The invitation came out of the blue. A professor of Chinese at the University of Illinois called William “Bill” McCloy to ask if he would go to China.
“He had a list of McCloys,” the Edmonds man said. “I was the first one he called, since they were honoring my grandfather.”
In early November, 71-year-old Bill McCloy made the long trip to Nanjing. He spoke at a seminar honoring the educational contributions that his late grandfather, Charles Harold McCloy, brought to China in the early 20th century.
Not only did he give a talk about his forebear at Nanjing Normal University, McCloy delivered that speech in Mandarin. “I majored in Chinese at the University of Hawaii,” said McCloy, a retired librarian who worked until 2008 in the Marian Gould Gallagher Law Library at the University of Washington School of Law.
His grandfather taught physical education at two universities in Nanjing, formerly spelled Nanking. Known professionally as C.H. McCloy and to his family as Harold, the professor had studied at Columbia University, earning one of the first doctoral degrees in P.E.
In 1913, 26-year-old C.H. McCloy took his young wife, Anna, and their two young children to China, stopping in Japan on the way. Bill McCloy said his grandmother was seasick throughout the long voyage.
They arrived just a year after the 1912 forced abdication of China’s last emperor, which followed a revolution and ended 2,000 years of imperial rule. By 1926, when the American couple left China, they had five children. One was Bill McCloy’s father, Robert, born in 1914.
As a high school senior, Bill McCloy lived in Taiwan. His dad, also a professor, had a Fulbright grant to teach in the city of Tainan. “I studied Chinese with a tutor for the year we were in Taiwan,” he said. When he returned to his hometown of Ubana, Illinois, he continued his Mandarin studies.
His November trip was part of a Centennial Symposium on the Teaching of Physical Education at the College and University Level in China. The event, Nov. 11-13, included a seminar on C.H. McCloy’s contributions. The elder McCloy, who died in 1959, had taught at Nanjing Normal University and the national Southeast University in Nanjing.
McCloy wrote his talk in English before translating it into Mandarin. Acknowledging that he’s a better writer than speaker of the Chinese language, he asked a native speaker to check it and make corrections. “My daughter-in-law also speaks Chinese,” he said.
“This is very moving to me, as well as to our whole family,” Bill McCloy told the Chinese audience. His grandfather died when Bill McCloy was 13. Most of what he learned about C.H. McCloy came from his father and his Aunt Emma, his grandfather’s eldest child.
C.H. McCloy was working at a YMCA in Virginia when he received a letter from the YMCA International Committee. It asked if he would help establish a teacher training college to prepare physical fitness directors for YMCAs and schools in China.
The couple spent time in Shanghai and Nanjing, interrupted by a yearlong medical furlough in 1921 when Anna McCloy had health problems. Bill McCloy also served others overseas. He was in the Peace Corps 1967-1969, teaching English in South Korea.
In Nanjing, he was struck by visual evidence of ancient history and a tragic time. The City Wall of Nanjing was designed in the 1300s by the emperor who founded the Ming Dynasty. “The walls are twice as high as my house, 30 feet thick and faced with stone,” McCloy said.
He came across a monument, inscribed in English and Chinese. It honors Wilhelmina “Minnie” Vautrin, an American missionary who protected refugees at Ginling College for women during the “Rape of Nanking,” also called the Nanjing Massacre. Thousands were raped and killed by Japanese troops in Nanjing during six weeks in 1937 and 1938.
McCloy suspects that Vautrin may have crossed paths with his grandfather in Nanjing.
C.H. McCloy spent much of his career at the University of Iowa. His university biography says he wrote books in Chinese and English. During and after World War II, he advised the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force on physical fitness. In 1946 he was part of an American educational mission to occupied Japan.
Bill McCloy, who has some health problems, said he thought twice about taking such a long trip alone. He flew, business class at the Chinese university’s expense, from Seattle to Los Angeles, then on to Nanjing. He stayed a week.
Asked about Donald Trump’s comments about China and the president-elect’s controversial phone conversation with Taiwan’s president, McCloy only said “it’s a very delicate diplomatic issue.”
And McCloy’s answer as to why he traveled nearly 6,000 miles to talk about his grandfather? “I wanted to honor the people who honored me,” he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.