Tag: Yangzhou

Charles Wan-Nian Bien (卞萬年 or 卞万年)

Charles Wan-Nian Bien (Chinese 卞萬年 or 卞万年, both of those options have the pinyin of Biàn Wànnián) is the last son of Z. S. Bien that I will be profiling in this blog; I’ll be profiling his daughter Edith Chu-Nian Bien next week. Before I get into Charles’ life, however, I thought I’d share an interesting thought that occurred to me on the drive in to work today. Put succinctly, the educational paths of the Bien family are a pretty good microcosm of the arc of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarships as a whole, and it’s really cool how this one family can illustrate the educational pressures that led to the development of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship program in the first place, as well as the changing educational landscape in China that accounts for the changing nature of the program over the years.


Z. S. Bien and F. S. Bien came to America early, Z. S. Bien before the Boxer Indemnity program had even begun. Z. S. Bien studied at a French Catholic missionary college; missionary college preparation was a common pre-America educational choice for many Boxer Indemnity Scholars, especially the early ones. He then had to take a year of courses at Ithaca High School in America before continuing on to Brown University. This was also common for many Boxer Indemnity Scholars at the time. The truth is that even with foreign capital funding the missionary schools, the university movement was in its infancy in China at the turn of the 20th century, and many students arrived in the US unprepared for university coursework. It was common for Chinese students to re-take years at universities and even take high school or preparatory classes before entering a US college. Both Z. S. and F. S. Bien then received their undergraduate degrees in America and returned to China to help build the new republic; both entered banking, which was an essential field for the fledgling government. This was similar to other Chinese graduates at this time, such as W. K. Lam who entered governmental service, and H. K. Chow, who became a businessman. The drive to gain Western learning and then use it in the service of China was a strong theoretical underpinning of the entire Boxer Indemnity program.

However, the next generation of the Bien family had a slightly different US educational experience which mirrors the changes happening in the Boxer Indemnity program. As the Boxer Indemnity program continued into the 20s, students were coming to the United States much more prepared for a US university education. This was helped immensely by the efforts of Tsinghua University, created with Boxer Indemnity money, as well as the maturation of the original missionary schools. Therefore, the number of students retaking high school and college courses dropped significantly. Z. S. Bien’s first child, Richard, may have had educational preparation in China, but he entered Brown University immediately with no stops at preparatory courses first, and he took his entire bachelor’s degree at Brown. He even did a little graduate work before returning to China to teach. George and Paul had completed BSs in China at Shanghai College, an American Baptist missionary school which had an almost 20 year history by the time the twins graduated from it, as opposed to the 3 years of operation Aurora College had under its belt when Z. S. Bien left it in 1906. This meant that the standards of Chinese universities were starting to match up with those of American universities, such that Paul only had to take one year of undergraduate work before proceeding to his PhD, while George entered Brown as a doctoral student immediately. They also both returned to China and became teachers. This illustrates the changing needs of the Republic of China and of the desire for Western learning. The focus on post-university careers had shifted from those fields which were immediately helpful to the Republic, such as finance and government, to more long-term goals, such as teaching the next generation in China itself.

As the Boxer Indemnity program, and the Chinese educational system, moved into the 1930s, Chinese students were starting to elect NOT to travel abroad to receive a Western education, or to do so in very specific circumstances. Charles, the next-oldest child of Z. S. Bien and the subject of this post, graduated from medical school in China, and only came to America for a one-year program at Harvard. Z. S. Bien’s next two sons, Edward Mei Nian Bien and James Fung Nian Bien, did not study in America at all, although both had university educations. Edward attended Yenching University and became a noted paleontologist in China, while James went into banking like his father and uncle after graduating from Shanghai Fudan University.


The Boxer Indemnity program ended in 1937 when the Japanese invaded China, but by that point a Western university system was well in place in China, which has managed to survive World War II, the Chinese Civil War, and the bad old days of Communist China. It’s always hard to play historical “what-if”, but even if the invasion hadn’t happened I’m not sure the program would have been necessary for much longer, as the basic purpose of bringing the intellectual class of China more in line with the Western system had by and large been achieved. Of course, to this day many Chinese students still choose to study in America due to the prestige of the universities here, as well as for political and ideological concerns, but the overwhelming, almost philosophical drive to do so which underpinned the Boxer Indemnity movement is largely gone.

