07. China

Lou Henry Hoover, siege of Tientsin, China, 1900.


At the ripe age of 24, Herbert Hoover went to China to develop coal mines and build port facilities. On his arrival, however, Chinese officials told him to find gold - fast. Hoo-Yah and Hoo-Lou (Bert and Lou's Chinese names) found themselves in a land only reluctantly opening its doors to Western technology, expertise - and arrogance. Hoover's exalted status forced him to travel in state with hundreds of mules, ponies, soldiers, and a translator whose fractured English led him to announce each bit of bad news with the phrase that soon became his nickname - "Really Damn."

Rumors soon spread of a great foreign mandarin whose green eyes allowed him to see through the ground to find gold.

Hoover did battle with bedbugs and a manager who smoked opium until he was pale. He met a living Buddha who rode a bicycle around a Tibetan Lamasery. One Christmas Day he taught the game of football to a crowd of barefooted children.

Early in 1900 a wave of anti-western feeling swept China. Peking reformers were overthrown and a nativist group calling itself "I Ho Tuan," or the Boxers, laid siege to the western colony in Tientsen.

Herbert Hoover with his Chinese teacher. ca.1899