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Jeme Tien Yau


1: 1878, Member, "Orientals" Baseball Team, LaFargue Collection 3: April 1912 (Yale photo) 4: c. 1916, Hon. LL.D from Hong Kong University (Yale photo)


Pinyin & Chinese characters Zhan Tianyou  詹天佑
Variant Spellings & Other Names Chan Tien Yu
Jeme Tien Yao
Jeme Tien Yow
Tien Yao Jeme
Tien Yow Jeme
American Nickname "Jimmy"
Other Chinese Names 詹眷诚 (字)
Detachment 1
LaFargue No. 15
Date of Birth 26 April 1861
Place of Birth Nanhai 南海 (now Liwan district 荔湾 of Guangzhou)1

Age at Departure for U.S. 12 (Lunar Calendar); 11 (Western Calendar, by birth date)
Date of Death 24 April 1919
Place of Death Hankou 汉口
Place(s) of residence in U.S. West Haven, CT;
New Haven, CT:
1878-79: 136 College St. [Yale Banner, v. 35 (1878), p. 38]
1879-80: 169 Temple St. [Yale Banner, v. 36 (1879), p. 37]
1880-81: 44 Elm St. [Yale Banner, v. 37 (1880), p. 39]
American Host Family/ies Luther Hopkins Northrop & his wife, who operated the Seaside Institute of West Haven;
Henry A. Street, New Haven (1880 U.S. Census)

School(s), with dates 1873-75 Seaside Institute, West Haven;

Hillhouse HighSchool, New Haven, CT;

Hopkins Grammar School, New Haven, CT

Notable activities/ awards in school Admitted to Hillhouse High School, Special Class;
1878 graduated top of his class, ranked 2nd in his school;
Member of The Orientals, the CEM baseball team.

College/University, with dates Yale: Sheffield Scientific School, Civil Engineering, 1878 -1881.

Notable activities/ awards in College Sep. 1878 Elected to Alpha Chi Freshman Society of Sheffield Scientific School2

Freshman year (1878-79): Mathematics Prize [Yale Banner, v. 36 (1879), p. 52];

Junior year (1879-80): Honorable Mention in Math [Yale Banner, v. 37 (1880), p. 56];3

Degree/Diploma Obtained, with date Ph.B. (Bachelor of Philosophy, Yale - Sheffield Scientific School) 1881

1910: Awarded the 工科进士 "Jin Shi in Engineering" (Dr. degree);2

1916 Dec. 1st Chinese awarded an LL.D. (Hons.) by Hong Kong University.

First Assignment in China 1881: Attended Fuzhou Naval Academy 福卅船政学堂, graduated at head of class,
July, 1882; earned 5th Rank Military Grade 五品军功;
Later Positions

1882-83: Midshipman, assigned to the Southern Squadron flagship Yang Wu (扬武) for training;

1884 Feb. to Oct.: Appointed instructor after graduation; awarded 5th Rank Mandarin Button 五品顶戴;

1884 Oct. to 1888 Jul.: Taught foreign languages 外文教习 at the Guangdong Institute of General Studies 广东博学馆 and affiliated Guangdong Nautical School 广东海图水师学堂 at Huangpu 黄埔;

1885: Commissioned by Guangdong-Guangxi Governor Chang Zhidong (张之洞) to conduct the first Chinese survey of the Guangdong coastline for naval defence purposes;

1888-95: Assistant Engineer of Chinese Railway Company, later renamed Imperial Railways of North China, at Tianjin. Under Chief Engineer C.W. Kinder, Jeme took part in building the line from Tangshan 唐山 to Tanggu 唐沽 to Shanhaiguan 山海关, which formed the basis of the Peking-Mukden Railway 京奉铁路. His use of pneumatic caissons underwater in constructing the piers for the Luan River 滦河 Bridge, was the first (1894) in China;

1898-1901: Resident Engineer, Imperial Railways of North China;

1901-02: Engineer of Ping-Li 萍醴 Railway in Kiangsu 江苏 Province;

1904 Jul. - 1905 Mar.: Consulting Engineer to Imperial Chinese Railways Administration, Shanghai;

1905- 09: Chief Engineer and Co-Director of Peking-Kalgan Railway, aka Peking-Changchiakou Railway 京张铁路 -- 1st Chinese-financed, designed and built railway. Construction began Aug. 1905, completed Jul. 1909, below budget and 2 years ahead of schedule;

1905 Nov.: Advisor on Railway Matters, Ministry of Trade 商部路务议员;

1905-09: Consulting Engineer, Tientsin-Pukow 津浦 Railway;
Chief Engineer and Deputy Director, Szechwan 四川 Railway Co.;
Consultant Engineer to the Shanghai-Nanking 沪宁 and Luo-Tong 洛潼 Railways;

1907: Advisor on Railway Matters, Min. of Posts and Communications 郵傳部路务议员;

1908: Promoted to 2nd Rank Mandarin 二品衔;

1909: Promoted to expectant deputy vice-president, Min. of Posts & Communications;

1910: Senior Advisor to Min. of Education 学部一等咨义官 and Chief Examiner of the returned foreign-educated students;

1910: Appointed a representative to International Railway Congress in Belgium (North China Herald, 7 Jan. 1910, p. 35), but probably did not attend due to workload;

1910-11: Chief Engineer, Canton-Hankow 粤汉 Railway, and Director upon resignation of Sir Chentung Liang Cheng (Liang Pe Yuk 梁丕旭 IV, 118);

1912-18: Director, Szechwan-Hankow-Canton Railway 川汉粤路, headquartered at Hankow;

1913:  Technical Supervisor, Min. of Communications 交通部技监;

1916:  Deputy Head of National Transportation Conference organized by Ministry
of Communications 交通部交通会议副议长

1919 Feb.: Represented China on Technical Board of the Inter-Allied Railway Committee in negotiations regarding control of the Trans-Siberian and Chinese Eastern Railways after World War I [Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal Gazette, 10 Mar. 1919].


