This week I’ll be profiling one of the female Indemnity Scholars: Miss Yat-Kwan Liang (pinyin Liáng Yìqún, Cantonese Jyutping Loeng4 Jat6kwan4). Beginning in 1914, the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship exams were opened to female students every other year. The number was limited; in 1914 only 10 scholarships were awarded to women. 1916 was the second year that female students were sent to the US to study, and Y. C. Liang was one of 10 women that earned a scholarship that year (Shen Bao, 1 Sept 1916, pg. 10).
Y. C. Liang was born on 14 November 1896 in Canton, China (naturalization application). She was the eldest daughter of L. H. Liang, the first Chinese Consul-General to Australia in 1909 (blog post, Wikipedia). Her father came from Samshui, a district to the northwest of Canton (Guangzhou), but he taught at Tientsin University (also known as Peiyang University at that time), as well as working as a secretary at the Canton-Hankow Railroad and with various Commissioners of Foreign Affairs at cities around China (Who’s Who in China 1925, pg. 502). It’s unclear whether Y. C. Liang accompanied him on his travels, but regardless, openness to foreign travel and Western education were things she was exposed to from a very young age.
It’s also possible that her father’s history as a professor and as a traveler to an English-speaking nation can explain how she came to take the Boxer Indemnity Scholars exam in 1916. I don’t have any information on her schooling in China, but I’m fairly certain she did not attend Tsinghua or St. John’s. But it’s possible that she had private tutors thanks to her father’s background.
She arrived with the other Boxer Indemnity Scholars from 1916 on the S. S. China, at the age of 19. She was headed to New York (ship’s manifest). She listed her father as her contact in China, who was living in Beijing – the address is written as “Shu Wao Pu” (entry paperwork). I’m not sure why she was headed to New York, but it’s possible she attended high school or a preparatory school there. The first school I have records of her attending in the US was Mt. Holyoke in Massachusetts. She appears as part of the freshman class in the 1917-18 Mt. Holyoke Catalogue (pg. 111). She was living in Elizabeth Mead Hall, which was less than 20 years old at the time, in room 49.
Y. C. Liang was heartily welcomed by the other Chinese students at Mt. Holyoke and joined the local Chinese Students’ Club (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 13 No 1, pg. 179). She also appears in the 1918 Chinese Students’ Alliance Directory, confusingly as an MA student at Mt. Holyoke. She did not stay in Massachusetts long, however, because in the fall of 1918, she had left Mt. Holyoke to transfer to the University of Chicago (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 14 No. 1, pg. 197).
She attended the University of Chicago for two years, appearing first in the Annual Register of 1918-19 as a member of “The Junior Colleges” (University of Chicago Annual Register 1918-19, pg. 597). I am not sure what that means, since she was definitely studying for her bachelor’s. No field of study is given other than the “College of Arts”. She was still in Chicago when the Chinese Students’ Christian Association caught up with her in 1919, and she participated in the Chicago Chinese Club (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 15 No. 5, pg. 60). As a matter of fact, for the 1919-20 academic year she served as the City of Chicago club’s vice-president (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 15 No. 1, pg. 51)
The Catalogues and Registers don’t list any addresses, but she was in Chicago during the 1920 Census. The records show that she was living in a boarding house on University Avenue with 3 other boarders and 3 servants, all of whom, plus her landlady, were female. The landlady and the oldest boarder were college professors, so it seems likely that Y. C. Liang found this housing arrangement through the university. The other two school-age boarders were also international students, one from China and the other a Jewish person from Palestine. The three servants were also immigrants – two were from Ireland and one from Austria – and the landlady herself had been born in Switzerland to two American parents. It must have been a fascinating and diverse place to live (link to census).
Y. C. Liang must have been close to her goal of a degree, because she took classes at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1920, earning her AB in that term (link to yearbook). By the fall of 1920 she had changed schools again, matriculating at Columbia University in New York City. Although her undergraduate degree was unspecified as to major, it seems likely that she studied social sciences, because she was at Columbia to earn a master’s in sociology. She was elected to the American Sociological Society in the 1920-21 academic year (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 16, pg. 401).
However, academic pursuits were not the only things holding her interest at Columbia. While she was in New York, she met a 1917 Tsinghua graduate by the name of C. H. Chuang, who was studying psychology at Columbia. They soon started dating, and it seems they were a known “item” among the Chinese student population. The Chinese Students’ Monthly reports rather primly,
C. H. Chuang, a brilliant scholar of unquestioned reputation, has told his friends that he has successfully passed his “PhD Oral Examination” in Teachers’ College, New York City…. He expects to spend two more years in the United States for doing some more research work. He is now taking a rest in Ithaca, N. Y., where he is said to be “enjoying life”.
Miss Y. K. Liang, it is reported, is spending her Summer vacation in Ithaca.
By “it is reported”, I 100% assume that their classmates were gossiping about their romantic summer get-away. “Enjoying life”, indeed.
