1895  — 1980

Alice Huie Yan

Housewife, educator.

Alice Huie Yen was born on June 30, 1895 in New York City. She was the third of ten children in the Huie family of four boys and six girls. Alice was a loving, spirited child and very adventurous. Like the other older girls, she helped take care of the younger children, bearing complete responsibility for Albert.

After attending local public schools, she entered Barnard College in New York City, where she graduated in Physical Education in 1917.

Her father, Kin Huie, was the founding pastor of the First Chinese Presbyterian Church in New York City. On Sunday afternoons, the Huie family opened their home to all the overseas Chinese students, many of whom would come to enjoy the social gatherings. James Y. C. Yen (Yan Yangchu) was one of the students who frequented the Huie’s home on those Sundays. James, who possessed a good voice and sang in the Yale college choir, also sang often at those meetings. One day he was about to sing, but his voice was dry. As he was looking for a glass of water, Alice Huie appeared with a glass for him. He noticed how lovely she looked and how thoughtful she was.

After graduation, Alice went to Shanghai and taught at the Y.W.C.A. School of Physical Education and Hygiene. She joined the Presbyterian Church. Actually Alice and all five of her sisters went to China after college, and they all learned to speak and write Chinese while living in China.

It was not until James Yen had returned to China and they met again that a romance blossomed. They were married on Sept 26, 1919, in Shanghai and eventually had 5 children: William, born in 1922, Grace 1924, James 1925, Frederick 1928 and Alice 1931. The children attended local primary school established by Yen’s staff, and went away to boarding schools from 7th grade on in the big cities since the family lived in a rural village.

Alice played a large and essential part in her husband’s rural reconstruction work in Dingxian County. He had recruited educated men who were the head in their fields to come to work in the rural villages with him. Alice’s job was to encourage and inspire the wives of these men to stay and live among the peasants. She told them what wonderful and important contributions they were making to the country, organized meetings and entertainment for the wives, and visited them individually.

She was fond of all sports, especially tennis if a court was available. She loved cooking and was herself a fine chef. She taught the cook who lived with the family for most of their years in China how to prepare American dishes. Visitors were impressed to be served such good food, especially fresh homemade bread, in a small remote village. She enjoyed reading, and read English books to her children as they were growing up. She also loved to play the piano and in her spare time she taught all her five children how to play that instrument. She and her husband took pleasure in singing hymns together, hiking and going on picnics.

During the war years with the Japanese, her husband was in the United States to raise money for the work. While he was gone, Alice ran the College of Rural Reconstruction single-handedly with loyal staff. She had to encourage not only the wives but also the staff to stay, for the war years were difficult. She cared for the staff’s children who often came down with common illnesses as well as tuberculosis, sleeping sickness or broken legs that needed surgery.

To visit her own children, who were scattered in schools all over the province, she traveled from one child to another on the terrible wartime transportation systems. She did this for three years all by herself, with no husband by her side and sometimes without enough money. At times she did not receive any mail for weeks from her husband because the mail service during the war was very unreliable. Nevertheless, she never complained, but tried to put up a brave front for everyone else.

All her life she thought of others first and never of her own needs. She was a devoted wife, very loving and giving. Because she believed in the cause of their common mission, she relieved her husband of daily responsibilities so that he was able to devote his whole time to his duties. During the war years she gave herself entirely both to the children and to the work.

Alice was very religious, with a strong faith in Christ. She prayed with her husband every morning before they got up, and when he was away, she had her own devotional time before breakfast.

Among her favorite Scripture passages was Psalm 23, which she repeated over and over again during the hard times, asking her children to join her. Other favorites were “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13); “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…. (Proverbs 3:5-6); “Do not fear for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10); “I will look up unto the hills; from whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD.” (Psalm 121:1).

Her final years were like all the others. She would have liked to stay close to home and visit her daughters and grandchildren more, but important work was waiting to be done. She followed her husband faithfully and went wherever responsibility took them. In 1980 their trip to the Philippines was cut short when Yen became sick and, forcing them to turn back to New York, where he entered the hospital for surgery. Alice went to her daughter’s home where she suffered a fatal a heart attack that night. She is buried in Silang, Cavite, in the Philippines at the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction they founded. In 1990 Yen died and was buried next to her.

The saying that behind a great man there is a great woman fits Alice perfectly. She is an ideal example of unfailing devotion - to her husband, to her children and to the cause of their life work. Her life of adventure since her youth is a lesson in faith, love, hard work, thinking of others, the simple joys of life, and in being very forgiving of weaknesses in others.

Her children (as of this writing): William, deceased, lived in Beijing and worked as an electrical engineer. Grace, deceased, came to the United States in 1949 and lived in Irvington, NY. She was a director of a nursery school. James, Jr., deceased, lived in Beijing. He was an educator and also taught music. Frederick, deceased, also lived in Beijing. He was in education and management. Alice lives in Arizona, retired from serving in public health.

By Alice Yen Hing, with Stacey Bieler

About the Author

Stacey Bieler

Research Associate, Global China Center, Michigan, USA