Y. B. Lieng (連弊)

Today’s student is Ye Beh Lieng (連弊, pinyin Lián Bì), a student with a story that is sadly common not just to the Boxer Indemnity international students of my research, but also to university students throughout history. You see, Y. B. Lieng began his university studies and got almost the whole way through, but had to stop for personal reasons, and never returned.

Y. B. Lieng was born in in about 1886 in Hunan province, according to the CSA directories. The University of Chicago’s 1913 Annual Register names Changsha as his hometown (pg. 589). Regardless, he wasn’t there when he first set out to come to the United States, because the manifest of his ship states that he boarded at Yokohama, Japan (link). It’s most likely that he was there for schooling; before the advent of the Indemnity Scholarships, many Chinese students chose to study abroad in Japan rather than the US. Japan had already modernized its higher education system after the Meiji Restoration in the late 1860s, and therefore was already offering education in Western sciences in a more familiar Eastern environment. Plus, travelling to Japan was much quicker and cheaper than taking a ship all the way to the US, and travel back home was more easily possible if needed. Since Y. B. Lieng was already 24 when he arrived to the US, he had probably already had some sort of university or preparatory schooling in Japan.

He did have some sort of governmental scholarship to support his studies in the US, but it wasn’t a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship. The 1915 CSA Directory lists him as a 1911 Boxer Indemnity Scholar, but he does not appear on the list for that year. In fact, no one of his family name appears on the 1911 list, or the 1910 list either. The 1914 CSA Directory claims that he had a provincial scholarship from 1910; several provinces, most notably Hunan and Guangdong, also offered educational scholarships at this time. I don’t have any records to prove or disprove whether he had this 1910 Hunan provincial scholarship, but it was mentioned in government documents that he did have Chinese government help to study in the US, so it’s probable that this 1914 record is true.

 

Although I haven’t been able to find any records of Y. B. Lieng being a Christian, it seems likely that he was involved with Christianity, because after entering the United States on 19 September 1910, he went straight to Cleveland, Ohio, and not long after that, he entered Hiram College to take two years of preparatory work. At that time, Cleveland was home to a YMCA that housed several Chinese Christian students who studied in the area, and Hiram College is a private college in Northeastern Ohio that was founded by the Disciples of Christ. The 1912 CSA Directory lists his address as “Hiram College, Hiram, OH” and mentions that he was a member of the Midwestern Section. Hiram doesn’t have a specific preparatory school or academy, like, for example, Oberlin College once did, so I assume he was taking remedial classes within the normal college. The 1925 Alumni Directory lists him as an “ex-student” of the class of 1915 (Hiram College Alumni Register, pg. 46).

After two years at Hiram College, Y. B. Lieng took a course at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1912. He was listed in the register as an “unclassified student” from Hiram College (University of Chicago Annual Register 1913, pg. 589), and a later record states that he was studying chemistry at this time. However on 24 September 1912, he entered the University of Pittsburgh’s mining school. The prep work at Hiram and the summer chemistry classes at Chicago must have helped, because he started as a sophomore in the 1912-1913 year (University of Pittsburgh General Catalog 1912-13, pg. 487).

He had moved up to the junior class during academic year 1913-1914 (University of Pittsburgh Annual Catalog, pg. 539). The 1914 CSA Directory, released in January of that year, gives an address of 348 Oakland Avenue in Pittsburgh and a specialization of Metallurgy. He had reached his senior year in 1914-15 (University of Pittsburgh Annual Catalog 1914-15, pg. 517). The 1915 CSA Directory repeats the information from the 1914 Directory, with the slight difference in address of 340 Oakland Avenue. He could have moved, or they could have renumbered the houses that year.

Y. B. Lieng was also becoming more involved in the local Chinese Student Club, serving as treasurer of the Pittsburgh Club for the 1913-14 year (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 9 No. 6, pg. 505). The Pittsburgh Club at that time was evenly split between students at the University of Pittsburgh and recent graduates who were gaining a bit of work experience in the area, usually at Westinghouse.

 

 

Then, tragedy struck. In late May of 1915, Y. B. Lieng showed up at the Office of the Commissioner of Seattle, Washington, unannounced, to purchase passage to China via Vancouver and to request a return certificate to the US. The Commissioner immediately wrote to the Pittsburgh Immigration Office for any information about this man. The letter was rerouted to Philadelphia, and the Commissioner of Immigration there began an investigation. On 10 June 1915, he returned his findings; he had spoken to the dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Mines and gotten Y. B. Lieng’s full story.

The dean, a Mr. Heller, stated that Y. B. Lieng had approached him a few weeks ago with bad news; his mother was seriously ill and he had received a letter begging him to come home at once. He had money for the journey and his travel was even arranged by “Chinese Government officials in Washington, D. C., he being a Government student.” The issue was his final exams for the Spring 1915 semester. He had failed two of his courses and so he wouldn’t be able to graduate on time. Mr. Heller believed that “while he was planning to visit China this summer anyhow… he departed at this time, partly at least because he was ashamed to remain here and witness his classmates graduate without his being one of their number.” Y. B. Lieng and the dean agreed that the failing classes would be made up in the fall of 1915, so Y. B. Lieng needed a return certificate before leaving the US so that he would be able to re-enter the US to do so.

The investigation, therefore, concluded that Y. B. Lieng was a bonafide student and that he should be issued a return certificate. This was communicated back to Seattle in a letter dated 12 June 1915. The letter arrived in Seattle on 15 June 1915, by which time Y. B. Lieng had already left for China with no certificate. So, the Seattle office filed away the report, to have at hand if the student returned through Seattle so that they could pass him through and into the country without bureaucratic delay (link to page 1 of the 7-page immigration document).

 

I don’t think any of this information was communicated to Y. B. Lieng, as he had already left the country when the results of the investigation came in. So it’s not clear, for example, whether he knew that he would have to return to Seattle specifically to have a hassle-free re-entry to the US. It’s possible he thought that, without the certificate, he would be unable to return to the US at all. Maybe he left Seattle believing that he was leaving forever, and thinking it worth it if he got to see his mother one last time. Perhaps he was planning to return, but once he got to China he thought it was too much trouble to go all the way back to the United States to take two measly classes. Maybe he thought he wouldn’t be able to pass those classes anyway. But regardless, he never came back to the US. Like so many students even today, two failed classes and a family emergency kept him from that bachelor’s degree.

This probably wasn’t an awful decision. Even students who didn’t graduate from foreign universities went on to have good jobs in China just due to the prestige of having studied abroad at all. However, sadly, I don’t have any sources on what happened to him after he left the US in the summer of 1915.

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