Chinese Student Directories

In my last post, I mentioned a few primary sources that I want to discuss in a little more detail, to give you an idea of how I track the movements of these Chinese students in America. The foremost primary source that I use for addresses and locations is the Chinese Students’ Alliance’s set of Chinese student directories. These seven directories, especially the ones that include the students’ Chinese names in characters, have proven to be the best way to keep up with the Boxer Indemnity Scholars. It’s hard to get a hold of these directories, and a couple of issues have disappeared into history. Schools that hosted a large number of Indemnity Scholars are always a good source for these directories; the University of Michigan seems to have a fairly full set, as do the University of Illinois and Columbia University in New York.

The publisher of these seven directories was the Chinese Students’ Alliance, a nationwide student-run organization which served as a strong unifying force for Chinese students in America during this time. According to the 1918 Directory, the Chinese Students’ Alliance was first organized in 1902 in San Francisco Congregational Church. This gathering later became known as the “Pacific Coast Chinese Students’ Alliance” and had as its first aim “to keep a record of the names and addresses, etc., of all Chinese students in U. S. A.” (CSA, 1918, 5). The Midwest Section was formed the following year, with the Eastern Section being formed in 1905 (5). Each section functioned more-or-less autonomously and held their own conferences and regional activities. When working together, the three sections were overseen by the Executive Alliance Board (CSA, 1915).

Directories were published by the Chinese Students’ Alliance specifically for the Eastern Section in January of 1911 (CSA, 1911) and then for the entire Chinese Students’ Alliance in January 1912 (CSA, 1912), Fall 1913, Fall 1914 (CSA, 1914), Fall 1915 (CSA, 1915), Fall 1916, and in 1918 (CSA, 1918). Before 1911 and after 1918, the Chinese Students’ Alliance published other materials, some of which contained name and address lists, which I will discuss in another post.

Judging by the forwards of these directories, the compilation of names and addresses was extremely difficult. Information was primarily collected by the use of postcards, which each student would obtain from their local Chinese Students’ Club, fill out, and mail to the section officers (Eastern, Midwestern, or Western depending on the location of the Chinese Students’ Club). Due to the autonomous nature of each section with respect to the national Executive  Alliance Board, each section used postcards of their own design, so the information returned for the nationwide directories was different for each student. The use of postcards was also problematic because not every student returned them, so other sources were often used to complete the directories; the 1914 Directory cites “the Directory of 1913, the Annual of 1912, the Chinese Students’ Christian Association Membership Mailing List of 1913-1914, lists of local clubs, and other miscellaneous records” (CSA, 1914). As late as the 1915 Directory, this work was completed entirely by one member of the Executive Board of the Alliance; only for the 1918 Directory was a three-person committee created to take on this massive task (CSA, 1918).

Although using multiple sources helped the CSA to pull the directories together, this also caused a few problems in double-reporting of students. This is especially noticeable in the 1912 Directory, in which a few students were entered twice, with different romanizations and different addresses. For example, student #5 in this directory is named “Bow, George”, with an address in Berkeley. However, student #706 in the same directory is “Tsow, George Y. S.”, who has been “returned from the previous directory”, meaning they just copied his name. Upon examining the Chinese characters for these two entries, it becomes clear that this the same student, since they are both called 姚觀順 in Chinese. The issue was that between 1911 and 1912, George Bow/Tsow graduated high school in Grass Valley, California and began college at the University of California. He probably filled out the postcard with “Bow, George” and turned it in, while the 1912 Directory compiler added the “Tsow, George Y. S.” entry from the previous 1911 Directory, not realizing that these were the same person. Needless to say, this can get a little confusing.


As you may be able to tell from my citations, only some of the seven published directories are still around to be cited. The 1911 Directory, as far as I can tell, is most easily available on microfiche – those individual photographic sheets – since Columbia University’s copy is non-circulating and stored off-site, and I will believe that Rutgers has a circulating physical copy when I see it. After judicious use of my InterLibrary Loan privileges, I now have a digital scanned copy for personal use. The 1911 Eastern Directory contains both English names and Chinese characters, as well as addresses and information on whether the student was a member of the CSA as of December 1, 1910. There are also a handful of students in this directory from the Western Section of the CSA, which is indicated as well. Extra material includes a forward, the Constitution of the Eastern Section of the Chinese Students’ Alliance, several songs and poems in both English and Chinese – with sheet music and English and Chinese lyrics, both in characters and romanized spellings – and the delightful “Alliance Yell”, which runs, “C. S. A./C. S. A./Rah, rah, rah,/Ray, ray, ray,/C–S–A!” (CSA, 1911).

