Peter Soo Hoo (司徒彼得)

Back to our regularly-scheduled birth order for the Soo Hoo family. So, Nam Art Soo Hoo had 11 children, and the oldest child and son was Peter Soo Hoo. Annoyingly, there is another Peter Soo Hoo who was roughly a contemporary to our current subject, and they both even had the same career! This made the research for this post even harder than it really needed to be.

Peter Soo Hoo (司徒彼得, pinyin Sītú Bǐdé, Jyutping Si1tou4 Bei2dak1) was born on 24 March 1884 in Kwang Tung (Guangdong), China, more specifically in Kaiping (Mei Zhou liu xue bao gao, 1905). He was the oldest child and first son of Nam Art Soo Hoo and his wife, surnamed Quan, born in between Nam Art’s first and second visits to America. His father returned from his second visit in 1890, when Peter was six, and four years later he, along with both of his parents and his three younger sisters moved to California permanently.

Living in San Francisco in 1900 at 920 Washington Street,  Peter studied at Polytechnic High School in San Francisco (University of Illinois Register, 1913), at the Bush and Stockton Street location that was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. He shows up in a Pacific States (mostly just California) Chinese students’ publication called either “Mei Zhou liu xue bao gao” (Chinese characters: 美洲留学报告, meaning “American Study Abroad Report”) or “The Dragon Student”. He is living at 920 Washington Street and plans to graduate by 1908 with a BS in Engineering. The directory also lists his hao name, or nickname: 磐子 (pánzi), which translates as “boulder” (Mei Zhou liu xue bao gao, 1905).

 

Although he didn’t graduate by 1908, he did enter Stanford University in or around 1905, as he had planned. According to his younger sister Lily, Peter was already studying at Stanford in 1906 when the earthquake occurred, and when he heard the news he returned to San Francisco on foot, a distance of at least 30 miles, due to the disruption in rail service (Sung, cited in Chinese Historical Society Conference Papers, 1975, 189). He was active in both Chinese social organizations and university clubs, writing an article for The Dragon Student on the plans to merge the Eastern CSA with the Chinese Student Alliances of the West Coast (西美留學報告, 1908) as well as becoming a member of the Mechanical Engineering Society at Stanford in 1909 (Stanford Quad, 1909).

 

 

In 1910, Peter earned a degree in civil engineering from Stanford (Stanford Register, 1910-1911) and went on to do his Master’s work at the University of Illinois. I suspect that the extra time he took to finish his Bachelor’s was used to take some graduate-level courses, because he finished his degree at Illinois in only one year. According to the 1911 CSA Directory, he lived at 1308 W. Springfield Avenue in Urbana while he was a student. He was active in the Chinese Students’ Alliance in Illinois as well, serving as the English Secretary of the University of Illinois chapter of the CSA in 1911. (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Apr 1911). He wrote his Master’s thesis on bridges; the title is “Economic Development of Bridge Construction“, and it is online in its entirety, for those civil engineers out there who want to read 120+ pages on railway bridges. It was a successful thesis: he was awarded an MS from the University of Illinois in civil engineering in 1911 (The Alumni Quarterly, 1911, 228).

 

According to his sister’s memoir, he trained for a time at Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania before moving to China later in 1911 (Sung, cited in Chinese Historical Society Conference Papers, 1975). If that’s so, he was only there for a brief time before taking a job in Canton. In 1912, an Oregon newspaper ran an article about Chinese graduates of American universities who were “rebuilding” the province of Kwantung, and Peter is one of the students mentioned as an American-educated Chinese man working for the Department of Public Works in the city of Canton. “The man given the job of tearing down the ancient wall that surrounds Canton and mapping an electric road around it, is Peter Soo-hoo, a graduate of Stanford University, who got his higher degree from the University of Illinois” (The Oregon Daily Journal, 28 Jul 1912, 32).

By 1913, Peter was living at 54 Great Yan Tsai Street in Canton and had the title of “Bridge Engineer” (University of Illinois Directory, 1913, 640). By 1916 he was working for the Koushing Engineering Company, a company that appears to have specialized in railway construction. He worked on the Hankow-Canton Railroad (University of Illinois Directory, 1916) as well as the Canton-Samshui Railway (American Society of Civil Engineers Yearbook, 1916, 233). He joined the American Society of Civil Engineers on 12 Sept 1916, and was in regular communication with his contemporaries in California.

This is illustrated by his 1920 letter to Charles David Marx, the head of the engineering department at Stanford. Peter addresses himself to an E. G. Sheibley and begins: “Glad to know you are thinking of teaching in China”. (The Stanford Daily, 10 July 1920). He hopes that many such American engineers will come to Canton to both teach and work. In an ominous foreshadowing of what is to come, Peter states, “…we want more Americans to help us get away from the bad influence of the Japanese.”

 

 

 

Sadly, this is the last we hear from Peter himself. He was still in Canton as of 1932, when his mother died and Peter was mentioned in the obituary (Berkeley Daily Gazette, 18 Nov 1932, 16). His sister writes in her memoir that Peter had 4 children who grew up to be a surgeon, a pediatrician, a biochemist, and an engineer, but I couldn’t find any record of these children or even his wife. They must have married in China. The memoir was written in 1975, so Peter was still alive at that point; however, I don’t have any information on when he died. An unsourced record on Ancestry.com suggests that he died in Hong Kong.

 

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6 thoughts on “Peter Soo Hoo (司徒彼得)

  1. Peter was my great-grandfather. My grandfather, Onward Szeto, was his first-born child. According to family oral history, Peter was killed by a bomb while working on a bridge in World War 2.

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