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The Firsts and Pioneers

Feng Ximin

 

 

Scholar of Tianjin, pioneer of engineering, assiduous for life.
Master of Tianjin, founder of design education, diligent for life.

That was written by a student of “Foreign Hanlin” Feng Ximin, Li Shutian, the former president of Peiyang University. He sent the couplet from US on the commemoration of Feng’s centennial birthday.

 

Feng Ximin, also known as Shujie, born in Tianjin, graduated from Peiyang University in the late Qing dynasty, and taught at Peiyang University for a lifetime. He was born in 1886 and brother of Feng Xiyun, the former president of Peiyang University. The Feng family had resided in Tianjin for generations; a family who valued learning and literature.

 

In 1904, he was admitted to study civil engineering at Peiyang University. He concentrated on his studies and was assiduous in learning every course. His home was not far from the campus. However, he seldom returned home, but instead studied at the university library or laboratory. He achieved excellent results in every course. There are a number of anecdotes amongst the alumni of how he excelled in his studies. “When he studied at Peiyang University, he achieved amazing scores, each semester with an average of over 94 out of 100. There was a time in an exam of Advanced Mathematics, Feng made but one tiny error, which aroused the suspicion of an international professor. Feng asked for another test to prove himself, and he again obtained full marks. The international professor apologized and admitted that Feng was a rare genius.” “Feng gained full marks in every course and always ranked the first in whatever he studied. When he finished his studies, the university posted his name in red, which is a special honor, a legend.” “Feng excelled in every course, and achieved full marks. He is the pride of Peiyang University.”

 

Feng Ximin’s brother Feng Xiyun was sent by Peiyang University in 1907 to study in US. He was also given the chance to study abroad on government funds the following year. However, his elderly parents did not want both of their sons to be far away. Even though he had already selected MIT, was determined to pursue further studies and was very motivated to study in US, he decided to stay in China to continue his studies as he was being considerate and understanding, .

 

In 1910, he graduated with distinction from Peiyang University, and obtained his Bachelor of Engineering. He won the first place in an exam held by the education office of the Qing court. After being led into the presence of the emperor, he was bestowed the title of a successful candidate in the highest imperial examinations, and granted “Hanlin”, similar to an Honorary degree, the most noble award during the time of the imperial examination. This was also later referred to as a “Foreign Hanlin” when the Qing dynasty started to shift to a western style of education.

 

The Government Records of Qing Xuantong reads, “Feng Ximin and other graduates from Peiyang University were presented; each bestowed a title. Feng Ximin was appointed compiler of the Hanlin Academy.” He was also appointed as an editor of the National History Institute. He was then 25 years old, and was addressed as Taishi Feng (historian). In 1911, when students returned to China from their overseas studies, Feng was appointed “Delegated Xinhai Supervisor” in charge of exams held by the Qing court.

 

In 1913, Feng Ximin accepted the offer to teach at Peiyang University. In the early years of the Republic of China, feudal customs were not fully abandoned and he received a succession of visitors. He never mentioned his personal experiences, never boasted about his fame and honor in the late Qing dynasty. When asked of his experience in genealogy compilation, he only mentioned his role as a professor in Peiyang University, not a word about being a “Hanlin”. 

 

Feng Ximin selflessly devoted himself to his work, always putting first the interests of other people. He was modest and righteous, never in pursuit of fame or money; he was well loved and respected by his colleagues, students, neighbors and family. He died at the age of 79 in 1964.

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