Chentung Liang Cheng (known as Pi Yuk at Andover), Class of 1882
May 13, 2022

Andover’s Atlantis

Unlocking a little-known segment of the Academy’s multicultural history
by Frank Zhou ’22

Frank Zhou ’22 is editor of the campus literary magazine, The Courant, and leads a sustainability coalition that has coordinated 90-plus climate advocacy events. His archival research on the history of China-U.S. educational exchange is supported by the Academy's Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Scholar Program.

One summer afternoon in 1982, Yichen Zhang ’82 found himself pressed into the back seat of a late-1970s Ford heading north up I-495 back to Andover Hill. At the wheel was Nancy Sizer, instructor emeritus in history and wife of former head of school Ted Sizer. Zhang had visited with the Sizers at their home in Harvard, Mass., enjoying a day out canoeing and an afternoon showing of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. These would be Zhang’s last days at Andover before starting at MIT come fall.

Four decades later, that 1982 drive up I-495 is a trip down memory lane for an older Zhang, who settles into his sack-back Windsor chair, wrapped up in a double-breasted overcoat and decades of nostalgia. Asked about that summer afternoon, he remembers a chorus of howls, laughs, and cheers.

From across the faculty room coffee table in George Washington Hall, Zhang, a charter trustee, is not the chair of one of China’s largest private equity firms, but a schoolboy all over again. He rests his arm across his lap as if cradling his books, smiling with the same delight as the 18-year-old Zhang forever captured in the archives’ scuffed negatives. He summarizes his countless memories in nine words: “Andover holds a very special place in my heart.”

(L) Andover students and (R) Mary Sun, Abbot Academy Class of 1926. Photograph by Louis Huntress, 1925.

As I found time and again across two years, hundreds of hours, and thousands of archival documents, Zhang is hardly alone.

To step into Andover’s Archives is to bask in decades of smiles and tears, to set forth into the melodies springing from the document boxes and spilling from the pages. For a Chinese American student at Andover in 2022, the stories of 19th- and 20th-century Chinese students at Andover—whose “high school years” also meant impromptu conversations on the Sam Phil steps by day and watching fiery sunsets over the Great Lawn by evening—unlocked a sort of Atlantis of the imagination. Dog-eared pages gave shape to a history that I did not know was mine until it rose, full-throated and pulsing, from the sea of voices decades bygone.

When I dove headlong into the 5,000 documents on Chinese students held in the PA archives, I ventured into a historical wonderland. Each afternoon in the summers of 2020 and 2021, as sunlight slashed like melted butter across the archives offices in the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, heart-stopping stories unfurled. Liang Cheng, Class of 1882, a star pitcher for the Academy’s ball nine, cracking a two-run triple at Andover-Exeter Day in 1881 to a chorus of jeers, slurs, and cheers. Sung Sing Kwan, Class of 1912, pacing above deck while sailing from China back to America in the summer of 1914, dispensing Andover catalogs and Andover-themed elevator pitches to his America-bound shipmates.

One school, two types of pitchers, three decades apart. These are the gems of historical symmetry that the archives holds in troves. Just waiting for someone to crack open the box.

So that’s what I set out to do. My subsequent academic papers, presentations, and independent projects with the Chinese Students at Andover project and PA’s Office of Community and Multicultural Development seek to poke and prod at the gems yet undiscovered, stories yet untold.

As one Chinese proverb states, “the fated can journey thousands of miles for a rendezvous; others—even those nigh—can pass each other by.” Andover’s students, with hometowns and mother tongues from all over the world, travel thousands of miles to rendezvous on Andover Hill. Andover tethers us to a network of multicultural solidarity spanning borders, decades, and the globe. The story of its Chinese students is but one among a plethora.

The proverb quotes from the Chinese novel Shuihu Zhuan—“The Water Margin”—a pièce de résistance of Ming-dynasty literature detailing a bandit horde’s entry into political activism (and a near coup d’etat). For Andover’s students, the phrase describes our entry into the community of a lifetime.

Andover is a mosaic of cosmopolitans hailing from across generations, areas of expertise, and the globe. Andover’s history holds the shared chapters in our origin stories—one that we have a responsibility to cherish and tell. This project aspires to do just that.

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Top image: Chentung Liang Cheng (known as Pi Yuk at Andover), Class of 1882

Categories: Academics, Magazine, Magazine Online

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