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In search of Dean Lung, a Chinese person

By Zhao Xu in New York | China Daily | Updated: 2020-08-01 13:40
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Reflecting on the latest development to the ever-evolving Dean Lung story, Chen Xiaoping says he believes in the authenticity of the two Carpentier letters that Karen Ma holds but is more willing to give the benefit of doubt to the proposition that Dean Lung is Ma Wanchang, if even he is indeed surnamed Ma (Mar).

"One thing that particularly baffles me is that Dean Lung would ask his posterity to go and look for a chair at Columbia University, not knowing that the Dean Lung Chair is an honored teaching position to be occupied by a revered scholar of Chinese learning. Carpentier must have made it very clear to him, and Dean Lung, smart enough to win the trust of an eccentric and demanding man, must have understood it."

There are disparities between what Ma Weishuo's letter talks of and what Chen Xiaoping believes must have happened to Dean Lung. For example, the letter tells of Carpentier recruiting Dean Lung in New York, whereas most other sources say this happened in California.

Chen also points to the fact that when Carpentier tried to bring Mah Jim's son to the US around 1913, he enlisted the help of the president of Canton Christian College instead of Dean Lung, who would seem to have been an obvious choice if he had been in China and alive at the time.

However, Chen believes Carpentier could have miswritten 1907 as 1917 because he was known for making similar mistakes on other occasions.

"If Dean Lung is indeed Ma Wanchang, then that change was likely to have been prompted by Ma's effort to enter the US in the name of another man who had been there before, and therefore make the whole process a lot easier."

Karen Ma, for her part, believes that the envelope had been prepared in both Chinese and English by his great-grandfather for Carpentier before he left the US in 1905, being the attentive helper he had always been. She has turned down all media interviews, citing the coronavirus pandemic and the need to focus on her family.

In one of his letters to the university president Seth Low in 1901, Carpentier said:"The identity of Dean Lung need not be questioned. He is not a myth but a very real person. And I would like to say of him that if, among people of humble birth and fortune I have ever known a born gentleman with all the inbred qualities essential to that character, not even excepting that rarest instinct never to give 'unintentional annoyance to others'-he is one."

Yet in the early 19th century such a man could find no place in US society, which had turned against all Chinese immigrants with hatred. In what is now regarded as the largest lynching in American history, an estimated 17 to 20 Chinese immigrants were hanged by a mob in Los Angeles on October 24, 1871.

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