Browse Exhibits (1 total)

Tornado Machines and Trans-Pacific Relations: The Life and Work of Dr. C.C. Chang

How does a village kid, who became a student at a warlord-funded university, a student refugee of the Japanese invasion of China and an aeronautical engineer during the Second World War, grow up to be a world-class scientist at the Catholic University of America in the 1960s and 70s?

The life and work of Dr. C.C. Chang invite an examination of an extraordinary member of the Catholic University of America community and a trans-Pacific world shaped by Chinese American scholars. This exhibit recaptures his scientific innovations, unique immigration experience, personal negotiation of political allegiance, and the role he played in the history of Sino-American relations. Some of his story might be remote and unfamiliar, but you may find many of the topics familiar in today’s conversations. In an age when scholars are once again caught between the looming conflict between China and the United States, Dr. Chang’s experience shows the value and fragility of an academic Chinese-Americanness in history. 

This exhibit is divided into five parts. The first and second parts focus on  Dr. Chang’s early years in the war-torn China of the 1920s and 1930s, where he attended two prestigious Chinese universities and encountered a trans-Pacific academic community. The third part focuses on the honeymoon between the Chinese and American governments during the Second World War, which brought Dr. Chang to the United States to further his study in aeronautical engineering at the California Institute of Technology. We  then look at the undoing of a trans-Pacific academic network during the early stage of the Cold War, when the Cummunist takeover in 1949 led to a gradual but comprehensive shutdown of academic exchanges between the two countries and cast Dr. Chang and his Chinese colleagues asunder. 

The next two sections deal with Dr. Chang’s life and work as a Chinese American scientist. He came to the Catholic University of America in 1963 and established the Department of Space Science and Applied Physics after a successful academic career at three top American universities. At Catholic, his team would partner with the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) in various projects, including the design of the IMP(Interplanetary Monitoring Platform) and Nimbus Satellites. His scholarly interest shifted to the field of meteorology in the late 1960s, which gave rise to his best remembered achievement at Catholic: the establishment of a “tornado machine” on campus. Five years before Dr. Chang’s retirement from Catholic, Nixon’s 1972 visit to China helped him to reconnect with his country of birth. He visited China in 1972 and shared his observation about the country’s development under the Communist regime. His work with Chinese scientists was renewed shortly afterwards and continued into the final years of his long and fruitful life.

This exhibit offers documents and images  related to several historical turning points, such as the Japanese invasion of China, the abrupt fragmentation of a trans-Pacific academic community after 1949, the Cultural Revolution in China from 1966 to 1976, and the normalization of Sino-US relations after 1972. These events played vital roles in Dr. Chang’s experience in the two countries. His story reflects the rise and decline of a transpacific academic community that has long served as a thermometer of the relationship between China and the United States. Through his life and work, we will walk you through an evocative experience about the role of scholars in the 20th Century American history of immigration and diplomacy.

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