Wednesday, January 7, 2009
A Wee Peking Mystery Solved
Back in mid-December I posted about an old building I’d noticed for the first time in Beijing that appeared to be being refurbished on Chaoyangmanwai Dajie. I appealed for anyone who might know what it was as I didn’t recognize it. Fortunately the Beijing expert Ed Lanfranco got back to me (despite being on his holidays in California) with the following which explains it all:
‘This building was an American missionary compound built in 1910. It was called the North China Union School and was built as a language prep school for missionaries before they headed into the wilds of North China. It was also used as a rest stop for missionaries coming in from the field on their way to home leave. Later on in the 1920s and 1930s when the number of new missionaries dried up, a famed educator named William Pettus converted it into the California College in China which was allied with a university in California which offered a Masters degree in Chinese Studies.’
Ed also notes:
‘It is now being considered a haunted house and a place that has been used as a movie location. I wrote about this place 5-6 years ago in the China Daily's Beijing Weekend as well as the Washington Times (An American Chai) when they were planning on tearing it down. My favorite thing about the location is some of the people who studied Chinese there: US General Joseph (Vinegar Joe) Stilwell when he was the legation's military attache; polymath (soldier-chef-cartographer-novelist-painter); Frank Dorn; the creator of Chinese Studies in the US; Harvard Professor John King Fairbank; and George Kates, author of the best "I lived in a siheyuan" book, The Years that were Fat.
Thanks Ed – here’s hoping the place stays and is bulldozed for another ridiculous skyscraper.
PS: he’s right – Kates’s The Years that were Fat is a great read.