 1925, the Guomindang, and a friend and sponsor of Sun’s successor as party leader, Chiang Kai-shek. After Yao Hui’s daughters, the eldest of whom was 17 at her death, returned to China they were befriended by Chiang’s first wife, while one of them married Eugene Chen (Chen Youren), the Trinidad-born politician who became Foreign Minister in the Guomindang’s revolutionary National Government.

This is a notable pedigree, encompassing art and culture, the missionary enterprise, Qing reformers, and different strands of twentieth century radical and conservative nationalist politics, and feminism. We might also remember the beancurd.

It has been hard to trace Chan Ching Yau otherwise. His father’s obituary records that he was already in Britain in February 1916, and it would make sense to assume that he had earlier joined his older brother in Paris, probably before the outbreak of war in August 1914. He and Ivy had a son, Arthur Joseph Yau, who was born in New York in February 1921, and who in February 1949 moved to the United States from China. Arthur Yau settled in Burlington, Massachusetts. In May 1927 Ivy had taken him to Britain, sailing at the high-tide of the Guomindang’s Northern Expedition, during which it launched its National Revolutionary Army, led by Chiang, which saw it established a new National Government with Nanjing as its capital. Ivy gave her address as 18 Ma Chao Miao in Peking (and her husband’s name as Yuvan, as his brother had also recorded it in 1926).[8] Her passage across the Pacific, and that of another British woman married to a Chinese man on the same vessel, was paid for by the Peking Union Medical College. Mother and son sailed to Seattle, and then out of New York 18 days later, making their way back to China in April the following year travelling via Suez to complete a circumnavigation of the globe.

Almost thirty years later, Ivy returned to Britain. In July 1958 she landed at Liverpool, having been living in the United States, travelling on to live in north Bristol with her sister and brother in law. Ivy Yau died in Horfield, Bristol, in September 1969 on the day of her 80th birthday. Her grandson recalled that she had lived with them in Massachusetts for a few months before she moved on, having left her husband, but it is not clear when she entered the US. She claimed, he later noted in a poem, ‘to be a descendant of the Huguenots’, which he in his child’s mind conflated with the Argonauts. Perhaps he was closer to the spirit of her life’s voyage than he thought.[9]

Chan Ching Yau himself seems to have China in late 1956, when as Yuvan Yau he is recorded as one of the passengers arriving at Hong Kong on a ship that had sailed from Tianjin and Shanghai.[10] He will not have had an easy time in China after the Communist Party seized power in 1949 and established the People’s Republic. His own Chen family background, the family’s network of relations with the defeated Guomindang, his professional status – which made him an intellectual in the rigid caste system of the new regime – his Anglophone education and cosmopolitan background, and probably even his foreign wife, would have made him an obvious target. He did well to leave when he did.

So, that stray reference, a name noticed ‘in passing’, set off a search that led me swiftly into a rich historical landscape, woven across with forking paths that could track us this way into revolutionary politics, that way the international trade in Chinese art and antiquities, there feminist literary culture and political activism, or high finance in Shanghai (and low, for Zhang Jingjiang was embedded in Green Gang networks), the Protestant missionary enterprise at the end of the Qing, social gospel initiatives such as PUMC that evolved from it and presaged the era of international humanitarianism, and China’s cosmopolitan modern cultures, international mobilities and international migration. That reference, glimpsed in passing, that recorded the moment a young Chinese man presented himself in suburban Bristol to commence his studies, offers a direct route from the heart of this university into the heart of China’s long and arduous twentieth century.

In preparing this post I have greatly benefited from the assistance of Vivian Kong, and Ning Jennifer Chang, who found vital references, and I am grateful, too, to Jamie Carstairs, who set me off, and to John Yau.

[1] ‘Register of Undergraduates 1’, DM2287/9/4.
[2] Laurence Chang & Nelson Chang, with Song Luxia, The Zhangs of Nanxun: A One Hundred and Fifty Year Chronicle of a Chinese Family (Boulder: C.F. Press, 2010), pp. 270-71.
[3] A personnel record is listed in the China Medical Board Archives finding aid at the Rockefeller Archives, datd 1926-28: https://dimes.rockarch.org/xtf/media/pdf/ead/FA065/FA065.pdf , p. 150.
[4] The Rockefeller Foundation, Annual Report 1926 (New York: Rockefeller Foundation, 1927), p. 301. In its 1928 report, Yu-Van Yau is listed as Chief Engineer: Peking Union Medical College, Annual Announcement (Peking, 1928), p. 20.
[5]Chang & Chang, with Song , The Zhangs of Nanxun, p. 425. Elsewhere in the book Yau is described as an Oxford graduate.
[6] https://carp.arts.gla.ac.uk/essay1.php?enum=1096638570; New York Times, 15 March 1915, p. 4.
[7] Tsou Mingteh, ‘Gilbert Reid (1857-1927) and the Reform Movement in the Late Qing’, in Daniel H. Bays (ed.), Christianity in China From the Eighteenth Century to the Present (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), pp. 73-90; Renata Vinci, ‘Meeting the West in a Conference Hall: Gilbert Reid’s Lectures at the International Institute in Shanghai’, in Marina Miranda (ed.), Dal Medio all’Estremo Oriente. Studi del Dottorato di Ricerca in ‘Civiltà dell’Asia e dell’Africa’ (Rome: Carocci, 2018), pp.119-13; ‘姚先生’, 尚賢堂紀事第7卷第3期(1916), pp. 5-6; ‘纪本堂为姚菊坡先生开追悼会事’, in 尚賢堂紀事第7卷第6期 (1916), pp. 20-25.
[8] A problem with searching for the Yau family, and others, is that people used various names. (In addition, Yau is now written as Yao in the Hanyu Pinyin transliteration system, but in this period might be Yau or Yao). They might have a Zi (字) a courtesy name, and a Hao. In this case also, foreign immigration officials mangled the Chinese names they heard, misread what they received (Yau becoming Yan), and in addition Francophone and Anglophone conventions differed. Yao Hui was Mrs Ysang on arrival from Europe in 1917, also Tsang, Chang, and sometimes can be found today referred to as Zhang Yaohui, but also Zhang Jingsu, Jingsu being her pen-name.
[9] John Yau, ‘Ing Grish’ (2005) in Joshua Beckman & Matthew Zapruder (eds), State of the Union: Fifty Political Poems (New York: Wave Books, 2008), p. 74.
[10] ‘Coming and Going: Arrivals from China’, South China Morning Post, 31 October 1956, p. 5.