Illini Everywhere: Chinese Illini, 1928-1948

Since at least 1906, Chinese students have been attending the University of Illinois. During the third and fourth decades of Chinese Illini enrollment, a great many more Chinese students would choose Illinois to study.

Read on to learn more about early Chinese Illini!

Illinois – China Connections

By the end of the 1920s, there were at least two more faculty connections with China. From February 1928 through July 1929, future Economics Professor Donald L. Kemmerer (Record Series 9/5/32) served as Assistant Secretary of a U.S. financial commission to China. [1] The following year, academic year 1929-1930, Animal Breeding Professor Elmer Roberts (Record Series 8/7/21) investigated “the inheritance of resistance to disease” within livestock in China too. [2]

During the 1930s, from Chinese Illini and other friends of the University, a variety of Chinese cultural gifts began to arrive on campus too. In 1930, the Botany Department accepted a collection of five hundred mounted photographs of vegetation in Western China, from the Crerar Library of Chicago. [3] In 1931, following his retirement from the University, former Economics Professor and University President David Kinley traveled to China with his wife Kate Ruth Neal. [4] In 1934, Chinese Illini alumni donated a complete set of rare volumes of “Szu K’u Ch’uan Shu”. [5] In 1939, another Chinese Illini donation arrived and it included a complete 800-volume set of “Tushujicheng (Kanghsi Encyclopedia)” which was an encyclopedia compiled under Emperor Kanghsi. [6]

In 1941, the University received a grant from LaChoy Food Products, Inc. of Detroit, to support research in the growing of vegetables for the Chinese food trade. [7] During the fighting of World War Two, in the same spirit done for Armenians, Assyrians, Syrians through the Near East Relief programs after World War One, University and community members locally organized fundraisers to help support the people of China. Finally, in 1957, the Elsie Anderson Memorial Loan Fund was established, in the memory of Elsie Anderson who previously worked for seventeen years in China as a Y.W.C.A. Secretary. [8]


The third and fourth decades of early Chinese Illini included more agriculturalists, businessmen, engineers, humanities majors, and a great deal of student organizing for the University community too.

Class of 1928

Mr. Luther Ko, (B.S. Liberal Arts and Science), of Canton, might not have left many records behind.

While Mr. Wen-Pang Li, (B.S. Civil Engineering), also of Canton, attended the 1927 senior year engineering trip to Chicago for a tour of local engineering works.

Mr. Chung Gen Lin, (B.S. Agriculture, 1928; M.A. Agriculture, 1929), of Canton, participated with other Chinese Illini to commemorate the birth of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the founder and first president of the Republic of China.

While Mr. David Te-Hui Shaw, (B.S. Ceramic Engineering, 1928; M.S. Ceramic Engineering, 1929), of Kiangsi, may not have left many records behind.

Class of 1929

Mr. Warren Mun Chan, (B.S. Architectural Engineering), of Canton, came in third place for the annual Francis J. Plym prize for architectural engineers.

Mr. Warren Cho Gong, (B.A. Liberal Arts and Sciences), of Canton, wrote at least one Daily Illini editorial concerning Chinese-U.S. diplomatic relations in 1928.

Mr. Iu Hau Kwong, (B.S. Railway Civil Engineering), also of Canton, spoke at a meeting of the honorary international scholastic fraternity Phi Kappa Epsilon.

While Mr. Yosan Lee, (B.S. Mechanical Engineering), of Mukden (now Shenyang), and Mr. Yun Chao Yeh, (B.S. Railway Civil Engineering), of Foochow, might not have left many records behind.

Class of 1931

Mr. Chester Tsungku Su, (B.A. Liberal Arts and Sciences), of Soochow, was a member of the off-campus Y.M.C.A. international committee.

Classes of 1932 and 1933

Mr. Man Hin Kan, (M.S. Transportation, 1933), of Canton, might not have left many records behind.

