Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Walter Ngon Fong- A Life Story

Walter Ngon Fong
In researching the academic career of my great granduncle Jue Shee, I came across the life stories of two Chinese students at California universities in the late 19th and early 20th Century.  The life stories of  Fong Foo Sec and Walter Ngon Fong are fascinating and I wanted to present those stories here. In this post I will explore the story of Walter Ngon Fong . In the immediately preceding post  I explored the life of Fong Foo Sec.
  Walter Ngon Fong was born in 1866 in a small village in Guandong province and came to America in 1881 at the age of 15. He was educated in Methodist missionary schools in San Francisco and ultimately was ordained a minister in the Methodist church. After completing a course in Classics at the University of the Pacific, he applied and was admitted to Stanford University. He obtained his B.A. degree in 1896 in Economics and Sociology with a minor in Law. He was the only Chinese student at Stanford at the time and the first Chinese to graduate from Stanford. "For its first two decades, the Law Department at Stanford  was composed mostly of undergraduate law majors. As a result, the Department counted among its students women and some minorities-student populations that were not always welcome at other law schools. Walter Fong '96, the first Chinese-American graduate of Stanford, minored in law and became a member of a San Francisco law firm."
  During his freshman year at Stanford, Walter met Emma Howse , a Caucasian women originally from Canada who was also a freshman at Stanford. "Walter proposed to Emma and they were married shortly after their graduation from Stanford. Because of laws in place in California that prohibited interracial marriage , the couple had to travel to Denver, Colorado to marry. Marriage between a Chinese man and a white woman was sensational news in those days. The next day in the local newspaper,The Rocky Mountain News, an article was published with the headline "Eloped with a Chinaman." This news was wired around the nation and reprinted in newspapers across the United States with similar sensational headlines."
  The couple returned to San Francisco and  Walter went to work for a local law firm. Walter became active in local and international politics and eventually became the head of the Chinese Revolutionary Party in America. In 1898 , Walter left his law practice and enrolled at the University of California , Berkeley , as a graduate student in the mining  engineering program. He remained in that program for two years, before leaving the mining program to become a graduate assistant in Chinese in the Oriental Languages Department. Ultimately he completed his Master of Arts Degree in Oriental Languages in 1903.  His thesis was on "Some Phases of Village Life in South China".
   During his time at the University of California Walter met and became best friends with Yoshio Kuno.
("Yoshio Kuno was born in Nagoya, Japan, on January 2, 1865; his father had been a minor daimyo, a member of the Minomoto Clan. He graduated from a Japanese middle school, his study having been concentrated on Japanese classics and history. As he was a younger son, his desire to enter a university was opposed by his father, who decided that he should accept a minor official position which the family influence could obtain for him. His elder sister, however, was sympathetic with his ambition to go to America for advanced study, and induced her husband, a well-to-do brewer, to provide him with money for his passage to the United States, where he entered the University of California. Since he received no further assistance from home it was necessary for him to work his way through college, chiefly by performing odd jobs at a minimum wage, for he had not been trained for any skilled employment. As a result he pursued only short programs, which delayed his graduation well beyond the normal four years. After graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1897, he was appointed assistant in astronomy, serving from 1898 to 1900, and during this time he also pursued advanced studies in astronomy and mathematics, receiving a Master of Science degree in 1900. In the meanwhile Kuno had come to the attention of the Department of Oriental Languages, and at its request was transferred to an assistantship in Japanese, later becoming an instructor and then professor ") Walter Fong and Yoshio Kuno were both assistants in the Department of Oriental Languages between 1900 to 1903.
   In 1903 after his graduation from Berkeley , Walter Ngon Fong was offered  the position of President of the newly formed Li Shing College in  Hong Kong which he accepted. He and Emma left for Hong Kong. Unfortunately in 1906 Walter died of tuberculosis. "Heartbroken, Emma returned to the United States. After spending some time in a sanatorium later that year, she lived on her own supporting herself for a short time by contributing to magazines and newspapers. " In 1907 she married her late husband's close personal friend Yoshio Kuno. Like her marriage with Walter Fong , Emma was forced to travel with her new husband out of state because of the prohibition of interracial marriage in California and the couple was married at La Junta Colorado. In 1922 Emma wrote a series of articles entiled  " My Two Oriental Husbands"  that was published in the San Francisco Bulletin.  These articles caused a minor sensation because of the state of race relations at the time.  The article Emma wrote is still studied as source material for classes in ethnic studies and woman's studies related to interracial marriage and discrimination.

Fong Foo Sec- A Life Story


In researching the academic career of my great granduncle Jue Shee, I came across the life stories of two Chinese students at California universities in the late 19th and early 20th Century.  The life stories of  Fong Foo Sec and Walter Ngon Fong are fascinating and I wanted to present those stories here.  In this post I will explore the life of Fong Foo Sec.  There was a great article about his life that was published in the  New York Times  on September 24th, 1922 and I will quote much of it below.

