Zhang Fuliang was born in 1889 in Shanghai. His father owned a retail store that sold iron, steel, and coal on the northern side of Wusong (Suchow Creek). In 1903 Zhang began attending St. John’s Middle School. In 1909, Zhang took the Boxer Indemnity examination and became part of the first group of indemnity students to study in the United States.
After studying at Lawrence Academy for a year, Zhang transferred to the Sheffield Scientific School of Yale University in the fall of 1910. Zhang did his graduate study at Yale’s Forestry School. At the Chinese Students’ Association 1911 summer conference in Princeton, New Jersey, Zhang and a few other forestry students created the Chinese Foresters’ Club. In the summer of 1912, Zhang became a Christian at the Y.M.C.A. conference in Northfield, Massachusetts. He wrote “Perhaps the seed of Christian love and service sown by my missionary teachers at St. John’s College, seed which until then had lain dormant, began to germinate and find nourishment in the silent witnessing of [the Groton Academy] principal’s labors.”
During his time at Yale, Zhang courted Louise Huie, the daughter of Huie Kin (Xu Qin), a Chinese Presbyterian minister and his Dutch-American wife. He and Louise, a graduate of Hunter’s College in New York, married on July 15, 1915 in her father’s church.
When Zhang returned to China, he taught at Yale-in-China (Yali) located outside of the northern gate of Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. For the first six years Zhang taught science in the college and served as the soccer coach and advisor for social and religious activities. From 1921 to 1926, Zhang served as Dean of Yali’s Middle School with an enrollment of over 200.
In 1926 Zhang returned to the U.S. to obtain a M.A. in agronomy and minors in rural education and horticulture from the University of Georgia at Athens. After returning to China, he was named Rural Secretary of the National Christian Council of China. From 1928-1934 he wrote ten articles in the Chinese Recorder about the economic, social and religious challenges of the rural church. From November 1930 to April 1931, he traveled with Kenyon L. Butterfield, a noted agriculturist who was sent by the International Missionary Council as a consultant. In the following years he held national training institutes in literacy and rural reconstruction at Dingxian, the experimental center of the Mass Education Movement directed by Yan Yangchu, who had married another Huie daughter.
In 1934, the National Christian Council, with the support of the League of Nations, sent in workers to rehabilitate the mountainous southern section of Jiangxi province. The seven year civil war had taken its toll in Jiangxi. As Director of the Rural Welfare Service from 1934-45, Zhang offered education, agriculture, health cooperatives, and cottage industries, at the ten centers that served an average of 40,000 people each. After the Japanese army attacked China in July 1937, Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi province, was repeatedly bombed by Japanese planes. When the city fell into Japanese hands at the end of 1938, Zhang moved the welfare headquarters more than two hundred miles south to Ganzhou and set up a center that helped 1600 refugees and their families who fled into the area. As the Japanese troops pushed south to occupy all of Jiangxi in February 1945, Zhang joined Chinese civilians, Methodist missionaries, and Catholic priests and nuns on one of the last American planes evacuating Ganzhou.
Zhang was asked to become the general secretary of the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (C.I.C.) working in fourteen provinces. Zhang’s mandate was to transform the wartime relief work into a peacetime cooperative movement. But at the end of the war, the whole country experienced a depression. In 1947 Zhang went to the United States and Britain to study cooperatives and rural development to better equip himself for the complicated assignment.
In 1949, Zhang was seconded from C.I.C. to become head of the Central China Regional Office in Changsha, Hunan of the Chinese-American Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction (JCRR). Its largest project was repairing 200 kilometers of dike that had been damaged or destroyed during the 1948 flood of Dongting Lake in Hunan Province, China’s “rice bowl.” After six months the Chinese Communists took Changsha, so Zhang went to Guangzhou and then to Chengdu, Sichuan to head the divisions of rural industries and rural organization.
On November 23, 1949, Zhang and his wife were airlifted to Hong Kong. The following spring they sailed for San Francisco. Zhang hoped he would be able to participate in President Truman’s new Point Four Program where American scientific and industrial advances, but he found that only U.S. citizens could apply to work on the program. He accepted a year’s fellowship at Yale Divinity School to write about the role of the Christian church in assisting people in rural areas while waiting for the next opening.
Zhang was invited to teach at Berea College in Kentucky by Francis S. Hutchins, the President of the college. Zhang taught sociology, including a senior level class, “Rural Reconstruction in Underdeveloped Areas.” From 1952-69 he also hosted 1000 visitors from seventy countries for four or five days who wanted to see rural development in the mountainous areas of Kentucky. When Zhang retired from teaching in 1959 at the age of 70, he became Assistant to the President and continued his job as host to the many internationals visitors.
In a talk to young people, “A Faith to Live By,” he told stories of being knocked down by the trolley car while studying at Yale and flying through the storm to escape the Japanese. “Out of several close calls like the ones mentioned during my life time, I have found no other explanation except the abundant mercies of God, our father in heaven.” Zhang continued, “He has a purpose for me to fulfill, and my work to do in His eternal plan for the world. My concern is to find His will for me and follow it. He will look after all the rest.”
After leaving Berea, the Zhangs spent their remaining years living with their children in New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York. Their children are Katharine C. Wang, P.W. Huie Chang, Louise C. Yang, Irving B. Chang and Margaret C. Ma.
On April 7, 1984, Zhang died in New York City at the age of 95.
- Material adapted from Chapter 3 of Jan Stacey Bieler, “Patriots or Traitors”? A History of American Educated Chinese (M.E. Sharpe, 2004); Chang Fuliang, When East Met West: A Personal Story of Rural Reconstruction in China, New Haven, CT: Yale in China Association, 1972.