The Early Engineers

The early engineers are most likely civil engineers, they are most likely working for the Ministry of Communication. It is not surprising that the early leaders of the CIE were officers from the Ministry. The Nanyang University/Chiao-Tung University, being a primary engineering school, produced a large number of CIE members. From the group of early members, you may find more heavyweights such as:

Mr. Te-Cheng Chen (陳體誠), CIE’s first president, returned to China in 1920, served as Civil Engineer in the Ministry of Communication (Transportation) specialized in highway building, his contribution toward the defense was significant.

Mr. Kung Lee (李 鏗), Pao-Ling Fang (馮寶齡), Chun-Yin Shen (沈仲寅), Li Hou-San (李垕身), structure engineers, whose designs changed the skyline of Shanghai. The cooperative effort of Lee, Fang and Shen made possible the intricate structure of the Sun Yat Sin Memorial Hall (中山紀念堂) in Canton. It was a unique memorial for the founding father of the Republic of China. Mr. Lee Kung graduated from the Cornell University in 1918 and received a Masters’ degree. His paper on structure analysis was so outstanding that one item was named as the “Lee Kung’s Law” by the faculty. Another outstanding student was his classmate Lo Yin 羅 英, who later on served as the chief engineer for the Qiantang River Bridge (錢塘江大橋).

From MIT, you will find educators such as Dr. Xue Zeh-Zin (薛次莘), vice President 1926-1927 (Civil Engineering Department Chairman, Chiao-Tung University), Prof. Hsu Ming Choy (徐 名材), Chiao-Tung University. Dr. Shee Mou Lee (李熙謀), CIE President 1964, Convention chairman 1922, (Dean, Chiao-Tung University, 1940-1970 during the war in Chungking and later in Taiwan). The Cornell graduates, had the Mao’s Law and Lee Kung’s Law, the students in MIT were not too far behind, Dr. Yu-Hsiu Ku, (顧毓琇) received a Masters’ degree in 1926, discovered the “Ku-variable” in operational calculus. He received his Ph.D. in 1928. In the later year, he presented the Ku-method in nonlinear analysis, and the Ku’s rules in Feedback Theory, and has been recognized as the leading engineer-mathematician. He served as CIE Vice President from 1947 to 1948. He was the CIE-NY achievement award recipient in 1959. He is the 97 years old professor emeritus of the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the only professor who has received the distinction as honorary professor for all five Chiao-Tung/Jiao-Tong Universities (Shanghai, Xian, Northern, Southwest and Hsinchu). Another outstanding member of CIE from MIT, also the CIE-NY achievement award recipient 1959, was Dr. Lan-Jen Chu 朱蘭成, an authority on microwave and electromagnetic wave propagation, MIT just kept him in the faculty until his retirement in the 1970’s. During world war II, he served in the MIT Radiation Laboratories, contributed brilliantly in Radar research and development.

CIE - World War II

The Sino-Japanese War lasted for eight years. Those were the darkest days in this century for the people in China in general and the engineers in particular. Engineers are trained to build for the improvement of the society. War destroyed that in the name of strategy in order to advance and win. The most heart breaking example was the first long bridge designed and built by Chinese engineers, the Qiantang River Bridge (錢塘江大橋) in Zhejiang province. The 1,453 meter bridge project started in August 1933, with a budget of 5.1 million silver dollars and construction schedule of 30 months. Against all odds and obstacles it was completed in September 1937. The Japanese invasion already started in 1937. For three months, the government fully utilized the road to transport valuables and strategic materials to the western parts of country. The battle grounds were getting closer and closer to Hangchou, and on December 23rd , Dr. Mao received an order to destroy the bridge thoroughly so that the Japanese army could not use it to advance their army. The bridge was flatten to the water bed by the men who spent four years of their life to build it. The three short months of bridge utilization time for a project of such magnitude was probably a world record. Dr. Mao carried the engineering design and data with him to Kweiyang and then Chungking through out the war years, hoping that one day, they will return and build it again. ( Their prayers were answered, they did rebuild the bridge after the war. ). There were many similar unpleasant stories like this one; nevertheless, in the shadow of war and devastation, shortage of productive manpower and resources, the Chinese engineers managed to hold on until the American advanced technology help to defeat the Japanese at the end.

In 1938, the Japanese troops occupied almost all of the coastal cities in China. Supplies from the Allies, can only be transported by air, by flying over the Camels’ Hump through the Himalayas. A highway connecting between Burma and Yunnan Province was urgently needed. The road was being built, but under the constant bombing by the Japanese Air Force, and the adverse working condition of this construction through forests and jungles. Many engineers and workers gave their life to the project.

Dr. Hung-Hsun Ling (淩鴻勛), being a railroad man, drew the assignment to complete a railroad from Kweiling (桂) through Liu-Chow (柳州) to Nan-ning (南寧) and then crossed the border to Indo-China (安南), a move to connect China to the outside world even the harbors were occupied by the Japanese Army. The Japanese strategists also were very much aware of that. Air raids on the construction began with daily bombing by Japanese aircraft from the carrier mooring in the Tonkin Bay, the task became a mission impossible. By focusing on the northern sections, the Hangyang (衡陽) to Kweiling 桂林 to Liu-chow (柳州) connections were made on December of 1939. Started from January 1938, after two full years of constructions, and mobilization of over 600,000 workers, the railroad was finally completed. Ultimately, the Japanese navy opened up a new front in south China and invaded Nan-ning, but the railroad helped the movement of the Chinese Army to block the advance of the Japanese and won several battles afterward.

