Prominent Chinese Columbia Alumni

Feng Youlan

FENG YOULAN (1895–1990)

PHD 1925

Feng Youlan was a Chinese philosopher who was important for reintroducing the study of Chinese philosophy. 

Upon his graduation from Peking University in 1918 he travelled to the United States, where he studied at Columbia University on a Boxer Rebellion Indemnity Scholarship. There he met, among many philosophers who were to influence his thought and career, John Dewey, the pragmatist, who became his advisor. Feng gained his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1925.

After he came back to China, He went on to teach at a number of Chinese universities (including Guangdong, Yanjing, and Tsinghua in Beijing). It was while at Tsinghua that Fung published what was to be his best-known and most influential work, his History of Chinese Philosophy (1934, in two volumes). In it he presented and examined the history of Chinese philosophy from a viewpoint which was very much influenced by the Western philosophical fashions prevalent at the time. Nevertheless, the book became the standard work in its field, and had a huge effect in reigniting an interest in Chinese thought.

In 1939, Feng brought out his Xin Lixue (New Rational Philosophy, or Neo-Lixue). Lixue was a very influential philosophical position originated by a small group of twelfth-century neo-Confucianists (including Cheng Hao, Cheng Yi, and Zhu Xi); Feng's book took certain metaphysical notions from their thought and from taoism, analysed and developed them in ways that owed much to the Western philosophical tradition, and produced rationalistic neo-Confucian metaphysics. He also developed, in the same way, an account of the nature of morality and of the structure of human moral development.

Feng Youlan continues to be known mostly for his History of Chinese Philosophy, which is still in print, but he was in fact an original and influential philosopher in his own right, deserving of greater attention.


Hu Shih

HU SHIH(1890-1962)

PHD 1917
MEDAL 1929 (HON.)
LLD 1939 (HON.)

A onetime cultural critic who became a leading figure in the emergence of modern China, Hu Shih rose to prominence by promoting the use of the vernacular in literature-a practice that earned him the title "father of the Chinese literary renaissance." During the May Fourth Movement of the late 1910s, he joined other public intellectuals in attacking the classical language that had existed since about 200 BCE and arguing for the popular pai-hua as the written medium for both scholarship and general communication. The effort ushered in an era of mass literacy, relegating ancient Confucian texts to the status of reference works rather than standards to be memorized by every student. Hu's own scholarship helped convert the theretofore standard written language from an ideographic system to an alphabetic one-a "Herculean task" in the words of The New York Times.

Hu's international stature was enhanced by his frequent presence in the United States, particularly his high-profile tenure as Chinese ambassador from 1938 to 1942. During that time, he rallied support for his homeland-then under Japanese assault-and after World War II served as a delegate to the San Francisco conference that established the United Nations. Hu became chancellor of Beijing University in 1946, but after the communist revolution in China two years later relocated to Taiwan, where he eventually would lead the Academia Sinica, a leading research institute. Always outspoken in favor of democracy and human rights, Hu served for a time in the nationalist government's Assembly of Delegates.

Hu came to Columbia in 1914 after graduating from Cornell. He studied under John Dewey, the pragmatic philosopher who propounded learning through experimentation and practice. Hu earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1917, and remained close to his mentor over the years; when Dewey visited China in April 1919 for a two-year lecture tour of 11 provinces, Hu served as his principal translator. Three decades later, Hu offered a testimonial to Dewey at the latter's 90th-birthday tribute dinner. Over the years, Hu returned periodically to Columbia to teach and lecture, and assisted in the 1939 drive to increase the membership of the Alumni Federation. In 1960, he gave Columbia's East Asian Library a 25-volume set of his Chinese writings. Hu died in 1962, shortly after which the University established a graduate fellowship in his memory.


Jiang Menglin

JIANG MENGLIN (1886-1964)

PHD 1917


Jiang Menglin (1886-1964), was a notable Chinese educator, writer, and paramount politician. Jiang obtained his Ph.D. from Columbia University under John Dewey's guidance. 

Jiang served as the President of Peking University for a total of 17 years, and managed to keep Peking University running smoothly despite all the crises, political harassments and wars. Jiang served as the Minister of Education of the Republic of China from 1928-1930. During the World War II, he was the President of China Red Cross. Jiang was the General Secretary of Executive Yuan of the Republic of China from 1945-1947. He was also the Chairman of the Sino-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction in the late 1940s and 1950s. He later became the president of National Chekiang University.






KUO PING-WEN (1880-1969)



Kuo Ping-Wen, an influential Chinese educator, is considered as a founder of the modern Chinese university. He undertook graduate studies in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and received his Ph.D. in 1914.

Upon graduation, Dr. Kuo returned to China where he transformed the Nanjing Higher Normal School into the first modern Chinese University, National Southeastern University which was later renamed National Central University in 1928 and Nanjing University In 1949. He was the president of National Nanjing Higher Normal School from 1919-1923 and National Southeastern University from 1921-1925. He was a member of the Kiangsu Provincial Education Commission to Europe and America and sometime member of the Chinese Maritime Custom Service.

Dr. Kuo was elected three times as Vice-Chairman of the World Education Congress and became the Chairman of its Asian division in 1923. In 1925, he came to the United States to lecture at the University of Chicago and was one of the founders of the China Institute in New York City, and also served as its Director from 1926-1930. During the Second World War, Kuo was stationed in London with the Chinese Embassy and then returned to the United States as a member of the Chinese delegation associated with the early formation of the United Nations. From 1944 to 1947, he served as deputy director general of the United Nations Relief & Rehabilitation Administration. In the last decade of his life, he was President of the Sino-American Cultural Society in Washington, D.C., an organization he founded in 1958.

