Miss Antoinette Yut Yan Soo Hoo (司徒月蘭 )

Let’s return to the Soo Hoo family for a bit! So far in this blog I have profiled Nam Art Soo Hoo, the patriarch of the Soo Hoo clan, his oldest son Peter, his oldest daughter Clara, his son Andrew, his daughter Lily, and his two children who died young, Pauline and Lincoln. Impressively, this represents only half of his 11 children, with 5 more children with distinguished careers left to profile. So today we will continue with the family by profiling Miss Antoinette Yut Yan Soo Hoo (司徒月蘭, pinyin Sītú Yuèlán, Cantonese Jyutping Si1tou4 Jyut6laan4).

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Antoinette Soo Hoo in her junior year of college, from the 1917 UCBerkeley Yearbook.

According to her sister Lily’s memoirs, Antoinette, or Nettie, as she was called, was the “3rd daughter” (Sung, pg. 329). Her naturalization record gives a birthdate of 25 July 1894, but this is only 3 months after the birthday of her older sister Clara. I discussed this a bit in Clara’s post, and as before, I’m keeping with the birth order given by Lily Sung in her memoirs: Clara was the oldest, then Pauline, then Nettie. This means that it is most likely that Nettie was born in 1894 or 1895, to put her birth after that of her two older sisters.

She came to the US with the rest of the Soo Hoo family in 1895, and she shows up on the 1900 US Census from when they were living on Washington Street in San Francisco. She was 5 years old, the youngest of the children who had been born in China, and she couldn’t speak English yet (link to census). According to her sister’s memoirs, her mother purposely did not learn to speak English, so that her children would maintain their Chinese by speaking it at home, which explains why in 1900 only Clara and Peter could speak English – they had learned it at school (Sung, pg. 327).

The family moved to San Rafael after the Earthquake of 1906, and Nettie began attending school there. She shows up in the paper as a student at San Rafael Grammar school when graduations and promotions were listed (Sausalito News, 6 June 1908, pg. 3). By the age of 16 and the time of the 1910 Census, she was still living at home with her family. They lived at 722 6th Street in San Rafael, and 6 of Nettie’s 7 younger siblings had been born (link to census).

 

In the fall of 1913, Nettie entered UC Berkeley, following in her older brother’s and sister’s footsteps; in fact, she overlapped with Clara for one academic year. She was a freshman studying Natural Science (Register of the University of California 1913/14, pg. 123). The other Soo Hoos had moved to the family home of 2116 Channing Way in Berkeley by this point, and both Nettie and Clara list it as their permanent address. This information is repeated in the Chinese Students’ Association’s 1914 Directory. The following year, as Clara went on to do graduate study at UC Berkeley, Nettie continued onto her sophomore year (Register of the University of California 1914/15, pg. 138). Her field of study is still listed as “Natural Science” in the UC Berkeley register, but in the 1915 CSA Directory, she self-reported as being a math major. This is probably why in her junior year, her UC Berkeley major changed to “Letters and Science” (Register of the University of California 1915/16, pg. 149).

In addition to her studies, Nettie was active in the Chinese Students’ Association throughout her time at UC Berkeley. She was inducted as a member of the Western Section in December of 1913 (The Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 9 No. 2, pg. 164). By the end of her time at university, in 1917-1918, she was the English secretary of the California Chinese Students’ Club (The Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 13 No. 1, pg. 69).

Nettie earned a Bachelor of Arts in the College of Letters and Science in 1917 (Register of the University of California 1916/17, pg. 26). However, she wasn’t done with the University of California yet. This is evident by her appearance in the 1917 UC Berkeley yearbook, where she is listed as a junior (pg. 314) – a slight error, as Nettie returned to UC Berkeley as a graduate student in the 1917-1918 academic year. She enrolled again in the College of Letters and Science (Register of the University of California 1917/18, pg. 69). This time, she was studying English (pg. 31), information that was again repeated in the 1918 CSA Directory. She appears in the 1918 UC Berkeley yearbook as a senior in Letters and Science (pg. 341). Her thesis was titled “The early English drama as a deliberate teacher”, and she earned her MA in May of 1918.

