Chinese Scholars in Huntington

By Patricia Kennedy, 2016    Note: This story first appeared in Stone Walls II.

In his book, Stepping Forth into the World:  The Chinese Education Mission to the United States, 1872-81, Edward J. M. Rhoads describes an educational experiment that would be unimaginable to today’s American (and probably Chinese) parents.  In 1872 the Chinese Ting government began sending 120 young boys, ages 11-13, in four groups to the United States to study American culture so as to reduce China’s dependence on “foreign experts.” These boys were to stay in the U.S. for fifteen years, then return to China as experts, particularly in the fields of engineering and manufacturing. They were probably from middle-class families, with some connections to a government official.  Many were the sons of merchants.  Although the boys were often from rural communities, they would have had some education.

The boys, after learning some English in Shanghai,  traveled by steam-powered paddle boats across the Pacific Ocean to San Francisco, where they boarded trains to the Northeast. This sort of apprenticeship must have appeared to the boys selected as not only an honor but a trial. They were sent, usually in pairs, to live with host families who were paid about $8.00 per week to provide room, board, and homeschooling.  After that they attended high school, either at a public high school or a private academy, and then an American college.

Of the fifty-nine boys sent to western Massachusetts, three came to live in Huntington with Miss Ada May Allard in December of 1875. The boys assigned to Ada were in the fourth and final group of thirty students sent from China.  Ada, age 21, lived with her widowed mother and her siblings.  Ada’s father,Samuel Allard, died before she was born, in 1855.   Both Ada and her older sister Sophia were occasionally school teachers in Huntington.  They appear in the 1877-78 school expense report as having worked for eight or ten-week terms at the Bridge School, which still stands on Worthington Road, near the Norwich Bridge, which spans the East Branch of the Westfield River.  Their pay was six dollars per week.  Ada is also listed as having worked in the Axtell School in 1872.

The fact that the sisters worked as schoolteachers suggests they completed school through probably the eighth grade.  Since many children left school to work on farms or in factories after a few years of schooling, the Allard girls must have had the means to continue their educations.  Census records indicate that at times their  mother took in boarders.  Many more families applied to be “host” families than were accepted, so there must have been something about Ada, her family, and their circumstances, which appealed to the Chinese Education Mission (CEM), located in Hartford, CT.  Most of the host families were members of a Congregational church and perhaps the Allards were too.  There were also Gardners living in Huntington and they may have had a family connection to Eugene C. Gardner, a Springfield architect, whose family hosted several Chinese students. Several students were assigned to younger, single women living with their families.

Because the boys were required to spend some time together in China learning English, they would likely have come to know each other before their arrival.  But, otherwise, the closest fellow students would have been in Lee or Northampton. The Chinese students were required to wear formal Chinese dress:  long robes, coats with long sleeves, and a skullcap.  As time went on, they were allowed to switch to western clothing.  But it was a crime punishable by death in China to cut off one’s queue (braid).  The students were sometimes picked on for their long hair and clothing, accused of looking like girls. One can only imagine what the first few months of life must have been like in a small town like Huntington.

There are two students officially listed in the CEM records as having been sent to a “Miss A. M. Allard”.  There are variant spellings of their names.  In the historical records the students have been assigned numbers to avoid confusion.  Although the duty of the home family was to provide room, board, homeschooling and acculturation to the students, it appears that the Huntington boys did attend public school, possibly just accompanying either Ada or Sophia as they taught school. The three students appear in Huntington school records for 1877. The first, Fung Bing Chung (Fung Ping Chung) (Feng Bingzhong), #94, appears as Fung Ping Chang, age fourteen years and five months.   The second is Tow Ting Kang (Toa Tinggeng), #115, who is fourteen years and ten months. Surprisingly, that record also lists Sing Mun Yung(?), thirteen years, listed in the record for 1877.  There is no indication in the CEM records that a third boy was sent to Huntington, and, unfortunately, the handwriting is not entirely decipherable.  The name does not appear in the school records of May 1878.  This third student is a bit of a mystery. There is a student by the name of Sheng Wenyang (Shin Wan Yang) student # 111, who was listed as living in Springfield with the E. C. Gardner family, but if this is student number three, why was he living in Huntington?

