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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 1052; T-582

Papers of Pin Pin T'an, 1937-2020 (inclusive), 1940-1990 (bulk)


Memoirs, recipes, correspondence, and naturalization papers of Pin Pin T'an, a Chinese woman who came to the United States in the 1930s.


  • 1937-2020
  • Majority of material found within 1940-1990


Language of Materials

Materials in English, Chinese, and French.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Collection is stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours in advance.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Pin Pin T'an is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


.63 linear feet ((1+1/2 file boxes) plus 1 folio folder, 2 folio+ folders, 1 photograph folder, 1 folio photograph folder)
609.25 Megabytes (27 files)

The collection documents Pin Pin T'an's personal life, arrival in the United States, and work as a teacher of the Basic English method during World War II. The collection contains biographical information including articles about T'an and a family tree; correspondence, primarily with family members; marriage, naturalization, and death certificates; recipes; financial records; photographs; and electronic records. T'an's memoirs, which provide a detailed look at the life of a well-to-do Chinese family in the early years of the 20th century, are particularly notable, as are the documents pertaining to her radio broadcasts during World War II. The collection is arranged with a brief biography of T'an appearing first, followed by an alphabetical arrangement of the remaining material. Most folder titles were created by the archivist; those created by T'an or her family appear in quotation marks. T'an's family provided digital scans of correspondence, photographs, and other documents. These items are represented in the finding aid by E.1-E.25. Considerable overlap exists between the electronic and paper documents. The collection also includes three audio files (#T-582.1--T.582.3). On two of these recordings, T'an talks with her daughter Linda Liu Behar about her early life (including traveling to school in a rickshaw, followed by a maid in a separate rickshaw); her family; and her courtship with David Liu. The third recording is of T'an telling Chinese fairy tales. Accession 2022-M158 was added to the collection in September 2022 and added to folders 1.7 and 2.12. All other folders remain in their original order and arrangement.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.


Pin Pin T'an (also known as T'an Pin Pin, Pin Pin Liu, and Pin Pin T'an Liu ) was the only child of Walter Way and Lily T'an. Her parents lived in Peking (now Beijing, China) before Walter Way, a banker, was assigned work in Manila, in the Philippines. T'an was born there in 1916 and the family returned to Peking not long thereafter. T'an's maternal grandfather, Chang Yin T'ang, was a career diplomat and served as the Chinese ambassador to the United States from 1909 to 1913 before retiring to Peking at the age of 50. Other family members included her aunt by marriage, Isabel T'ang, who was the daughter of T'ang Shao-Yi, first Prime Minister of the Republic of China; and T'an's first cousins Millicent and Eileen, who married Henry Yuan (son of Yuan Shih-K'ai, President of China 1912-16) and architect I. M. Pei, respectively.

T'an grew up in a wealthy family and studied at the Peking American School, graduating at the age of 16, before earning a B.A. in European Languages at Yenching University. Her parents were eager for her to continue her education and have a career, which was an unusual attitude in China at the time. She left China in 1936, having received a Rockefeller Fellowship for graduate study at Radcliffe College, and received her M.A. in English Literature in 1938. She intended to return to China after completing her studies but the Second Sino-Japanese War made this impossible. During World War II, she taught C. K. Ogden's Basic English method to South Americans over short-wave radio while based in Boston, Massachusetts; Chinese to American officers in Chicago; and English to the first group of Chinese naval officers being trained in the United States, in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. She also translated tank manuals from English to Chinese. In addition, she assisted Harvard University professor I. A. Richards with his work on Basic English, an aid for teaching English as a second language. Richards may have had a Rockefeller Foundation grant to do this work.

In 1945, she married David C. T. Liu (also known as Liu Ching Tung, Ching Tung Liu, C. T. Liu, and Hung Dong Lau), a doctor she had first met while studying at Yenching University. Due to her upbringing, she had never been in a kitchen before arriving in the United States; she did not learn how to cook until after her marriage. The couple had four children: Linda, David, Gordon (who died when only a few days old), and Arthur. The family had hoped to return to China in the late 1940s but decided against this due to the rise of the Chinese Communist Party. They eventually settled in California, where Liu became chief surgeon for the Kaiser Foundation hospitals in Oakland and Walnut Creek before establishing a private practice in Walnut Creek.

After Liu's death in 1971, T'an began teaching Chinese cooking classes to benefit the local medical association's nursing scholarships. Initially she did cooking demonstrations at a supermarket and gave private lessons; eventually she taught at a local community center. It was ironic that a woman who had never been in a kitchen until she was in her twenties acquired the expertise to introduce the art of Chinese cooking to her community. T'an was an active member of the American Association of University Women, the Yenching University Alumni Association, and the Women's Auxiliary of the Alameda-Contra Costa Medical Association. She died in 1995.

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 2019-M186, 2020-M61, 2020-M66, 2020-M81. Accession number 2022-M158 was added to the collection in September 2022.

The papers of Pin Pin T'an were given to the Schlesinger Library by her daughter Linda Liu Behar between November 2019 and September 2022.

Processing Information

Processed: February 2021

Updated and new material added: September 2022

By: Susan Earle

The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections, and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit.  Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by the Radcliffe Class of 1955 Manuscript Processing Fund.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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