Mr. Shison Chinglin Lee, (M.S. Economics, 1930; PhD Economics, 1933), of Anhuei, was a member of the McKinley Foundation’s World Friendship group, he wrote the play “Father, Son, and Co-eds” for a December 1929 Chinese Students’ Club international social gathering, and he was a member of Phi Kappa Epsilon and a later vice president too. In October 1931, Mr. Lee was interviewed by the Daily Illini to give perspective on the Chinese and Japanese conflict regarding Manchuria. In short time, Mr. Lee was a frequent speaker on Chinese-Japanese relations, including a 1932 Y.M.C.A. talk in Alton, Illinois, a Champaign Lions Club meeting, a Y.M.C.A. forum on regional policies with a Japanese Illini, and a talk on Chinese youth movements too.

Mr. Alfred Long, (B.S. Chemistry, 1934), of Joliet, Illinois, was a performer in McKinley Foundation production of the one-act play “The Color Line” in 1933, and he was a member of the McKinley World Friendship committee too.

Classes of 1934, 1935, and 1936

Ms. May Helen Wong, (B.A. General Business), of Shanghai, might be both among the earliest Chinese Illini women who completed a bachelor’s degree and a second generation Illini too. According to a DI interview, Ms. Wong’s father was Mr. Wing Fooe Wong (B.A. Business Administration, 1913) who recommended that she finish her studies at Illinois too. Ms. Wong was interviewed multiple times, to describe young adult life in China. In one interview, she described Chinese athletics. While in another interview, Ms. Wong described Chinese past times, Chinese arts, and Chinese food. While she studied at Illinois, Ms. Wong was a soprano in the Women’s Glee Club, and she co-organized an October 10 commemoration event with fellow Chinese Students’ Club members too. Ms. Wong stayed at Busey Hall and later sent two handmade dolls from a Presbyterian Mission in Shanghai, to Busey Hall house manager Miss Beaulah Gradwohl, in 1941. Ms. Wong returned to China, first settling in Hong Kong and later relocating to the Kwangsi Province (now Guangxi Province).

Mr. Gerald Detring Lucker, (B.S. Chemical Engineering), was born in Tientsin, and he was an award winning cadet, while studying at Illinois.

Mr. Ting Tseng Wang, (B.S. Architectural Engineering), attended an off-campus Y.M.C.A. trip to visit Abraham Lincoln’s tomb with other international students, and his student work was featured in a 1937 College of Fine Arts exhibit tour of eighteen cities across Illinois too.

Also during this time, Mr. Wan Li Huang, (PhD Engineering, 1937), of Shanghai, completed a Master’s degree at Cornell University, before coming to Illinois. [9] Dr. Huang was a hydrologist and professor at Tsinghua University for nearly fifty years.

Classes of 1937, 1938, and 1939

Mr. Frederick Warren Riggs, (B.A. Political Science), was born in Nanking (now Nanjing), and he prepared at the University of Nanjing, before coming to Illinois. While Mr. Frank Yuen Lem, (B.A. Economics), of Kwangtung, might not have left many records behind.

Class of 1940

Mr. Jen Yao Tang, (B.S. Architectural Engineering), of Shanghai, was invited for membership into the freshmen scholastic honorary organization Phi Eta Sigma.

Class of 1946

Mr. Chen Hua Liu, (B.S. Electrical Engineering), of Kunming, was a member of the undefeated 1956 Illinois Chess Club. While Mr. Ju Luan Ma, (B.S. Chemical Engineering), also of Kunming, might not have left many records behind.

Class of 1947

Ms. Betty Lee Sing, (B.A. Economics), of Washington D.C., was quite involved in student life. Ms. Sing was a member of the freshmen scholastic honorary organization Alpha Lambda Delta, a member and later vice president of the Women’s Cosmopolitan Club, and a selective award-winner within the local Gamma Chapter of the scholastic organization Phi Beta Kappa too. In the Chinese Student’s Club, Ms. Sing gave a vivid talk for the Thirty-Third Commemoration of the Republic of China in 1944, and she was Club President for academic year 1946-1947 too. Ms. Sing was interviewed locally at least twice too. In 1945, the Daily Illini published a feature story about Ms. Sing’s childhood in the United States and China, as well as her career ambitions. On at least one occasion, Ms. Sing and a Dr. Wang Fu-Hsuing were guests of local WILL radio for a 1946 program “Spotlight on China” where they discussed “the picturesqueness of the Chinese language”.

While Mr. Chu Tao, (B.S. Electrical Engineering), of Kunming, might not have left many records behind.

