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Tseng Tuh Kun


1876: at Hopkins Grammar School, Yale MADID


Pinyin & Chinese characters Zeng Dugong  曾笃恭 

Variant Spellings & Other Names

Spencer Laisun
Spencer T. Laisun
Spenser Thien Lok Laisun
Spenser Tseng Laisun
Spencer Tsen Lok Laisun1

Other Chinese Name(s) 曾子安; 曾天乐

Detachment 1


LaFargue No. 30

Date of Birth 21 April 1856
Place of Birth Shanghai (but family was from Haiyang, Guangdong Province)2

Age at Departure for US


16 (Lunar Calendar)

Date of Death 4 Nov. 19162

Place of Death Tianjin2

Place(s) of Residence in US (1) Springfield, MA2;
(2) Hartford, CT

American Host Family/ies (1) Lived in father Zeng Laishun’s 曾来顺 Springfield home2

School(s), with dates

Pre-1871: Government Central School, Hong Kong5

Elm Street Grammar School, 1872-3;

Springfield High School, 1873-4;

Springfield Collegiate Institute, 1874-5;

Hopkins Grammar School, New Haven, CT 1875-62;

Notable Activities/Awards in School Gave recitation in Chinese at school exhibition, Mar. 1873.

Represented China at Springfield’s annual “Bazaar of the Nations,” where he delivered a brief oration in Chinese.

Gave a recitation of Demosthenes in classical Greek at a school exhibition, Apr. 1875.

Won first prize at Hopkins Grammar School in English composition with essay on Confucianism.2

College/University, with dates Entered Yale College 1875, where he was registered as "Spenser Thien Loh Laisun"; forced to withdraw, attended Hopkins Grammar for 1 semester; readmitted to Yale in fall of 1876; dropped out in 1877.2

Notable Activities/Awards in College  
Degree/Diploma Obtained (date) Did not graduate: dropped out in 1877; said to have left that year "to enter upon a career in China."3
First Assignment in China Unclear; but by June 1883, he was being employed by Li Hongzhang and also interpreting at the Shanghai Mixed Court8
Later Positions

No later than 1882, together with Wong Kai Kah(Huang Kaijia 黄开甲 I, 17), Tseng had opened a translation agency. As of 1883-84, they were listed under "Laisun & Co., Public Translators and Interpreters. House and Land Brokers" 繙譯華洋公事館 at 31 Nankin Road, Shanghai.  His partner was named "Wong Tsz Yuan", i.e. Wong Kai Kah, whose alias was 黄子元.10 

1885 Nov.  Interpreter to the U.S. Consulate at ‘Chin Kiang, China’ (Zhenjiang 镇江)9

c.1886/87-1888  Prolonged assignment to Kashgaria (now in Xinjiang Uygur, W. China), on an unspecified mission, returning via India wearing Western dress; was given special permission by the Chinese authorities to forgo wearing the braided queue 5

From a date unknown until c.1906, Tseng served on the editorial staff, responsible for the "Notes on Native Affairs" column in the North-China Daily News and for its Chinese edition, Zilin Hu Bao in Shanghai. 2

Deputy for Foreign Affairs for Sichuan, Zhejiang, Hubei and Jiangnan

c. 1905 rank: Brevet 3rd Rank Button Unattached Expectant Prefect, with decoration of the Peacock's Feather. 

c. 1906, joined staff of Governor-general Duanfang 两江总督端方 at Nanjing as an intendant (daotai) and deputy for foreign affairs.2

1908 May, appointed Advisor on Foreign Affairs to the Shanghai Daotai while remaining on the staff of Duanfang.6

Secretary of Zhu-Ping 株萍 Railway (in Chinese sources, as yet unverified).


Employment Sector(s) Private sector: Translation services; Journalism; Government: Foreign Affairs, Railway Administration (unconfirmed)

Final Rank, if in Gov't Service Qing period: Circuit Intendant (Doatai 道台)

Father's Name Zeng Laishun (the translator on CEM staff)2

Mother's Name Ruth Ati2

Wife/wives 何晚贵 Ho Man-kwai5
Family Relations w/ other CEM Students Brother of Tseng Poo (Zeng Pu 曾溥 II, 46), a.k.a. Zeng Zimu, 曾子睦 or 曾子穆, a.k.a. Elijah Thien Foh Laisun2

Children's Names Daisy5

His father Zeng Laishun was born in Singapore of a Chinese father with ancestral roots in Guangdong (stated as Haiyang in most sources, but as the Chaozhou region of the province, acc. to Rhoads)2 and a mother of Malay ethnicity.2 Tseng Tuh Kun's own mother Ruth Ati was "Indo-Malay."2 He and his brother Tseng Poo (Zeng Pu 曾溥 II, 46) were raised in a Christian family where English was frequently spoken. Worked as teaching assistant under Zeng Laishun at the CEM’s Shanghai preparatory school until he left with the 1st Detachment.4

1905 Chinese Vice-President, Yale Alumni Association of China; helped compile The Directory of Yale Men in China, published by C.S. Leavenworth, Shanghai, 1905, cited in this web site as Directory (1905).

