Guo Bingwin was born in Shanghai on February 16, 1880, the third in a family of three brothers and three sisters. His father was a doctor and an elder of the Presbyterian church. After graduating from a Presbyterian school, the Lowrie Institute (Qingxin Shuyuan), in Shanghai in 1896, he became an instructor there for a year.
In July 1906 he went to the Wooster Academy in Ohio to prepare for college at the University of Wooster, receiving a bachelor’s degree in science in 1911. The University of Wooster was founded by the Presbyterian church in 1866. During his time at Wooster, he was editor-in-chief of the Chinese Students’ Monthly (1908-9), editor of the Wooster Voice (1909-10), and an officer of the college YMCA (1909-11). In the spring of 1909 he won first place for a speech contest and represented the University of Wooster at two contests – one intercollegiate and the other interstate. He first served as secretary of the Chinese Students’ Club at Wooster in 1908-9. He won speech awards at two CSA’s annual conferences, entitled “A Plea for True Patriotism” (1909) and “China’s Remonstrance” (1910).
He was one of two students from Wooster who attended the First International Student Bible Conference in Columbus, Ohio, in November 1908. He served on the first executive committee of the Chinese Students’ Christian Association (CSCA), founded in 1908. The national organization provided fellowship and encouragement through campus groups, yearly conferences and a monthly journal. Others on the committee were Wang Zhengting, Cao Yunxiang, and Yu Rizhang. From 1911-1912 he was general secretary of the CSCA.
From 1911 to 1914 he attended Columbia University in New York City. From 1911-12 he was president of the Chinese Students’ Alliance. He was awarded the Livingston Fellowship in education by Teachers College from 1912-13. He received a MA in 1912 and a PhD in education in 1914. His dissertation, “The Chinese System of Pubic Education,” was published by Teachers College in 1915. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Delta Kappa (educators). He was the first Chinese student to receive a PhD from Teachers’ College, Columbia University.
Before he returned to China he was a member of the Jiangsu Educational Commission visiting Europe and America. When he returned to China in 1914 he became an editor at the Commercial Press in Shanghai. The following year he became Dean and President of Nanjing Teachers’ College serving from 1915-20. He became president of the Nanjing YMCA in 1915. The next year he was elected president of the Lowrie Institute. In 1917 he returned to the Commercial Press as editor and director. He was editor-in-chief of the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary with Chinese Translation (1924) and co-editor of A Practical English Chinese Dictionary (1935).
From 1920-25 he was president of the Southeastern University (Dongnan) in Nanjing. Though government support for universities was difficult during the warlord period, Southeastern was supported by the local military governor of Jiangsu, Qi Xieyuan (Ch’I Hsieh-yuan). The faculty was quickly growing, most of whom had been trained in the United States. It was the first college in China to introduce coeducation and the Office of Den of Women in government normal colleges.
It took a man of rare courage and strong convictions even to consider allowing male and female students together in the same classroom. Severe criticism came from all directions as the country became alarmed at the possible moral consequences of this novel system in a government university. Dr. Kuo stood firm, and before long he was ale to silence even his most vociferous critics by demonstrating that coeducation had no evil effect on the oral character of the students but that instead it could promote respect for the opposite sex and raise the scholastic standards of all students. (Ping Wen Kuo, lx)
Though Guo had an ability to establish friendly relationships with the provincial authorities, with the government officials in Beijing and with other prominent educators, he was dismissed after a professor led a campaign to oust him and his governor-patron was replaced by a rival.
In 1924 he was appointed by the Beijing government to the first board of trustees of the China Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture, which was supported by the excess Boxer Indemnity funds returned from the United States. (Indemnity scholarships and the Tsinghua school in Beijing were benefactors of the same funds.) Guo served as secretary and counselor to Paul Monroe, professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and collaborated with Monroe in forming the basis of the constitution and by-laws of the Foundation. The goal was to develop scientific knowledge through the promotion of technical training in scientific research, science teaching and libraries. Guo served on the board until 1927. He proposed the establishment of the China Institute in America to help introduce China to the American people. After the Institute was founded in 1925, Guo resigned his presidency at Southeastern University to become the first director in New York City, a position he held until 1930.
After he returned in China, he became the managing director of the Shanghai Trust Company from 1931-4. He then became director of Chinese Maritime Customs Administration (1936) and director of the Bureau of Foreign Trade of the Ministry of Industry (1936-37).
He married Ruth How on October 12, 1935, in Hangzhou, China.
Guo went overseas as president of the Societe General de Commerce in Paris (1937-40) and then to London as the director of the Chinese trading commission and the financial counselor in the Chinese Embassy (1938-44). The remainder of the portion of the British share of the Boxer indemnity was to be used to finance the purchase of British manufactured goods, principally machinery and railway locomotives and rolling stock as well as some scholarships for Chinese students in Great Britain. During that time he was the chief representative of the Chinese delegation to the United Nations Conference on Food and Agriculture in Hot Springs, Virginia, and the UN preliminary monetary conference in Washington, D.C. in 1943. The following year he was a delegate to the UN Monetary Conference at Bretton Woods, in New Hampshire.
As the war ended he held several posts. He was the deputy director General of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration from 1944-47 and from 1944-59, the chairman of the Committee on Planning and Advising Chinese Students who were stranded in the USA without financial support during the civil war and then after the People’s Republic of China was established.
He continued his interest in Sino-American cultural relations. He was the Executive Director of the Chinese-American Institute of Social Sciences in Washington, D.C. from 1947-57. He was a member of the Chinese Advisory Committee on Cultural Relations in America from 1954-57 and then served as its president from 1957-69. He founded the Sino-American Cultural Society in Washington, DC, in 1958 and served as its President from 1963-1969. He received an honorary degree LLD from St. John’s University in Shanghai in 1918 and an honorary doctor of Letters from the China Academy in Taiwan in 1967.
Guo Bingwen died on August 29, 1969, at the age of 89 years. At the funeral the Taiwannese ambassador Chou Shu-Kai said, “Dr. Kuo was not only a man of wisdom but was a man of humaneness, integrity, generosity and kindness… .In his long life Dr. Kuo devoted his knowledge and great ability mainly to two fields of endeavor, namely, the modernization of China by improving our educational system for the training of a large number of technocrats and the promotion of cultural exchange between China and the United States.”
- Chinese Students’ Monthly, January 1908-November 1913.
- “Kuo Pingwen” in Harold L. Boorman, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Vol.
- 2 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), 276-7.
- Ping Wen Kuo 1880-1969: In Memoriam (Taiwan: China Academy, 1971).
- Who’s Who in China (Shanghai: Millard’s, 1925), 434-435.
- Stacey Bieler, “Patriots” or “Traitors”: A History of American-Educated Chinese Students (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2004), 222.