E. J. Chu (徐振)

徐振 (pinyin Xú Zhèn) was born on 27 February 1891 in Macau, although his parents, Wing Pao and Soo Pan, were originally from Guangdong Province. At that time in Chinese history, many port cities were under significant or even total foreign control. The Chinese treaty port system ceded control of specific zones in coastal cities to foreign powers – as in the American/British and French concessions of Shanghai – or in the cases of Hong Kong and Macau, complete colonial administration. These areas functioned somewhere on the spectrum from Vatican City to the former Panama Canal Zone in their laws and regulations on movement to and from the area. Since Macau was under Portuguese colonial administration, 徐振 was born a Portuguese citizen, although he was ethnically Chinese.

徐振 attended Canton Christian College, an American-founded missionary school in Canton (today Guangzhou), probably some time between 1909 and 1912. However, there is evidence that he and his family were living in Shanghai towards the end of 1912, at 88 Broadway, across Soochow (Suzhou) Creek north of the Bund. He left from Shanghai in December of 1912 as part of a group of four Chinese students: 黄一歐 , 黄一歐’s wife, and 黄一歐’s sister 黄振華.  This group of four students was headed to Mt. Holyoke, which beats the heck out of me, as that has always been an all-girls school. There’s clearly no record of 徐振 ever attending Mt. Holyoke. Yet the arrival data for him clearly states that he was headed to Holyoke, Massachusetts for 6 years to study engineering, although there is no record of him attending school in Massachusetts at all.

The lack of the 1913 Chinese Students’ Alliance Directory is extremely frustrating in this case, as it could have answered the question of 徐振’s whereabouts from 1912 to 1914. Instead, the first time 徐振 shows up in an American directory, it is the 1914 Chinese Students’ Directory, so a year and a half of his American experience is basically undocumented. 徐振 appears with the romanized name of E. J. Chu. This is an interesting choice in my opinion, assuming a Mandarin Chinese pronunciation, since his surname, 徐, would be xú in current pinyin romanization. Other students with his same surname were romanized as Zee/Zi or, more commonly, Hsu. However, there was no standard system of romanization for the Chinese language before the Wade-Giles system, which was gaining currency and refinement in this time period, so English spellings of Chinese words at this time in history were all over the map. In addition, his name was probably pronounced “ceoi” (sounding vaguely like “chai”) in the Cantonese fashion, since his family was from Guangdong, so this may explain the choice of “chu” as a romanization. There is actually another student in my list with the surname 徐 and the romanization “Chuan”, so we can theorize that these two students were native Cantonese speakers. The E. in his initials stands for Edward or Eduardo, which may be a name he chose after arriving in America, or may be a name he was given during childhood in Macau.

In the 1914 Directory, E. J. Chu is listed as an engineering student at Alabama Polytechnic Institute, which today is Auburn University. I’ve studied the API yearbooks from that time period extensively and he doesn’t show up in a single one, leading me to believe that he was there for less than a year. He is also listed as an API student in the 1915 Directory, but since the directory information in 1915 is identical in every respect to the 1914 edition, the entry simply may have been copied and pasted, as it were.

 

In actuality, E. J. Chu changed schools in 1915, as well as majors; he was part of the 1916 and 1917 classes at Albany Law School in Albany, New York. He and another Chinese student at Albany Law School, W. K. Lam, rented rooms from an American couple living at 81 Livingston Street in Albany for at least two years; he is listed at that address in the Albany city directory for 1916 and 1917 with the profession of “student”. The 1918 Albany city directory simply states “rem.[oved] to China” next to his name. He is also listed as “Edward Chii” in these city directories – probably an unfortunate copying error of the letter “ü” (the two dots there are an attempt to indicate the sound the u makes after the x sound in 徐, which is different from a “normal” English u).