Dr. Ling was then transfer to the Northwest in 1940, taking care of all Northwest highway maintenance and site planning for a railroad connecting Tien-sui (天水), Kansui (甘肅) and Chengdu (成都), Szechuan (四川). While military and engineering maneuvers were going on in the south and southwest China, the northwest highway connections were developing too. At the beginning of the war, the USSR and Chinese governments executed a friendly loan agreement that Russia will supply to China, over the years, 1000 medium size Jeep with certain strategic materials, trucking in from Sin-Jiang 新疆 province. To avoid publicity, and subsequent bomber attacks from the Japanese Army, the code name for those vehicles was wool cargo cars. The initial highway and associated facilities were built to accommodate the shipping of those Jeeps, and then became one of the rear branch of the northwest highway system and the backdoor of China to the world via Russia.

Dr. Ling continued to serve on this assignment until January 1945 when he was appointed to serve as Vice Minister (次長) of the Ministry of Communications (交通部). He completed his sixteen years of field services, with construction of more than 1000 kilometers of new railroad built, 4000 kilometers in planning and surveying; and administrated the maintenance of 5000 kilometers of highway.

Another engineering accomplishment was the building and maintenance of a highway between Kweiyang and Chungking. The Wu River flows across the Kweichow province. The first major construction therefore is the Wu Rriver Bridge, a 55 meter spans on two towers of 31 meter height. It took five days to travel through this road by modified trucks. In order to conserve gasoline for defense, most of the long haul trucks had to undergo modification to convert the gasoline power plant to one that used charcoal as an alternate fuel. The conversion rendered the vehicle less powerful, while creating an awful pollution to the environment. Nevertheless, it was a needed,, practical, and effective solution in an era when a slogan of survival was “A drop of gasoline is a drop of blood.”. Besides, the drivers might not be able to get gasoline in some area but one could always be able to purchase charcoal in any remote village. The charcoal running vehicle was considered as one of the ingenious engineering implementation then - although it is bordering ridiculous as we see it today! The terrain of this region is generally rocky and mountainous. On the borders between the Kweichou (貴州) and Szechuan (四川) provinces, the highway has to climb a mile high Kweichou mountain and then drop down to the basin of Szechuan. There were seventy two switch-backs in one of the stretch. Within each switch-back, the elevation of the roadway varied hundreds of feet from the lowest to the highest points. The driver not only had to maneuver the vehicle along the serpent like curves, but the steep ups and downs put his ability to make the most out of the under-powered engine to test. This highway and its sister highway from Kunming (昆明) to Kweiyang (貴陽) were the two major strategic highways of southwest China in that period, and yet, they were so dangerous and vulnerable to travel. The continuing maintenance and improvement works were a great challenge to the civil engineers of that era.

The electrical power engineers were perpetually overloaded with the problems of overloading of engines and generators. The radio engineers had to work hard day in and day out, focusing on pushing the ranges of the radio transmission for military intelligent telecommunications. Aeronautical engineers invented detachable spare fuel tanks made out of bamboo and sealed with tung-oil to extend the flying ranges of the fighter planes and bombers. There were many more stories like the above mentioned implementation and improvisations. Those were a major part of the trials and tribulations of the engineers in a handicapped war.

The working condition was bad, the pay was bordering minimum, the inflation was hurting everyone, but the spirits were high, most of the engineers attended to their assignments diligently, and abided by the guiding principles as stated earlier at the beginning of this article.

During the time when Mr. CHEN Li-Fu 陳立夫, ( CIE Convention Chairman in 1927 and Chairman/President of CIE in 1940) was appointed to be the Minister of Education, he and a number of far-sighted educators, convinced the government to provide loans to the college students and exempt them from military duty in order to preserve the resource of technical personnel of the future. Many of the students supported by this wartime policy also earned scholarships to be trained abroad after the war. A high percentage of the CIE-NY members in the 1960’s shared the same experiences. After several changes of government agencies, changes of currencies, exchange rates, plus the inflation factors, no one knows how much each student has to pay back and to which agency the loan has to be paid! After these students completed their training and financially secured, some of them found ways to pay back indirectly by participating voluntary in various government sponsored engineering projects. It was due to such obligations and aspirations that the early members of CIE-NY chartered the METS in 1966 and later on the formation of SATIC in 1993.


After the V-J day (victorious against Japan) in 1945, China was in the period of post war consolidations, no CIE annual convention was organized until 1948. The first post war convention was held in Taipei and well attended, CIE chairman that year was the model engineer/professor Dr. Yi-Sheng Mao (茅以昇), with Dr. Y. H. Ku (顧毓琇) and F. J. Sah (薩福鈞) as vice chairmen. A good number of engineers and technical management team drew the assignment working in Taiwan, taking over the Japanese government owned industries and utilities. It was unfortunate that immediately after the World War II ended, the civil conflict in China developed into a full scale civil war. In 1949, the government of the Republic of China (ROC) and her army retreated to Taiwan

The activity of Chinese Institute of Engineers in mainland China was suspended after 1949, however, the engineers continued to contribute in the courses of rebuilding the infrastructure under the leadership of the government of the Peoples’ Republic of China. Over the years, there have been ups and downs in the rebuilding progress, influenced by many other factors such as man made and natural disasters; but the end results in the long run were still good. Railroad network was greatly expanded. Communication systems advanced. Wuhan Bridge was built to connect the North and South China. The Qiantang River Bridge (錢塘江大橋) and the Yellow River Railroad Bridge were re-built. Electrical power generation was catching up to the demand of new industrial development. etc..