Y. L. Chin (金岳霖)

Today I cover another Boxer Indemnity Scholar, and indeed another famous Chinese scholar in general: Yueh Lin Chin (金岳霖, pinyin Jīn YuèLín), who attended Tsing Hua University, the University of Pennsylvania, and Columbia University, and was one of the principal founders of the study of Western logic in China. He is still famous in China today, not only for his books on philosophy, which are still read in schools, but for his interesting personal life.

Y. L. Chin was well-known and respected in his lifetime, as well as an active participant in the intellectual scene in Beijing and specifically at Tsinghua University. However, it’s been difficult to find primary source documentation of his early life. He’s not in any of the Who’s Who in China that I have access to (which is the 3rd edition from 1925, the supplement to the 4th edition from 1933, and the 5th edition from 1936, as well as an edition from 1940). He’s not in the 1917/18 Returned Students Directory put out by Tsinghua University, either. So, pulling from unsourced records: Wikipedia gives a hometown of Changsha, Hunan for him, while Baidu gets more specific and states that although he was born in Changsha, his family was originally from Zhejiang province. He was born on 14 July 1895 and began a traditional Chinese education at the age of 6.

Baidu states that in 1907 he entered Yali High School, a private school founded by Yale-in-China. This would have been one year after the school’s opening in Changsha. Then in 1911, he continued this trend of attending newly-opened schools by matriculating at Tsinghua. He was a member of the class of 1914 and graduated on time, and like all Tsinghua graduates at the time, he immediately went to the United States after graduation on a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship (Bulletin of Information 1915, pg. 56).


csm11 pennsylvania club
From the Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 11 (1916). Y. L. Chin is the third from the right in the first row – the only one in a bow tie.

He left Shanghai with the other Boxer Indemnity Scholars on the 15th of August, 1914, and arrived in the United States on 7 September (link to ship’s manifest). He was headed for Boston, which is a strange detail, because he never attended a school in Massachusetts. Instead, he went to Philadelphia to study at the University of Pennsylvania. He was originally a student at the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania Yearbook, 1915, pg. 107), but he soon switched to political science. He became a member of the Chinese Students’ Association by the end of the fall semester (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 10 No. 3, pg. 239). He lived at 3739 Locust Street in Philadelphia, an address that was repeated two times in the 1915 Chinese Students’ Association directory: once under the name Y. L. Chin and once under the name Y. L. Chiu. Side note: I find that this happens a lot with the letter N in the primary sources; Chin becomes Chiu and Lin becomes Liu a lot.

In addition to his schoolwork and his participation in CSA activities, Y. L. Chin was also involved in debating societies. In 1916, he won second prize in the Junior Oratorical Contest of 28 April, on the topic “To Pave the Way for Peace (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 11 No. 7, pg. 615), and in 1917 he participated in several debates (Chinese Students’ Monthly, Vol. 12 No. 6, pg. 373), and was the Chairman of the Chinese Literary Committee for the upcoming summer Eastern Conference at Brown University (pg. 364)., By this point his address was 232 S 38th Street. In May of 1917, only 3 years after entering the University of Pennsylvania, he graduated with a degree in political science (Chinese Students’ Manual, Vol. 12 No. 7, pg. 435; UPenn Alumni Record 1922).


After graduating UPenn, he headed to Columbia University to do some graduate work. His involvement in the CSA goes way down, probably due to the rigors of grad school, but the 1918 Directory includes him. He was living at 547 W 123rd Street and studying political science again. Proving that his quick run through his undergraduate work was not just a fluke, he completed his PhD in just 2 years He had earned an MA by 1918 (Columbia Alumni Record 1931) and defended his dissertation on “The political theory of Thomas Hill Green” in September of 1920 . But he wasn’t only studying. It was at this time that Y. L. Chin met the first of his unorthodox relationship partners: Lilyan (or Lilian) Taylor, the daughter of two Polish Jews, an erstwhile actress – at least according to the 1920 Census, and a fellow student at Columbia (actually Barnard College, the women’s college of Columbia at the time) in the year 1920 (Columbia university alumni register, 1754-1931, pg. 868). Y. L. Chiu began a relationship with her while at Columbia, although they were apart for a bit in 1921, when he returned to China. Entry records indicate that he visited Washington before heading home, although they don’t specify whether it was Washington DC or Washington state that he visited. I would tend to think it was Washington DC, considering his interest in political science and the city’s proximity to New York. Then, after a short stay in China, he left Shanghai again on 21 December of 1921 and arrived in San Francisco as a passenger in transit. His final destination was London, England so that he could study at London University (link to entry paperwork). And along with him on this trip was Lilyan Taylor.

Y. L. Chin studied economics at London University until 1925, then he returned home to China. He and Lilyan settled in Beijing to work at Tsinghua University, and they lived together in an off-campus apartment. As an unmarried couple, this was extremely scandalous for the time. It has been suggested that the couple were interested in the ideas of Bertrand Russell and were therefore having a sort of “trial marriage” (www.guancha.cn). Lilyan taught English at Shandong University as well as Tsinghua, and one of her students had this to say about her:

“泰勒女士(Miss Lilian Taylor)最不可解的是她明明是美国人,但三番五次警告我们决不可学一般美国人的发音……她的英文发音和语调是比‘皇家英文’都更‘英’。多年以后才知道她在20年代是美国故意反抗礼教的‘女叛徒’之一,这就说明何以她在20年代卜居北平,和清华大学哲学系教授金岳霖同居生女而不婚。”

Translation: “Miss Lilian Taylor was the most incomprehensible thing. She was obviously an American, but she repeatedly warned us that we must never learn the pronunciation of Americans… Her English pronunciation and intonation were even more ‘English’ than ‘RP’ [Received Pronunciation, also known as “The King’s English”, is a privileged accent in Britain]. Only many years later did I find out that she was one of the ‘female traitors’ who deliberately resisted ethical teachings in the United States in the 1920s. This explains why she chose to live in Beiping [Beijing] in the 1920s with Tsinghua philosophy department chair Jin Yuelin, and yet was not married.”

