L. M. Tsaou (曹麗明)

I decided to profile L. M. Tsaou next thanks to a reader’s comment on my blog post on K. C. Chen. L. M. Tsaou (曹麗明, pinyin Cáo LìMíng) was another Massachusetts student who became ill during the influenza pandemic and died in the US. His story was similarly tricky to sort out, thanks to the lack of descendants, but I was able to gather a good amount of information on the short life of this Boxer Indemnity Scholar.

L. M. Tsaou was born on 10 October 1891, possibly in Beijing but more probably in Kiangsu (Jiangsu) province, to a man named Han Ping and an unknown mother. Most of his self-reported information states that he was from the city of Liyang, which is not far from Nanjing. His World War I draft card states that he lived on South Street, Liyang, which unsurprisingly is to the south of the city center (link to draft card).

His first appearance on the primary source records was during his schooling in China. He attended Tsing Hua College, which had been founded using Boxer Indemnity funds in 1911. He is listed as a high school graduate with the class of 1915 in Tsing Hua’s 1916 Bulletin (pg. 58). He did well enough in school to be chosen as a speaker at the 1915 graduation ceremony – he gave the oration in Chinese (Peking Daily News, 12 June 1915). At that time, Tsing Hua was so new that everyone who graduated from high school there was offered a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship; later, the scholarship would be awarded only to those who passed an examination. So, L. M. Tsaou was guaranteed money for study at a university in the US.


He stayed in China for the summer of 1915, and then left for the US via Shanghai, arriving in San Francisco on 30 August 1915 (link to ship’s manifest). He traveled with G. T. Chao, who was going to America to take up his post as the head of the Chinese Educational Mission, as well as more than 20 other recipients of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship (link to entry records). One other student, Y. C. Chang, was headed to the same place as L. M. Tsaou: Amherst, Massachusetts. The Tsing Hua Bulletin from 1916 indicates that L. M. Tsaou was going to study Education at Amherst (pg. 58), incidentally the same field of study as his classmate and tripmate Y. C. Chang.

He appears in the Amherst Catalogue that year, 1916, as a freshman from “Kiang-soo, China”. He was living at 1 Woodside Avenue in Amherst and roomed with Y. C. Chang (Catalogue, 1916, pg. 137). By March of that same year, he and two other students at Amherst were admitted to the Chinese Students’ Association (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 11, pg. 365). However, by the fall of 1916, he was the only Chinese student left at Amherst College. “Mr. Tsaou is rooming in the college dormitory this fall and expects to be able to come into closer contact with the American students,” he wrote about himself in the November 1916 issue of the Chinese Students’ Monthly (Vol. 12, No. 1, pg. 58). According to the Amherst College yearbook, he lived at 211 Morris Pratt Memorial Dormitory for his sophomore year (pg. 70). That Thanksgiving, he had integrated into the American community even more, celebrating the holiday with a Mr. Henry D. Fearing, a friend to the local Chinese community (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 12, No. 1, pg. 169). He would become close enough to H. D. Fearing to write a memorial for him in the November 1917 issue of the Chinese Students’ Monthly (Vol. 13, pg. 49-51).

L. M. Tsaou stayed in America during the summer of 1917, filling out his previously-linked WWI draft card on 2 June 1917, and returned to school that fall, still as the only Chinese student at Amherst (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 13, pg. 68). According to the 1918 Chinese Students’ Directory, he had moved back to 1 Woodside Avenue, although this may have just been old information. His official area of study was listed as “Liberal Arts”. This would have been his junior year. However, the following year, he would leave Amherst, being listed as a “former” member of his class in the 1920 yearbook, which was compiled in the spring of 1919 (pg. 93).


For the 1918-1919 school year, he transferred to Harvard, living again in the dorms at 8 Conant Hall (Chinese Students Christian Journal, Vol. 5, No. 2, pg. 70). It seems that he didn’t begin at Harvard right away, attending only terms 2 and 3 for that school year. He was a special student studying economics, government, and history (Harvard General Catalogue 1919, pg. 182). The following year, he had moved to 6 Divinity Hall (Harvard University Register, Vol. 45, pg. 240), which at this time even had a telephone! He continued to be active in the CSA, attending and giving a speech at the “Double Ten” celebration in conjunction with the MIT Chinese Club (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 15, No. 1, pg. 45). He also served as the vice president of the Harvard Chinese Club (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 15, No. 1, pg. 53).

He then, rather suddenly, died on 18 February 1920. And to be honest, there was very little information released on the part of the CSA about him. The April 1920 edition of the Chinese Students’ Monthly dedicated a page in memoriam (Vol. 15, No. 6, pg. 49), but did not publish a full obituary, although they did print a short death notice, reading only “Mr. Lee-Ming Tsaou, ex-president of Harvard Chinese Students’ Club died of pneumonia on February 19, 1920” (pg. 72). Many people who died of the flu in the 1918 pandemic actually died of pneumonia, and the Harvard record backs this up, listing his cause of death as “influenza/pneumonia” (Report of the President of Harvard, 1919-20, pg. 278).

Amherst’s Obituary Record is much more detailed, although it contains several errors:

LEE MING TSAOU, the son of Han Ping Tsaou, was born in Pekin, China, Oct. 12, 1890, and was fitted for college at Tsing Hua College, Pekin.

After three years at Amherst College, 1915-1918, he left college and became a special student at Harvard University in 1919. He took courses in history and sociology, fitting himself for teaching, and had secured a position in Nankai College, Tientsin, China. His reservations for sailing had been made when he was taken ill.

Mr. Tsaou died of pneumonia, Feb. 18, 1920, in Cambridge, Mass. The interment was in Newton Cemetery, Newton, Mass.

Mr. Tsaou was unmarried.

Obituary Record, 1921, pg. 874

So L. M. Tsaou was buried in the US, just like K. C. Chen (link to Find A Grave). However, these weren’t analogous situations. K. C. Chen had attended Mt. Harmon as a young teenager, and it’s likely that he retained many ties to the school and the people from the area. But L. M. Tsaou attended Harvard when he was 27 and only lived there for a little over a year. In addition, he is buried in a family plot, and the descendants of the other family members in the plot were not sure why L. M. Tsaou was buried there. So why did he end up in that plot?

The link ended up being one of the family members from the plot, Norton Kent, and he and L. M. Tsaou’s shared Christian faith. Kent was a professor in physics at Boston University and made a point of befriending the Chinese students in the greater Boston area. One of Kent’s classmates had been killed in China during the Boxer Uprising, and ever since, Kent was interested in the fate of the Christian Chinese (The Chinese Students’ Christian Journal, Vol. 7, pg. 110). L. M. Tsaou probably attended events at Kent’s home, which he often opened to Chinese students, and Kent probably visited L. M. Tsaou in Stillman Infirmary at Harvard to minister to him when he was dying. So when he did pass away, Kent took care to give him a burial in his own family’s plot, showing him friendship even in death.






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