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RG 15 - Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association
Biography/Administrative History

The Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association (OSMA), a private foundation housed on the campus of Oberlin College, is administered by a Board of Trustees, a Student Committee, and an Executive Director. OSMA's purpose is to foster international respect and understanding through educational exchange with Asia. It offers graduating seniors and first year alumni of Oberlin an opportunity to live and work in an Asian culture for two years as Oberlin Shansi Representatives. In addition to sending representatives abroad, Shansi offers study and teaching fellowships for Asian and Oberlin faculty and students and support for Asia related programs and events at Oberlin. Each year, the Shansi Student Committee and Trustees select up to seven representatives to send to Asia. Representatives receive travel expenses from OSMA and a stipend from the Asian institution at which they study and work. They generally teach English in an Asian university and study language and culture, although for a time during the 1960's and 1970's, a limited number of "experimental" representatives devised their own programs of work and study that did not necessarily involve teaching English.

OSMA has its roots in the fervor for foreign missions that characterized the United States in the late nineteenth century. In January of 1881, a group of twelve students, primarily from Oberlin's Graduate School of Theology, applied to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) to volunteer their services as a group, the Oberlin Band, for mission work, preferably in China. The ABCFM approved the plan and between 1882 and 1900, thirty Americans served in the Shansi province of northern China under the auspices of ABCFM. Nineteen were Oberlinians; the remainder were their wives or non-Oberlin doctors. At this time, the China Secretary of ABCFM, to whom the Oberlin Band reported, was Judson Smith, former Professor of Church History at the Oberlin's Graduate School of Theology. The primary focus of these missionaries was evangelism, but they also engaged in other service-directed activities. Concentrating on the cities of Taiku and Fenchow, the Oberlin Band organized churches, established schools, carried on medical work and famine relief, and set up opium refuges in an attempt to cure people of their addictions.

In March 1900, the Boxer Movement spread to Shansi when the Empress Dowager appointed the strongly pro-Boxer Yu Xian as governor of the Province. On July 31, the missionaries and many of their Chinese helpers and converts at Taiku were killed by a mob. On August 15, missionaries at Fenchow met the same fate. Foreign troops moved into Shansi and Yu Xian was removed. In 1902, Irenaeus J. Atwood, Graduate School of Theology Class of 1881, returned to arrange for local restitution and indemnities. As a result of the settlement, the ABCFM mission acquired property outside the eastern gate of Taiku. The property, known as the "Flower Garden," became the gravesite for many of the martyrs of 1900 and later became the site of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Schools.

In 1903, the Memorial Arch on Tappan Square on the grounds of Oberlin College was dedicated. A strong desire persisted, however, to further memorialize the martyrs by continuing the educational aspects of their work in Shansi. President Henry Churchill King, the YMCA and YWCA secretaries, representatives of the Oberlin Band of Student Volunteers for Foreign Missions, and others promoted the idea of an educational memorial in China. That effort culminated on January 30, 1908, with the establishment of the OSMA, chaired by President King, to support educational work in connection with the ABCFM missions still operating in Shansi.

Kung Hsiang-hsi, an Oberlin graduate who had been a student in one of the mission schools in Taiku and had escaped to the United States following the Boxer uprisings, was invited to return to Taiku in 1908 to assume the leadership of OSMA's educational work. A school was built in the Flower Garden and Kung named the work Ming Hsien — "Remember the Worthy." While OSMA had financial responsibility for Ming Hsien, its work was closely intertwined with that of the ABCFM. For several years, Oberlin graduates appointed by the American Board played important roles at Ming Hsien as treasurers, vice-principals, and instructors. Paul L. Corbin, Franklin B. Warner, and Wynn C. Fairfield were among those involved. As Kung's increasing regional and national political importance in China drew him away from Ming Hsien frequently, these Oberlinians who could communicate with both the Board and OSMA played even more important roles. Kung resigned as principal of Ming Hsien in 1928 and went on to serve as Finance Minister and Premier of Nationalist China. He continued to serve on the Board of Managers until the fall of the nationalist government in 1949.

At first, OSMA raised funds through annual drives and "Shansi Days" at Oberlin College. In the 1920's, however, OSMA received $750,000 from the Charles Martin Hall estate (See Subgroup IV, Series 4). As a result of this endowment, OSMA incorporated under the laws of the State of Ohio. The by-laws of the association called for the establishment of a Ming Hsien Board of Managers in China to handle local governance of the schools. This new administrative structure, together with a rising tide of Chinese nationalism, led to major changes at Ming Hsien. In 1925, the position of vice-principal, which had been held by missionaries, was abolished and a Chinese graduate of both Ming Hsien and Oberlin College, Qiao Jinliang, was appointed administrative dean. In 1927, Ming Hsien was registered with the national government and thus came under regulations of the Chinese Ministry of Education. As a result, mandatory Bible courses and church attendance were abolished in favor of voluntary, extra-curricular Bible classes. While a Christian motivation and spirit persisted, the aim of OSMA and Ming Hsien during this period gradually evolved from evangelism into one of Christian service to China.

