History of Chinese Students at Andover

At Andover today, international students comprise approximately 10% of the student body, with the greatest number hailing from China, according to the Phillips Academy Archives. Currently, 27 enrolled students live in mainland China. The history of Chinese students at Andover, however, spans over a century.

In 1879, ten Chinese boys attended Andover as part of the Chinese Educational Mission, an initiative by the Chinese government to educate students in the United States. Liang Cheng, Class of 1882, was one of those students. To provide other students with the same opportunities that he had at Andover, Cheng set up a second wave of Chinese students through the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program. Cheng later went on to serve as the Chinese ambassador to the United States.

Paige Roberts, Director of Archives and Special Collections at the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library (OWHL), has worked for the past few years to digitize the archived material as part of a process to grow Chinese educational initiatives. This collection of texts had never been used before Hijoo Son, Instructor in History & Social Science, decided to co-teach a class next fall with Roberts entitled “Silences and Gaps.”

According to Roberts, Son worked together with a professor of Chinese at MIT and Adrienne Zhang ’18 to research the archives.

“Adrienne [Zhang ’18] first came to me in Fall of 2016 because she was researching on her own the history of the Harbin exchange program. I really knew nothing about it, and she just did some tremendous work, we have some really good records about that program, and in addition to that she did some oral history interviews on her own,” said Roberts.

Roberts continued, “The ultimate goal is to build a website that will provide access to the scanned material and have really well thought out lesson plans and ideas for using the material in the classroom from all sorts of different disciplinary standpoints.”

“Silences and Gaps” is split up into five units for the students: contextualizing, reading, reporting, visualizing, and curating the archive. According to Son, the course’s name is derived from the “silences and gaps” of these archives and the historical question of why students enrolled at Andover in a time of political exclusion.

According to Son, the first exclusion acts in the United States were passed against the Chinese: the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Later, the Asian Exclusion Acts extended to Koreans, Japanese, and other Asians in 1924. She finds the class a particularly interesting topic, as many Chinese students came to Andover during the time of political discrimination.

“All of those acts were repealed in 1965 at the end of the Civil Rights Movement, but it is during these times of Asian exclusion in the history of the United States that we have this very robust number of Chinese students coming to study at [Andover]. That’s a conundrum, and historians like to study that kind of interesting irony,” said Son.

While the Chinese Exclusion Act was still in effect between the years of 1910 and 1930, the 9th Principal Alfred Stearns invited Chinese students to Phillips Academy and acted as their legal guardian. The archives contain rich correspondence between Stearns, the students, and their parents, according to Robert.

“[Stearns] accepted many Chinese students here, including two girls who went to Abbot Academy and had brothers here. That was from about 1910 until around 1930. There were some people in the Republican Era, but very few, between 1930 and 1980. Then around 1980, we had the start of the Harbin Student Exchange Program with the Harbin Institute of Technology, which went up to 2000,” said Roberts.

In addition, Son said that the course aims to foster discussions about issues of social justice and how to read an archive that “has been silent for so long.”

“How do you present this kind of archive? Are we talking about the richness and individual microhistories? Are we looking at the geopolitical history between two formidable nations? So it’s both macro on one hand, looking at educational missions as an opportunity for discussion between China and the US at a time that’s pretty fraught with tension,” said Son.

Son continued, “Then we have micro history; for example, a 310 paper this term was just written about Liang Cheng, so it’s very rich of all different scales and perspectives.”

As an archivist and historian, Roberts feels a commitment for making the archives more accessible. She views this involvement as an ethical commitment rather than a problem of ethics, and notes the personal and social connections that may play into one’s relation with the histories of “social power structures.”

Roberts said, “Really, part of what we’re trying to do with the course is think about how archives reify and capture social power structures. What role do I have as someone who is not Chinese, has no Chinese language background, and really no connection to China overall? What role do I have in all of this, being conscious of that kind of built in distance, versus Dr. Son, who is a Korean-American background, versus someone else like Adrienne, who has some personal connection?”