A lot of Indemnity Scholars show up here and there across the pages of history without leaving many clues as to why they were there. 黄顯庭 is not like this. Hinting Wong (Jyutping [Cantonese] romanization Wong4 Hin2ting4) was born 2 November 1892 in Hong Kong to a Christian (Episcopalian) father, who may have attended Oxford (Syracuse Herald, 16 Nov 1917, link goes to Ancestry.com copy). H. T Wong attended both Canton Christian College in Guangzhou and Queen’s College in Hong Kong before serving in the Southern Army in 1911 (State College News, 1 Nov 1916). He was only 19 years old, but he was a 2nd lieutenant, Infantry – I expect his schooling sent him straight to the officer corps. He was wounded in battle, and his World War I draft card states he had lost his sight in his right eye. The previously cited Syracuse Herald story – “Veteran, Student Here” – retells the gripping story of how H. T. Wong received a bayonet thrust to the head in the 1911 Revolution (Syracuse Herald, 16 Nov 1917).
After his injury, H. T. Wong served as a secretary to several important figures in the Southern government. He was then sent abroad to study in Western universities. A New York newspaper article mentions him studying at Japanese and English universities, as well as at Harvard, but I can’t find any primary source documentation for this. No US arrival documentation as of yet.
H. T. Wong’s first appearance in the American press is on 1 November 1913, in the Boston Evening Transcript. The newspaper was reporting on a club at the University of Vermont called the “Bring One association”, recognizing those students who had encouraged another student to apply to UVM. H. T. Wong was noted, apart from being Chinese, for two reasons: he was a member of the club although he was just a freshman, and he had brought two students with him to the University of Vermont: W. K. Lam, who lived with him in the North Converse Hall dorm, and S. Y. Yao, who lived on 147 Loomis Street (Boston Evening Transcript, 1 Nov 1913). H. T. Wong is listed in the January 1914 Chinese Students’ Alliance Directory at this address (North Converse Hall) and as having a provincial scholarship from Guangdong Province (CSA, 1914).
H. T. Wong shows up again on 13 February 1914 in the Middlebury Register. A Chinese man living in St. Albans had died with only one other living family member in America, so both H. T. Wong and W. K. Lam helped in disposing of his remains and property. There’s no indication that they knew this man, named Chin Kim, so perhaps they were just there to make culturally sensitive arrangements and to translate (Middlebury Register, 14 Feb 1914).
H. T. Wong re-took his freshman year at UVM in 1914, but moved to 159 Loomis Street, according to the 1915 Yearbook. He was the president of the Cosmopolitan Club that year and a member of the Commons Club in 1916, his sophomore year. Therefore we can see that he was active not only in Chinese student matters, but in the wider university experience. In 1916, H. T. Wong moved to Albany, New York and transferred to “New York State College”, today SUNY Albany, to study pedagogy. According to his World War I draft card, he lived at 14 S. Hawk Street. The 1917 yearbook is full of references and poems about him, one of them referring to him as “Thou light of Asia! Deathless Hinting Wong!” (New York State College, 1917, link to Ancestry). He was apparently well known among the students for his oratorical and literary abilities. He even had a Mother’s Day poem published in the Sag-Harbor Express on 25 May 1916.
There is some discrepancy as to what exactly H. T. Wong was doing in Albany at this time. According to the State College News, H. T. Wong supposedly began his Master’s at New York State College in November of 1916 (State College News, 1 Nov 1916). However, he had just left the University of Vermont with only two years of study under his belt, and there’s no indication that he had graduated with a bachelor’s already. There’s also scattered evidence that H. T. Wong took courses at Albany Law School at this time as well. In addition, according to local newspapers, after he graduated from New York State College, he had a B.A, and was the first Chinese student to earn a Bachelor’s of Arts from the school (Middletown Times, 19 June 1917). My guess is that H. T. Wong was able to use some of his university credits from Hong Kong, as well as the two years of work he did at the University of Vermont, to earn his B.A., and then go quickly on to his Master’s, completing it in one year at New York State College.
He got a job teaching English at Syracuse University, filling in for someone who retired. He lived at 736 Livingston Avenue in Syracuse, according to the 1918 city directory. Although his original stated intention was to prepare himself for government service and return to China, it seemed he was in America for at least the near future.
And then, on 31 March 1919, he died. That’s all the Syracuse Alumni Register says: “Hinting Wong – died 31 March 1919”. A death notice that ran in a Syracuse newspaper on 15 May 1919 noted that he had returned to Hong Kong in 1918 – it must have been after July, as he gave a speech at Syracuse University on 25 July 1918. He lived at 1 Irving Street – not sure if that is in Syracuse or in Hong Kong. The death announcement notes that he was a Mason of the Syracuse Lodge. He was only 27 years old.
It’s interesting to me how similar and yet how different H. T. Wong’s and W. K. Lam’s lives were. They both attended missionary schools in China, served in the Southern Army, attended the University of Vermont together and were both in Albany and Syracuse at similar times, and were both preparing for government service in the new Republic of China. However, H. T. Wong shows up over and over in contemporary sources, while W. K. Lam doesn’t. Their personalities were quite different; H. T. Wong was more of a joiner, serving in leadership roles both within the Chinese students’ orbit as well as among other American students. This is the biggest difference between the two students: W. K. Lam associated with other Chinese students, took his classes, and returned to China, while H. T. Wong ventured outside of the Chinese student bubble.
The other major difference, of course, is that H. T. Wong died before he was able to begin his government service career. However, W. K. Lam’s life can provide a template for how H. T. Wong’s future could have gone: a steady stream of government positions, political in-fighting, a privileged life before a possible fall from grace. The end result, however, is two distinctly different lives, despite their outward similarities.