 

Although Nettie appeared again in the Chinese Students’ Christian Association Directory of 1919 as living at 2114 Channing Way, at some point during that year, she returned to China. She took up a job as the Dean of Women at Canton Christian College and taught in their high school (Baidu, original text: “1919年回国,在岭南大学任女部主任,兼高中教员”, translation: “In 1919 she returned to her native country, she was the head of the women’s department at Lingnam University [the current name of Canton Christian College], as well as a high school instructor”). This information is repeated – without dates – in Lily’s memoir (pg. 329). The Baidu article and Lily’s memoir also concur in her next job move: to Nankai University, which had just recently been founded in 1919 in Tianjin. Baidu places the date of her move at 1922.

Nettie probably stayed at Nankai University until 1929, teaching English. She remained close with her friends in the US and especially with her alma mater, the University of California, because she wrote an article for the alumni newsletter: The California Monthly (The China Weekly Review, 5 Mar 1927, pg. 20). I was able to access the article via a book called “State Department duty in China, the McCarthy Era, and after, 1933-1977: oral history transcript and related material “, and I swear I could have written the second paragraph about my own teaching experience:

Peitaiho Beach, North China
July 24, 1925

My dear –
. . . . The middle of the summer vacation has arrived, so that at last I can settle down to write letters to patient friends. We are again at the summer resort where we spent so many happy hours before…

Of course I have been teaching regular hours. I try my level best to get ignorant freshmen to write the English language properly, or rather less improperly at the same time that I try to convince descendants of admirers of Confucius that English literature is worth investigating. Incidentally I read about a hundred compositions a week, and when I am not doing this or the others of my odd jobs, I mother two clubs that the students are especially fond of. I can bank my last month’s salary (which is almost all gone) that you never thought of me as a severely critical director of a play, or a hopeful believer in the happy quality of sounds that are forced through young throats in singing, and yet in the first semester I coached (really coaxed) a dozen members of the English Club to produce Moliere’s “A Doctor in Spite of Himself”, which is terribly funny….

China is still upside down, and we have been constantly entertained with wars, rumors of war, actual flying for safety in the face of danger and whatnot. In the last year or so we have been twice forced to seek safety in the city, as defeated soldiers were expecting to work havoc everywhere they went, looting, burning, assaulting and generally creating terror. Our campus being on the outskirts of the city, we were more exposed to pillaging than we would like….

California Monthly, Jan 1927, pg. 266, as reprinted in Service, J. S. (1981). State Department Duty in China. University of California Libraries. pg. 18

 

Then, in August of 1929, Nettie was off to the United States again. This time, she was going for a PhD at the University of Michigan, having won a Barbour Scholarship. She planned to study educational methods (23 Mar 1929, Michigan Daily, pg. 5) On the ship’s manifest from 1929, she lists her contact in China as “Mrs. P. Ling”, her older sister Clara. Her contact in the US is her mother at 2116 Channing Way, but interestingly enough, someone has written another contact in pencil above the typing: her brother Theodore Soo Hoo, who was in Philadelphia. “University of Michigan Ann Arbor” has also been penciled in next to these two contacts (link to ship’s manifest). She entered the University of Michigan that year and shows up in the 1930 yearbook as a member of the Cosmopolitan Club (pg. 322) and the Chinese Students’ Club (pg. 321).

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Nettie is the third in from the right on the first row – this is the Chinese Students’ Club of 1930 at the University of Michigan.

For the 1930-1931 academic year, Nettie was living in the Martha Cook building. The 1931 yearbook states that she was a graduate student, but not of what (pg. 423). The University of Michigan Register helps us out here: she was a grad student in English from Tientsin (Tienjin, where Nankai University is located) (General Register 1929-1930, pg. 520). She actually overlapped with her younger sister, Minnie, who was attending the University of Michigan as an undergrad; they both show up as members of the Chinese Students’ Club in 1931: Nettie as the president, and Minnie as an active member (pg. 316).

She was in the US for the 1931-32 academic year, but I can’t find a record of her from that time. Her mother’s obituary from November 1932 lists Nettie as a student at the University of Michigan, but that has to be old information, as Nettie had arrived back in China in August of that year (The China Press, 18 Aug 1932, pg. 15). By the end of the month, she had arrived in Peiping to be the Dean of Women at Yenching University (28 Aug 1932, The China Press, pg. 18).

