Melville Jacoby's interest in China can be traced back to 1936. That year and into 1937, during what would have been Mel's junior year at Stanford University, he went to China as an exchange student. There, he studied in the southern port city of Canton (that was the English transliteration of the time; it is now commonly transliterated as Guangzhou). He joined other American and Chinese students on the campus of Lingnan University (which still exists in another form in Hong Kong, while its original campus remains as part of Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou).
The year was as transformative for China as it was for Mel. That December, China's then leader, Chiang Kai-Shek (Jiang Jieshi) was kidnapped and held under house arrest near the city of Sian (Xi'an), leaving Chinese politics in a lurch. Though the crisis was resolved two weeks later with new (temporary) cooperation between Chinese communists and Chiang's Kuomintang (Guomindang) Party, by the summer of 1937 China went to war with Japan. Mel was there when the fighting began, and the conflict that became World War II would dominate the rest of his life and work.
But Mel was also a fairly typical 20-year-old student when he was at Lingnan, and the following pictures depict the life of a western student at Lingnan, as well as some of what Mel saw in surrounding regions of China. To see more pictures, click on the "Images of the Past" button in the menu and choose a portion of Mel's life.
Read more about Mel's story today in Eve of a Hundred Midnights, available now!