This was also an exciting time for Y. L. Chin professionally. He had actually been invited to Tsinghua to found a department of philosophy, which he did in 1926, overseeing the new department’s one major. But by 1928, there were 5 full-time professors in the department (Tsinghua Department of Philosophy). Then in the 1930s, everything changed.


The first major change was Y. L. Chin’s research for, and subsequent publishing of, his first book in 1936. Titled “Logic”, it was the first academic work on the field published in Chinese and became a foundational text for the discipline. Y. L. Chin actually went back to the United States during his research for this book; his entry paperwork states: “Coming to make further research in Logic etc. to N. Y. and Boston” (link to paperwork). While there, he stayed with Pauline Taylor – Lilyan’s sister – at 400 W 119th Street in New York City.

Secondly, he met the love of his life. Lin Huiyin was another American Returned Student who had also studied at the University of Pennsylvania, although several years after Y. L. Chin had. She was an architect who was dedicated to cataloging and preserving Beijing’s ancient architecture, even going so far as to climb the roof of the Temple of Heaven to get accurate measurements. And . . . she was married to Liang Sicheng, another famous architect, returned student, UPenn grad, and intellectual in Beijing.

The third changed flowed naturally from the second: Y. L. Chin and Lilyan broke up. We don’t really know whether Y. L. Chin’s infatuation with Lin Huiyin ended the relationship, or whether the two were on the rocks already, but by late 1931, Lilyan was no longer living with Y. L. Chin.

Another thing changed in 1937: the Japanese attacked China, and Tsinghua University was combined with Nankai University and Peking University (Beida) into the National Southwest Associated University and moved to Kunming for safety.


But back to this love triangle. Y. L. Chin, Lin, and Liang (the husband) knew each other well, since they were all in the same intellectual circles in Beijing. In fact, it is suggested that the poet Xu Zhimo, another man who was pining for Lin, introduced Y. L. Chin to the couple. The Liangs lived at North Zongbu Hutong, Number 3 – right down the street from S. K. Chow – and hosted many intellectual get-togethers. Y. L. Chin became good friends with the couple, and after Xu Zhimo died in 1932 he moved into Number 3. But he was falling in love with Lin, and it seemed that Lin was also falling in love with him. The story goes thusly:




Translation: According to Liang Sicheng’s second wife, Ms. Lin Wei, one day Liang Sicheng went home, Lin Huiyin said to him crying: “I am very upset. I fell in love with two people at the same time. I don’t know what to do.” When Lin Huiyin said this, she did not appear at all like a wife talking to her husband, but rather like a little sister asking her brother for his opinion.

Liang Sicheng was very depressed after hearing this, and he stayed up all night. The next day, he told his wife his thoughts: “You are free. If you choose Laojin [“Old Jin”, meaning Y. L. Chin], I wish you happiness forever.” Lin Huiyin conveyed Liang Sicheng’s words to Y. L. Chin, and he replied: “It seems that Sicheng really loves you. I can’t hurt someone who really loves you, so I should withdraw.”
Since then, the three became lifelong friends, and to some extent could be said to be loved ones.


In 1940, Y. L. Chin published his second book “On Tao”, which was an analysis and mixing of Eastern and Western philosophy. He was still in Kunming with the universities, and Liang and Lin were there as well, having moved to safety while Lin convalesced from tuberculosis. The three scholars moved back to Beijing in 1946, after the defeat of Japan, and all three of them taught at Tsinghua for several years, both before and after the Communist takeover of China.

In 1955, Lin Huiyin died of tuberculosis. Y. L. Chin was devastated:


Translation: At Lin Huiyin’s memorial service, there were many friends and relatives who sent poetry, but the most eye-catching was undoubtedly from Jin Yuelin’s hand: … “April Day” is taken from the title of a poem by Lin Huiyin, “You are the April of the World”. April is the most beautiful season in the world. This person has already gone, but every inch of her existence is the most beautiful season in Jin Yuelin’s life.


Professionally, things were going much better for Y. L. Chin than for many of his intellectual colleagues. While Liang was excoriated by the Communist party both in the 50s and then later during the Cultural Revolution, Y. L. Chin remained under the radar. He joined the CCP in 1956, taught at Beida, and published two more books, one of which, “A Theory of Knowledge” from 1983, is his most famous. In his old age, he moved in with Liang and Lin’s son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. He never married, remaining faithful to the memory of Lin Huiyin for his entire life.

Though he gave up the triangle love, Jin Yuelin remained single throughout his life. After the death of Liang and Lin, their son, Liang Congjie moved in with Jin and the two lived like father and son. Many years after the death of Lin Huiyin, Jin Yuelin held a banquet and invited all of his friends. One guest raised up his confusion, “What is so special about today that you hold this banquet?” Jin announced, “Today is the birthday of Lin Huiyin.”

The Love Song of Liang Sicheng and Lin Huiyin 


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