Rice Baseball vs. Chinese University of Hawaii, 1915

Sometimes I look at something I’ve seen before and notice something new. This one is a doozy.

I was paging through one of the old scrapbooks, looking for a particular photo that I wanted to use for something, when I suddenly realized that a picture of the 1915 Rice baseball team was not actually a picture of the 1915 Rice baseball team. Not only that, this baseball team was Asian. A closer look revealed “CHINESE” emblazoned on their jerseys. (How could I not have noticed that before? I don’t know. In my defense, I will say that there was nothing unusual about the pose and the location was clearly on the Rice campus. On top of that, there aren’t any other pictures of Rice’s opponents in any of the scrapbooks so I had no reason to be suspicious.)

Well. Now this is interesting. There wasn’t a Thresher yet in 1915, so I had to turn to the local press. Sure enough, there were stories in both Houston and Galveston newspapers about the visiting team from the Chinese University of Hawaii and the two games it played with the Rice Institute. The stories reflect a mix of the casual ethnic stereotyping that was ordinary in those days coupled with first amazement, and then respect for the serious athletic ability of the Chinese team, which beat Rice pretty handily in both games.

However, twenty years of studying the history of higher education has taught me a few things. (I always told my mom it would pay off some day.) There is, of course, no such thing as the Chinese University of Hawaii and there never has been. So who were these guys? I found the answer in a very fine book, Asian Pacific Americans and Baseball: A History, by Joel S. Franks, an historian at San Jose State. (In what has to be a miracle, I already have this book on my shelf, so I could just walk over and pick it up without spending any money.) Franks describes the popularity of the game in Hawaii and the competition between and among teams of various Asian ethnicities. There’s a lot to the story, but in essence, the team that beat Rice in 1915 was a group of mostly ethnic Chinese all-stars (they were all American citizens), sponsored by Hawaiian businesses who wanted to create good publicity for the islands. They adopted the name “Chinese University of Hawaii” in order to make it easier to schedule games with mainland colleges and even professional teams. It worked.

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11 Responses to Rice Baseball vs. Chinese University of Hawaii, 1915

  1. Kathy Duplessis says:

    Melissa, I am very impressed that you just happened to have the book , Asian Pacific Americans and Baseball: A History, by Joel S. Franks in your office! 🙂

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Hi Kathy! Well, I got interested in the prominence of Asian teams in the Little League World Series a while ago and I bought it then.

      Thanks so much for reading–I really appreciate it.

  2. Joel Franks says:

    Thanks for the kind words about the book. I’m actually publishing another book specifically focused on this team and its journeys. I’m looking for photos for that book and I wondering how I could gain access to the photo you’ve posted in a publishable form and give the proper acknowledgments.

    Thanks again


    • Melissa Kean says:

      What a nice surprise! I enjoyed your book very much. We’d be delighted for you to use our photo–just send me an email here at the Woodson (kean@rice.edu) and we’ll get you squared away.

  3. tom murrah says:

    Melissa, thanks agin for your help in the Library yesterday. In one of the folders
    provided, an article indicated that Rice decided not to play the “Student” touring team
    the following year, 1916. We (the local chapter of the Society for American Baseball Reasearch)
    continue our work on our 1861-1961 project, and all your assistance is much appreciated.
    Ideas are always welcome. Thanks.

  4. Jane says:

    As I was researching Chinese Baseball of 1915 I happened upon your post. I wondered if you have any information on the visit of General Hwang Hsing to the USA at the time of the 1911 revolution and why he would be presenting a trophy for the winner of a baseball tournament in Delaware County, Pennsylvania on September 15, 1915. I have the trophy…found it in the attic.

  5. They also played here at Warren Ballpark in Bisbee, AZ – the oldest ballpark in continuous use in the U,S. They were called the “Yellow Peril” in the local press the day they played the Warren District Greys – March 24, 1915 – but got a lot more respect the following day, after beating the pants off the grays, 11-4. They did the same the day before in Tucson when the played the University of AZ Wildcats (this years’s CWS champions!). People on the mainland didn’t seem to be able to wrap their heads around the fact that these men lived in the U.S. (Territory of Hawaii) or that base ball had been played in the islands just about as long as it was played in the mainland – Alexander Cartwright, one of the men credited with developing the rules for the modern game of baseball, emigrated to the kingdom of Hawaii around the time of the California gold rush of ’49. Stupid haoles! No can get ’em right. How can I get permission to use the photo you have here on this blog for my upcoming book on Warren Ballpark? And may I use it on the Friends of Warren Ballpark Facebook page?

  6. Pingback: Baseball in the islands - Hawaii's Significance To The Game

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  8. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    What a fascinating blog this turned out to be!

  9. Pingback: Baseball In The Islands, Hawaii’s Significance To The Game | My Blog

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