Anyway, Y. C. Liang soon graduated from Columbia in June of 1921 with her MA (Catalogue of the officers and Students of Columbia College 1921, pg. 295). The Chinese Students’ Christian Journal congratulated her on this achievement, which is interesting since I haven’t been able to find any other records of her being involved in the Chinese Christian community (Chinese Students’ Christian Journal, Vol. 8, pg. 156). She returned home, and it seems she moved back in with her father. The Mt. Holyoke Alumni Address Book has an address of “General Customs Office, Canton China” for her (1921, pg. 171). She also wrote a quick letter to the University of Chicago alumni magazine in 1922 from Samshui City, the hometown of her father.
West River, Via Canton, China
Oct. 17, 1922
Dear Mr. Pierrot:
I do really feel ashamed of myself for my delay in renewing. However, when you know the reason of my delay I am sure you will not blame me too severely. I have been ill for almost a year, hence business of all kinds has been unduly neglected. Besides I am living in a small town, and it’s very difficult to buy foreign exchange.
Now enclosed please find a bill of two dollars for my membership dues and my Magazine renewal.
I am sending you “a hearty smile.”
Yours very sincerely,
Yat Kwan Liang (Miss), ’20
We don’t know what her illness was, but there were many diseases present in China that could cause a year-long convalescence, such as malaria. And this wasn’t specific to China; in the 1920s, it would be another 50 years before even very common vaccines such as measles or polio would be perfected. So whatever Y. C. Liang had, it was probably rough.
Fortunately, she had something to look forward to. C. H. Chuang had completed his extra years of research in the US and had returned to China. They were married on 11 April 1923 in Canton. Not long after, the couple were offered jobs at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and they accepted. Both C. H. Chuang and Y. C. Liang appear in the 1925 Who’s Who in China as living and working at Tsinghua University, although Y. C. Liang’s present occupation is sexistly recorded as “Mrs. C. H. Chuang”. Still, she probably taught sociology while her husband taught psychology. They fit right in with the New Culture Movement and got along famously with Cai Yuanpei, the president of Beida that clashed with the traditionalist Z. C. Hsu. While in Beijing they had two daughters, in 1924 and 1926.
By 1931, the family had moved back down south, and C. H. Chuang was teaching at Sun Yat Sen University in Guangzhou (Canton). The 1931 Columbia University Alumni Record lists him, but not Y. C. Liang (pg. 153). She isn’t in there at all, although she definitely graduated from Columbia with a master’s. It’s a strange oversight, and also robs us of knowing what it was that she was doing during that time. Was she teaching at Sun Yat Sen University as well? Was she at home raising the children?
The family moved again in 1934, this time to Hangzhou, where C. H. Chuang took a job at Zhejiang University, and Y. C Liang had another child, a son. When they moved to Hangzhou, they purchased some land for 10,000 yuan, right on the bank of the river, and built their own house. It was actually more of a villa, with a central courtyard and a entry arch, on which was written the two characters “逸庐”, meaning “escape hut”, or “leisure hut”; basically a home that was an escape from the outside world. That first character, “逸”, is also part of Y. C. Liang’s name, so these characters also carried the double meaning of “Y. C. Liang’s home”. It’s thought that these two characters were written on the arch by none other than Cai Yuanpei, when he was visiting the couple in June of 1936 (Zhejiang Online, 23 Aug 2017).
Their house, and the fact that it is still in good condition, gives us some information into the rest of Y. C. Liang’s life. The house is currently a protected building in Hangzhou, and the preservation website has more details about C. H. Chuang and Y. C. Liang. They are recorded as having taught not only at Tsinghua University and Sun Yat Sen University, but also Canton Christian College and Guangxi University before coming to Zhejiang University. But they were at Zhejiang University the longest, from 1934 to the 1950s, probably because Zhejiang was C. H. Chuang’s home province (Hangzhou Historical Building Preservation).
After the Communists took over, they had to flee mainland China. They first went to Southeast Asia, where C. H. Chuang worked in the textbook industry, providing textbooks to overseas Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore. The Building Preservation site states that they “辗转他乡” – they wandered or were tossed about, far from their native land. They finally arrived back in the United States in 1956.
They entered the US at Massachusetts on 31 May 1956. Since they traveled first class, there is a record of everything they were able to take with them when they escaped China: “1 Trunk, 10 suitcases, 4 bags, 7 handbags, 1 autoradio, 1 portable gramaphone, 1 folding chair, 1 tin box, 1 paper box, 1 b’dle of mats” (link to ship’s manifest). They were headed for Huron, South Dakota, and the only reason I can think of to explain why they went there was that Huron University might have offered them jobs. They eventually moved to California, living at 167 El Poco Place in Vallejo. This is where she was when she filed for naturalization, but her husband and son were not living with her then, residing instead in Riverside, California. I am not sure what prompted the separation, but I do know that C. H. Chuang eventually took up his old job of working with overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, and passed away in Singapore.
However, I have not been able to find any death information for Y. C. Liang. I am pretty sure she has passed away, as she would be 121 years old this year, but not finding any death information usually means that the person died within the past 20 years, so it’s most likely that Y. C. Liang lived a long and full life.