In the prestigious Columbia University, the department of East Asian Studies, there is a post for special studies of Chinese culture and Han teachings called the “Dean Lung Professorship,” which was established and funded by Horace Walpole Carpentier in 1901 to commemorate Dean Lung, his illiterate but noble Chinese servant.
Mr. Carpentier (1824-1918) was born in New York City, graduated from Columbia University, and later became a lawyer. He served as the first mayor of Oakland, California. In 1888, he returned to his hometown of New York City and was elected to the Board of Trustees of Columbia University.
Dean Lung, a humble servant
In California, he hired Dean Lung as a servant, who followed him back to New York. Due to his busy schedule, Mr. Carpentier was often verbally abusive to Dean Lung. Once he threw a fit over something trivial and fired Dean Lung.
A while later, Mr. Carpentier’s house was burned down by fire. He was unharmed, but suffered a great loss. Dean Lung heard about it and came to see him. He told Mr. Carpentier that he would serve him again. Mr. Carpentier asked him the reason why, and Dean Lung said:
“There was a sage named Kong Zi, and he taught people to be forgiving and tolerant. He even said: ‘Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.’ Now, your house was burned down by fire and you are living alone. I worked for you before and I feel sorry for you. That’s why I want to continue to serve you.”
Mr. Carpentier praised Dean Lung and said: “I did not know that you liked to read and you understand ancient teachings.” Dean Lung replied that he was illiterate and what he knew was told by his father.
Mr Carpentier was very surprised and replied: “It is good that your father liked to study ancient teachings.” Dean Lung replied:
“My father was also illiterate and so were my grandfather and great grandfather. However, Confucius’s teachings were our family’s tradition and were passed down from generation to generation.”
Mr. Carpentier was very moved after hearing this and treated Dean Lung like a friend. He never verbally abused Dean Lung again.
A few years later, Dean Lung became seriously ill. He told Mr. Carpentier:
“I live here carefree and have no worries. I am about to leave this world. The entire wage you gave me is in my savings. Since I have neither family nor friends, I would like to give this money to you in gratitude for your kindness all these years.”
Dean Lung Professorship established at Columbia University
Mr. Carpentier was very touched and decided to donate the money, plus some of his own, to establish the post of “Dean Lung Professorship” for special studies of Han teachings.
It was said that Columbia University wanted to name this position after the Qing Dynasty Prime Minister Li Hong Zhang or the Qing Ambassador Wu Ting Fang. However, Mr. Carpentier threatened to divest unless they followed his wish.
Mr. Carpentier even wrote a letter to the president of Columbia University to talk about Dean Lung:
“Dean Lung came from a poor family. He is not a legend, but a real living being. I say so because I was fortunate enough to encounter someone who was from a humble family, but had a noble character. He was born kind and had never hurt anyone.”
In the end, the president of Columbia University compromised.
After Dean Lung died, Mr. Carpentier was very sad. Afterward, he donated more to the professorship, totaling $500,000. So far, six people have received this award.
What’s more surprising is that there is a Dean Lung Road in a little town in upstate New York where Mr. Carpentier had lived during his later years. For a hundred years, people in this town chose to remember a Chinese worker’s contribution to America.
Translated by Isabel Chang