The first Chinese professor at Harvard


When is the birthday of Confucius? In the 1952, a group of serious scholars determined that Confucius was born on September 28th. Since then, the day became known as Teachers’ Day in Taiwan, Hong Kong (before 1997), and other Chinese-speaking communities.

Then how should we celebrate? No Grand Ceremony here. But maybe it’s a good time to remember another great teacher Ge Kunhua 戈鯤化, the first Chinese language instructor at Harvard. Invited by President Charles William Eliot, Ge sailed to the United States, with little knowledge in English, in 1879 and started his teaching life in this country. The Chinese books he brought, to quote from a recent article, became “seeds that grew into the Harvard-Yenching Library’s current million-volume East Asian collection.” He also left a book, Chinese Verse and Prose 華質英文, which contains translations and annotations of fifteen Chinese poems. It is believed to be used as a textbook by him. In the preface of the book, he wrote,

“Year before last I accepted an invitation to Harvard College in America. Then I sailed over the sea toward the west. I took the time which was left form teaching Chinese, to learn to speak and wrote English, until my pronunciation and composition had somewhat improved, then to converse with the learned and accomplished about literature. They esteemed Chinese composition as admirable, because the writing is not in the same characters; though they are so wise in mind, yet they cannot readily find out the chaos, and several times asked me convening the poetry…Now the translation is done and printed, for the aid of the learned and accomplished, which they have respectfully asked.”

The book is now kept in the Widener library, the main library of Harvard University.

See more about Ge Kunhua:

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