Y. F. Chen (程義法)

Back to another original 1909 Boxer Indemnity Scholar! This week’s student is Y. F. Chen (程義法, pinyin Chéng YìFǎ), with a courtesy name of 中右 (pinyin Zhōng Yòu). He was born in about 1890 in Shanghai and left for the US before his 19th birthday to study mining and metallurgy.

Thanks to the 1917 Who’s Who of American Returned Students, we have not only a birthplace, but an original address for Y. F. Chen’s family. They lived in Shanghai, within the city walls, on Zi Hua Road, which was in Ping An.

He studied at St. John’s University in Shanghai beginning in 1904, which means he must have attended the preparatory department. I don’t have a record of this; the earliest St. John’s Catalog I have available to me is from 1908, when Y. F. Chen would have been 18 years old already. However, he was a member of the freshman class that year (1907-1908), using the romanization of Zung Nyi-Fah (St. John’s University Catalog 1908, pg. 51). His “Native Place” is listed as “Wuhsien, Kiangsu” – probably Wuxi, west of Shanghai, which refers to where his family was originally from. He also seems to have a family member at St. John’s with him: Zung Nyi-Tsau (Y. T. or Y. S. Chen), who may have been a brother or a cousin.

Both Y. F. Chen and his relation continued on to their sophomore year in 1908-1909 (St. John’s University Catalog 1909, pg. 50). But they didn’t return for their junior year that fall. Instead, that August they both traveled to Beijing to take the examinations for the first Boxer Indemnity Scholarship. The examination took place on August 20 and 21 at the Ministry of Education, and 68 students were awarded scholarships, including both Y. F. Chen and Y. T. Chen (Shen Bao, 14 Oct 1909, pg. 4).

Boxer_Rebellion_Indemnity_Scholarship_recipients_1909_2 (1).jpg
The 1909 Boxer Indemnity Scholarship recipients. Y. F. Chen is number 4, the 4th in from the left on the first row with his arms crossed. Y. T. Chen is number 23, peeking his head between the 2nd and 3rd in from the right on the first row.



Naming his contact in China as “Chen Ching Nyou” – a different contact than Y. T. Chen’s – he set off from Shanghai on 12 Oct 1909, purportedly sailing for Boston, as were all the other Boxer Indemnity Scholars on board, including former-post-subject T. King (ship’s manifest). But in this instance, in fact, Y. F. Chen was heading for Boston, because before he started on his degree in mining, he attended Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts, along with 9 other of the Indemnity Scholars of 1909. According to the Lawrence Academy Archives, Y. F. Chen served as the president of the Chinese Students’ Club. This club met several times a semester for “training in English composition and speaking” (Turner’s Public Spirit, Vol. 42 No. 17, 8 Jan 1910, pg. 4). Y. F. Chen also recited an essay at graduation titled “China America Friendship”. The local paper commented on the 1910 graduation exercises:

Principal Clough in his address to the class emphasized the individual and urged the boys to remember that individualism well-directed will always bring success. He highly commended the Chinese students for the conduct, studious habits and gentlemanly bearing while at Lawrence.

All of the essays were well-prepared and well-delivered and the audience showed its appreciation by hearty applause, but the one prepared by Ye Fah Chen of Shanghai, China, on account of its subject, “China America Friendship,” because of its literary merit, and the sentiments it contained, and the fine manner in which it was delivered was given rounds of applause.

Turner’s Public Spirit, Vol. 42 No. 41, 25 June 1910, pg. 4

The Lawrence Academy Archives claims that Y. F. Chen began attending the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado after graduation, but they don’t specify when (Academy Journal, Fall 2010, pg. 19). The 1917 Who’s Who gives a year of 1911 for Y. F. Chen’s first year at the school. But the CSM General Catalog of 1910 has him in their freshman class of that year, so he must have gone right to Colorado to begin his training there (Colorado School of Mines General Catalog, Vol. 5 No. 4, pg. 131). He probably lived on campus, as he had only a box number (686) as his address in the 1911 CSA Eastern Directory.


