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Two Asian student at early time in Bryn Mawr

Erin's picture

As the historical background for the final project, this broadcast is aim to introduce you about two excellent Asian Students at very early times in Bryn Mawr history. Since this is not the final narrative, the broadcast might vary in some perspectives.

The purpose of our final project is to explore the Asian Identity on campus and possible reasons for the absences for their voices nowadays on campus.

I will introduce two extraordinary early Asian students at very early times in Bryn Mawr campus, one Japanese student Tsuda Umeko and one Chinese student Fung Kei Liu. When digging in the past of Asian students on Bryn Mawr campus, these two especially caught my attention due to the similarities in their stories.

Asian Students has been on this campus since the very beginning. Interaction with some representative of Asian countries, China and Japan, both went back to as early as end of 19th century. Besides the conventional admission of students from these countries and Asian Americans, Bryn Mawr‘s first connection with China, oddly enough, was a results of the anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion of 1899; The formal introduction of programs for students from China, however, didn’t happen until 1917.

         In a discussion called “A Chinese scholarship” on 1917 Alumnae Bulletin, some alumnae raised the concerns of the one-direction exchange between Bryn Mawr and China. Therefore, a group of alumnae established s scholarship fun to “deepen understanding between China and bring this country the type of student representative of highest Chinese traditions” Liu Feng Kei was the first one selected by Chinese Scholarship Committee.

Fung Kei Liu was a third generation Christian from Canton and entered Bryn Mawr in 1918 after a year at Shipley School and was graduated in 1922.  Not many details were recorded about her school life in Bryn Mawr. All we know is that she was not an outstandingly brilliant student, but she had great determination and independence of thought, ingenuity and integrity. While, her performance continued to impress the committee, however, not much was mentioned for her life after Bryn Mawr until 1941. In that year, she successfully opened a school at Macao, and sated that she will hold on to the last minute. From 1941 and on, her stories were mentioned in every year’s Chinese Scholarship committee annual report about progress and frustration s about establishment of this school.

It’s important to remind you the greater historical picture about China at that time. The Chinese section of World War II had started since 1937, imperial Japanese Army was expanding their forces on Chinese continent. Even though at that time, Macao was the Portuguese Colony, the society was inevitably affected by the larger political landscape.

In her letters to Chinese scholarship committee, you can felt and happiness and fulfillment she gained through her everyday hard work. In 1943, the terror of war was spread throughout the Macao. They had to depend on Hong Kong for the essential living supplies. The police corruptions made the government aides unavailable for many people. Thousands of people died from starvation every day. The situation in the colony was just getting worse. In 1944, Fung Kei had to leave Macao and went to Kunlin China, where was still considered as free China. Even in such a harsh situation, she still tried t help any poele with her capability. Through her letters to committee, I can felt the anxiousness and worries about the future of herself and the whole country and she also asked for possible denotation to help relief the financial burdens of school. In 1946, after returning to Macao, she reopened the school as well as a toy factory. However, her toy factory was not competitive to compete he western manufacture toys. Life was hard but she was holding on and was trying to make the best of the worst situation. After some other time, in 1955, we heard from her again. Fung Kei became an English teacher in a private school. Unfortunately, in 1958, we heard about her death. Torn between her love of her school and of free China, she decided to turn over the school to the Jesuits an eventually not able to accomplish her dream.

Next, I will introduce you to another excellent alumna, Ume Tsuda. Apparently, she is more famous than the previous Asian student I talked about. The Tsuda College she founded in 1900 today is one of the best private and independent four-year liberal arts college for women. When Ume was seven years old, she entered us as a government sponsored student, she grow up in a model American family. She entered Bryn Mawr College in 1885 and received a degree in Biology. She was able to finish the degree in two-and-a-half years and also initiated a scholarship campaign fund for educating Japanese women in America. She published paper” Orientation of the Frog’s Egg” in the (British) Quarterly Journal of Microscopical Science in 1894. A few years after Bryn Mawr, she took a position n teaching English. Then, feeling keenly the need to provide her fellow country women with higher education, she resigned from all public position, and singlehandly established a school in which English language and literature were emphasized.  In 1923, the Great Earthquake completely destroyed the Tsuda College. Not until 1931, because of the successful fund-raising in Janpna and the United Stated, college was able to rebuilt and relocated in the suburbs. Miss Tsuda didn’t live to see the new campus and died of a stroke in1929. Today. Among more than 10,000 Tsuda College graduates, a list of Japan’s first women to achieve prominence in male-dominated fields emerges.

Even though, we don’t have enough information to reconstruct their lives in Bryn Mawr, we can their activeness and influences in the paths they took after Bryn Mawr. Both decide to devote to bring better higher education to the country. Just because of the different social environment, one was able to established one of the best college in Japan. Even today, generations of Tsuda College graduates came back to Bryn Mawr to visit the place here the college founder lived. In special collections, we can find many publications about Ume Tsuda and information about Tsauda College. On the other, with the same passion and goal, Fung Kei Liu’s dream stopped at 1953 or ever earlier when her letters filled with frustration bout the reality back at China.  



jccohen's picture

women change-makers, historical contexts


You open by raising the question of Asian identity on Bryn Mawr’s campus (and by the way, do you want to name “Asian” more specifically here?), and by noting the relative “absence of their voices” at the college now.  Interestingly, it sounds like in the early 20th century, as indeed is the case now, there was a presence and even at some points prominence of Asian students and the programming to recruit and support these students but an absence of the voices and perspectives of the students themselves.  In what ways did investigating this history illuminate these presences and absences? 

You comment that “a group of alumnae established s scholarship fun to ‘deepen understanding between China and bring this country the type of student representative of highest Chinese traditions’”; it’s interesting that there’s funding to support this and at the same time a desire to bring a student who is a “representative…”  How do you understand this in terms of the background and resources of the Chinese students the college is trying to attract?

The stories of Fung Kei and Ume are compelling, and I too find it especially interesting that both of these women devoted their considerable energy and talents to improving opportunities for higher education in their countries.  Also interesting is the contrast in terms of outcomes, with both women’s schools impacted by external events but an eventual recovery and resurgence in Tsuda College.  You paint a vivid picture of how social and political upheaval in and around China create an untenable situation for the school in Macao.  On the other hand, the Tsuda College in Japan is rebuilt after being devastated by a natural disaster, suggesting sufficient political stability and the availability of resources.  This kind of contextualization in relation to Tsuda’s story would highlight the comparison between these two amazing women.  And you might even go on to some further comment about Asian women on campus today, now that we’ve heard these stories.

Just a note on your sources:  Please add in the sources you consulted in doing this research; this will provide tracks for the next researchers to follow!