MIT remembers first Chinese scholars in exhibit

The China Comes to Tech exhibit opened Feb. 10 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (From left) Myles Crowley, Nora Murphy, Emma Teng, Stephen Skuce, Tom Rosko. (Image courtesy of Ling-Mei Wong.)

Exhibit “China Comes to Tech: 1877-1931” opened to fanfare on Feb. 10 with a reception at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It commemorates the first student from China to enroll at MIT in 1877, marking the 140th anniversary of Chinese students at the school.

“There is a history of exchange that celebrates and reflects diversity,” said curator Emma Teng. She thanked her team for their efforts, from collecting photographs to looking up records from Institute archives.

By 1910, China sent more students to MIT than any other foreign country, who returned to China with knowledge of new technology and science. In 1930, MIT president Karl T. Compton said, “The Institute is justly proud of the splendid part which her graduates have played in the New China and is happy to be of service in the further training of the young men to whom will come the opportunity and responsibility to organize the resources of this great sister republic, especially in science, engineering and business administration.”

The MIT Chinese Students’ Club published the “MIT Chinese Students Directory: For the Past Fifty Years” in 1931 with Compton’s support. The students were of Chinese heritage, some born in America, Australia and beyond. Among the students were William Ding Moy, the first Chinese American from Boston’s Chinatown to attend MIT, and Li Fu Lee, the first woman from China to study at the school. Lee appears to be the first woman to receive an MIT degree in electrical engineering.

The exhibit discusses the effect of Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 on Chinese students at the time, a timely reminder in light of recent executive actions affecting seven Muslim-majority nations.

“This is what happens when you don’t read history,” Teng said.

The exhibit is at the Maihaugen Gallery, Building 14N-130, until November.

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About Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美

Editor of the Sampan, the only bilingual Chinese-English newspaper in New England 舢舨報紙總編輯。舢舨是全紐英倫唯一的中英雙語雙週報。
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