Rob Cheng's Blog

I am so proud of the things my grandfather, Theodore Chen, accomplished in his life. My aunt, Min, found this article about him and translated it to English.

By: Deng Biyu

Professor Chen Hsi-En is a native of Fuzhou, Fujian Province. He was born at the family home on Aofong Square in Fuzhou on July 14, 1902. His father, a believing Christian, was an English teacher at GeZhi Middle School. He had three sons and three daughters. Hsi-En is the eldest. The second son, a doctor, is a prominent lead internist in Fujian province. The third son, Hsi-Ming, is now an associate professor of English at Fuzhou Teachers College. During Hsi-Ens early years, his father taught him a high degree of English proficiency. After graduating from GeZhi high school, he was admitted to Fujian Christian University (FCU). Because of his outstanding achievement in English, Professor Xu Guang Rong selected him as an English tutor. After graduating from FCU, he was hired at Yinghua Middle School to teach English. Working there for two years, he was well received by the teachers and won his students admiration. In the autumn of 1924, he went to graduate school of Teachers College in Columbia University in the United States as an apprentice to Dewey and Kilpatrick. Due to poor health, he did not complete his doctorate. In 1929, he returned to FCU to work as professor of education and director of education and discipline. Professor Chen was my teacher at that time. He was already a recognized authority in educational theory. Students competed to enroll in his courses. His lectures were both theoretical and practical, very clear and very vivid.

Prof. Chen’s wife, Dr. Chung Wenhui, was my classmate at a private girls school called Wenshan High School. Professor Chen and his wife were both sincere and approachable, and they liked to interact with students. On weekends, they often invited college students to their home for dinner, tea, or cultural performances. Due to his frequent contact with students, Professor Chen understood the students needs and difficulties very well. Without hesitation, they did their best to help struggling students, providing direct financial help to the needy and patient encouragement to the lazy. Many were thus inspired to change and remained lifelong friends of Prof. Chen after graduation. After several decades, many alumni still maintain contact with him. Whenever his students have the opportunity to visit the United States, they will call or visit him.

In 1937, seven days before the Marco Polo Bridge incident, Professor Chen took his family to the United States to continue his unfinished doctorate. This was the second time he had come to America. He enrolled at the University of Southern California. Due to his outstanding performance, the professors all liked him very much. In 1938 he was hired to teach the “comparative education” course. In 1939, he received his doctoral degree and was appointed professor of education. During his residency in the United States, the Japanese launched a large-scale invasion of China. In response, he gave inspiring patriotic speeches everywhere in the United States to help people understand the truth of the Japanese invasion of China, helping to win the American people’s sympathy and support for our country. He left his footprints throughout the United States, becoming a famous public speaker.

At the end of 1946, FCU President Lin Jingrun was sent to the United States for medical treatment due to liver cancer. The school Board of Directors invited Prof. Chen to return to China to serve as acting president. Unfortunately, President Lin Jingrun died in the United States. The Board and the students asked Professor Chen to take over as permanent president. Having asked for only one year of leave from USC, Professor Chen could not accept. As planned, he returned to USC in July of 1947, continuing his work as a Professor and Head of the Asian Culture Department and as Director of the East Asian Cultural Center.

Professor Chen taught at USC for over 30 years, retiring in 1974. During his tenure, he served in a number of capacities, including these highlights:

In 1954 he was invited by the United States Christian Fund Committee to found the Tunghai University in Taiwan. After preparations were completed, the Tunghai University Council three times requested Professor Chen Hsi-En to be President. However, Professor Chen again and again turned down the offer in order to keep his commitment to USC.

In the summer of 1959, USC organized the “Maritime Institution, under which faculty toured throughout the South Pacific during the summer vacation. Prof. Chen was appointed dean of the program. Six illustrious colleagues were employed in the program and more than 200 students attended classes on the cruise ship every day. As they sailed to Tahiti, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa and Hawaii, teachers and students were able to visit and learn a lot about different cultures.

In 1962, Professor Chen was appointed by the US State Department to lead 30 professors from US universities to study Chinese culture in Taiwan. This program was funded by the US government. Many professors applied for this program. Professors who had taught Chinese culture and history at the university level were given priority. In Taiwan, they lived at Tunghai University in Taichung.

In 1968, he was appointed by a United States government agency to lead 59 secondary school teachers to Taiwan to study Chinese culture while living near the American school in Taipei. They studied in American schools. Three professors who were proficient in Chinese culture and history were invited as lecturers. They also invited scholars from Taiwan to give speeches. The lectures were given four days a week; on the other three days, they visited industrial undertakings, schools, and other places of interest.

In 1970, Professor Chen was invited to teach in the Federal Republic of Germany. While in Germany, he had the opportunity to visit other European countries and learn about their political, economic, industrial, and educational conditions. This experience broadened his horizons, and greatly benefited his own education.

During his tenure in the United States, Professor Chen took time to write and publish nine books (two of which were written after retirement) in addition to his teaching and administrative work. He also co-authored 18 books with over a dozen other scholars. More than 100 of his articles are scattered in American newspapers and magazines. The most popular encyclopedia in the United StatesThe World Bookfeatures articles about China written by Professor Chen. The World Book is owned by most American families and is part of the reference collection in primary and secondary schools across the US. At friends banquets, Professor Chen has often heard children say to him: Uncle Chen, last night I read an article you wrote. Professor Chen also contributed content about the history of Chinese education for the prestigious Encyclopedia Britannica.

Professor Chen has now reached the age of eighty-five. Although his health condition is not very good, he is still tireless in learning and writing. On one occasion more than ten years ago, he got up in the middle of the night to go downstairs to his study room to work. Unfortunately he fell and broke his nose. Undeterred, he recovered quickly and continued writing.

