Huie Kin was born in Taishan, Guangdong in 1854. In 1868, at the age 14, Huie Kin came to the U.S. where he worked as a houseboy, and later, on a dairy farm near San Francisco. After converting to Christianity, he was encouraged to attend Lane Seminary in Cincinnati. In 1885 he was called by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions to become superintendent of the Chinese Mission and School in New York City. He was the first Chinese to be ordained to Christian ministry in Chinatown in 1895 and was selected as pastor when the Mission was renamed the First Chinese Presbyterian Church in 1910.
In 1887 Huie married Louise Van Arnam, the daughter of a Dutch-American manufacturer from Troy, New York, who worked in the Chinese community in preparation for becoming a missionary. Though the marriage initially caused a stir in the city, the family became known as a model cross-cultural marriage. Louise forfeited her U.S. citizenship when the Cable Act of 1926 was promulgated, but she regained it before her second visit to China in 1933.
The church provided both acculturation and social services to the Chinese community in New York City. It offered English classes, reading rooms with Chinese and English books, games, a gymnasium, and a bowling alley. Organizations, such as the Chinese Y.M.C.A. and the Chinese Boy Scouts, had their headquarters at the church. The Huies also offered assistance with lawsuits, misunderstandings with American landlords, financial difficulties, home problems, and worked against gambling and prostitution. So many people were admitted to the Presbyterian hospital each year with Huie’s help that the gatekeepers called them “Huie’s patients.”
The church was an informal and formal gathering place for the Chinese students. Some took part in the Sunday dinners that were served to forty or fifty people. Others slept in the dormitory on the third and fourth floor or visited during school breaks. The church served as the headquarters for the New York Chinese Students’ Club. For many Chinese students on the East Coast, the Huie Kin family of New York City was both a “spiritual home and social center.” In 1917, Huie wrote about his goals. “The immediate aim of our effort is the salvation of souls by the preaching of the Gospel. The ultimate aim is the redemption of China through the earnestness of our converted young men when they return to the homeland.” In 1909, Huie attended the inaugural meeting of the Chinese Students Christian Association (C.S.C.A.), that later was informally connected with the Y.M.C.A.’s International Committee. He may also have encouraged the founding of the Christian fraternity, Cross and Sword.
When recalling his forty years of ministry, Huie acknowledged that the most of his contacts were humble workingman and tradesmen.
But I was glad that my lot was cast among them and that in living among them and working for them, I seemed to get a clearer insight into the mind and spirit of that Great Galilean, who lived so close to his people, that their joys became his joys and their sorrow, his sorrows.
He expressed how he had been richly repaid with their affection and trust.
All six daughters married Chinese students and went to China in educational, religious or medical work. The oldest, Harriet Louise (B.A. Hunter College) married Zhang Fuliang, a graduate of Yale School of Forestry, who taught at Yale-in-China and directed rural rehabilitation programs. During the latter part of World War II Harriet was employed by the Christian Mission Board. Alice graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University and joined the Y.W. C. A. in Shanghai, where she taught Physical Education and Hygiene. In 1921 she married Yan Yangchu (James Y.C. Yen) (M.A. Princeton), founder of the Mass Education Movement. Caroline who also graduated from Teachers College, married Zu Yuyue (Y.Y. Tsu) (Ph.D. Columbia), who became an Episcopal Bishop of southern China. She became Dean of Women at St. John’s University in Shanghai in 1935 and served as chairman of the National Board of the Y.W.C.A. in 1938-39.
Helen finished at Cornell Medical College and married Gui Zhitang (Paul Kwei, Ph.D. Princeton), who taught physics at Central China University in Wuchang. She taught English at Wuhan University until she retired. Ruth attended Wooster and married Zhou Xuezhang (Henry Chou, Ph.D. Columbia), who became Dean of the College and Professor of Education at Yanjing University. Ruth taught physical education at Yanjing and later served as the Official Hostess of the University. Dorothy (M.A. Columbia) married Wong Yihui, M.D. (Amos Wong, Johns Hopkins) and both taught at the Beijing Union Medical College. She later taught microbiology at St. John’s University in Shanghai from 1942-44. The three Huie sons married American women and worked in the U.S. in engineering or publishing.
When they returned to visit their family and returned students in China in 1934, Huie died in Beijing in January and was buried in the Episcopal cemetery. Louise died in 1944 and was buried in Mt. Kisco, Westchester County, New York.
- Material adapted from Chapter 1 of Jan Stacey Bieler, “Patriots or Traitors”? A History of American Educated Chinese (M.E. Sharpe, 2004); Huie Kin, Reminiscences of Huie Kin, Peiping, China: San Yu Press, 1932; reprint, with an epilogue by George Trigg, 1982.