 

As before, Lily’s memoirs only list the schools at which Nettie taught, not the dates, so we don’t know exactly when Nettie left Yenching for St. John’s in Shanghai, the final school listed. Baidu claims that Nettie left Yenching in 1934, returned to Nankai from 1934-1937, then went back to Yenching and eventually to St. John’s after the “Seven Seven Incident” of 1937, which sparked the second Sino-Japanese War. Her residence in Shanghai after 1937 is probable, as she donated to the Salvation Army from Shanghai in 1938 (24 Mar 1938, The China Press, pg. 3). She was definitely at St. John’s by 1938, because she began to be active with the University of Michigan Club in Shanghai. She was the vice president of the club for the 1938-39 year, a fact which is mentioned in the record of the Shanghai Club’s February 1939 meeting (The Michigan Alumnus 1938-1939, pg. 409-410). That October, she was elected corresponding secretary for the 1939-40 year (The Michigan Alumnus 1939-1940, pg. 182).

Lily’s account stops with St. John’s, but Baidu picks it up:

日本投降后,南开大学于1946年复校,司徒月兰又回到南开大学任教。1946—1949年期间,任外文系教授兼代系主任。解放后一直在外国语文学系任教授。1961年12月22日离津去香港探亲,1963年移居美国。

Translation: After the Japanese surrender, when Nankai University had returned to being a school after 1946, Nettie Soo Hoo returned to Nankai to work as a professor. During the years of 1946 to 1949, she was a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages as well as interim chair. After the Communist victory, she continued to work in this department as a professor. On 22 December 1961, she left Tianjin to go to Hong Kong to visit family, and in 1963 she immigrated to the United States.

This is slightly mysterious: who was she going to visit? Peter had died by this point, as had Pauline, and Clara had immigrated to the US in the 40s. Nettie was unmarried and had no children, so she couldn’t be visiting her in-laws. And why did Nettie leave from Hong Kong to the US? Why didn’t she come back to Nankai?

 

This is where Baidu gets weird. Now, Baidu is similar to Wikipedia in that anyone can write or edit an article, and articles can slide by without any formal citations. Nettie Soo Hoo’s Baidu article has exactly zero citations, and the author is just listed by their online handle, so there’s no indication where any the article’s information came from. However, most of the information about Nettie’s teaching style and her dedication to the craft of teaching English literature, which permeates the Baidu article, seems to come from this article written by two members of the Nankai University College of Foreign Languages. The original, Nankai University article discusses Nettie’s extensive contributions to the College of Foreign Languages, and is a sort of “rescuing from obscurity” type of work, highlighting the huge influence this woman had on the development of the foreign languages department. It includes quotes from former students, and most importantly, in-text citations. So we can be pretty sure that the information about dates of teaching etc. are all accurate.

But when the Baidu article ventures further from these facts, a heavy bias starts to appear. The Baidu article seems to take great pains in describing Nettie both as an extremely dedicated teacher and a good Communist. Here’s a description of her experiences as a child in California:

司徒月兰是基督教教徒,但从未参加过任何宗教政治团体。在美国,她一家人过着清贫的生活,亲眼目睹了美国社会和种族间极为不平等,一面是少数资本家用压榨工人得来的钱,过着豪华奢侈的生活;另一方面,多数人生活十分艰辛,还随时受失业的威胁。1919年她刚回到祖国,看到灾难深重的中国人民生活水平更低,到处是乞丐,少数富人过着花天酒地的生活,心情很不平静,企望用教育来拯救中国。因此,她在教育事业上倾注了全部精力。

Translation: Nettie Soo Hoo was a Christian, but she never participated in any religious or political group. In the United States, her family lead a poor but upright life, and she saw for herself that American society and race relations were extremely unequal. On the one side, there were a small number of capitalists who pressured the workers to get money and lived luxurious and extravagant lives; on the other hand, the majority of people lived utterly arduous lives. They suffered the threat of unemployment at all times. In 1919 she returned to her native country and saw the grave disaster of the Chinese people’s low living standards. There were beggars everywhere, and a small minority of rich men led lives of debauchery. The mood was very unjust. She hoped to use education to rescue China. Thus, she threw her whole energies into educational undertakings.

This is . . . not true. Nettie was not only a Christian, but the daughter of a Protestant minister who often had his children participate in church events. She was listed in the Chinese Students’ Christian Journal, which means that she was affiliated with the organization in some way. And as an adult, she taught at Canton Christian College, Yenching University, and St. John’s University, three schools set up by missionaries and funded by American churches. As we have seen, she donated to the Salvation Army, a Christian organization, and she participated in the University of Michigan Shanghai Club, which took political positions on the actions of the US during the Sino-Japanese War.