Employment sector(s) Government: Technical Training; Railway Engineering, Construction & Administration

Final rank, if in gov't service Unclear. 

Father's name Zhan Xing Hong (兴洪), alt. name: Zuo Ping(作屏)

Mother's name (Miss) Chen (陈)
Wife/wives 谭菊珍 Tan Juzhen, m. 1887; 4th daughter of 谭伯村 Tan Bocun 
Family relations w/ other CEM students

Son Wencong m. a daughter of Liang Tun Yen (Liang Dunyan 梁敦彦 I, 11)

Jeme and Chung Mun Yew (Zhong Wenyao 钟文耀 I, 2) were brothers-in-law: their wives were sisters of Tan Yew Fun (Tan Yaoxun 谭耀勋 I, 21).  In Chinese this kind of relationship is named 襟亲兄第; Jeme married Mr. Tan's fourth daughter, while Chung married the third.4 

Children's Names

1) 1888 d. Shunrong 顺容
2) 1892 s. Wenguang 文珖
3) 1893 s. Wencong 文琮
4) 1897 d. Shunxiang 顺香
5) 1899 d. Shundai 顺带
6) 1900 s. Wenyao 文耀
7) 1901 s. Wenzu 文祖
8) 1907 s. Wenyu 文裕

Descendants Zhan Tongji  詹同济 (g/s)
Zhan Tongbao 詹同保 (g/s)
Zhan Tongren 詹同仁 (g/s)
Shi Wenwei  石文威 (g/s)


1894: Assoc. Member, 1911 Member, Institution of Civil Engineers of Britain (1st Chinese so honoured);

1908: Elected member, Royal Society of Arts [Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, v. 57 (1908), p. 67];

1909: Elected member, North British Academy of Arts, Literature, Science, and Music;

1909: Member, American Society of Civil Engineers (1st Chinese so honoured);

1912: Order of Luxuriant Grain, 3rd Class, Jiahe Zhang (嘉禾章)2;

1912: Elected member, British Concrete Association [?back-translation of] 英国混凝土学会;

1913: 1st President, and re-elected 5 times, Chinese Institute of Engineers 中华工程司会;

1913 Oct: A founding member of the Western Returned Scholars Association (WRSA) 欧美同学会 in Peking;

1914: Founded Institute's Journal;

1914:  Awarded 2nd Class Jiahe Zhang;

1915: Published 《新编华英工学字汇》 (New Chinese-English Dictionary of Engineering Terms) ; 《京张铁路工程纪略》 (A Brief Account of the Construction of the Peking-Kalgan Railway); and Standard Drawings as Adopted by Peking Kalgan Railway: Reduced in Canton 1913 (pub. date unknown);

1917: Awarded 2nd Class Baoguang Jiahe Zhang 二等宝光嘉禾章;

1922 Apr. 24: The Government erected a bronze statue of Jeme, with tributary inscription, at the 清龙桥站 (Green Dragon Bridge Station) of his historic achievement, the Peking-Kalgan Railway.

Jeme’s sons Wenguang and Wencong were among the group of students who travelled with Tong Shao Yi’s special embassy to America in Nov. 1908 to thank the U.S. for returning part of the Boxer Indemnity funds.  The elder son studied mechanical engineering at Tri-State College, the younger, civil engineering at Yale.5  Registered at Yale as "Chung Mun Jeme", Zhan Wencong graduated from his father’s alma mater, Sheffield Scientific School, Class of 1918, with a Ph.B.  Back in China, he served as engineer or director on several of the railways that his father had built.

Notes and Sources

Jeme pursued numerous, often concurrent, railway projects and other activities; hence to give separate footnotes for each would unduly clutter the page.  Instead, we list the main sources in the following references:

Boorman and Howard (1967), v. 1, pp. 12-15: "Chan Tien-yu";
Zhu (1979), passim;
Zhan (1992), pp. 58-68: "五. 詹天佑生平事略表";
Zhan (2003), pp. 31-36: Letter to Yale classmate, Bigelow, 24 Mar. 1906; 168-169: "詹天佑间历表"
Xie (2008), pp. 194-202: "大事年表".  

1.  All contemporary Yale sources give "Canton, China" as Jeme’s birthplace. Chinese sources mention Wuyuan district 婺源 in Anhui Province 安徽 where his great-grandfather came from.

2.  Who’s Who (1917; 1978), 159f.  For Fraternity membership, see also: Pot-Pourri (Yale U.), v. 14 (1878-79), p. 69.

3.  Chinese sources also claim Mathematics distinction prize in his Final year but this cannot be verified from Yale publications.

4.  Among the 4 letters from Jeme to "Munny" translated and edited by Zhan Tongji, the one dated 18 Oct. 1908 clearly proves Jeme's in-law kinship with Chung Mun Yew and, implicitly, with the deceased Tan Yew Fun. See Zhan (2006), Letter #123, p. 57.

5.  Kao (1986), 48f. For Wencong's Yale info, see: History of the Class of Nineteen Hundred Eighteen Sheffield Scientific School Yale University. Vol I. Edited by the Class Book Committee with the Assistance of the Class Secretaries Bureau (New Haven, CT: 1918), p. 127.