training china's Admirals and shipBuilders

 

Following the arrival of the Guangdong Provincial Scholarship students in 1904, a slow trickle of students from China, some self-supporting and others on various government scholarships, came to MIT. One scholarship source was the Chinese Navy. The modernization of the Navy was one of the earliest goals embraced by Chinese reformers in the Self-Strengthening Movement of the 1860s through 1890s. In the wake of China's crushing naval defeats in the Sino-French war (1884-1885) and the Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895), this became an especially urgent task. The Chinese Navy sent students to Europe and the United States to train in naval engineering and strategy. A number of these students came to MIT to study Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, as did self-supporting and other scholarship students from China. Since Chinese students encountered great difficulty in entering the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, MIT rapidly became the favored destination for those seeking training in this field. With a special course designed for these students, by the early 20th century, MIT was known as the American institution training China's future admirals and naval architects. 

MIT Senior Portfolio 1914. Image courtesy MIT Archive and Special Collections.

MIT Senior Portfolio 1914. Image courtesy MIT Archive and Special Collections.

navy students

Two of the early Navy scholarship students were Sidney SY Chen and FT Yeh, both graduates of the prestigious Yen Tai Naval Academy in China. Originally slated to enter the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, the pair had been brought to this country by Capt. Ho Kau Yuen of the Chinese Imperial Navy in September 1906. In order to strengthen their English skills, the two students were first sent to the Waban School in Waban (Newton), Massachusetts for a college preparatory course. Following the example of HT Shen, Chen and Yeh eventually came to MIT to study Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Also like Shen, the two became recognized leaders among the Chinese students, often called upon to serve as spokesmen for their countrymen at MIT. 

MIT Senior Portfolio 1913. Image courtesy MIT Archive and Special Collections.

MIT Senior Portfolio 1913. Image courtesy MIT Archive and Special Collections.

Sidney Shea Ying Chen (陳石英)

(1890-1983) or Chen Shiying in Mandarin pinyin, was born in Shanghai in September, 1890. Graduating from Yen Tai Naval Academy in 1906, Chen prepared at the Waban School in Waban, Massachusetts before matriculating at MIT. While at MIT, he was a member of the Cosmopolitan Club and the Naval Architectural Society. In his sophomore year, he served as First Vice-President of the Cosmopolitan Club and in his junior year, he served as Vice President of the Naval Architectural Society. Chen was also a founding officer of the Chinese Students' Club, formed in April 1910. Chen graduated with the Class of 1913, earning a BS in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Together with JP Constable, Chen wrote a thesis on the subject of "Test on Cowl Ventilators." Returning to China, he became a professor at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and then department chair. Taking on various leadership roles at the university, Chen eventually rose to the position of Vice President of Shanghai Jiao Tong. A renowned professor of thermal dynamics, Chen also chaired the Shanghai branch of the Chinese Mechanical Engineering Society. With a successful career in academia, Chen took on political leadership roles after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. In 1954, he was a member of the first National Assembly of the People's Republic of China. A dedicated professor for decades at Shanghai Jiao Tong, Chen was remembered as a much-beloved teacher and colleague. 

Naval Architectural Society for 1912. MIT Technique 1913.

Naval Architectural Society for 1912. MIT Technique 1913.

MIT Senior Portfolio 1913. Image courtesy MIT Archive and Special Collections.

MIT Senior Portfolio 1913. Image courtesy MIT Archive and Special Collections.

Fong Teh Yeh (葉芳哲)

(1891-?) or Ye Fangde in Mandarin pinyin (also known as "Frank"), was born in Fuzhou, China in September, 1891. Also a graduate of Yen Tai Naval Academy, Yeh came to the US with Chen in 1906, sailing together aboard the America Maru. Initially studying at the Waban School with Chen, Yeh later transferred to Phillips Academy at Andover, graduating in the Class of 1910. At MIT, Yeh was a member of the Cosmopolitan Club, the Chinese Students' Club, and the Naval Architectural Society. He was also a charter member of the FF Fraternity, the oldest Chinese fraternity in the US. Yeh graduated with the Class of 1914, earning a BS in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. Originally proposing a thesis on the topic of Yacht Design, Yeh ended up completing his thesis on An analysis of the Progressive Speed Trial of the Chinese Cruiser "Fei Hung." An active cultural ambassador, FT Yeh became especially renowned for his magic tricks, pantomimes, and musical performances at various student events. In the 1914 Tech Show, “A Royal Johnny,” Yeh played the part of Ziang, Valet to Prince Paul. Jasper Whiting invited Yeh to speak to the MIT alumni association about students from China in 1914. After returning to China, Yeh worked as a naval architect and became a professor at Wuhan University.

MIT Senior Portfolio 1913. Image courtesy MIT Archive and Special Collections.

MIT Senior Portfolio 1913. Image courtesy MIT Archive and Special Collections.

Fucheng Seetoo (司徒傅權)

Yeh's classmate from Phillips Academy, Fucheng Seetoo (1889-1954, Situ Fuquan in Mandarin pinyin), also came to MIT to study Course XIII, supported by a Chinese Navy scholarship. A native of Guangdong, but born in Shanghai, Seetoo had originally gone to Phillips Academy 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. 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. 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.

