The following letter was written by Chinese alumnus Ding Zeng Wang after he was commended for his lifetime accomplishments by UI President Michael J. Hogan. Wang, who returned to China in 1938 after finishing his studies in architectural engineering at Illinois, helped design many of the modern structures in Shanghai.
Dear President Hogan:
Seventy-three years after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, at the age of 98 I received your letter and memento. It is beyond my wildest imagination for such an honor. It is more special because your letter and gift were delivered to me through Jiaotong University, where I began my education in the university’s preparatory boarding school when I was 10 years old.
Thank you for your kindness of thinking of me in your busy schedule. I am grateful for [Interim] Chancellor Easter who brought your letter and memento all the way from UIUC to Shanghai. Listening to the letter, which was read to me, and touching the emblem [a brass seal of the University] again and again, I am deeply moved, and the memory of my youth spent at UIUC and its profound impact on my life have all come back vividly.
In 1935, after graduating from Jiaotong University with a degree in civil engineering, with the dream of pursuing further education in architecture, and seeing more of the world, I boarded the ship President Jackson, which sailed from Shanghai to the United States. It was a long journey that took two weeks on the ship to cross the Pacific Ocean before we reached Seattle. From there, I traveled by train to Chicago and Urbana-Champaign. When I arrived, I was introduced to the Bailey family – professor Bailey (in accounting), Mrs. Bailey, their young son Bruce Bailey, and the grandma. I stayed in their house, 806 W. Nevada St., for the entire time when I attended UIUC.
I enrolled in the School of Architecture in the College of Fine and Applied Arts under the name of Ting Tseng Wang (which was the old way of spelling Chinese names before the Pinyin system was introduced). I had to take some remedial undergraduate courses before I enrolled in the graduate program. I cherish the three years at UIUC very much. I still remember the Architecture Building at south campus where I spent most of my time, learning design and learning the history of architecture, including the periods of Corinthian, Ionic, Doric and Tuscan. I also remember the names of my professors – Morgan, Newcomb, Provine and VanDerpool. The life at UIUC was quite good as well: 35 cents for lunch, 45 cents per dinner, including apple pie à la mode for dessert at the University’s cafeteria.
The education that I received at UIUC has made a great impact on my life. Although I visited the United States a few times in the 1980s, unfortunately I did not have an opportunity to visit my Alma Mater. Returning to UIUC, the Architecture Building and 806 W. Nevada St. where I stayed is impossible for me now. But these places will always be in my dreams, and the memory of my time at UIUC will always be with me as well. Compared to my time at UIUC, the present Sino-U.S. educational exchange programs are continuing and flourishing in a much stronger fashion. I am firmly convinced that the collaborations of our two great nations will continue to make a difference to the world.
Ding Zeng Wang ’37 FAA, MS ’38 FAA
Editor’s note: To read about the longtime educational exchange between China and the University of Illinois, read “Enter the Dragon" from the Winter 2011 issue of Illinois Alumni magazine.