Race & Racism at the University of Richmond

Chack Kwong Wong

"I am alone in this foreign land..."

-Chack Kwong Wong, 1925

 

Chack Kwong Wong

Chack Kwong Wong was a student in the class of 1925 from Canton, China. He was president of the Chinese Club during his junior year at Richmond and helped to organize its celebration of the 14th anniversary of the Chinese Republic. He is described on his yearbook page as having "a very amiable personality" and "sparkling eyes."

Poem "Nostalgia"

"Nostalgia" by Chack Kwong Wong, 1925.

Wong's only piece in the Messenger was published in the June 1925 issue. The short poem, "Nostalgia," takes up a tiny bit of the page that it's on, but its opening words of, "I am alone in this foreign land," say a lot about how Wong felt as a foreign student. Wong was not just experiencing homesickness, but loneliness as well. It shines a light on the difficulty Wong experienced as a foreign student and, further, at a time where communication and transportation were much different than today.

While there were a number of Chinese students at this time, a number of works in the Messenger from the early twentieth century contained Chinese caricatures, racial slurs, or otherwise mocked Chinese culture.

“Cross-word Puzzle-itus” by “W.H.S.” was published in the Messenger the same year as “Nostalgia.” The short story mocks Chinese culture and people, calling the game of mahjong a “deadly Chinese disease” that makes its victim hallucinate. The writer describes seeing a “curly-cue tailed green dragon” and a character named Chu-Chin Chow with “baneful yellow eyes” before being cured.

“Jade” was written by the editor-in-chief of the Messenger in 1933, Louise Dinwiddie. The play illuminates how she, a member of the Messenger staff, viewed Chinese people and culture. It describes English collectors in China and their Chinese servant named Kin Cho, a character who speaks in broken English and is described as having “a keen intelligent look.” One of the English characters calls China "god-forsaken" and "dismal" and its people "slant-eyed," "grimacing devils." That Englishman goes on to urge the other to take the "jade lotus," a priceless Chinese item, as Kin Cho argues against the action and is ignored. The lotus ultimately kills its taker, and Kin Cho attributes the death to "God Chung." While this play was published eight years after Wong graduated, its inclusion in the Messenger illustrates that the participation and presence of Chinese students did not affect how even the Messenger staff saw and chose to present them.

Outside of the Messenger, the relationship that white students had with Chinese students at Richmond was a complicated one. While Wong is described as a great friend on his yearbook page, for example, the writer also makes a point of him “adjust[ing] himself to our manners and customs” after coming from “the far distant Orient.” In 1923, the Collegian reported on the Westhampton freshman and junior “wedding” having an “ancient Chinese” theme. It goes on to describe white Westhampton students carrying out the ceremony “according to Chinese custom.” In a Collegian article from 1929, four years after Wong graduated, a Chinese student called Mr. Kung is reported to have explained misconceptions about Chinese culture to the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). The article is hopeful that his talk will affect how students “understand other people’s view of life,” but it, along with the other mentioned pieces, illustrates that many misconceptions and assumptions were floating around about the Chinese students, and they were often othered or exoticized by their peers.

Chack Kwong Wong