By 1879 Ada Allard is listed in the Somerville, Massachusetts, City Directory as living at 32 Beacon Street, but no boarders are listed.  It appears that only heads of house are enumerated, so the boys might actually have been living with Ada there.

The 1880 federal census for Somerville suggests as much. It records the boys as living with Ada, who had just married John Stiles.  The census lists the boys as “boarders”:  Tow Ting Kang, now 16, Pong P. Chung, now 15, and Mun Yang Shing, now 14.  The discrepancy in ages is probably due to the Chinese tradition of considering a baby to be one year of age on the day of its birth.  All three boys are listed as attending high school, and the CEM records indicate that all three attended Somerville High School.  Did Ada move to Somerville to marry John Stiles or did she move to a city large enough to have a high school and then meet and marry John Stiles? Or was there a third reason for the move to Somerville of Ada and her boys?

The boys must have been competent students because attendance at public high school required passing an entrance exam. Many of the CEM students attended private academies, which did not require such exams.

The boys studied hard and were often required to write essays and letters to be sent to the CEM and to their parents.  Ada, as well, would have had to file regular reports on each boy’s progress. All of the Chinese scholars traveled as a group to the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, dressed in their traditional Chinese clothing.  They stayed at the swanky Atlas Hotel, and each boy shook the hand of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Many of the Chinese students completed high school and began college, but Ada’s three students would have been just on the verge of college when the entire CEM was halted several years ahead of schedule.  In 1881, according to Professor Rhoads, amidst growing concern that the students were becoming Christianized and westernized, the Chinese government ended the Education Mission and recalled the students. The boys were faulted for being friendly with young American women, who often attended the same schools as they did.

One of the most distressing signs of their increased Americanization was their enthusiasm for baseball; some Chinese students formed a team known as the “Orientals” or the “Celestials”.  On their way home they were challenged by and soundly beat an Oakland baseball team.  Before returning to China the boys were outfitted again in traditional Chinese clothing.  When they arrived home they were often confined and interrogated; some were not reunited with their families for weeks.  They were given low-level government jobs.  In a surviving letter, quoted by Professor Rhoades, one of Ada’s boys, Fung Bing Chung (Feng Bingzhong) complains about the dirty streets, uncomfortable travel by donkey cart, and poor housing conditions (Rhoads 186).  Eventually, some of the students rose through the ranks to become prominent men, and a few returned to America.

The Huntington students, who had all been sent to a telegraphy training course in the U.S. before departure, were assigned jobs with the newly completed overseas telegraph office.  Both of the known Huntington boys, Tow Ting Kang and Fung Bing Chung, and the mystery boy, Sheng Wenyang, were in this group.   Tow Tin Kang became Chief inspector for the Shanghai Telegraph Service and also taught at Woosung College.  He died after 1939; the exact date is unknown.  Fung Bing Chung worked in the telegraph service, as well as in the Chinese Finance Department. His death date is also unknown.  Sheng Wenyang was a chief of the telegraph service and eventually became chief of the Bureau of Foreign Affairs.  He died at age forty.

As for Ada and  John, they had two sons,  Harry and Wayne.  Ada died in 1930 and came home to Huntington to be buried in Norwich Bridge Cemetery.  Even if the Chinese boys don’t seem to have left much of a mark on Huntington, their host “mother,” Ada Allard Stiles, must surely have been an important influence in their young lives.  Although there is no known correspondence between the students and Ada Stiles after their return to China, many other students reported loving their American hosts as if they were their own parents.

SOURCES:

  • Rhoads, Edward J.M., Stepping Forth into the World:  The Chinese Education Mission to the United States, 1872-81.  Hong Kong:  Hong Kong UP, 2011.
  • City Directory, Somerville, Massachusetts, 1879.
  • School Records, Huntington, Massachusetts,  1877-78.
  • U.S. Federal Censuses for Huntington, Massachusetts, 1860 and 1870.
  • U.S. Federal Censuses for Somerville, Massachusetts, 1880 and 1910.
  • Thanks to Bill McVeigh, of the Huntington, Massachusetts, Historical Society, for additional information.

 

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