Z. C. Hsu (徐仁錆)

I have another great student this week, with name changes, political intrigue, lying, and terrible teaching ability! This post has it all, and the best (?) part is that many of my sources can’t be verified because they are all incredibly biased! This week I bring you the story of Zun Chan Hsu (徐仁錆, pinyin Xú Rénqiāng), who also went by the names 徐子明(Xú Zimíng) and 徐光 (pinyin Xú Guāng).

Normally I like to indicate how a name made the jump from Chinese characters to a Western romanization, but to be honest, in this case I have no clue. His birth name has the current pinyin of “rén qiāng”, and I suppose that would be the closest to the name he went by in US sources: Zun Chan. It’s not super close, though, and in fact, when he arrived to the US, his entry paperwork lists his given name as “Jen Chiang”, so this isn’t just a case of a tragic mis-hearing on the part of an immigration officer. I actually had doubts as to whether the CSA records, the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship records, and the University of Wisconsin records were all referring to the same person. However, the dates and addresses match up, and he is listed as “Z. C. Hsu” in the Tsinghua-affiliated-students chart at the end of the 1925 Who’s Who in China, which lists all US students who studied at Tsinghua or received a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship from them.

子明 (zi míng) is pretty clearly his courtesy name; like with L. Chee and the character 伯 (bó), the 子 (zi) character is common for courtesy names. I am guessing that 光 (guāng) is what is known as a hao name, or art name – basically a pen name that you choose for yourself. Z. C. Hsu didn’t start using 光 as a name until he returned to China and began his professional career, so it most likely is his hao name.


I’m going to go through Z. C. Hsu’s basic life story with the source material I have, because these are the only facts about his life that are not in dispute (mostly! Some secondary sources I have dispute even these facts!). Then, we’ll get to the political intrigue.

Picture from Baidu. Not sure of its authenticity.

Z. C. Hsu first shows up on the primary source documents in 1910, with the second round of Boxer Indemnity Scholar exams. Z. C. Hsu, under his name 徐仁錆, was listed in Shen Bao as one of the students who had taken the exam in 1910. According to the article, students came to Beijing and presented themselves on the 20th, 21st, and 22nd of July, starting at 6 am, to be examined on “every kind of scientific knowledge”. I assume it took three days because they questioned the students one at a time; the sense I get from the article was that they all showed up and then just waited for their turn to be called. Then on the 23rd at 8 am they returned for a physical exam. 270 students were listed in the article (5 Aug 1910, Shen Bao, pg. 6). Z. C. Hsu didn’t pass the second round of exams, however, because he was not awarded a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship that year.

In 1911 he returned again to present himself for the exam. This year, the exams were held at the newly-constructed Tsinghua University, and Z. C. Hsu was awarded a scholarship (9 July 1911, Shen Bao, pg. 35). This is also how he shows up in the 1925 chart of Tsinghua-affiliated students in the Who’s Who of China of that year: as a scholarship recipient of 1911. His province of origin is listed as Kiangsu, but there is no birth year listed (pg. 10). He’s also on the official record of the “3rd cohort” of Boxer Indemnity Scholars (ie, the ones who were sent in the 3rd year of the scholarship’s existence, 1911). He’s 21 years old and a native of Jiangsu (the current way to write Kiangsu), from the town of Yixing (link).


He entered the US on 4 Sept 1911, with a listed age of 24 this time (ship’s manifest). The manifest lists that he was headed for Boston, but that is what they put for everyone, and it’s not accurate. Z. C. Hsu was headed to Madison, Wisconsin, to study at the University of Wisconsin. He shows up there in the 1911 Directory of Officers and Students, which was published in November of that year. He was studying “Letters and Science” and entered as a sophomore, probably due to university work he had done in China, most likely at Fudan University. He lived at 311 Murray Street in Madison (pg. 90). The 1912 CSA directory repeats this information, although it gives the address as 311 North Murray Street.

