1898 Qing Dynasty Delegation to University of Virginia
By Justin O’Jack
20 August 2021
The restored Rotunda and three new buildings on the south end of the Lawn, designed by Stanford White to hold a new physics laboratory, engineering department and large auditorium,1 were dedicated at the commencement ceremonies held in the new auditorium of Cabell Hall on June 14, 1898, which began at noon and were followed by an evening reception in the newly restored Rotunda, hosted by the faculty for the distinguished alumni and guests in attendance.
Notable government attendees included Governor Tyler of Virginia, as well as three diplomats from the Qing Dynasty’s Legation in Washington, DC. These included Minister Wu Ting-fang (Wu Tingfang 伍廷 芳), Second Secretary Chow Tsu-chi (Zhou Ziqi 周自齐), and the interpreter Chung Mun Yew (Zhong Wenyao 钟文耀).
During the 1897-98 academic year, only one international student from China attended the University of Virginia, namely Way Ching Williams Yen (Yan Huiqing 颜惠庆), also known as W. W. Yen. In his autobiography, Yan recounts meeting these and other Chinese diplomats as a student in Virginia:
“As I had friends in our Legation, I went sometimes to Washington to see them and have a Chinese meal. The Legation, located at first on Fourteenth Street, moved subsequently to Eighteenth and Q Streets into a more stylish residence. Mr. Yang Ju, the Minister, later transferred to St. Petersburg, was succeeded by Dr. Wu Ting-fang, who created a sensation on account of his eloquence and wit in making speeches in English, none of his predecessors having had any knowledge of that language. Of the secretaries and attaches, I recall Mr. Hoo Wei-teh, afterwards my chief in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Chow Tzechi, Mr. MY. Chung (“Money”),2 the principal English secretary- interpreter, the Sze brothers. (The elder one later became Consul in New York, the younger Dr. S.K. Alfred Sze, was then attending the Central High School). The latter acted as interpreter to Madame Yang, when she made her social visits.”3
The ceremonies were reported in the following days by multiple newspapers from Virginia and neighboring states, which note the presence of delegation of Chinese diplomats from the Qing Legation in Washington:
“The great assemblage of the commencement thus far occurred today, when the dedication exercises were in progress in the auditorium at the University of Virginia. Pit, dress circle, balcony and gallery were filled, probably four-fifths of the seats being occupied by ladies, whose pretty costumes gave a color to the scene and whose lively chatter swelled into a steady buzz before the Rev. Dr. Randolph McKim invoked divine blessing and thus began the transactions of the day. On the rostrum sat some two hundred men, a distinguished gathering, with Governor Tyler and his staff at the centre or grouped about it. Here were a bishop, a Senator of the United States and many distinguished alumni and guests. When Mr. Wu, the Chinese minister, and Mr. Chow-Iss-Chi, the second secretary of the Chinese legation, and Mr. M. Y. Chung came in and took their seats a Chinese flag (black dragon on a yellow field) faced them, draped on the wall behind those on the rostrum.”4
“The reading of the dedication ode, “The Fostering Mother,” by the former rector, the Hon. Armistead C. Gordon of Staunton, was an event. Its close was followed with many evidences of keen satisfaction, and when some one in the audience proposed “three cheers for our poet,” they were given tumultuously. While the building was ringing with them. Mr. Wu, the Chinese Minister, Chow Tsz-chi, second secretary of the legation, and M. Y. Chung, interpreter, entered and took seats in the pit, their nearest neighbor being Thomas Nelson Page.”5
“After a brief speech from Col. William Lamb of Norfolk, a member of the Board of Visitors of William and Mary College, the inspiring national song America was sung by the audience standing and the exercises of the day came to a close. Among the distinguished visitors was the Chinese minister with his suite accompanied by Mr. Thomas Nelson Page. The minister from the Celestial kingdom is said to be an intelligent and educated man who speaks English fluently. He was a close observer of everything that transpired and the party attracted much attention.”6
1The three new buildings at the south end of the Lawn came to be Rouss, Cocke and Cabell halls.
2M. Y. Chung, also spelled Chung Mun Yew, was given the American nickname “Money” for the alleged similarity between Cantonese and English pronunciations of his given name.
3Yen, Hui-ch’ing. East-West Kaleidoscope: 1877-1944: An Autobiography by W. W. Yen. Asia in the Modern World Series No. 14 (New York: St. John’s University), 21.
4“Thomas Jefferson: Address of Hon. James C. Carter at the University Of Virginia, a High and Just Tribute to the Father of that Great Institution.” The Baltimore Sun (Baltimore, Maryland: 15 Jun 1898), 9. https://www.newspapers.com/image/371760241/.
Yang Jiechi's 2004 Visit to University of Virginia
The Miller Center has this recording of Ambassador Yang Jiechi on April 4, 2004, a few years before he became China’s Foreign Minister. Yang’s visit is also listed in President Casteen’s Oct. 2003-Sept. 2004 report here. This article by Rachele Byrne, “Chinese ambassador visit sparks protests,” Cavalier Daily (April 6, 2004) describes Ambassador Yang’s speech in the Dome Room on April 5, 2004.