“I was to be smuggled out of Shanghai on a fishing boat”

Julia Lin

Smith College International Advancement Blog

Julia Chang Lin (May 4, 1928-August 1, 2013) was born Ming-hui Tsang in Shanghai to Tsang Foh-Sing and Sung Zong-Cui in Shanghai, China. She grew up there and in Amoy, a small southern coastal town. Her mother Julia was a nurse, her father was an ophthalmologist educated at the University of Pennsylvania. One of his patients was

Madame Sun Yat-sen. Both of her grandmothers were doctors, long before women were allowed to have such professions.

She attended St. Mary’s Hall School for Girls and St. John’s University in Shanghai. On May 24, 1949, the day that the Communist troops marched into Shanghai, Chang received a telegram announcing her acceptance to Smith College and awarding her a scholarship. Her family’s housekeeper Liu Ma sewed the telegram and $20 into Julia’s clothes. Chang and her best friend Shirley Wang were smuggled out of the country in August on a fishing boat as the Nationalist government bombed the coast. She would not see her brothers for three decades and she would never see her father, grandmothers, or Liu Ma had died.

The pair went to the Zhoushan Islands, a group of small islands still occupied by the Nationalist government. They were detained there for several weeks before Chang arrived at Smith in October, 1949. While her godmother had hoped Chang would go into medicine, Chang discovered English literature and graduated with a BA in English in 1951.

She received her MA in English from the University of Washington in 1952 and entered the University of Washington for her Ph.D. in an emerging field, Chinese Language and Literature. Chang spoke several languages: Mandarin, Shanghainese, an Amoy dialect, English, Cantonese, French, Fukienese (her husband’s native tongue), and some Japanese. One of her professors Theodore Roethke, liked her poem, “Song of the Crazy Monk,” so much that he mailed it to Botteghe Oscure, a prominent literary journal, which became Chang’s first publication. Her Ph.D. thesis was published as Modern Chinese Poetry: An Introduction. Her publication was completely shortly after Nixon allowed Americans to visit China. Chang traveled to gather materials and became friends with many poets. Chang received her Ph.D. in 1965.

Chang met Henry Huan Lin, whose father Lin Chang-Min was a politician and calligrapher and helped establish the Chinese League of Nations. His stepsister Lin Huiyin, was considered the first female architect in China. The couple moved to Athens, Ohio in 1959. Lin taught English at Ohio University for thirty years and helped establish the Chinese language courses. She was the only member of the Asian Studies department, which introduced students to The Tale of Genji and Journey to the West. She wrote four books, bringing Chinese women poets to western audiences.

In 1999, she was one of 29 women honored by Smith College for “achievements representing the accomplishments of generations of Smith alumnae.” She was writing her auto-biography when she died in New York in 2013.

Her daughter Maya Lin, then a Yale student, deigned the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The design was chosen in a nationwide competition which had over 1,400 submissions. Maya Lin received an honorary degree from Smith in 1993 and was chosen to re-design Neilson, the college’s social sciences and humanities library. It also includes the Smith College Archives, the Mortimer Rare Book Room, and the Sophia Smith College, one of the world’s largest and most important women’s history archives.