In 1912, Z. C. Hsu started his junior year, according to both the Directory of Officers and Students (pg. 95) and the University of Wisconsin Catalog (pg. 630). He had moved to 48 South Charter Street, but by 1913 he had moved back to 211 North Murray (University of Wisconsin Directory of Officers and Students 1913, pg. 100). This is also the first time we see a hometown listed – Chanchow. Chanchow (Changzhou) is close to Yixing, or honestly it could be a mixup with his name. The 1914 CSA Directory repeats the address information, as well as the fact that Z. C. Hsu was a 1911 Indemnity Scholar from Kiangsu; however, it also includes that his major was German.

Unfortunately, it seems that Z. C. Hsu’s academic career was hitting some bumps. According to the University of Wisconsin Catalog, he took summer classes in 1913, meaning he was behind the rest of his class somewhat (1913-1914 Catalog, pg. 759). He also took a music class that academic year, interestingly enough (pg. 680). But it was his senior year (pg. 630), and he was probably expecting to graduate that May. However… the 1915 University of Wisconsin Catalog does not include his name in the list of students who graduated in 1914. The 1915 CSA Directory includes him, but only with repeated information from the 1914 edition. It seems that Z. C. Hsu returned to China in 1914 without a degree.



Here’s where the biggest discrepancy in his varying life stories lies. There are other, smaller issues, like his birth year or when and for how long he attended Fudan University, but this is the biggie. It seems like it wasn’t widely known in China that Z. C. Hsu did not actually finish his degree. Or, to put it more bluntly, Z. C. Hsu was telling people he had a degree, and they believed him, because he had been abroad, hadn’t he? For example, the 1925 Who’s Who lists him as having studied History and Language at Wisconsin and having earned a BA. That’s already false enough, but the 1937 Tsinghua Alumni record lists him as having earned a BA in politics – in 1912! And what’s more, it also lists that he went to Germany and got a PhD in law at the University of Heidelberg in 1916!

This is so obviously false that I have gone over these facts many, many times before writing this post, just to make sure I am not mistaken. But: Z. C. Hsu is definitely 徐仁錆, and this person was 100% a 1911 Boxer Indemnity Scholar who was at the University of Wisconsin from 1911-1914, and there is no record of him graduating, in 1912 or in any other year. I’m also convinced by the argument at this site, arguing that 徐仁錆 must be 徐子明, based on comparisons of educational and job records. The Baidu article on Z. C. Hsu, along with several other sources, attempts to “fix” this obvious discrepancy by claiming that he left for the US in 1908, but the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship exams only began in 1909, and there are records of him sitting for the 1910 and 1911 exams. Not to mention that there are no records of him going to Germany at all, much less attending the University of Heidelberg or getting a PhD.


You may be wondering why this matters as anything other than a interesting historical curiosity. I mean, let’s face it, China is a long way from the US, and I am actually surprised that this is the first time I have encountered a former student inflating his or her educational record, because who would have ever found out the truth? But the question of Z. C. Hsu’s basic truthfulness is at the heart of how some people understand the political storms that surrounded the rest of his life. In a nutshell: if Z. C. Hsu was untruthful about his educational history – and he so was; later in life he began to tell people he got his degree at Heidelberg in 1911, moving the timeline up even more – then how can be in the right on any of his opinions? The problem is, he had a lot of extremely unpopular opinions, and much of the sources I have are mildly-to-extremely biased against him because of it.


The final, verifiable fact about Z. C. Hsu’s life story is that after returning the China, he got a job at Peking National University (today called Beijing University or Beida) and taught there from 1915 to 1919. According to Baidu, he taught all sorts of things: the history of Greek and Roman literature as well as English and German literature (original text: 讲授希腊罗马文学史及英国、德国文学). These were all part of the required courses of the literature department, and Z. C. Hsu was probably assigned one or more of these classes each semester.

