H. J. Fei (費興仁)

Building off of my post on his wife, Elizabeth Cornish, today I’ll write a little more in depth about Hsing Jen Fei (費興仁, pinyin Fèi Xìngrén). He was born on 15 November 1886 to father Chi Feng and his wife, surnamed Hsü. He was born in North Tung Chow (today Tongzhou, a district of Beijing) and attended North Tung Chow Union College, which was also known as the North China Union College of Tungchow, a missionary school in Peking (Beijing). When H. J. Fei was at N. C. U. College, it had about 50 students in the university department (American Board of Commissioners, 122), so it was not a large school as compared to the mission universities in Shanghai and Canton.

H. J. Fei, from the Cornish Fei Family Tree.
H. J. Fei, from the Cornish Fei Family Tree.

H. J. Fei left Peking, via Shanghai, on 30 July 1909. He was in the company of another student: Wen Chin Nee, headed for Tilton Seminary in New Hampshire, as well as one teacher: Gang Huo Wong, who was headed for Mt. Vernon, Iowa (ship’s manifest). H. J. Fei, of course, was headed to Oberlin. They docked in San Francisco on 24 August 1909, and H. J. Fei began the fall semester at Oberlin that year.

According to the 1910 Federal Census, H. J. Fei was living as a boarder with a widowed single mother, her teenage son, and her two teenage daughters at 317 Elm Street in Oberlin. I’ve already profiled several Chinese students who boarded with American families; usually the students boarded in groups of two or three, and they often roomed with families who had taken in Chinese students before (a topic I will be covering in a upcoming post). Taking on boarders was H. J. Fei’s landlord’s sole source of income, and the family probably didn’t find it strange at all to be boarding a foreigner, as the mother’s late husband was originally from Turkey. By 1911, H. J. Fei had moved to 237 W. College Street (or possibly 237 Oak Street), according to the 1911 and 1912 CSA Directories.


H. J. Fei graduated from Oberlin in 1912 after 3 years of study there, and indicated on his alumni card that he would be entering Yale University. He asked that his mail be sent to Mrs. L. L. Davis, at 284 W. College Street in Oberlin; I’m not sure who this was or how H. J. Fei knew her (Oberlin Archives). According to the 1914 CSA Directory, he lived in Yale Station and studied Economics. Interestingly enough, the directory records him as a native of Chihli (Zhili) province, which is right on the border of Tung Chow district. The Yale yearbook has his field of study as economics and history (Yale College Banner and Pot Pourri). He received his MA in the spring of 1914, and married Elizabeth Cornish that July.

While he was in the United States, H. J. Fei was active in both the Chinese Students’ Association and the YMCA/missionary movement. He was the treasurer of the Chinese Students’ Christian Association in North America when he was at Oberlin (Madison Hall Notes, Vol. 6), secretary of the Yale CSA Club when he was there (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 9, pg. 505) and wrote articles for missionary journals (“Religious Education”, appearing in Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, pgs. 536-537). And after he graduated from Yale and married Elizabeth, he returned to Peking to take up work at the YMCA there.


As I mentioned in Elizabeth’s post, H. J. Fei and his family lived at 38 Dengshikou in Peking. After his brief stint at the YMCA, and another brief stint teaching at Tsinghua College, H. J. Fei took a position at the Peking-Hankow Railway in 1917, working as a manager and English secretary. In 1922 or 23 he founded his own import-export business in Peking (Chinese Wikipedia, original text: “並於1922年(民國十一年)起獨立經商,創辦古玩店京奇行,從事進出口貿易”). Business must have been extremely difficult, as this is about the time he wrote that incredibly depressing letter to his friend in Oberlin which I mentioned in Elizabeth’s post. Nevertheless, he and his family, including his seven children, survived through the instability, and H. J. Fei managed that antique shop for ten years.

In 1933, he took a government job as secretary in the Ministry of Public Health, as well as a position as the co-director of the Government Bureau of Engraving & Printing. He dedicated himself to the task of reorganizing the agricultural stations in the countryside of China that had been started by the Japanese (Oberlin Archives). War was on the horizon, however. Chinese Wikipedia states that H. J. Fei moved to Tientsin during the war, but at his death in 1947, Elizabeth was still living in Dengshikou (original text: “在抗日戰爭期間,移居天津”). Possibly he was moved there for his job? Regardless, he was back in Beijing on 8 December 1946 when he passed away due to “hardening of the arteries” at the age of 60 (Oberlin Archives).

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