Voices from the Archives: Frank Zhou ’19
Frank Zhou '19’s passions for storytelling, writing, and history have coalesced in his exploration of the history of Chinese students at Phillips Academy Andover.
Over the past two years, Frank Zhou ’19 has spent countless hours poring over a trove of 5,000-plus postcards, personal letters, and financial balance sheets that collectively offer a window into the daily lives and stories of Andover’s Chinese students from the late-1800s to the present day. A Community and Multicultural Development Scholar (CaMD) at Andover, Frank knit together their histories into his CaMD research paper, “Muscular Christian Education and 20th-Century Chinese Students at Phillips Academy,” which is published through the Chinese Students at Andover Project. He followed that with an April 2022 event with Professors Tom Mullaney and Christopher Rea, "Getting an Early Start on Research: How To Teach and Learn Research in High School," and a May 2022 CaMD presentation, “The Vers(es) in Diversity: Chinese Students at Andover,” where he had the opportunity to share the compelling stories he discovered in his research in an 80-minute TED-style event before faculty, students, archivists, administrators, engineers, and librarians.
Frank first learned of the existence of these documents in the spring of 2020, when he connected with Andover’s archivist, Dr. Paige Roberts. In the early twentieth century, the Head of School at Andover served as the primary guardian for Andover’s Chinese students, enabling the preservation of over fifty years of communications. The collection gave Frank insight into the experience of Chinese students on the Andover campus and the shifting appeal of a U.S. education for the Chinese. “From 1905 to 1933, the vast majority of Chinese students were children of the elite, the literati, Qing dynasty officials and men of letters who knew about America and recognized the value in American education,” says Frank. He did not expect to find the surprisingly strong vein of religion that permeated the experience. “At the turn of the 20th century, Andover was part of a muscular Christian movement that prized physical cultivation and athletic excellence as paramount to an Andover education,” he explains. “The Head of School, Dr. Alfred Stearns, very explicitly encouraged Chinese students to come for religious education, and parents were very receptive to that. It was a thread that I hadn’t expected.”
Frank also discovered connections to his family history and experience in the archives he studied. Both Frank’s parents came to the U.S from China for an American education, and he grew up on bedtime anecdotes highlighting the humor and pitfalls of navigating an unfamiliar culture. Pairing his research paper with the opportunity to conduct oral histories in a companion project supported by the Abbot Independent Scholars program satisfied the dual impulses of a historian and storyteller. “Through oral history, I was able to inhabit worlds that I hadn’t experienced and enter into landscapes that were entirely new for me,” says Frank. “With the context of the previous research project, I found the joy of living lives that weren’t my own and then writing them up.” Frank’s work was also recently featured in “Andover’s Atlantis,” an article he wrote for the Spring 2022 issue of Andover Magazine.