He got along well with some of his colleagues, such as Gu Hongming, an elder academic and staunch Confucian to whom he was often compared; Liu Shipei, another admirer of classical Chinese culture; and Huang Kan, a phonologist and “cultural traditionalist”. He didn’t get along so well with the president of Beida Cai Yuanpei, the university’s dean Chen Duxiu, and fellow professor Hu Shih. This wasn’t just a generalized problem with authority. These men were all leading intellectuals in the New Culture Movement, a rejection of classical Chinese traditions that gained a political dimension in 1919 when protests in Beijing sparked the May Fourth Movement. Chen Duxiu, in particular, was the co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party.


So this, I think, is what is fueling some of the extreme bias in the sources I have from Taiwan and from China. For example, here’s an anti-Hsu description of his teaching from a Chinese source:


Translation: Xu Deheng entered Beida’s English Literature course in the fall of 1915, just in time to be in Mr. Hsu’s first group of students. In later years he published a memoir, in which he wrote that during Cai Yuanpei’s reforms, Mr. Cai fired some “low-academic-level teachers whose approach was lacking” from among the Chinese professors. “Among them was an English literature professor. This man was ignorant and incompetent. Not only was he a rogue element, he often would go to Dong’an market to chase women and was known as ‘The Romantic Scouting Regiment Leader’. Although I switched to Chinese studies, I hated him bitterly, so with Yang Zhensheng, Yang Licheng, and 7 other classmates, I proposed to expel him from Beida. After Mr. Cai was in favor of our proposal, at last this English professor was driven out of Beida.” The author obscured the full name of this English professor, but Xu Deheng recounted this story orally, and others who recorded this part of the memoir, the contents of which had already been published in the article “My Memoir – from Beida to Wuhan Military and Political Science Institute”, noted that Xu Deheng called this man “English Professor Hsu”.

There’s more from this source, such as Professor Hsu’s tendency to visit brothels, get drunk and show up late for class, and hold classes after the bell had rung to read “just one more paragraph”. There’s also a harsh description of him, after being fired, of wandering around Beijing with his cane and wearing his traditional Chinese clothing, having no other way to pass his time because he couldn’t find another job. Truth, or bias on the part of pro-New Culture Movement writers?


Here’s a pro-Hsu description of his teaching at Taiwan University:


Translation: Historian Mr. Wang Rongzu once wrote down his teaching experiences with Ziming., as follows: “[I was] At Taiwan University, in a common classroom taking a class. As I entered the classroom, I didn’t see any other students. I had to sit at the front of the row. The bell rang, and a tall, straight-backed old man entered, wearing a long traditional gown. He saw me and didn’t think it strange [editor’s note: that he was the only student in class, I assume], and calmly hung up a large, multicolored map. He used a sweeping cursive calligraphy to write the first course notes on the board in English. The following year, and for the teacher’s lifetime, there was no shortage of classes. The teacher was hardly lax, and the students didn’t dare to lazily cut class.

In this source, Z. C. Hsu sounds like a nostalgic old throwback to China’s classical days, with the long traditional gown and the old-school teaching methods. Truth, or anti-communist bias?


And here’s a neutral-to-pro-Hsu description of his commitment to classical Chinese studies:


Translation: He persisted in upholding the standards of the traditional scholarly culture, once writing a book to criticize the May Fourth anti-tradition Movement. He was the model of a southern scholar, but he had no published academic research. When he taught in the department, he wrote an article attacking Hu Shih, but this position was unable to gain sympathy within the department.

Hu Shih, I should point out, won a Nobel Prize in literature, reformed the Chinese language by promoting a more vernacular way of speaking and writing, and eventually fled to Taiwan and remained a notable scholar until his death in the late 60s. So basically what we have is a man who hated communists, hated the distancing from traditional Chinese culture that he saw in the May Fourth Movement, and especially hated Hu Shih. He may have been a liar about his academic achievements, and he may have been a terrible teacher, but there was basically no one who wanted to be on his side either in mainland China or in Taiwan.


Z. C. Hsu eventually got work at a school in Shanghai in 1929. Due to the multiple names he used, I’ve been unable to track him through my regular sources from Shanghai. He fled to Taiwan in 1948 and taught at Taiwan University until 1971, when he retired. He passed away at 86 years old in 1973.



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