Ma Yinchu

MA YINCHU (1882–1982)

PHD 1914

As early as 1950s, it was Ma Yinch who first pointed out that further population growth at high rates would be detrimental to China's development.However, his theory suffered two rounds of attacks, and was dismissed from public life shortly after he made his idea publicized in 1957. The charges of the government were that the theory followed Malthusianism, attempted to discredit the superiority of socialism, and showed contempt for the people. The China leaders did not realized the enormity of the government's error in censoring his views until more than two decades later, when China’s population reached one billion.

In 1906, Ma received government sponsorship to study at United States. And he got his Ph.D. in economics from Columbia University in 1914. After return to China, he helped to found the Shanghai College of Commerce, and in 1923 he became the founding president of the Chinese Economics Society. In 1949, at the request of Zhou Enlai, he served as a nonpartisan delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. From 1950 to 1951, he served as the president of Zhejiang University, and then as the president of Peking University from 1951 to 1960. In this position, Ma was well-liked, and seen as warm and genuine by his students.




Tao Xingzhi

TAO XINGZHI (1891-1946)



Tao Xingzhi was determined to devote his whole life to China’s mass education during his study in Columbia, where he took graduate studies under the tutelage of such professors as John Dewey, Paul Monroe and William Heard Kilpatrick. In his letter to then Columbia Teachers College Dean James Earl Russell, Tao wrote that "After seeing the serious defects of the sudden birth of our Republic. I was convinced that no genuine republic could exist without a genuine public education." 

After returning from America in 1917, he organized a National Association of Mass Education Movements (MEM). At the height of its literacy campaign in the 1920s, it was estimated that the MEM had five million students and more than 100,000 volunteer teachers. Tao went on to become the nation's leading promoter of rural teacher's education. At his village-based normal school at Xiaozhuang outside Nanjing, he produced a number of innovative techniques such as the "little teacher", who taught his or her family what had just been learned in school, and the "each one teach one" technique of organized teaching networks. In the 1930s Tao wrote children's literature, started the Life Education Association, and started a Work Study Movement.

After the breakout of Sino-Japanese War, he made a member of the People's Political Council. In the meantime, he had continued working on China’s public education. Because of years of overwork, he died of cerebral apoplexy on July 25, 1946 in Shanghai at the age of 55.


Tang Shao-Yi

TANG SHAO-YI (1862-1938)


A leading diplomat and politician at the turn of last century, Tang received most of his education in the United States. He joined a Chinese educational mission to the United States in 1874 at the age of twelve. After graduating with honor from high school, he enrolled in Columbia University. 

He came back to China in 1881, and had been working in Foreign Service. Tang had been China’s consular to Korea, Tianjin Custom Superintendent and Chinese plenipotentiary in the negotiation on Tibet with Britain. He was also the first president of Shandong University, one of the oldest and most prestigious universities in China. After the Xinhai revolution, he became the first Prime Minister of the Republic of China in 1912, but quickly grew disillusioned with Yuan Shikai's lack of respect for the rule of law and resigned. He later took part in Sun Yatsen's government in Guangzhou. Tang opposed, on constitutional grounds, Sun's taking of the "Extraordinary Presidency" in 1921 and he resigned his position. After that, Tang gradually quit politics. However, he was assassinated by the Kuomintang in 1938 for fear that he would cooperate with the Japanese invader.





Wellington Koo

V. K. WELLINGTON KOO (1887–1985)



Koo played a major role in expanding China's relationships with the West. Founder of the modern Chinese foreign service, he was instrumental in negotiating the end of the "unequal treaties," a series of agreements China had signed with Western powers under threat of force in the mid-nineteenth century. He was China's delegate to the Paris peace conference of 1919, and served as acting prime minister from 1926 to 1927. Koo held the posts of ambassador to France, Great Britain, and, for ten years, the United States—he was the youngest ranking diplomat to come to the United States. Koo is also credited with China's participation in founding the United Nations, serving as his country's signatory of the UN charter. He further extended his international role in the last phase of his career, when he served as judge and vice president of the International Court of Justice at The Hague from 1957 to 1967.             

At Columbia, Koo earned his BA in liberal arts in 1908, distinguishing himself as a brilliant student who managed to participate in a remarkable number of extracurricular activities. He served as editor-in-chief of the Columbia Spectator, won the Columbia-Cornell Debating Medal, and was a member of both the track team and Delta Epsilon Rho. He earned his MA in political science in 1909 and PhD in 1912 (his thesis was "The Status of Aliens in China"). A fellowship bearing his name is available to doctoral students in social science whose research is focused on East Asia, especially modern Chinese history or political science. "I regard Columbia as the great university of the future," he said at a farewell luncheon given by his Columbia classmates in 1915. "It is not only the most cosmopolitan educational center in this country, but has a warm place in the hearts of the intelligent Chinese at home."


Xu Guangxian

PHD 1951

Xu Guangxian is a Chinese chemist and academician of Chinese Academy of Science. He is former president of Chinese Chemical Society, and known as "The Father of Chinese Rare Earths Chemistry".

Xu went to USA in 1948, studied at the Columbia University in New York, and received M.S. in 1949 and PhD in 1951 (under C. D. Beckmann).

1951, he went back to China and taught at Peking University Chemistry Department. He became a dean of the department in 1956, and especially directed radiation chemistry reserch. Xu also was involved in the Chinese nuclear weapon development program, within which he played a role in separating and extracting the nuclear elements, especially Uranium-235.

Xu played an important role in the chemistry of rare earths in China. He systematically studied the chemical and physical properties of the rare earths found in China and developed several methods to separate and extract them. To honor Xu’s contribution to China’s rare earth industry, President Hu Jintao awarded him the State Preeminent Science and Technology Award in Jan 2009.