FUCHENG SEETOO (司徒傅權)

Fucheng Seetoo (1890-1954), Situ Fuquan in Mandarin pinyin, also came to MIT to study Course XIII, supported by a Chinese Navy scholarship. The son of Hwai Seetoo, Fucheng was a native of Guangdong, but born in Shanghai on Aug. 9, 1888. Educated at the Tongwen Guan in China, Seetoo came to the US in 1906 under the supervision of Charles Tenney. He originally entered Phillips Academy Andover as a self-supporting student. However, his father, a merchant in the sugar trade, lost his wealth in a typhoon, leaving him to search for scholarship funding to complete his education. Phillips Academy generously supported Seetoo as a scholarship student for a year, before he passed the examination to enter MIT in 1908. HT Shen helped Seetoo to obtain the Chinese Navy scholarship to support his education at MIT. Graduating in the Class of 1914, Seetoo wrote his thesis on the topic of Stability of a Battleship in Damaged Condition. Like Chen, Seetoo was a founding officer of the Chinese Students' Club and also a member of the Naval Architectural Society. While at MIT, Seetoo also studied violin at the New England Conservatory of Music and learned how to make violins from Boston violin-maker Walter Salon Goss. After returning to China, Seetoo not only became a famous Naval architect, but also a famous violin-maker and violinist, pioneering the use of the instrument for Cantonese music.

Professor May Bo CHING of the Department of Chinese and History at City University of Hong Kong provides this account of his place in music history:

The Music Activities of Fucheng Seetoo (司徒傅權), also known as Situ Mengyan 司徒夢岩

Returning to China in 1915, Seetoo worked in the Jiangnan Shipyard in Shanghai. Living in the rising metropolis allowed him to participate actively in music activities organized by the Cantonese-dominated Chin Woo Athletic Association (Jingwu Tiyuhui) and the Shanghai Chinese Music Society (Shanghai Zhonghua Yinyue Hui). From 1918 through the mid-1920s Seetoo regularly played violin in both Western and Chinese music performances in schools and town halls. To express the unique character of Cantonese music, Seetoo used glissando strategically, and to some extent turned the violin into a “Chinese” instrument. Until now among many Cantonese musicians, violin is translated as “fanling” 梵鈴 rather than “xiao tiqin” 小提琴 to denote its “Cantonese character.”  Working with Lu Wencheng (1898-1981), another Cantonese musician active in Shanghai, Seetoo applied his knowledge of violin-making that he learnt from Boston violin-maker Walter Salon Goss to the modification of the Chinese two-stringed fiddle erhu. With repeated experiments they placed violin E strings instead of traditional silk strings on a slightly smaller sound-box, resulting in a brighter and lighter tone as compared to the erhu. This newly-invented instrument was called “metal-string fiddle” (gangxian qin 鋼線琴) in those days, and was not renamed “gaohu” 高胡 (high-pitched erhu) until the 1950s. Seetoo also made much effort to score Chinese music in five-line staff and Western music in traditional Chinese goche 工尺 staff, echoing the utopian vision of achieving “Great Unity” 大同 between Chinese and Western music prevalent among some Chinese intellectuals in the 1920s. 

References:

Cambridge Tribune, 2 May 1914, p. 12.

Seetoo Xianda (coordinates), Zhixin Wenhua (Taiwan) (comp.), Jian yu Qin: Zaochuan gongchengshi he ta de yinyue jiazu (Battleship and Violin: Naval Architect and his Music Family) , Beijing: Shehui Kexue Wenxian Chubanshe, 2011司徒達賢策劃、知新文化(台灣)編撰:《艦與琴:造船工程師和他的音樂家族》,北京:社會科學文獻出版社,2011年.

Shenbao 申報, news on Seetoo’s performances reported between 1918 and 1926, in particular 21 December, 1923; 8 February, 1924; and 12 June 1924.