1906 Feb.  Elected Editor-in-Chief of the English section of The World's Chinese Students' Journal, a bilingual monthly of the World's Chinese Students' Federation 寰球中国学生会7

Publication: Compiled the "Reform Decrees of 1898 by H.I.M. Kuang Hsu" [document not yet identified].

"Mr. Laisun was a Chinese of British nationality, the son of a former interpreter to the late Li Hung-chang. He was educated at Queen's College, Hongkong, and attained an extraordinary command of English, writing it with a style that many Englishmen might envy. He was remarkably well informed on Chinese affairs, and during the years that he was on the staff of the "North China Daily News" he was one of the first to forecast the gravity of the Boxer rebellion, and the first, we believe, to give to the world the Mackay Treaty..." (Obituary, North China Herald, 20 Jan. 1917, p. 135; death notice, p. 163.)
Spencer's British nationality was declared in a 1893 court case: "We have been requested to state, however, that Tseng Laisun is a British subject born, his family having been naturalised as such, two generations before him." (NCH, 8 Dec. 1893, p. 897).

Notes and Sources


1. Yale University Library, MADID, image No. 1082: "Images of Yale individuals, ca. 1750-1976 (RU 684). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University Library." NB: "Tsen" is probably a misprint for "Tien" romanization for the character 天.  The correct spelling, "Thien Loh", was given in Directory (1905).

2.  Rhoads (2005), 19-58, passim.

3.  Frederick Wells Williams, A History of the Class of Seventy-Nine, Yale College...1875-1905, (Cambridge, MA: The University Press, 1906). 533.  Tseng's date of birth also from this source.  Spencer dropped out of Yale College in the same year that his elder brother Elijah graduated from Yale Sheffield Scientific School.  It is possible that in 1877, both returned to China together to pursue their careers.

4.  See Rhoads (2005), 32-33.

5.  Tseng's mission was reported by  London & China Telegraph, 30 Apr. 1888, p. 402 and mentioned in Smith (1985),p. 73.  On the same page, Smith also discussed Tseng's marital relations, viz. "During his school days in Hong Kong, Spencer had become acquainted with the family of the Revd Ho Fuk-tong, most probably because he was a regular attender of the Chinese congregation which met in the afternoons at Union Church.  He married Ho Man-kwai, the daughter of the pastor. She died in Shanghai in 1894 at the age of 28, leaving a young daughter, Daisy." (Ho Fuk-tong 何福堂, formerly educated at the Anglo-Chinese College in Malacca under the Rev. Dr. James Legge, was the first Chinese ordained  minister (1846) in Hong Kong.  Another daughter, Ho Miu-ling 何妙龄, was married to Wu Tingfang 伍廷芳).  Tseng thereby became Wu's brother-in-law.
Daughter's Chinese name given in: 鄭宏泰,黃紹倫:《婦女遺囑的秘密─人生,家庭与社會》(香港:三聯書店, 2010)  Zheng Hongtai & Huang Shaolun, Funu Yizu Di Mimi: Rensheng, Jiating yu Shehui [What Hong Kong Women's Wills Revealed about Their Lives, Families and Society] (Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 2010), p. 58.

6.  North China Herald, 1908.5.1, p. 283.

7.  North China Herald, 1906.3.2, p. 471.  The NCH here misnamed Spencer T. Laisun as his father "Tseng Laisun".  He is correctly identified in the photo of the Editorial Board published in Vol. 1 of the Journal (a copy of the photo page was kindly provided by Reed Tang).

8.  He was the interpreter for the British barrister named Edward Robinson in the case: "Wong Vok-Tai v. R.H. Artindale," being heard in the Shanghai Mixed Court (NCH, 1883.7.19, p. 119).  Robinson applied to the Chief Justice of the H.B.M. Court of Summary Jurisdiction to postpone an appointment, "owing to the absence of my interpreter the said Tseng Spencer Laisun who was as I am informed and verily believe on the date of the said appointments engaged at the Yamen of Viceroy Li Hung-chang." (NCH, 1883.7.27, p. 120).

9.  Goshen Daily News (IN), 17 Nov. 1885, p. 2 (d).

10.  See "New England News-Boston and Vicinity," Worcester Daily Spy (MA), 8 March, 1883 (copy courtesy of CEM descendant Reed Tang).  See also, 1884 Desk Hong List for Shanghai, and the Northern and River Ports, p. 16.