Edith Chu-Nian Bien (卞菊年)

Holy lag between updates, Batman. The spring semester picked up and I haven’t touched my research in weeks. Fortunately, Spring Break is almost upon us, so I have a few posts swimming around in my head that I hope to soon be able to share with you, my loyal readers (and those who have stumbled upon me via Google Search. Hi there!).

Today I will be posting about Edith Bien, the final child of Z. S. Bien who studied in the United States. Her full name was Edith Chu-Nian Bien (卞菊年, pinyin Biàn Júnián) and she was the youngest child of Z. S. Bien and Guojin Li, being born in 1915. She was born after her parents returned from studying in America and was 5 years younger than her next oldest sibling, Edward. According to Chinese sources she, like her brother Edward, attended Yenching University in Peking (Beijing) (from this blog post about the Bien family, original text: 卞寿孙女儿卞菊年(1915—1959)肄业北平燕京大学).


Like two more of her brothers, Paul and George Bien, she opted to study in America after her schooling in China, and like much of the rest of the Bien family, she opted for Brown University. She entered the United States on 26 August 1936 (US entry paperwork) at the age of 20. She planned to stay in America for 2 years and was headed for Rhode Island, where she was to attend Pembroke College, the women’s school associated with Brown University. According to the Alumni Monthly, she enrolled as a junior in the fall of 1936 and studied English (Brown Alumni Monthly, December 1936).

She does seem to have stayed only the two years, because in 1938 she and her family were living at 12 Bay View Mansion, Causeway Bay, which is in Hong Kong (Brown Alumni Monthly, November 1938). This family included her husband, Palmer Chiyuan Sze, another returned student who studied in Boston, and their first child, born in 1938 (Brown Alumni Monthly, July August September 1940). Palmer was originally from Shanghai, I think, because he was coming and going from the city as early as 1933, according to the North China Herald, the English language newspaper of the city (23 July 1933). In total, Edith and Palmer would have two daughters and a son, all born in China. By 1946, the family had moved to Shanghai, according to Palmer’s US entry paperwork from that year (ancestry.com link).


The family would return to America when their youngest daughter was only 4 years old. Edith and the children arrived in America on 7 July 1952, following Palmer’s arrival in 1950 to work for a company called “Hydrocarbon Research Inc.” in New York (US entry paperwork for Palmer, for Edith). However, Edith did not have long to enjoy her second stay in the United States. She had died before 1964, according to her daughter’s newspaper wedding announcement; some sources online state that she had died by 1959.

2 thoughts on “Edith Chu-Nian Bien (卞菊年)

  1. Thank you for the informative article. One correction is that Palmer Sze did not come to the US to work for Hydrocarbon Research. That would have been his next in line brother, Morgan, who worked there.


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