Guest post by Hongli Zeng, CC class of 2024.
Today, with approximately 20 students per class, Chinese students make up the largest international student community at Colorado College. Their story dates back to as early as the late 1910s.
In the summer of 2022, CC History Major Hongli Zeng conducted primary-source research with the abundant archives provided by the Special Collection. By looking at documents ranging from the Colorado College Yearbook (Pikes Peak Nugget), the college newspaper (The Tiger, now named The Catalyst), Registrar records, local gazetteers, and personal memoirs, the research attempts to reconstruct details of the lived experience of this special community on campus a hundred years ago.
A total of ten students were enrolled at Colorado College in the academic year 1923-1924, making the “largest Oriental Club the city ever had”.
Recipients of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship facilitated by both the American and Chinese governments, those students were welcomed by both the college and community in Colorado Springs with hospitality and curiosity. Chinese students were often invited to give speeches addressing the cultural mutual understanding of both countries. Occasional events such as “The Celebration of the founding of the Chinese Republic” and the Exhibition of Ancient Chinese Arts were also held on campus, attracting attentions from the President and students.
Some, however, also experienced unpleasant encounters of orientalism and racism, only a few decades after the enactment of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and the atrocity of Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riots in 1880. A centerpiece of this episode that highlighted tensions of Chinese students’ identity as racial minority on campus was probably the “poem debate” between an American student and their two Chinese classmates. With a “provocative” poem posted on The Tiger in March 1924 calling the Chinese “Chinee” and expressing despise for Chinese cultures, two Chinese students majoring in English literature and Arts respectively soon replied with poems that demonstrated not only their cultural pride but also extraordinary literary cultivation as non-native speakers.
This dramatic anecdote was only tip of the iceberg of a more comprehensive image of the lived experience of the very first group of Chinese students in the history of CC. Their foreign-study journey started at Colorado College, but didn’t end here. Pursuing graduate degrees at the most prestigious institutions on the east coast including Harvard and Columbia University, many of them became well accomplished in their respective fields in later lives. That American student who wrote a rather childish poem probably didn’t expect replies from two Chinese peers who would later stand on the list of the most influential Chinese literates and intellectuals of the 20th century, one who single-handedly translated the complete works of Shakespeare into Chinese and another remembered today for his unbounded patriotism and leftist romanticism in both poem and politics.
A more detailed research paper on this subject is now available in Special Collection for public view (in Colorado College Information Files, Students – Chinese). If you are interested in discussing this topic further with the researcher, feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.