The Chinese students soon gained quite a presence in Course XIII. As early as 1909, HT Shen was elected vice-president of the Naval Architectural Society (Technique 1910, 255). By 1911-1912, nearly half (6 out of 14) of the members of the Naval Architectural Society were Chinese. Sidney Y. Chen was elected vice-president (Technique 1913, 276), with Hou-Kun Chow (Class of 1914) succeeding him in this position the following year (Technique 1914, 286).


Famed aeronautical pioneer, Tsoo Wong (Class of 1916), was a graduate of the prestigious Yantai Naval Academy (煙臺海軍學校) who was initially sent as a cadet to study naval architecture and mechanical engineering in England before coming to MIT. Other Navy-sponsored students included TS Chu, Pellian TC Mar, C Wang and T Yuen, all Class of 1916. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering would also prove popular among the students of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship program established in 1908. As the annual Report to the President in academic year 1912 noted: "The increase in Naval Architecture from nineteen to twenty-nine is made up to a noticeable extent, of Chinese students." Responding to the need, that year MIT even instituted a special course in Naval Construction (Course XIIIB) for international students, specializing in warship design, and paralleling the United States Course for Naval Constructors. As noted by Department Head Cecil Peabody in the Report to the President for academic year 1913: "a tentative arrangement has been made to give instruction in naval construction and warship design under the direction of Professor Hovgaard to students of any nationality, parallel to, but distinct from, that given to student officers of the United States Navy." (99) This course gave the Chinese students, in the words of the Boston Post, "the same opportunity to study naval architecture as Uncle Sam's own boys who have passed through their long apprenticeship at Annapolis." The Post praised MIT for its inclusiveness in embracing "the whole world in its scope."

MIT thus became renowned as the institution training the "Future Admirals and Master Builders of the Chinese Navy." As the Boston Post wrote in 1913

"If China ever engages in another great naval battle the young men at Tech will play an important part in the result. There, under the best instruction that the country affords, working side-by-side with Americans and young men from many different countries, 14 youths, the pick of China, are studying the mysteries of naval construction." (April 27, 1913, 10)

In the 1912-1913 academic year, naval architecture was the top major for Chinese students at MIT, with 14 out of 37 total enrolled in this course. By 1930, a total of 30 Chinese students had undertaken Course XIII at MIT, making it the fifth most popular course for the early Chinese students at MIT. 

Writing for the Chinese Students' Monthly in 1917, VF Lam (Class of 1916, Naval Architecture) similarly praised MIT for establishing the course for Chinese engineers, but lamented that China had very few of her own shipyards, with most of the shipyards and docks in the country under foreign control. He thus saw the task lying ahead of Chinese engineers to be great indeed -- not only a technical problem, but also a political one.

The early Course XIII students also had an impact beyond their major. As noted above, several took leadership roles in the founding of the MIT Chinese Students' Club in 1910 while also participating in the Cosmopolitan Club. In the inaugural Chinese Night entertainment put on by the Cosmopolitan Club in 1910, Course XIII students HT Shen, FC Seetoo, FT Yeh and SY Chen, were featured speakers and performers. Beyond campus, Course XIII students were also active in the Chinese Students' Alliance and the Welfare Association of Boston and Vicinity, which founded a school for Chinese workers in Boston Chinatown in 1910. HT Shen was one of the founders, and successive classes of Course XIII students served in the leadership or as teachers. These included: HK Chow (Class of 1914, Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture), CS Hsin (Class of 1914, Marine Engineering), VF Lam, Frank Yeh, TS Chu (Class of 1916, Naval Architecture), T Yuan (Class of 1916 Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering), TC Mar (Class of 1916, Naval Architecture), CC Chu (Class of 1916, Naval Architecture), and C Wang (Class of 1916, Naval Architecture). HK Chow was President in 1913, and VF Lam Director in 1914.


Sources: AC.0597 Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Office of the President. Reports to the President, 1911, 1912, 1913, 1914. MIT Senior Portfolio 1913, 1914, MIT Technique 1912, 1913, 1914, 1915, 1916, The Tech, April 23, 1910, volume XXIX, no. 145, The Tech, March 26, 1914, "Chinese Cut Their Queues," Brownsville Daily Herald, Brownsville, Texas, vol. XV. no. 9, Oct. 3, 1906, 1, Shanghai Jiao Tong website, Baidu, Chinese wikipedia, Chinese Students' Alliance in the United States of America, The Chinese Students' Directory, January, 1914, Boston, 1914, Who's Who of American Returned Students (You Mei tongxue lu), Beijing: Tsinghua College, 1917, Who's who in China: biographies of Chinese leaders. 1936. Shanghai: The China weekly review. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/api/volumes/oclc/3444157.html, MIT Chinese Students Directory: For the Past Fifty Years, 1931, Chinese Students' Monthly (CSM) June 1910, volume V, number 8, p. 529, Head of School (Stearns) records: correspondence with Chinese students, Phillips Academy Archives and Special Collections, Andover, Mass., V.F. Lam, "The Outlook of the Shipbuilding Industry in China,Chinese Students' Monthly, vol. 12, no. 7, May 1917, 352-357, "Future Admirals and Master Builders of Chinese Navy Are Trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” Boston Sunday Post, April 27, 1913, 10, Wan, Edward I. 2003. History of F.F. Fraternity: Evolution of the First Chinese Fraternity in the United States (1910-2002) = [Ji lan]. U.S.A.: s.n.].