Sometimes I choose a student to profile simply because I run across some really interesting information about them while I am elbow-deep in a box of old records. This is the case for C. H. Chu, whose alumni card I found a few weeks ago in the Columbia University Archives. He’s not connected to any other student I’ve profiled to this date, but he sure has a heck of a story.
Chu Chao Hsin, often spelled Chu Shao Hsin (朱兆莘, pinyin Zhū ZhàoShēn), was born in Canton in around 1880. His Mason membership card states a birth date of 23 May 1880 (link), while several ship’s manifests indicate that he would have been born in 1878. We do have a courtesy name for him: 鼎青 (pinyin Dǐng Qīng). He was raised in a literate family, and his father was a high government official (Chinese Wikipedia, original text: “父：朱珩，光绪乙未（1895）科进士，授刑部主事，历任知县、京师高等审判厅推事、民事庭庭长等职务。对经学及辽史、金史、元史十分精通，曾任国子助教以及总理衙门舆图馆编辑，著有《元朝秘史》等书.”, translation: “Father: 朱珩, earned Jin Shi in 1895, awarded principal Ministry of Justice position, served as magistrate, was a judge in Beijing and was the presiding judge for civil matters. Extremely proficient in the study of Confucian classics and the history of the Liao, Jin, and Yuan Dynasties. Former state teaching assistant and editor of world maps for the Foreign Office, author of ‘The Secret History of the Mongol Dynasty'”). C. H. Chu went to Kwang Ya College (usually referred to today as Guangdong Guangya High School) from 1894 to 1903, where he had a classical Chinese education (1918 Who’s Who of Returned Students, pg. 16). At this time, the Qing Dynasty was in its final years, and the imperial examination – necessary to work in government – would not be abolished until 1905. He also got married during this time, in 1899 at the age of 19 or 21 (1918 Who’s Who). He then went on to the “Imperial University of Peking“, which would become Peking Government University and eventually Peking University or 北大 (Beida), from 1903-1907. There he earned the title of “chu jen”, called “ju ren” in the previous link on the civil service exam, also see here, giving him the privilege of upper gentry. Interestingly, he was awarded chu jen in 1907, a full 2 years after the civil service examinations had been abolished, so it’s probable that he was awarded this title simply for graduating college.
After graduating from Beida, he was sent to America with government support, according to the 1918 Who’s Who of Returned Students. This was not an official Boxer Indemnity scholarship, as that program only began the following year, but it was definitely a central government grant and not a provincial one that was given. One source has it that he was sent to the US to open a Chinese public school in New York City, but there is no record or support for this claim (1925 Who’s Who in China, pg. 230). I haven’t found any entry paperwork for this February 1908 arrival, but he does show up in the 1908 Pacific Coast Annual as a student at the University of California. He was living at 762 Stockton Street in San Francisco, and the directory gives his correct Chinese name and origin of Huahsien in Guangdong. However, this is the only place that puts C. H. Chu at the University of California, and he’s not in the Registers from 1906-1909, so it’s questionable whether he ever took classes there. Then again, the 1907-8 University of California Register doesn’t seem to have a student list, only a list of those who graduated that year, so perhaps he just fell through the historical cracks.
According to most sources, he went straight to New York City and enrolled at NYU as a student in the School of Commerce, Accounts and Finance. The 1909 NYU Catalogue has him there as a first year student from Canton, and the 1910 Catalogue as a junior. Like K. C. Chen, he seems to have been working overtime to graduate as quickly as possible, or possibly his credits from Beida helped him skip ahead. In 1911 he was taking summer classes at NYU and living at 225 E 31st Street in New York City (1911 NYU Catalogue), an address that was repeated in the CSA 1911 Eastern Directory. He was a member in good standing of the Chinese Student Alliance, according to this directory.
By 1912 he had gone on to Columbia University, and was living in 407 Livingston Hall on campus, according to the CSA Directory of that year. There’s a bit of confusion as to what he studied and where. The Columbia Alumni Record of 1912 has him earning a Masters of Arts in Education in 1911, after having earned a BCS at NYU in 1911 and an AM at Beida in 1907 (pg. 707). The 1916 Alumni Record repeats this information, although without the specification of studying education (pg. 964). The 1918 Who’s Who of Returned Students says he earned his BCS in 1911 and MA in 1912, and doesn’t specify which schools, although it does say he studied political science and law at Columbia, and commerce and finance at NYU. In addition, the Columbia Alumni Federation card for him, found in the Columbia University Archives, states that he earned an AM in Economics in 1911 and then began work on a PhD, withdrawing in 1913 and not completing a dissertation.
