Early Chinese Students in Maine (1909-29)

By Gary Libby

Gary Libby, who was instrumental in establishing the Chinese Archive at the Maine Historical Society, has continued his research into Chinese in Maine. The most recent result of these investigations is the following account of the very first Chinese college students in Maine institutions. This is the first part of a two-part series.

One of the consequences of the Boxer Uprising of 1900 was the arrival of Chinese students at Maine colleges.

Prior to that time, small numbers of Chinese students had come to America (as well as to Europe and Japan). The first to earn a degree was Yung Wing (Yale, class of 1854). By 1870 a Chinese Education Mission was established, at the urging of Yung Wing, now an Imperial official. In that year the first group of boys arrived in Connecticut. However the Chinese government abandoned the Mission in 1881 because the American government refused visas for its students to study at West Point and the Naval Academy (in violation of the 1868 Burlingame Treaty), and also because cultural conservatives in China had long been appalled at the students’ Americanization.

After the Boxer Uprising, the Allies imposed a huge indemnity on China to compensate for loss of life and property. However it became clear that the amount allocated to the United States far exceeded the actual claims filed, and how to spend the excess became an issue. Thus In 1908 Congress voted to use the US share to establish the China Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture. This foundation in turn funded Chinese students to study in America. Tsinghua Xuetang (Tsinghua School) was also established to prepare these candidates, later to become the renowned Tsinghua University.

These students began to arrive at universities in the United States in 1909. After a few years, the Chinese Education Mission grew concerned that they tended to cling together at the universities and did not experience American culture. It began to send students individually to liberal arts colleges where they would have closer contact with student life and American culture. Those that came to Maine include the following.

The very first case took a tragic turn. In 1909 Tse Sheng Linn came to the University of Maine (Orono) where he studied government. He became enamored of his Latin tutor Christine Shaw, a 1909 UM graduate.  When she discouraged his advances and stopped tutoring him, Mr. Linn began to send her long letters and tried to visit her at home. On June 9, 1911 Mr. Linn shot her in the head as she and her brother were returning home from a dance. He was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to fifteen years at the state prison at Thomaston.

Yih Cuing Chien, born in Chang Chow in 1888, was the first Chinese student to matriculate at Bates College. He only stayed through the 1909-1910 academic year and then attended the University of Maine School of Law from 1910 to 1913.

A decade later Carl Chang-Tse Teso, born in Wuchang, in 1888, became Bates College’s first Chinese graduate as a member of the Class of 1919. Prior to entering Bates in 1918, he had graduated from Boone University in Wuchang. The Bates yearbook described him as industrious, steady, cheerful and courteous. He was also a Bates Chapel attendant.

George Taing Tse Yeh, born in Canton in 1904, attended Bates during the 1921-1922 academic year.

Reginald Q. Wong may have been the first Chinese American to attend a Maine college when he matriculated at Bates in 1926. Although born in China, he emigrated about 1918. He lived in Boston and graduated from Boston English High School and later attended the Wentworth Institute. He died in Boston in 1956 where many of his family still live.

Kam Tok Chung, born in Canton in 1905, graduated from Canton Christian College in 1923. While a junior and senior at Bates he was a member of the tennis team. He was also a skillful ping pong and bridge player. He drove a Mercer automobile which the Bates yearbook described as being “capacious as Noah’s Ark.” He graduated from Bates in 1927. It is known that he worked for the Berlin Wall Paper Co. in Shanghai from 1928 to 1929.

Laap-Pan Chan, born in Hong Kong in 1907, graduated from Canton Christian College in 1925. At Bates his nickname was “Roby.” As a senior he joined the Outing Club and the Y.M.C.A. He graduated in 1929 and in 1931 was a student at Columbia University.

From September 2005 CAFAM Newsletter.

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