The children of the Boxer Indemnity Scholars themselves also have a different educational environment. Most of them were either born in America or were brought to the country at a young age, so they entered the American schooling system in primary school. George, Paul, Charles, Edward, and Edith Bien’s children all entered American schools as permanent residents or naturalized citizens of the United States, and most went on to college in the US as well. This reflects the flight from Communist China undertaken by many supporters of the Kuomintang regime, many of whom had studied in US universities at one time or another. So the children of former Boxer Indemnity Scholars are being raised in the American educational system and attending US universities by default.

Continue reading “Charles Wan-Nian Bien (卞萬年 or 卞万年)”

George Sung-Nian Bien (卞松年) and Paul Bai-Nian Bien (卞柏年)

Today’s post is about the twin sons of Z. S. Bien and his wife Guojin Li: George Sung-Nian Bien (卞松年, pinyin Biàn Sōngnián) and Paul Bai-Nian Bien (卞柏年, pinyin Biǎn Bǎinián). Before I get into that, however, this seems like a good time to get into traditional naming conventions in Chinese and the way I write the students’ names in this blog.


Since I am writing (mostly) in English and discussing students in an American context, in this blog I write out the students’ names in Western fashion: given names (first and middle) first, and family name second. You may have noticed that I often refer to students by their first initials and family names, which was the media style of the time used in newspapers and primary sources. Around the turn of the 20th century it was common practice in these sources to refer to men by the initials of their given names, followed by their family name. Unmarried women were referred to as “Miss”, followed by their full given names and family names, or “Mrs.”, followed by the full given names or initials of their husbands and then their husbands’ family names.

Chinese names are, of course, written “backwards” from the Western perspective, with the family name coming first and the given names second. However, because most Chinese given names are two characters long, this means that their names are easily adaptable to the early 20th century Western media style of naming. Z. S. Bien is a great example of this: his given name was “Zue Sun” (currently romanized to Shou Sun), and in Chinese his name was written 卞夀孫, or Biàn Shòusūn. However, since the given name was two characters, it stood in quite well for the American first name-middle name system of given names, making 卞夀孫’s name in America “Z. S. Bien”.

You may have also noticed that the three of Z. S. Bien’s children that I have mentioned  so far have the name “Nian” (年 in Chinese) as the second character of their given names: Richard Peng-Nian Bien (卞彭年), George Sung-Nian Bien (卞松年), and Paul Bai-Nian Bien (卞柏年). As a matter of fact, Z. S. Bien also shares a bit of his name with his brother, F. S. or Fu Sun (福孫) Bien, the second character of their given names being 孫. This shared character is what is known as a generational name, which is shared by all the members of a current generation in a family, siblings and cousins alike. Since 年 is the generational name of Richard, Paul, and George’s generation, all of Z. S. Bien’s children have it as the second character of their given names, as do F. S. Bien’s daughters, although I have only been able to find documentation of one of them using it: his oldest daughter, whose Chinese given name was Li-Nian.

Continue reading “George Sung-Nian Bien (卞松年) and Paul Bai-Nian Bien (卞柏年)”

Richard Pang-Nian Bien (卞彭年)

Richard Pang-Nian Bien (卞彭年, pinyin Biàn Péngnián) was the oldest child of Z. S. Bien and Kuo-Kin (Guojin) Li, two future students in American universities. He was born in about 1902 (January of 1901 according to Chinese sources), and in my previous post on the Bien brothers, I indicated that Z. S. Bien’s children were born in Shanghai, but most immigration documentation for their children, including Richard, state that the children were born in Yangzhou. It’s probable that Richard and his brothers grew up there in the care of relatives while his parents were pursuing degrees at Brown University beginning in 1906. As detailed in the previous post, Richard’s parents were in America from 1906 until 1913, when Richard was between the ages of 4 to 11 years old.

Continue reading “Richard Pang-Nian Bien (卞彭年)”

Z. S. Bien (卞夀孫) and F. S. Bien (卞福孫)

Z. S. Bien (卞夀孫, pinyin Biàn Shòusūn) and his brother F. S. Bien (卞福孫, pinyin Biàn Fúsūn) were born to a well-known and politically-connected family in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. Z. S. Bien was the older brother – he was born on 13 September 1884 – while the younger brother F. S. Bien was born on 11 June 1886. In fact, Z. S. Bien was the oldest of six children.

Continue reading “Z. S. Bien (卞夀孫) and F. S. Bien (卞福孫)”