As the administration of OSMA and Ming Hsien evolved, so did the program of the Association and its schools. By 1918, the need for English teachers had become urgent. That year, Ming Hsien invited Lewis E. Davis, son of Francis and Lydia Lord Davis, to come for a year to teach English. The following year, John L. Davis joined his brother. In 1920, OSMA picked up the responsibility for appointing Oberlin College graduates to go to China for two or three years to teach English. They went as representatives of Oberlin College and the annual appointment of representatives became central to OSMA's program. The Shansi Student Committee selected representatives, who were subsequently appointed by the OSMA Board of Trustees. The first representatives were men, but since 1928, both men and women have been appointed. Eventually, support of representatives came from the student activity fee, with two dollars collected for each student assigned to the program. Indicative of the growing secularization of OSMA, the representatives were not missionaries. They taught, coached athletics, and led a wide variety of extra-curricular activities. Many returned to Oberlin College for a year of service on campus to promote OSMA through events, student clubs, the Shansi Student Committee, and, for a time, through publishing the Dragon Tracks newsletter. Beginning in 1927, OSMA also brought Chinese administrators and faculty of Ming Hsien to the United States to study at Oberlin, in the graduate school of an American university, or both.

During the late 1920's and 1930's, the program of Ming Hsien expanded beyond the primary and secondary schools that had been the focus for the first two decades. In 1927, Raymond T. Moyer started the Agriculture Department, a primarily experimental program that sought to develop better seeds and farm animal breeds for the Shansi province. The Industrial Department began in 1931 under the leadership of Li Tingkui in an effort to develop some of the simple technology needed to assist in the establishment of small-scale rural industry. Working closely with the Agriculture Department, the Industrial Department developed new plows, water wheels, and deep-well pumps. Wu Shouming (a.k.a. Mark Wu) started the Department of Rural Service in 1935. Centered at the village of Guanjiapu near Taiku, that department addressed problems of illiteracy and public health and established clinics, a rural credit cooperative, and classes in agricultural and industrial technology and home economics.

With the invasion of northern China by Japanese troops in 1937, Ming Hsien was forced to move southward and westward to get out of reach of Japanese troops. This movement, which occurred in five phases covering 1300 miles, became known as "the trek." The final resting place of the schools was Ch'intang in Szechuan province. During this period of movement, only one representative, Herbert Van Meter, was able to reach Ming Hsien. Once the program settled at Ch'intang, however, the flow of representatives resumed.

During the first years in Szechuan, the program prospered, but the political turmoil, financial hardships, and physical deprivation caused by the Sino-Japanese War, World War II, and civil war between nationalist and communist forces within China took a tremendous toll. The year 1951, when China sided with North Korea in the Korean War and ended diplomatic relations with the United States, began a thirty year hiatus of OSMA operations in China.

The end of the long Oberlin commitment in China led to a modification of OSMA's program and expansion to other parts of Asia. New emphasis was placed on student and faculty exchange programs. Major institutions involved included Obirin Gakuen and Nagoya University in Japan, American and Lady Doak Colleges in Madurai, India, and Tainan Boys School and Tunghai University in Taiwan. Later occasional exchanges occurred with colleges and universities in Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Afghanistan, and the Philippines. The program in India halted for eight years beginning in 1970 by action of the Indian government, but resumed when U.S. relations with India began to thaw in the late 1970's and early 1980's. A similar warming of relations with the People's Republic of China culminated with the return of OSMA to the Shansi province in 1980. While the old Ming Hsien program was never reinstated, a student and scholar exchange program comparable to the ones in other parts of Asia was established. The program in China also included exchange of library materials between Oberlin College and the Taiyuan Institute of Engineering and Shansi Agricultural University. The exchange program with China was once again phased out in the mid-1980's.

Executive Secretaries of OSMA

1907-1926 William Frederick Bohn
1926-1941 Lydia Lord Davis
1941-1942 Frances Cade
1943-1944 Mrs. Eleanor Tracy Arnold
1944-1946 Josephine Van Meter
1947-1950 Melville Kennedy
1951-1981 Margaret Leonard

Executive Director of OSMA

1981- Carl Jacobson

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