Regardless of where he was in that 1911-12 year, he had left the US by the end of 1912, returning to China in December of that year (1918 Who’s Who). He began work as an economics professor at Beida (1925 Who’s Who in China, pg. 229). However, he also entered politics not long after returning to China. The 1925 Who’s Who in China claims that he was appointed secretary and councilor to the President’s Office, then under the rule of Yuan Shih-kai (pg. 230). In April of 1913, C. H. Chu was elected a member of the Upper House of the very first Parliament, representing the interests of the overseas Chinese (1925 Who’s Who). In August of that same year, he was elected leader of a moderate political party (North China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette, 16 Aug 1913). Being in Peking (Beijing) already working at Beida probably helped him to do both jobs at the same time, but nevertheless, he seems to have left teaching after 1913.
When Yuan Shih-kai dissolved Parliament in 1914, C. H. Chu took up a different government position, this time as a magistrate in Amoy (1918 Who’s Who). It was the first of many appointed government positions. In 1916, C. H. Chu was appointed as a secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce (Peking Gazette, 7 July 1916). In his capacity as a senator, he had served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, both during the first Parliament in 1913 and again from 1916-1917 when Parliament was held again (1925 Who’s Who). This experience led to his appointment as the Commissioner of Foreign Affairs at Shanghai (1918 Who’s Who). However, he doesn’t seem to have been very successful at this job. This may have been due to his political leanings – he was described as “very conservative” and “one of the strongest supporters of Confucianism as the state religion of China”, and the political situation in Shanghai was very “radical” at the time (Peking Gazette, 21 Jul 1917). Whatever the reason, C. H. Chu was dismissed from the commissioner’s post in 1917.
As awful as this was for him, it wasn’t the end of his political career. During his time in Shanghai, he had become close with Feng Kuo-chang, mentioned in the previously-linked article as the Vice President of China. Well, Feng Kuo-chang assumed the presidency in August 1917 and gave his friend C. H. Chu a job first as his English secretary, and then as the Consul-General in San Francisco (Millard’s Review of the Far East, 27 April 1918). C. H. Chu entered the US at San Francisco on 22 May 1918, and since the position was for several years, he brought his family: his wife, his two daughters, and his three sons, all under the age of 18. Apart from the 17-year-old daughter, who would be living independently from the rest of the family, they were all headed to live in San Francisco (ship’s manifest).
C. H. Chu had only been at his post in San Francisco for a little more than a year when the news reached him that his father had died. He resigned immediately to return home, but the President instead granted him 100 days of leave to get his father’s affairs in order (Peking Leader, 13 Sept 1919). 4 months after this newspaper article, the 1920 Census was taken, and C. H. Chu does show up on it, so he may have delayed his trip home until January, or he may have left immediately and was merely reported by his wife in his absence (link; this is a very poor copy, so it’s hard to tell whether C. H. Chu was the respondent or not). The family lived at 1132 Clay Street in San Francisco and the 4 children are all living in the family home. There is also an “F. Chu” living with them – a 19 year old woman whose relationship to C. H. Chu seems to be “sister-in-law”. However, she is also listed as single, and in that case if she were C. H. Chu’s sister-in-law, she would be his wife’s sister and have a different last name, so I’m not sure of her actual relationship within the family. And of course there was the Chu’s servant, who shows up on almost all of these documents with the family.
Regardless of whether C. H. Chu left the US in September 1919 or after January 1920, he did return to China, returning again to the US via Canada and Seattle in November of 1920 (ship’s manifest). This time, he entered only with his wife and youngest daughter, as well as his young nephew, meaning that he brought his youngest daughter, 11 years old, to China with them. But what about the other 3 children? It seems possible that the other two minor children stayed in the US under the care of the oldest son at home, a student who was studying at UC Berkeley at the time. After returning to the US, C. H. Chu finished his term as Consul-General, but he didn’t return to China after this posting. Instead, he was appointed First Secretary and Councillor to the Chinese Legation in London, UK.
Again, due to the length and the distance of his posting, C. H. Chu took most of the family with him when he traveled to London. The family entered at Southampton on 18 May 1921 and included the three younger children (the oldest aged 16 by now), as well as their 6-year-old son, who appears here for the first time (link to entry paperwork, the family is split up within the records). This means that this child either had to have been born in the US (in which case he would have been 3 years old at the most, and why wasn’t he on the 1920 Census?), or stayed in China with family while C. H. Chu et. al. went to San Francisco (in which case, how did this kid meet up with his parents to travel to England together?). Primary source documents just give you more questions than they answer sometimes…
C. H. Chu began to gain a little fame with this consular posting, especially on two topics: the education of Chinese students in Britain, and the opium trade. He was a proponent of copying the US’s Boxer Indemnity program in Great Britain, giving scholarships to both boys and girls who wished to study in British universities (North China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette, 24 Mar 1923). This did not happen; Great Britain instead invested the money in railway systems in China. He would often talk to Chinese student associations in Britain about the importance of maintaining their language and culture while still availing themselves of the opportunities of studying abroad (North China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette 24 Nov 1924).
