$6 Million donated to college by anonymous donor

New revenue to go to Science Center

Thomas Doggett

The anonymous donation was handled by a Hong Kong lawyer, Peter Tsang, whose Mandarin name translates to "Golden Fountain". It proved to be quite a fountain: $6 million, the largest donation ever given to Oberlin by a living person.

"It's a wonderful thing," President of the College Nancy Dye said. Hsiang Hsi Kung

The donation was made in honor of Hsiang Hsi Kung, a 1906 graduate of Oberlin who later became finance minister of China under Chiang Kai-Shek. The administration intends to use the money for the construction of a new science center, in honor of Kung's lifelong interest in science.

At the November meeting of the Board of Trustees, the Administration plans to recommend that the $6 million be put in high-yield investments. The College will then use the interest on the investment for the construction of the Science Center.

When the building is complete, the money will be taken out of those investments and put in the general endowment. Because of inflation, however, the $6 million is expected to have less value in the future.

According to Vice President of Finance Andy Evans, the College does not usually spend all of the returns and thus the real value of its assets do not decrease.

Acting Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs Kay Thomson said an anonymous donation was very unusual.

"But people like to guard their privacy, and there are many reasons people give anonymously," Thomson said. "Last year has been a banner year, we received $25 million, so this donation is really just icing on the cake."

The construction of the science center was being planned before the donation was received. Funding for the new science center is planned to be the centerpiece of the upcoming capital campaign.

"It should be the largest fund-raising project that Oberlin has ever done," Thomson said.

Throughout his life, Kung had a history of donating to Oberlin. His individual gifts included $40,000 to the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association, scholarships in the name of two Oberlin missionaries that had deeply affected him, scholarships for four Chinese students, a Chinese temple bell now in the Allen Memorial Art Gallery and a 500 volume history of Chinese dynasties.

Kung's largest gift of $75,000 was for the construction of a Chinese temple in Oberlin. This was later returned when not enough money was collected to allow the project to continue. The pieces of the temple were left in a warehouse for years before eventually being sent to a cultural center in Stockholm.

Kung's interest in science began as a student at a missionary school in Taigu, in China's Shansi province. The faculty at the mission school was dominated by Oberlin alumni, who Kung tried to protect from anti-foreigner mobs during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. His family had him arrested for 'unfilial conduct' in a successful effort to get him out of the way when the mobs killed the missionaries. Surviving Oberlin missionaries helped bring Kung to the United States. Although he had to spend months in depredating conditions at an immigrant detainment camp, he was eventually allowed to go on to Oberlin for study.

Later in life, Kung was linked through marriage to Chiang Kai-Shek, the wartime leader of nationalist China. Through this relationship, he was appointed to be China's minister of finance.

His role in this job was controversial, especially since his becoming the reputed richest man in China coincided with his service as minister of finance.

Carl Jacobson, executive director of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association said, "He was a scapegoat, he was blamed for a lot of what happened in China at the time. It's funny though, now on both the mainland and Taiwan, they are rethinking his role. He is now beginning to be seen as one of the most influential people in China of this century."

In 1958, the Elyria Chronicle-Telegram reported, "When questioned about a rumor that his wealth includes some four to five hundred million US. dollars, Dr. Kung replied 'Nonsense' He said his investments collapsed with the downfall of mainland China and he is living on his 'little savings'."

During the eighties, Kung's son David tried to donate money to Oberlin. "He really wanted to build something substantial, like a building." said Jacobson. At the time the college did not accept the donation since it did not want to take on the subsequent maintenance costs.

The Hong Kong law firm that handled the donation to Oberlin also supervised anonymous $6 million donations made to Yale and Wesleyan Universities at the same time.

The faxes to each college were sent on March 27th but the one to Oberlin was mistakenly sent to admissions, so it was not until April 1st that the fax reached then Vice President of Development and Alumni Affairs, Young Dawkins.

Reports in major newspapers at the time emphasized the April Fool's Day connection. Dawkins then traveled to Hong Kong to confirm the authenticity of the donation. This visit was reciprocated when Peter Tsang traveled to Oberlin this summer.

Donor: Hsiang Hsi Kung attended Oberlin in the early 20th Century.

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Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 1, September 5, 1997

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