This directory comes with some difficulties. While the students are numbered, 650 in total, with their English names and addresses listed first, the numbered list of Chinese characters follows this list, which can get really frustrating when you have to flip back and forth. The characters are in their traditional forms, as simplified characters were not invented and standardized until 1956. The copy I have of the 1911 Directory is also not that great, as it went from the physical, 100-year-old copy, to the microfiche, to my digital scan (which I created myself, relatively poorly). However, it has proven invaluable to catch many of those early Indemnity Scholars.


The 1912 Directory builds on the 1911 Directory, expanding the scope from just the Eastern Section with a few Western Section students thrown in, to the entire US Chinese Students’ Alliance. To be honest, I don’t remember where I got this directory from. I’m pretty sure it came from the previous link, but I could also have gotten it from an ILL scan. Much of the information in this directory was culled from the 1911 Eastern Directory, and if the entry is simply copied from the 1911 Directory, this is indicated by the copied student’s name. Membership as of January 10, 1912 is indicated by an asterisk, as well as the section to which the student pertains, membership or not. The names are numbered, 873 in all, with the numbered list of the Chinese names following as in the previous directory.

An added wrinkle in using this directory is that in the 1911 Directory, the Chinese names are printed in the Chinese manner – with the family or last name first, and the one- or two-character given (first) name coming second – but the names are printed in the Western direction from left to right. This means that in the 1911 Directory, as you read from left to right, you see three characters in this order: [FamilyName] [GivenName1] [GivenName2]. However, the 1912 Directory has printed the Chinese names in the Chinese manner AND in the Chinese direction from right to left, so if you read left to right, you see these three characters: [GivenName2] [GivenName1] [FamilyName]. For example, Student #1 in both directories is H. M. Au. In the 1911 Directory his Chinese name is printed as “1 區克明”, 區 being his family name and 克明 being his given name. But in the 1912 Directory, his name is printed as  “明克區 1”. If you don’t already know some Chinese, that numeral “1” is the only indication you get that the line begins there and you should begin reading from the right side and go “backwards”, giving you the name of 區克明. If not, you could very well assume that the 1912 Directory was printing names in the Western manner, with the given name first and the surname second, until you look closer and see that the order of H. M. Au’s first name would be incorrect in that case.


The 1914 Directory is pretty easy to find. When I first started this project, I had to use ILL to get a physical copy, but now it has been digitized and is available at the preceding link. I also have a digital scanned copy for personal use. It is one of the more basic of the directories, lacking the numbered student lists and the Chinese characters entirely, but it does provide some more interesting information, including each student’s “name, highest academic degree or degrees, native province in China, present means of support or scholarship, year came to the United States, present course of study, institution, and mail address” (CSA, 1914). Not all of this information is available for every student, and the information collected from each student was supplemented by inquiries of the local YMCAs, Chinese Club members, and the 1913 Directory, of which no copies exist anymore.

The biggest issue is definitely the lack of Chinese characters. If the student has a less-common name it isn’t a problem, but trying to figure out which C. L. Chen goes with the one in the 1912 or 1915 Directory is difficult without the characters to specify. Missing the 1913 Directory also hurts the research process. Perhaps one day someone will find one at the bottom of a stack of papers in a broom closet or something . . .


The 1915 Directory is even scarcer than the 1911 Directory, but fortunately Columbia University has digitized it, which is where I got my copy. It improves on the 1911 and 1912 Directories significantly by having the Chinese characters written right next to the English name of the student, but sometimes the alignment is slightly off. This can accumulate as you go down the page, until a name in characters is written next to an incorrectly corresponding English name. Much of the information in this directory seems to be copied from the 1914 Directory, but according to the forward, much of this directory was complied by one man, so kudos to him for doing so much work in the first place.


The 1916 Directory has been lost, and according to the 1918 Directory, the 1917 Directory was never printed, due to the fact that this responsibility fell on the newly-elected officers of the CSA, who did not have time to get the directory out in accordance with the CSA constitution. This brings us to the 1918 Directory, available in digitized form at the earlier link, as well as in physical form in a few libraries. I don’t have a personal copy of this one, so I have been using the HathiTrust link for my research. The list of students is numbered again, this time to the tune of 1124 individual members, with information on their course of study, university, province of origin, scholarship information, address, and year of arrival. Chinese characters have once again been left out, causing similar difficulties as the 1914 Directory. The 1918 Directory also provides a lot of extra information; in addition to the section constitutions, it includes a historical list of CSA officers, a publication list and historical editors-in-chief, and a list of honorary members.


The Chinese Students’ Alliance stopped printing directories after 1918 and started printing handbooks in the 20s. My best guess would be that World War I interfered with information gathering, but that is just a guess. Despite their flaws, it’s pretty amazing that these directories have survived over 100 years to give us an insight on the students that came to the United States from China to study at American universities.

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