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Before the United States entered World War II, Sarcey San-Tsai Chen ’24 valiantly opposed Japanese aggression in China.

The news filtered in slowly to WPI’s Alumni Association office, starting with a dispatch received in July 1940: Sarcey San-Tsai Chen ’24, vice president of American Engineering Corp. in Shanghai, had been kidnapped and possibly killed. The association asked Margaret Fuller Gardner for her assistance; prior to her marriage, she had lived in Worcester, and Chen and other Chinese students had been frequent visitors to the Fuller home.

“Unfortunately, it is true that Sarcey Chen was assassinated by the Japanese,” wrote Chih Meng, director of the China Institute in America, in a 1944 letter to Gardner. “The information is rather meager. It happened about 1940.” Mrs. Chu Shih-ming, wife of a Chinese diplomat, could add little more: “What you wrote about Sarcey Chen is all true. I am very sorry that I cannot give you further information regarding him while the war is still going on.”

A class standout

Chen was born August 4, 1902, in Soochow, China. He attended Tsing Hua College in Peking before entering WPI and earning a degree in electrical engineering. According to the 1923 Aftermath (the student yearbook), “S.T.” had a reputation for putting “punch” into his studies and activities. He played with “cleverness and skill” as soccer team captain, headed up the tennis team (his “mean racket” netted a singles championship), was vice president of the debating society and the Cosmopolitan Club, and was a member of Tau Beta Pi and Sigma Xi. “When he says, ‘I don’t know yet,’” wrote the editors of the yearbook, “you may rest assured that it will not be long before he finds out, and what is more, finds out right. In the future, we expect to hear more of this live wire.”

A country in chaos

In a letter dated October 28, 1946, Haw King Chen, nephew of Chen, wrote:

I suppose you have heard of the tragic death of my uncle, Sarcey Chen; he died as a martyr to the cause of active resistance to Japanese aggression. He was shot by the traitor Wang Ching-wei, chairman of the puppet government sponsored by the Japanese invaders. This occurred about six years ago. At that time things really looked very dark for China. The change came when America entered the war …

Japanese designs on China began in 1931. Faced with a grow-ing population and depleted raw materials, troops seized Manchuria, a region rich with potential for industrial development and war industries. The Japanese pushed to the south of the Great Wall, into northern China, and to the coastal provinces. On July 7, 1937, Chinese and Japanese troops clashed outside Beijing near the Marco Polo Bridge in a skirmish that marked the beginning of China’s War of Resistance.

While Japan steadily gained territory, China itself was in turmoil. Chiang Kai-shek, head of the Nationalist Party (the Kuomintang, or KMT), chose to focus on “internal unity before external danger” and embarked on anti-communist extermination campaigns to deplete the nation’s growing Communist Party (CCP). But the Red Army grew, especially after 1935 when Mao Tse-Tung was elected CCP chairman.

Wang Ching-wei, Chen’s alleged assassin, was a Chinese revolutionary and political leader. He became chairman of the KMT but attempted two coups against Chiang Kai-shek. In 1938, he traveled to Shanghai under the guise of advocating peace with Japanese invaders. Two years later, he was appointed premier of the Japanese puppet government in Nanjing.

Noncombatant Chinese people were the first victims of Japanese massacres. Eradication of these “bandits”—a Japanese term for resistance groups who opposed them—was facilitated through widespread executions. While little is known about the events leading up to Chen’s abduction and his subsequent assassination, he is honored today as a patriot who died for his country.

Chen’s legacy

In May 1924, the WPI Journal published an article titled “The Measure of a Man,” which focused on undergraduates who had been chosen by their peers as class leaders. Sarcey San-Tsai Chen ’24 was one of 36 selected. Each leader was asked: What do you think would make the Institute more satisfactory to undergraduates and more attractive to prospective students? Chen recommended WPI “revise certain parts of the curriculum which lay too much stress on technical details, thus narrowing down the student’s viewpoint on life.”

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