After Professor Chen retired, the USC Department of Education preserved his faculty office under his name. It also established an independent section of the library known as The Theodore Chen Collection of East Asian Culture and Education. For several decades, USC was his home (he lived near the school), and after retirement he continued to go to his office at least twice a week.

Enriching and rectifying the Library at USC has been his greatest mission in his later years. He believes that to cultivate successful students, the school must have a good collection of books and magazines for their reading reference. In addition to contributing his own books to the school, he has also made several donations to the school library fund. The interest from his first donation of $50,000 was used to purchase books and magazines. In February 1982, the Alumni Association of USC held a fund-raising tea party to support his project. After Professor Chen delivered a speech about Chinese culture and education, more than 200 alumni donated money to the library fund. Some of them donated $10s; others donated several hundred dollars. On June 30th of the same year, more than 200 friends and relatives from all over the world celebrated Professor Chen and his wifes golden wedding anniversary along with the professors eightieth birthday. After the party, Professor Chen and his wife donated all the gift money to the library, which together with alumni donations reached a total of $5,000. The president and professors of the university greatly appreciated Prof. Chen and renamed an alcove of the library the “Theodore Chen Library. In 1986, he donated another $10,000 to the Chen library fund, which has now reached $65,000. The interest generated by the fund has proved more than enough to buy needed books. Prof. Chen and his wife plan to increase the fund year by year until it reaches $100,000. They also set up the “Chen Hsi-En Scholarship” to help Chinese graduate students study at USC, including students from the mainland and Taiwan.

From 1969 to 1974, Professor Chen and his wife set up the “Chen Hsi-En and Chung Wen-hui Scholarship” to enable top Taiwanese graduate students to study at USC. The Fujian Christian University Alumni Association in Taiwan, along with the United States ambassador for cultural affairs, formed a selection committee to evaluate applications. Each year they submitted three candidates to the Chens, who chose one of them to go to USC to study. These graduate students all received masters degrees; one of them earned a doctorate. In 1985, Professor Chen donated $20,000 to establish the USC Department of Education Special Fund, the interest from which went to awards given to the departments outstanding masters or doctoral students.

Professor Chen has always had deep feelings for Chinese students. Soon after he started teaching at USC, he was invited to be advisor to the Chinese Student Union. During the Christmas season, Professor Chen and his wife often invited Chinese students to their home for buffet dinner. After dinner, all of them would stand by the piano, singing joyfully. On one such occasion, more than a hundred students from various universities held a dance party at Professor Chens home and performed what amounted to a variety show. That day, Professor Chen’s living room, dining room, study and kitchen were full of happy guests!

When Professor Chen started his teaching career at USC in 1938, he was the first Chinese to teach at USC. Since then, one Chinese scholar after another has joined him on the USC faculty. In view of this, Professor Chen in the 1960s suggested the formation of a Chinese university professors association for Southern California; naturally, he was elected to be its first president. The organization continues to meet annually, and Professor Chen has been invited every year so far to join the meeting.

After World War II, the Chinese community in Los Angeles changed a lot. Before the war, most Chinese students would return to their country after finishing their studies in the United States. During and after the war, most of them settled in the United States and became American citizens. Taiwanese students coming to the United States did not return to Taiwan either. Many of these students brought their parents to the United States to be with them, so the Chinese community in Los Angeles experienced a surge of new elderly residents. Most of these elderly people did not drive or speak English, and some of them even had difficulty communicating with their children and grandchildren because of the language barrier. Life for them could be very depressing. When Professor Chen noticed this trend sixteen years ago, he initiated a senior mens organization called the Chinese Benefit Society. (This was for Mandarin-speaking senior; before this, Los Angeles already had an association for elderly speakers of Cantonese.) The association had hundreds of members. In addition to monthly meetings, the association also offered English classes, TaiChi practice, tourism and other activities.

In late August 1982, San Francisco held its second Confucius ceremony. During the festival, people selected ten outstanding teachers for recognition. Three out of the ten were Chinese; Professor Chen Hsi-En was one of them. World Daily and other newspapers reported the news. World Daily reported that: “Professor Chen Hsi-En is a full tenured professor of USC, a well-known educator, and an expert on Asian issues. He served as dean of the Asian Studies Department at USC for 36 years, enjoying a very high reputation. When Chen Hsi-En and his wife went to San Francisco on August 26 to attend the Confucius ceremony banquet, the organizers awarded him the title of exemplary teacher, praising his academic achievements and noting the great respect with which he was viewed by scholars.

After the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, Professor Chen’s former students and many other acquaintances and admirers looked forward to his return to China to give lectures. Fujian Teachers University had already made arrangements for housing and other matters related to hospitality preparations. Unfortunately, Professor Chen was old and not strong enough to travel overseas. He had to turn the invitation down.

Professor Chen and his wife are very friendly, always enjoying visitors and treating people sincerely. Students, friends, and relatives coming to the United States to visit or study always go to visit them or greet them by phone. Professor Chen always welcomes them cordially and helps them as much as possible, introducing them to American universities, helping them find jobs to earn their tuition, and supporting them so that they have peace of mind studying. With his coaching and help, many students have made notable achievements in their careers. Among them are specialists in such fields as the development of cancer drugs and the prevention and treatment of citrus disease, the head of a sugarcane research institute, an economic development expert for the United Nations, and many otherstoo many to mention.

Recorded from the “Fujian literature and history” the sixteenth series p.135-158
Fujian Province CPPCC Historical and Cultural Research Committee compiled in August 1987 the first edition
(From “Alumni Information” 3)