"From  Coolie Boy to LL.D"  NY Times 9/24/1922
  Fong Sec was born in Sunning district of Southern China in 1869, the son of a poor rice farmer. Life was a bitter struggle. He was eight years old when he entered the village primary school. But because of the poverty of his family he was thrown on his own resources after about four years. Then he heard about America and with some Chinese neighbors who had been to America proceeded to Hong Kong. After several months of waiting, he sailed for San Francisco. That was in 1882. The Chinese exclusion laws had been passed but not put into effect, so Chinese were coming over as fast as ships could carry them.
  Fong Sec, frail 13 year old coolie boy, arrived at his journey's end without knowing a word of English. It was anything but smooth sailing for him. Through an uncle he got his first job working in the kitchen of an American family in Sacramento at a dollar a week. He wanted to learn English so he went to the Mission night school and picked up his first bits of the language. About this time he met some new friends who taught him to gamble and he soon lost his small savings. But fortunately he also came in contact with Chin Toy, a Chinese pastor, from whom he received his first insight into Christianity, and in spite of the ridicule of his relatives determined to become a Christian.
  A Mrs. Carrington became interested in Fong Sec and gave him lessons in English and elementary science. With her help he read "Pilgrim's Progress," "Travels in Africa" and other books which had a lasting influence on his life.
  Fong Sec was greatly impressed by the work of the Salvation Army and became an enthusiastic worker in the army ranks, where he seved eight years, making many trips up and down the Pacific Coast. He took up the study of shorthand and typewriting and later was appointed stenographer to the chief Salvation Army officer on the West Coast. Through this position he came in touch with people of the better class, thus improving his English.
  Fong Sec wanted to fit himself for work in his native country and to this end sought higher education. Through Samuel Hahn, of Pasadena, the President of Pomona College was interested in him and arrangements made for Fong Sec to work his way through college. Cleaning house, waiting tables, typewriting, fruit-picking, cooking and other jobs enabled him to pay expenses. But in his struggle for education he neglected his health and to avoid the danger of consumption had to abandon his studies and find outdoor employment. A year later he came back and worked his way through his fourth year of preparatory school, then through his freshman year in college. The following term Fong Sec went to the University of California at Berkeley where he also worked his way, and after three years took his degree of Bachelor of Letters. A scholarship  in Teacher's college enabled him to come to Columbia University, where he won his degree of Master of Arts the following year, having specialized in English and education . That commencement was the reward of twenty-four years of uphill work.
  On the recommendation of Sir Liang Chen-tung, then the Chinese Minister in Washington, Fong Sec received an appointment as teacher of English in the College of Foreign Languages in Canton. He was amazed upon his return to China at the  changes that had taken place. In 1907, the year after his return, he entered a competitive examination for returned students, winning the degree of Chin  Shih, equivalent to that of Doctor of Literature in America. As a result he was appointed to office in the Ministry of Communications. But official life was not what he wanted and he accepted an offer to become editor of the English department of the Commercial Press at Shanghai. It is in this capacity that he has made and is still making his greatest contribution to the life of modern China. Besides his editorial work, Dr.Fong is author of several textbooks for Chinese students of English. Today he has a two-story American style house in one of the best residential districts of Shanghai. His wife is a former doctor , and he is the father of five children.  

In 1934  the following newspaper article is written  in the Cairns Post Australia
Cairns Post Australia   March 26, 1934

Dr. Fong Foo Sec, of Shanghai,     director of Rotary International for 1933-34, arrives by the Changte to-mor- row, and will address members of the Rotary Club of Cairns at a luncheon at the Strand Hotel. Dr. Fong Foo Sec is returning to China, after a world tour, and has spent some time in Aus- tralia.
He was born in Toyshan, Kwangtun, China, a farming village, the son of a poor farmer. With others of his vil- lage he went to America at the age of 13, and started as a domestic in Sacra- mento, California, at a dollar a week, studying English meanwhile in an even- ing mission school. For 24 years he worked and studied in America before returning to China to become one of the leading editors and writers in China.
He worked his way through high school, Pomona College and the Uni-   versity of California, where he ob- tained his Bachelor's Degree in 1905. He then did graduate work at Columbia University, where he received his M.A. degree in 1906.
He joined the staff of the Salvation Army in San Francisco in 1889 and worked in that field there until 1897,   when he resigned to enter college. In 1906 Dr. Fong returned to China to teach English in Government colleges in Canton. He took the Chinese Gov- ernment examinations for returned students and was awarded the Chinshih degree, which corresponds in a way to the Ph.D. degree. Pomona College conferred upon him in 1922 the degree of LL.D.
Dr. Fong became chief English editor of' the Commercial Press, the largest book publishing company in Shanghai, in 1908, and held that position until his retirement in 1929. He married Dr.   Laura Lum in 1908 and has five chil- dren, one son and four daughters.
Among his public services may be   enumerated the following:— Twelve years as chairman of the National Com- mittee of the Y.M.C.A.'s of China, sev- eral terms as president of the Shanghai Chinese Y.M.C.A., first vice-president of the Chinese Mission to Lepers, elder of the Cantonese Union Church, on the executive committees of the National Child Welfare Association and Pan- Pacific Association, president of the American University Club, and a mem- ber of the board of directors of a num- ber of educational institutions.
Dr. Fong joined the Rotary Club of Shanghai in 1922, and was a delegate to the Los Angeles Rotary Convention in that year. After the convention he continued on a journey around the world and visited a large number of Rotary Clubs. He was president of the Shanghai Rotary Club in 1931-32. _