On the subject of opium, C. H. Chu was appointed delegate to the League of Nations and sat on a committee that dealt with the opium trade, and so we have a lot of his thoughts on the subject. Newspapers were not kind to him, calling his idealistic proclamations that the opium trade in China was wiped out in 1917 “fairy tales” (North China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette, 25 Nov 1923). This was not the first time C. H. Chu was accused of being out of touch or not knowledgeable about the situation in China. The earlier article that reported on his imminent dismissal from the Shanghai Commissioner’s post in 1917 alleged that while a senator, his views were too conservative to represent the interests of the overseas Chinese. Remember that he was noted as a staunch Confucian scholar, wanting to mandate Confucianism as the state religion – something that would have been anathema to the mostly-Christian and Westernized overseas student population.
Now it seems that C. H. Chu had swung the other way, becoming more foreign in his analysis and less Chinese. In early 1924, he was embarrassed at a Chinese-British dinner in London by the British Consul-General at Canton, who charged that C. H. Chu was “talking nonsense” when he shared his optimistic view of foreign investment in Chinese railways. According to the Consul, Chu “knew little of his country’s affairs” and “went to America when he was very young and he had only served the late President as English secretary for a short time, and then went abroad again, so he did not know much of his home affairs” (North China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette, 14 June 1924). If you’re interested in C. H. Chu’s speeches, many of them have been reprinted and can be bought on Amazon, if you can believe that, although you will pay – literally – for the rarity of the material.
Relations between China and Great Britain took a downward turn in 1927, when the creation of the Shanghai Defense Force caused C. H. Chu to lodge a formal protest with the League of Nations (North China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette, 19 Feb 1927). However, the Chinese government itself was in upheaval, seeing the formation of the Kuomintang in 1925 and the purge of Chinese Communists from the political landscape. According to the February article from the North China Herald, the KMT did not recognize C. H. Chu’s position as League of Nations delegate. Confused on what to do, he applied for a leave of absence from the Peking government, but did not receive a reply. Consequently, he resigned his position and announced his support for the Nanjing (KMT) government (The China Press, 9 July 1927). He was then recalled and appointed Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of the KMT government (The China Press, 5 Aug 1927). I don’t have exit paperwork for him from the UK, but his oldest son did stay on for two more years, working at the Chinese Legation in London.
C. H. Chu held the position of Vice-Minister of Foreign affairs until the end of 1928, when he was appointed Chinese Minister to Japan (The China Press, 19 Nov 1928). He returned to Canton in 1929 (The China Press, 6 Apr 1929) and seems to have been appointed Commissioner of Foreign Affairs in Canton (The China Press, 12 Mar 1929). From this point on, C. H. Chu remained in Canton, serving on several committees on foreign affairs under the KMT government (Baidu, original text: “1929年4月，任粤海关监督兼外交部特派广东交涉员。九一八事变后，任特种外交委员会委员”, translation: In April of 1929, he was appointed Guangdong-Hainan [Customs] Inspector concurrent with a special appointment to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs relating to Guangdong. After the Mukden Incident, he served as a member of the special diplomatic committee”). He took several of these “special” posts, running negotiations during crisis situations, especially when they had to do with the British (China Weekly review, 9 Jul 1932).
And now we have come to the moment that most interested me in C. H. Chu. I was at the Columbia University Archives a few weeks ago, and I found C. H. Chu’s Alumni Federation Card. He was in the “Deceased” series of records, which really only means that Columbia found out that he had died, since logically all of these students are currently deceased.
And that’s when I saw the item that made me move C. H. Chu to the top of the list of “Students to blog about”:
Wait, what??? He ate a snake and died??? Thanks to my connections to university libraries, I knew I could get more of the story, so I started digging. The initial reports from 11 December 1932 said only what the alumni card said: he had dined at the Naval Club in Canton, they had snake, he swallowed a bone which discharged poison, and he died later that night (North China Herald and Supreme Court & Consular Gazette, 14 Dec 1932). However, that story was not 100% true. By 12 December, it had come out that the Naval Club had not even served snake at the banquet, and that C. H. Chu had attended a “snake feast” before he went to the Naval Club that night. Doctors were unable to ascertain exactly why he died, since the family did not consent to an autopsy, but they theorized that he must have swallowed a bone or some portion of the snake that contained venom, and was thus poisoned. No one else from the “snake feast” took ill. The story was even picked up in US newspapers, which added the wacky/exotic/slightly racist/oh, those crazy Chinese… tidbit that C. H. Chu “was widely known among Chinese as a believer in a secret formula which was supposed to insure his living 100 years” (Santa Cruz Sentinal, 13 Dec 1932). I don’t necessarily believe that, but the fact that his passing “threaten[ed] a crisis within the Chinese southwestern government centering in Canton” is probably true. Despite his poor press, he was seen as an important man and good negotiator, as well as a necessary figure within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
He was only 52 years old when he died and so was survived by his mother, an 80-year-old woman, as well as 5 sons and 7 daughters, some of which we saw travel with him to the US and the UK, and one of which was a US university student and will get his own post.