I’m not saying that Nettie didn’t feel negatively toward US race relations and economic inequality. I discussed this in Lily’s post, but the thoughts written here sound very similar to things that Lily had said about how poorly the Chinese were treated in California and the attack her father suffered by a group of white boys, which led to his limp and his leg troubles in the first place. But these thoughts are not something that I have seen in my research as coming from Nettie herself, and it’s objectively false that she was never involved in any religious organizations.

 

Here’s what the Baidu article says about her experience with the Communist Party:

1949年,她亲眼看到了中国共产党不仅能推翻旧政府,而且能建立一个为广大人民谋利益的新政权。1958年与南开大学外文系同仁合译《青春之歌》,她担任总审校,译作于1958年由人民出版社出版

Translation: In 1949, she personally saw that the Communist Party not only had the ability to overthrow the old government, but also could set up a widespread new policy for the benefit of the people. In 1958, along with her coworkers in the Nankai Department of Foreign Languages, she translated “Youth Song” and served as head editor. From 1958 she worked as a translator for the People’s Publishing House.

This is true-ish: she was in Tianjin during the Communist take over, and I am sure she saw some things. The Nankai University article also verifies her work as a translator for the Communist Government. However, none of this is to say that she had a laudatory view of the CCP. In fact, the Nankai University article notes that in 1948, she interceded with the British Consulate to get a student of hers released from jail; he had been arrested for participating in a patriotic demonstration. This tidbit is left out of the Baidu article, probably because it makes Nettie look very friendly to foreign powers in the face of Chinese internal divisions.

 

Finally, here’s what the Baidu article says about leaving China and her experiences in America at the end of her life:

1961年年底,她要求去港探亲,学校考虑到她年逾花甲的高龄,为了她的身体健康和沿途需办各种手续,专门派一名当时在校学习的广东籍学生陪同护送,对此,司徒月兰本人非常满意,沿途在走亲访友中,逢友便谈自己对南开的感激之情。

1982年4月南开大学代表团访美,吴大任副校长和夫人陈受鸟教授特地看望她。司徒教授也时常想念南开,并表示愿意再次回到南开。…只因司徒教授的健康原因,承受不了长途旅行的劳碌,再回南开定居的夙愿没能实现。

Translation: At the beginning of 1961, she requested permission to visit family in Hong Kong. The school considered that due to her advanced age, and due to her health and the required management of every kind of procedure, an student from the specialized Guangdong school of study would accompany her. Nettie Soo Hoo was extremely pleased by this; along with visiting her relatives, she would have a friend to talk to her, and she was very grateful to Nankai.

In April of 1982, a delegation from Nankai University visited the US. Vice Principal Wu Daren and (female) Professor Chen Shouniao specially visited her [Nettie]. Professor Soo Hoo often missed Nankai, and expressed her wish to return once again. … Only because Professor Soo Hoo’s health could she not bear a long distance and tiring journey, so her long-cherished wish to settle in Nankai could not be achieved.

Again, I do not doubt at all that Nettie missed Nankai University and wanted to return. But the 1982 excuse of poor health seems flimsy to me. For one thing, her health was so poor in 1961 that she had several (medical?) procedures that she required, and they were so serious that she had to be accompanied to Hong Kong to ensure her health. And yet, just 2 years later, in 1963, she traveled across the entire Pacific Ocean to immigrate to America. So, how sick could she have been? How sick was she really in 1982?

For another thing, Nettie became a naturalized US citizen in 1972 (link to naturalization record). And becoming a citizen of a hated capitalist nation does not seem to be a logical action by 1) a staunch supporter of the Chinese Communist Party, or 2) someone who wanted to return to China.

 

All of this raises a million questions for me. Who wrote the Baidu article? Who wanted to paint Nettie as a good Communist Party member? WAS Nettie, in fact, a CCP supporter? She wouldn’t have been the first person, nor would she have been the last, to be disillusioned by the gap between America’s high-minded ideals of liberty and equality and the reality of race relations and economic hardship. And the truth is, I don’t have any access to Chinese-language materials from the Communist take over that mention her. Perhaps she was constantly railing against capitalists and Christians, but only in Chinese-language sources. Perhaps these were views that she didn’t share with her Western friends. But then, why wouldn’t the Nankai University article mention this? It’s written in Chinese, after all.

We won’t be getting answers to these questions, sadly, because Nettie Soo Hoo passed away on 28 April 1985 (findagrave.com). But her story is fascinating to me, and I hope now it is to you as well.

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