He got involved in the student life of the Colorado School of Mines, and began to experiment with a Western name. In December of 1911, he led a meeting of the Christian Association on campus using the name “Chester Yefah Chen” (The Mines Magazine, Vol. 2, pg. 81). He also attended YMCA conventions, such as the one in Fort Collins in the spring of 1910 (The Mines Magazine, Vol. 1, pg. 15-16). The 1912 CSA Directory repeated the Box 686 address. Y. F. Chen advanced regularly through school, entering his junior year in 1912-13 (Colorado School of Mines General Catalog 1913, pg. 135) and his senior year in 1913-14 (Colorado School of Mines General Catalog 1914, pg. 135). The 1914 CSA Directory, which came out in January of that year, noted that he was on track to earn his EM, a degree in mining engineering.

He graduated in the spring of 1914 and fortunately for us, he was an annual member of the CSM Alumni Association, so it is relatively easy to keep up with him. He returned to China in July, but it seems that he didn’t have a job lined up right away. The Mines magazine of 1914 mentioned that his permanent address would be “care World Chinese Students Federation, Shanghai China” (The Mines Magazine, Vol. 4, pg. 146). This address was repeated in the 1915 magazine (The Mines Magazine, Vol. 5, pg. 143), but Y. F. Chen had gotten a job by this point: as an engineer for the Honan Coal Mining Company (pg. 40). Then, in 1916, he got the job that he would keep for several years: Assistant Engineer at Pinghsiang Colliery – a coal mine – in Pinghsiang (Pingxiang, near Changsha), China.

He wrote a letter to Colorado that was printed in the 1916 Mines Magazine:

Here is the first letter from a Golden Miner in the heart of China. I have been here for over a year now and am working as assistant engineer. We had a pretty good talk when Mr. Lonergan was over here on an inspection trip with his students last May. I am looking forward to their next trip, when I hope more than two Miners will be together. So long. Yours truly, “Y. F. CHEN.”

The Mines Magazine, Vol. 6, pg. 47


He held this job at Pinghsian Colliery for several years. He was there when the 1917 Who’s Who was published. He seems to have settled on a Western name by this point: Francis. He was there in 1918 when St. John’s University caught up with him and listed him as a former non-graduate (St. John’s University Catalogue 1917-18, pg. 160). This listing was repeated in every St. John’s Catalogue all the way to 1922 (St. John’s University Catalogue 1921-22, pg. 174). Then, in 1923, he moved back to Shanghai to work with the Yuseng Manganese Mining Company (The Mines Magazine, Vol. 12, pg. 39). The 1925 Who’s Who in China lists him as the Manager of the company, with an address of 33 N. Szechuan Road in Shanghai.

There’s a bit of a gap here in both Chinese and English language sources. Ten years go by before we hear of the next news about Y. F. Chen in 1935-36, when two important things happen. First, Y. F. Chen was a part of an “economic inspection team” which went to Japan in October of 1935 (Shen Bao, 3 Oct 1935, pg. 10). He was a member of this group as a private citizen, not as a government official, but by 1936, Y. F. Chen had been appointed the Chief of the mining section of the Ministry of Industry (Shen Bao, 20 Feb 1936, pg. 9; The China Press, 16 Aug 1936, pg. 8).

The “Economic Inspection Team”. From Shen Bao, 7 Oct 1935, pg. 7.

The new government job meant that Y. F. Chen had moved to Nanking (The China Press, 8 Dec 1936, pg. 3). It seems he didn’t do it until the end of 1936, however, since an article from June in Shen Bao mentions that he came from Shanghai to attend a National Coal Mining Meeting in Beijing (Shen Bao, 9 June 1936, pg. 12). And then there is another 10+ year gap.


Y. F. Chen shows up again in 1948 as the “Mining Affairs Secretary-General” of the Kailuan Group, a coal mining company in China that is still in existence today (Shen Bao, 7 Jul 1948, pg. 2). After that, well, the Communists took over and there isn’t any more information about him. He didn’t immigrate back to the US, so he most likely died in China after a long and distinguished career in his field.

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