Class of 1948

Indeed, for the Class of 1948, it may be that Mr. Gilbert Wing, (B.S. Accountancy), of Chicago, and Mr. Wen Piao Sung, (B.S. Chemical Engineering), of Kunming, might not have left many records behind either.

Student Organizations

Chinese Students’ Club

For the next two decades, the Chinese Students’ Club would continue strong with membership also including students from Indonesia and the United States with Chinese heritage too.

To explain the conflict between China and Japan on May 3, 1928, law student Mr. Robert Huang wrote a statement on behalf of the Club which was published in excerpt in the Daily Illini. Later that month, the Club organized a public discussion of Chinese and Japanese foreign relations featuring Mr. Huang and Dr. Chu-Chin Chen too. A longer Club statement was published as a DI editorial in late May.

The 1930s continued to see the same Chinese Illini support and generosity towards their fellow Illini. The 1930 Independence boasted a fifty-three member club party including Chinese jokes, modern music, and opera too, the DI reported. As a matter of fact, the Club were donors to the Memorial Stadium too, and a stone panel could be found in a small hall at the end of the southern colonnade. The 1934 Club invited the Chinese Consul General of Chicago Mr. Robert Kuo to campus too.

While, of course, annual Republic anniversaries continued to be great parties too. The 1936 anniversary featured a talk by Political Science Head and Professor J. W. Garner (Record Series 15/18/20). Dr. Garner’s talk reviewed the last twenty-five years of Chinese history while considering the future of China’s foreign relations with Japan and the United States, the DI reported. For the 1938 anniversary, the Club invited Dr. Garner to speak again. The 1938 talk was titled “China Today and Her Future Outlook”, and of course a Daily Illini reporter was there to cover the event. In fact, a 1939 DI interview with graduating students includes brief interviews with multiple Club members about their plans to work in China after graduation.

The 1940s continued the 1930s development of high profile guest speakers. For the 1940 Independence Day celebration, History Professor Albert Howe Lybyer (Record Series 15/13/22) spoke on Chinese history in the world. In 1944, the Club hosted Dr. A. Pen-Tung Sah, the Chinese Cultural Representative in the U.S., to give a luncheon talk “The Problem of Chinese Unity”. For the 1948 celebration, Economics Professor Donald L. Kemmerer (Record Series 9/5/32) spoke on the present and future opportunities within Chinese and U.S. mutual economic development, while Club president Wei emphasized his vision for the U.S. to help “China build a peaceful nation where humanity lies”.

Are you a Chinese Illini? Do you know someone who is? We’d like to hear from you! Please send us a message or leave a comment below. We want to include you and your story, as we celebrate the first 150 years of the University of Illinois.

Happy First 150 everyone!


[] As always, a special thank you to all students and staff whose tireless work for student life and publications (many of which are available at the University Archives) help preserve the memories of Illini everywhere.

[1] Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, March 20, 1943, page 307, Record Series 1/1/802.

[2] “Authorization to Permit Dr. Elmer Roberts to Carry Out Scientific Investigations in China”, Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, March 12, 1929, page 146, Record Series 1/1/802. For a historical study of the Purnell Act, please see: Kunze, Joel P. “The Purnell Act and Agricultural Economics.” Agricultural History 62, no. 2 (1988): 131-49.

[3] Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, December 9, 1930, page 129, Record Series 1/1/802.

[4] “Tribute to Dr. David Kinley” Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, January 20, 1945, page 326, Record Series 1/1/802. Following his trip to China, Dr. Kinley later donated four Chinese embroideries to the College of Fine and Applied Arts in 1934. Please see: Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, January 20, 1935, page 461, Record Series 1/1/802.

[5] Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, January 20, 1934, page 53, Record Series 1/1/802.

[6] Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, November 24, 1939, page 659, Record Series 1/1/802.

[7] Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, October 21, 1941, page 676, Record Series 1/1/802.

[8] Meeting of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois, January 16, 1957, page 190, Record Series 1/1/802.

[9] There is a recent Chinese language biography about Dr. Huang. For more information, please see: Zhao Cheng’s 《黄万里的长河孤旅》 [Long River Journey: Huang Wanli’s Ninety Years of Struggle]. (2013). Shaanxi: Shaanxi People’s Publishing House.

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