Asians at Brown were few and far between for many years. The first known was Sau-Ahbrah 1877 from Henthada, Burma, who was a Karen convert sent to Brown with the expectation that he would return to Burma as a Christian missionary. He came in the company of Willis Thomas 1877, the son of Benjamin C. Thomas 1847, who had as an undergraduate heard Adoniram Judson 1807 speak at Brown and decided that he also would become a missionary to Burma. Willis Thomas also later returned to Burma as a missionary. Sau-Ahbrah left Brown after his junior year, graduated from Newton Theological Institution in 1879, and received an M.D. degree from Jefferson Medical College in 1882. Having acquired a taste for American life, he never returned to Burma except for a visit, but chose instead to travel throughout the United States, posing as a Burman prince and delivering lectures. Heita Okada 1895 came to Brown from Tokyo by way of Worcester Academy. Julius Kumpei Matsumoto, a graduate of the University of Tokyo, earned a master of arts degree in 1894. He became a member of the Japanese parliament. His brother, Matsuzo Matsumoto, was a member of the class of 1894. The first Korean student was Sang-Kyu Pak (he later changed the spelling of his name to Pack) ’05. A Phi Beta Kappa graduate, he returned to Korea, went into the banking business, and was also a teacher at Yeun University, Posung College, and Chosen Christian College. When he left Brown, he predicted that he would have eight sons and send them all to Brown. Unfortunately, when his oldest son did visit the United States, he was disturbed by the prejudice he encountered and went home. In the 1940s Pack was a member of the Representative Democratic Council of Korea. In 1951 he was kidnapped by North Koreans and was not heard from again.
In 1906 the Chinese government sent forty students from Tien Tsin University to be educated in the United States. They attended the Harvard summer school and were then placed at Cornell, Amherst, M. I. T., Boston University, Harvard, and Brown. The five who entered Brown, all in the sophomore class, in the fall of 1906 were Chen Ju-Hsiang, Chou Tsung-Hua, Ho Hou-Wei, Hua Yu-Peng and Ma Tai-Cheng. None of them graduated from Brown. The last three named all received Ph.B. degrees from the Sheffield Scientific School in 1908. Later students were Chen Cheng Chong ’15, ’16 Sc.M., Liu Tsung-Fah ’15, Chun Ki Kee ’19, Lin Kuo-Hoa ’20, Wong Paak Kam ’23, and Chung Kam Tuk ’27. One family sent five members to Brown, Zue Sun Bien ’12, Fu Sun Bien ’17, Richard Pang-Nien Bien ’24, Paul Beh-Nien Bien ’28, and George Sung-Nien Bien ’33 Ph.D., and one (Chu Nien Bien ’38) to Pembroke. In 1933 Kuo-P’ing Chou ’35 won the newly instituted Brown University scholarship offered at several Japanese and Chinese universities and came to Pembroke as a junior, transferring from Yenching University. In 1945 the Alumnae Association held a Kuo-P’ing Chou Day to augment a fund which had been started the year before to help her and Yenching University, both in need because of the war. Siheung Daniel Rhee came from Korea in 1927, graduated in 1931, remained in the United States, became a chemist, started a firm to manufacture elastic thread, and sent his son, Michael Rhee ’55, to Brown.
In 1911-1912 an international exchange of lecturers between Japan and the United States was undertaken at the instigation of Hamilton Holt, editor of the Independent, and under the supervision of President Nicholas Murray Butler of Columbia. The six universities involved in the exchange were Brown, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Virginia, Illinois, and Minnesota. Dr. Inazo Nitobe, professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo, arrived at Brown in October 1911 to begin his lecture tour, the object of which was the interpretation of his country’s culture and people to Americans. He remained for four weeks, delivering public lectures in Sayles Hall every Monday and Thursday, speaking before local organizations, and meeting informally with the faculty and students. In 1924 Brown awarded an honorary degree to Masanao Hanihara, Japanese ambassador to the United States, an action which did much to establish good feeling between Japan and the United States, which had suffered from the Japanese immigration restriction act, and indirectly led to the admission several years later of Asian American student John F. Aiso ’31. Aiso was born in California of Japanese parents. During his schooldays in Hollywood he met with prejudice. He was deprived of his election as president of the student body of his junior high school by a Board of Education which suspended the student government until after he graduated. In high school he was advised to resign as district winner of a national oratorical contest on the Constitution, the official explanation of the Board of Education being his illness, and was then sent to Washington to be the coach of the runner-up in his district who ultimately won the national contest. After graduation from high school he studied Japanese at the Seigo Junior College in Tokyo and wrote articles on Japan for the Los Angeles Times. He enrolled at Stanford, because he could not afford to attend an Eastern College. On a visit to the University of Virginia which had offered him a scholarship, Aiso stopped to visit the Japanese Ambassador in Washington, and on his recommendation to President Faunce, was admitted to Brown, where he won several honors.
In the late 1960s the small number of Asian American students at Brown became interested in exploring their ethnic identity, and a Group Independent Study Project in the fall of 1969 brought together about a dozen of them under the care of Professor James Sakoda of Sociology. Philip Lu ’72, MiKe Mochizuki ’72, and Lillian Lim ’73 were among the leaders who in the following spring formed the Asian American Student Association as a political voice for this group of students. Active recruitment of students from Hawaii in the late 1960s began a steady enrolment from that state, which further increased the number of Asian Americans.
Asian Americans accounted for 12.4 per cent of the Class of 1993, admitted in 1989, up from 9.7 per cent the previous year. The Asian American Students Association supports the Asian American students through cultural awareness, education, political activism, and social functions. The Association of South East Asian Nations educates the Brown community about life in South East Asia and provides support for South East Asian students. The Chinese Students Association provides cultural, social, and political activities and is open to any Brown student who is interested. The Filipino Alliance at Brown promotes Filipino culture and heritage. The Friends of Southeast Asians is an organization through which Brown students are matched with Southeast Asian children in the Providence area in order to assist the children in adjusting to their new surroundings. The Hong Kong Students Association promotes interaction among those in the Brown community who share an interest in Hong Kong. The Japan Culture Club promotes relations between Japanese students at Brown on others interested in Japanese culture. The Korean Students Association promotes understanding of Korean culture and customs. The South Asian Students Association offers an opportunity to the Brown community to learn about South Asian culture. The Vietnamese Student Association promotes Vietnamese awareness and unity. In November 1991, as part of Asian Awareness Month, a panel discussion was sponsored by the Brown Organization of Multiracial and Biracial Students (BOMBS).