This article was published in the February 23, 1996 edition of The Phoenix.
It was written by Elizabeth Weber.

Swarthmore and the Chinese Navy

In the Fall of 1943, life at Swarthmore was much as it had been before World War II began. Classes, clubs, social events, and talk of politics and social action continued unabated. But the Phoenix contained advertisements for Victory Bonds and admoni shments to students to participate in Blood Drives, as well as a column of news from students who had interrupted their studies to join the armed forces or organized conscientious objector work, 2/3 of the male students on campus were enlisted in the Navy's V-12 program, and 49 Chinese Naval Officers arrived on campus to study English.

The Officers came from all parts of China, though most were graduates of the Chinese Naval Academy. They would spend several months studying English at Swarthmore, before half would depart for MIT to study shipbuilding and half would depart for the Na val Academy to study Naval Administration--it was intended that these officers would form the backbone of China's post-war Navy.

When Commander Henry T. Jarrell of the US Navy came to take charge of the unit in December, he explained to the Phoenix that "a number of institutions were thoroughly satisfactory as to basic qualifications--such as location near a Navy yard and not to o far from Washington, small enough size for individual attention; and the previous and contemporaneous presence of another Naval unit. The competition of the privilege of having the Chinese was quite keen, and in the end Swarthmore College was chosen be cause of its friendliness."

Most of the officers had already been on active duty--China had been at war with Japan since the early 30s. A November Phoenix article told of Liu Fu, "who wears the Distinguished Service Medal of China. It was he who swam out, off the shore of Shang hai, with land mines to sink several Japanese ships, one of them a flagship. One particularly narrow escape he told of was when he was in a Shanghai hotel room on a special mission. Although the room was surrounded by Japs, and there were several hiding in the room's closets, Liu escaped to safety through one of the windows....Any one of the Chinese could tell you equally exciting personal incidents."

At Swarthmore, they woke in Wharton at six to exercise alongside the v-12 unit before breakfast. They studied English from Breakfast until 11, drilled until noon, took physical fitness alongside Swarthmore students from one to two, and then continued studying English until four. The Phoenix reported, "the officers are especially fond of American football games, dancing, and it is rumored that they even like Swarthmore food!"

On Friday, Jan 7, they presented a series of comical skits they had written in Bond: First appeared grave white-bearded admirals, reminiscing about the happy days when they were students at Swarthmore. Their uniform sleeves were ringed with rows and r ows of gold braid, but one of them still cherished in his pocket the bits of pink ribbon and strange paraphernalia he acquired when he thought to buy mens' garters in the local five and dime and got the wrong gender by mistake.

The officers participated in a number of good-will events, appearing at Philadelphia area conferences, playing basketball against a team from Philadelphia Navy Recruiting, and appearing in a photo of the English classes in the Linguaphone Institute's n ewsletter.

By May, they were so much a part of Swarthmore life that the annual May Day Formal was given in their honor. The Phoenix reported, "The formal, a program dance, will be held in Commons [now the CRC] on Saturday, May 20, from 9 o'clock until 12. Playing a large part in the preparations, the Chinese will help with the decorations and also provide entertainment during intermission. Before the dance, they are giving a farewell dinner party at the Strath-haven Inn [which stood on the site of the Strath aven Condominiums] to which their dates will be invited."

The Officers participated in the 1944 commencement exercises, receiving certificates of English training completion. Chinese Ambassador Wei and Admiral Liu of the Chinese Navy attended graduation. The college unveiled the new fountain and staircase between Wharton and the tennis courts, given to college in honor of the Chinese Officers by Thomas McCabe.

A 1969 issue of the Swarthmore Bulletin traced what had happened to the officers in the years after they left Swarthmore. Several disappeared in the final days of the Chinese Civil War, while others escaped with the Chinese nationalists to Taiwan, where they became leading figures in the Taiwanese Navy. Still others remained in graduate school in the US throughout the period of the Chinese Civil War and decided to remain here after the Communist victory in China, or returned to the US after escaping from China as the Communists took power. A number of children of these officers were enrolled at Swarthmore at the time of the article's publication.

Note: A photo of the Wharton fountain originally acompanied this article.

Return to top of page
Return to the index of articles
Return to the Friends' Library College Archives Project page