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U.S. Group Exploring Herbert Hoover’s China Roots

April 28, 1987

BEIJING (AP) _ Two grandchildren of President Herbert Hoover and a group of Hoover scholars are trying to reconstruct the three years the 31st American president spent as a young geologist in northeast China’s grimy industrial city of Tianjin.

Hoover, president from 1928-32, is best known for presiding over the onset of the Great Depression.

But Tom Walsh, assistant director of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa, said Monday that Hoover’s stay in Tianjin from 1899-1901 was a formative period in the future politician’s life. He assisted the Chinese Bureau of Mines in developing mining resources and building harbors, Walsh said.

″When he first came to China at the age of 24, he had a job of incredible responsibility,″ said Herbert Hoover III of Los Angeles, the president’s grandson. ″It was what we call today a quick solution - go out and find gold.″

Hoover III’s sister, Margaret Brigham of West Chester, Pa., and about 30 other people with an interest in the former president, including board members of the Hoover Library, also are in the tour group.

Hoover, a Republican, became president by beating Democrat Alfred Smith. But reeling from the devastating effects of the Depression, he lost the 1932 election to Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat. He died in 1964 at age 91.

Hoover was in Tianjin during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, a violent anti- foreign uprising during which foreign legations in Beijing and Tianjin were besieged.

He helped direct food relief efforts during the siege and aided his supervisor, Bureau of Mines director Chang Yenmao, in evacuating Tianjin when the Boxers attacked Chinese associated with foreigners.

″What I look forward to is having the chance to meet the son and grandson of this man (Chang),″ said Hoover III, 59.

Chang son, Chang Sucheng, is over 90, and the grandson, Chang Maopeng, in his 70s, is head of the Tianjin Museum of History, Walsh said. The American group will honor both men at separate banquets in Tianjin later this week, he said.

Hoover’s relief work during the siege strongly influenced him, Walsh said. Hoover later became head of the American Food Administration and American Relief Administration, which directed famine relief in the United States and Western Europe.

He also was U.S. secretary of commerce from 1920-28 under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge.

Herbert Hoover III said he is not sure if there are any relics left in Tianjin of his grandfather’s stay there.

″It’s hard to say because it’s not part of the Chinese system to preserve things like that,″ he said. ″He was just another ‘foreign devil’ and they didn’t need him then.″

Chang Maopeng has determined that the house where Hoover lived in Tianjin was wrecked in the massive 1976 earthquake that destroyed the mining city of Tangshan, where Hoover also spent much time, Walsh said.

The American group will stay at the Tianjin Hotel, formerly known as Aster House, where Hoover’s wife, Lou Henry Hoover, stayed for a few months before settling into a permanent home, said Diane van Trees, a tour guide at the First Ladies Exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington and an expert on Mrs. Hoover’s life.

Chinese authorities helped the library association locate Hoover’s old ofice, a building bearing faded letters, now covered with Chinese script, that read: ″Chinese Mining and Engineering Co.,″ Ms. Van Trees said.

Today it is Tianjin’s Communist Party headquarters, she said.