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Tsai Ting Kan


1. As a student  2. 1905 CEM Reunion (LaFargue Collection)  3. Admiral Tsai


Pinyin & Chinese characters Cai Tinggan 蔡廷干

Variant Spellings & Other Names Chai Ting Kan1
Ting Kan Choy
American nickname: “Fighting Chinee”2

Other Chinese Name(s) Cai Yaotang 蔡耀堂

Detachment 2

LaFargue No. 31

Date of Birth 6 March 18613

Place of Birth Xiangshan, Guangdong

Age at Departure for US 13 (Lunar Calendar)

Date of Death 20 September 19353

Place of Death Beijing

Place(s) of Residence in US (1) Springfield, MA
(2) Lowell, MA (half-year 1874)4
(3) New Britain, CT11

American Host Family/ies

(1) Springfield, MA: Alexander S. & Rebekah R. (Brown) McLean
(2) Lowell, MA: Daniel Webster4
(3) New Britain, CT: 1st, Henry G. Sawyer, 1878-79; 2nd, John N. Bartlett11

School(s), with dates South Public School (Wadsworth Street School), Hartford, CT, 1876-78;
New Britain High School, New Britain, CT, 1878-80.11

In China, instructed in torpedo management and torpedo boats by foreign instructor, Major Mannix, at Tianjin.5 “…from 1882 onward he also studied electrical engineering, mining, and surveying under American and French instructors.”6

Notable Activities/Awards in School  
College/University, with dates  
Notable Activities/Awards in College  
Degree/Diploma Obtained (date)  
First Assignment in China Assigned to Torpedo School at Dagu 大沽 Naval Yard, Tianjin, 1881-1884.

Later Positions

1884: appointed Lieutenant with 5th Class Naval honors and assigned to Beiyang Squadron;

1887 Aug–1888 Mar: as Commander of a torpedo boat built at Yarrow Shipbuilders Ltd., London, accompanied a fleet of four English- and German-built steel cruisers from the English Channel to China to join the Beiyang fleet13;

1888: commissioned Junior Lieutenant in navy;

1889: acting Senior Lieutenant;

1891: given command of a torpedo boat, and assigned to patrol duty;

1892: rank of Commander, awarded Peacock Feather, attached to torpedo boat squadron at Port Arthur;

1894 September: commanded torpedo boat squadron at Weihaiwei;

1895 February: in retreat from anchorage the torpedo boat under Tsai's command was captured by the Japanese and he was held as a prisoner of war; later degraded in rank with other officers.7

1901: employed by Yuan Shikai at recommendation of Tong Shaoyi (Tang Shaoyi 唐绍仪 III, 60);

1908: restored to full honors by Court on petition of Yuan Shikai.

1911: appointed Chief of the Department of Naval Administration in Navy Board, with rank of Rear Admiral; 

1912 January: made Aide de Camp to Yuan, Vice Admiral.

1913: awarded Fourth Order of Merit, made Associate Director-General of Salt Administration; in October made Associate Director-General of Customs Revenue Council; on 14 Sept 1913, Tsai was instrumental in saving the life of Bartlett G. Yung (1879-1942, younger son of Yung Wing), who was touring China as agent of Western arms dealers, when he was arrested in Beijing and sentenced to death during a period of martial law.12 

1914: Assistant Master of Ceremonies in President’s office; as chief English secretary to President Yuan, handled all foreign matters.

1918: appointed Chairman of Tariff Revision Commission.

1919: made Associate Director of Enemy Subjects Repatriation Bureau; Vice President of Chinese Red Cross Society;

1920: Chief of transportation section of China International Famine Relief Commission, later became its treasurer; 

1921: attended Washington Conference as adviser to Chinese Delegation;

1924: Director General of Customs Revenue Council; helped found Rotary Club in Beijing (approved by Rotary International in August);

1925: one of three Commissioners to investigate May 30th Incident; delegate to Special Customs Tariff Conference;

1926 July: appointed Foreign Minister by Premier W. W. Yen 颜恵庆 ; resigned in October;

1927: resigned post of Director-General of Customs Revenue Council and retired to private life in Dalian;

1931: moved to Beijing.8

Employment Sector(s) Navy; Government

Final Rank, if in Gov't Service  
Father's Name Cai Zhaozuo 蔡召佐

Mother's Name  
Family Relations w/ other CEM Students  
Children's Names  
Other 1906: 4th Order of Merit & Order of Luxuriant Grain (Jiahe Zhang) 嘉禾章, 2nd Class;

1917: Baoguang Jiahe Zhang 宝光嘉禾章, 3rd Class;

1918: Dashou Baoguang Jiahe Zhang  大绶宝光嘉禾章, 2nd Class;

1919: 1st Class, and Order of the Striped Tiger (Wenhu Zhang 纹虎章 military order), 1st Class;

1919: Dashou Baoguang Jiahe Zhang, 1st Class;

1920: 1st Class Jiahe Zhang

1922: Order of Merit, 3rd Class10; 2nd Class Precious Star (Baoxing) 宝星;