I thought that would have been the end of E. J. Chu’s America story, but imagine my surprise when he showed up in the Chinese Students’ Alliance 1918 Directory as a law student at Fordham University! This actually does clear up a mystery for me, as the address listed in the 1918 Directory is similar to the address on his marriage certificate; the 1918 Directory address is 164 W. 140th Street, New York City, whereas the address listed on his marriage certificate is 604 W. 140th Street. However, this new directory entry introduces another wrinkle as it lists E. J. Chu as a Tsinghua (Boxer Indemnity) scholarship recipient, and how did he get that? His listings in 1914 and 1915 state no scholarship information, which means he was a private student, and he definitely didn’t return to China to sit the Indemnity Scholar exam. My hunch is that the 1918 listing is a misprint. It did occur to me that the entire 1918 directory entry may have been in error and E. J. Chu’s entry should have read that he was a student at Albany Law School, but I double-checked the Fordham 1917-8 Register of Students and it lists Edward J. Chu as a third year law student, so he was definitely there at least for the fall semester.

 

Things happened quickly in that fall semester of 1917. Besides moving to New York City and beginning classes at Fordham, within the next 4 months E. J. Chu had met and married an American woman of German heritage. She was working as a sales clerk in a candy shop at the time, which has given me an unbearably adorable mental image of their meet-cute over chocolate bars. They were married in December of 1917 and almost immediately moved to Shanghai, meaning that E. J. Chu never finished his college degree in America. The abrupt return to China was probably related to his wife’s family’s disapproval of the relationship; family lore claims that her stepfather completely cut her off when she married a Chinese man. Another related reason is that E. J. Chu’s wife was most likely already pregnant during their municipal office wedding ceremony, because their first child was born on 1 August 1918. Upon settling in Shanghai, E. J. Chu changed his surname to “Child” and connected with the Portuguese community in Shanghai. Much information about his whereabouts at this time comes from the Portuguese Consulate in Shanghai, owing to his Portuguese citizenship due to being born in Macau. Both E. J. Chu and his wife worked for the Shanghai Mutual Telephone Company.

They returned to New York once, in April of 1927, for a 6-month visit with their – by that time – two daughters in tow. They stayed with a friend of E. J. Chu’s from Albany Law School, but what really gets me are the enormity and logistics of taking an 8 year old and a 5 year old on a steamer across the Pacific, and then across the entire country by train, to have a vacation in upstate New York. It must have been incredibly taxing, especially considering that in addition, E. J. Chu’s wife was pregnant again, and their third daughter was born that July in Rochester, New York.

 

The Child family lived a relatively privileged life in Shanghai. They were well-known enough to be listed in the newspaper when they left and entered the city. They lived on 496 Boone Road in the American Sector of International Shanghai and had five children in total – four girls and one boy. They were able to send their children to boarding schools in Japan and Weihaiwei. By the 40s they had moved to Kiaochow Road.

Things had already started to change for them around 1937. This is the year in which the Japanese invasion of China reached Shanghai, and in the aftermath of the Japanese takeover, internment camps were set up in the international concessions for all Allied citizens. This internment program did not affect E. J. Chu, or his wife, though I am not sure whether that was just an oversight or because she was considered “Chinese” due to being married to a Chinese man. Four of their children were also unaffected, since they were born in China to a Chinese man. But the middle child, the daughter born in Rochester during the Childs’ 6 month vacation, was interned and spent 8 months in Chapei Internment Camp for being a natural-born US citizen. She was 16 years old. Of the Child family, this daughter was the first to return to America as part of the Gripsholm prisoner-of-war exchange in 1943. She went to live in Missouri, probably with her brother-in-law’s family, which is incredibly telling as her American grandmother was still alive and living in New York City, where the Gripsholm arrived. That is one hell of a family grudge to hold just for marrying someone of a different race.

Next to leave Shanghai was E. J. Chu’s oldest daughter, who had married a US Marine. This daughter left on a military ship in 1945. Next, E. J. Chu’s wife, the American-born German, left in 1952, headed for Washington DC and relief work with the Lutheran Church. Her relief work efforts brought over the rest of the family: first E. J. Chu’s second-oldest daughter and husband, along with their daughter, all stateless Russians, in 1955; and finally in 1957 E. J. Chu’s only son and his youngest daughter, who was pregnant at the time, along with that daughter’s two children. These last 6 arrivals were accomplished with a mix of Portuguese and UN Refugee passports, and the family members came from refugee camps in Macau and Brazil.

 

And E. J. Chu himself? He never made it back to the US. He died in Shanghai around 1948, although there is a marker next to his wife’s in an American cemetery.

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