I was skimming through my unpublished drafts today, and I noticed that although I finished my postings on the Chan family over two months ago, I never posted about the middle daughter: Lillian Chan. Oops. So here’s a short post about the final daughter of the Chan family who studied in American schools: Lily Chan.
Bertha Grace Chan (Chinese name 陳端信, pinyin Chén Duānxìn) was born in September of 1887 in China, possibly in Canton (Guangzhou), but more likely in Hong Kong, as she was considered a British citizen. Her father was a Methodist missionary and her mother was a physician. When she was less than a year old, her family moved to Vancouver for her father’s missionary work. They lived in Canada for 12 years before moving to the United States.
The focus of this blog is on Chinese students who studied in American universities, specifically those that were sponsored by the government through the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship or other programs. Because of this, I tend to concentrate on educational motivations that provoked the massive influx of Chinese students in American universities from the turn of the 20th century until World War II. Simply put, students came to America from China to get a Western education and to take that knowledge back to their home country to improve the social and political situation there. This theme is easy to see in W. K. Lam‘s political ambitions and H. T. Wong‘s military career. The typical tone of the articles in the Chinese Students’ Monthly, a publication produced by the Chinese Students’ Association in America, also evidences this focus on education, Western learning, and the betterment of China through technological advancement. But I would be remiss in not mentioning the other large institutional factor in promoting Chinese student immigration to America: the growth and influence of the Christian churches in China.
Christianity in China has a long history, but the modern missionary movement is most pertinent to the subject of this blog. Beginning in the early 1800s, Christian missionary work was focused on the coastal areas and the south of China; the first missionaries operated in Macau, Hong Kong, and Canton (today Guangzhou). Christianity and a desire to study in the West often overlapped among Chinese students, so it’s not surprising that many of the students who arrived in America in the early 1900s were both Christians and from the province of Guangdong. Cities which were open to foreign trade such as Shanghai were also centers of Christianity at this time, and many students from the city of Shanghai and the province of Zhejiang also came to America in large numbers to study. The importance of missionary schools cannot be overstated either; many students who ended up finishing their studies in America first studied at missionary schools in China, such as Canton Christian College in Guangzhou and St. John’s University in Shanghai. In short, most students who came to America did so under government encouragement and to learn Western subjects, but a majority of them were also Christian.
This brings us to the subject of today’s post: the Chan family. They are a bit atypical among the other Chinese students I am studying, since Sing Kai Chan, the family patriarch, came to America purely to work as a missionary; he did not study at an American school at all. He also brought his family along, and then his children became Chinese students in America due simply to growing up in America, not due to an educational motivation to travel to another country to study. This means that the motivations of this family in coming to America are a bit different from those of the other students I am researching. However, although the father did not come to America to study, he was motivated by that second impulse, that of Christianity, and so I find him and his family worthy topics of study. I thought I’d write a little bit about them as a family overall and then dedicate individual posts to those members who were students in America. Overall, the themes of Christianity, cultural interchange through performance, and eventual residence in the US still resonate throughout the story of this family.