French Legion of Honor,
German Order of the Crown.9

Chairman of the American College Club for several years.10

In 1921, Mrs. L. Hoyt Pease, daughter of Henry G. Sawyer (associate principal of the “Normal school” in New Britain, CT), with whom Tong Yuen Chan (Tang Yuanzhan 唐元湛 II, 53) and Tsai Ting Kan had lived while attending New Britain High School in 1878-79, recalled some impressions of the boys:  “…they were good boys. I well remember the dinners they used to have in our dining room.  They would ask if we had any objection to their having a Chinese dinner and of course, we were pleased to have them enjoy themselves.  They would go up street and buy their liquid salt and Chinese sauces, and provisions and of course they had to cook them, because I did not know how to do it.
   After, they would have several Chinese boys from Hartford down to dinner, and once, I recall, we girls ate with them.  We could not manage the chop sticks as deftly as those boys could, but we certainly enjoyed the dinner.  Always after those dinners, the boys would wash the dishes and clean up the dining room.
   When they came to our home, they could speak some English and after two years at school their English was perfect.  You could sit in this room and hear them talking in the next room, and you could not tell but that they were native born Americans.  They were excellently mannered, perfect gentlemen.  In fact, I often pointed them out as an example for my own boys to follow.”14

Notes and Sources

Principal source of biographical data: Boorman and Howard (1967), Vol. III, 293-95

1. Springfield Daily Republican, 26 July 1873, 3.

2. LaFargue (1987), 78; "fighting Chinese" in Qian & Hu (2003), 81, Qian & Hu (2004), 93, Kao (1986), 94.

3. Date of birth: Waijiaobu (1988), p. 101.  Date of death: Zhuhai (1993), p. 166.

4. While a student in the U.S., Tsai gained a reputation for getting into mischief and it was recommended that he be returned to China. Instead, together with Tong Yuen Chan (Tang Yuanzhan 唐元湛 II, 53), he was “sent to work in the machine shops in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Because of the danger of working among the moving machinery, both of the lads were given special permission to cut off their pigtails.”  LaFargue (1987), 91; Rhoads (2011), 150.  In Lowell both boys "allegedly lived with a nephew and namesake of the statesman Daniel Webster." Rhoads (2011), p.71.

5. LaFargue (1987), 79.

6. Boorman and Howard (1967), Vol. III, 293-95. 

7. “Four Chinese torpedo boats were later taken into service with the Japanese Navy.  Whether the Chinese boats left on their own account or were ordered to break out by Admiral Ting remains in dispute.  A Chinese memorial, laying blame all round after the fall of Wei-Hai-Wei, named certain officers including Ts’ai T’in-kan [sic], the commander of Fu Lung [steam torpedo boat, built 1885/86]…. Yet this drastic edict must surely have been modified, as in 1912, the officer in question was promoted Vice-Admiral.”  Wright (2000), 102-03; 182.

8. Late in life Tsai “dabbled in Chinese scholarship, priding himself upon his studies of ancient calligraphy,” and researched the “central Confucian concept of the 'Chun tze' or ‘princely man.’”  In 1932 his English translations of 122 Chinese poems (from the Qian Jia Shi 千家诗) were published by the University of Chicago Press as Chinese Poems in English Rhyme 《唐詩英韻》. “In these activities of his old age, he seemed to be reaching back across the ages to the source of traditional Chinese culture from which the American education of his youth had cut him off.”  LaFargue (1987), 80-81.  Many of his translations were exhibited at the St. Louis exhibition.  The title page of Chinese Poems in English Rhyme notes he was also author of “A Synthetic Study of Lao Tzŭ’s Tao-Tê Ching in Chinese 老解老”.  Cf. Eminent Persons (1925), 201-204; and Red Pine, tr, Poems of the Masters, China's Classic Anthology of T'ang and Sung Dynasty Verse (Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2003), p. 463.

9. Who’s Who (1917; 1978), 179; Who's Who (1925), 729.

10. Eminent Persons (1925), 201-204.

11. Henry G. Sawyer:  Hartford Courant, 28 November 1921, 13:3-4, "N. Britain Recalls Chinese Student"; (Rhoads (2011), 97.  John N. Bartlett: U.S. Census records, 1880. (John Newton Bartlett was a maternal uncle of Mary L. Kellogg, wife of Yung Wing.)

12. Hartford Courant, 4 Nov 1913, p. 1, “Old Hartford Boy Saved Life of Bartlett Yung”; Bartlett G. Yung, “‘Drumming’ in Revolutionary China”, in The World’s Work (Doubleday, Page & Co., 1914), Vol 27: Part I (March 1914), pp. 533-539; Part II (April 1914), pp. 690-698.

13. On arrival in Shanghai, the boat, called “the Yarrow” from the name of its builder, was visited by a reporter for the North China Herald: “…She is in charge of Commander Choy Ting-kow [sic], who was one of the students sent to the United States in 1873. This officer ran the blockade during the Franco-Chinese war, leaving Shanghai with the torpedo boat that was built by Messrs. Boyd & Co. [of Shanghai]….” (“The New Chinese Men-of-War,” North China Herald, 16 March 1888, p. 312; quoted in Wright (2000), p. 184.) For the participation of another CEM alumnus in this mission to convoy the ships from Europe to the Taku forts, see profile of Chin Kin Kwai (Chen Jinkui 陈金揆 IV, 110).

14. Hartford Courant, 28 Nov 1921, p. 13: 4.