The Freeman Orientation, Part 4 (Later Years)
By Nancy Smith
After the war, in 1946, Freeman and 10 executives from the American Insurance Co. returned to Shanghai to ascertain what was left of their business. They found all their records not only intact but also "neatly labeled by the Japanese and left in apple-pie order." Even better news awaited them in Saigon, where the company had continued to operate throughout the war and had made a tidy profit.
From 1947 to 1960, when he retired, Freeman was vice chairman of the board of C. V. Starr & Co., headquartered on Wall Street in New York. He has been a director of numerous companies (among them the American Life Insurance Co. of Delaware and the American International Reinsurance Co.) and was for many years a director/trustee of the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.
He did not return to China until 1984, when he was invited by Ting Shih-sun, the president of Peking University, to meet with professors from the university and from his old college, Tsing Hua.
He was accompanied on this trip by his son, Houghton. During his two-week stay, he talked with Ting Shih-sun and many other scholars, among them Feng Yu-lan, China's most distinguished philosopher. Chow Bao-yuan, one of the country's most prominent scientists, and a former president of both Tsing Hua and Peking, postponed an important trip to have dinner with Freeman because 60 years before he'd been his student.
Freeman entertained his hosts at a dinner, which was attended by Huang Hua, the foreign minister and vice chairman of the People's Congress. They spoke of the relations between the United States and China and the need for greater understanding between the two countries, and, Freeman noted, "We discussed education and he agreed that university curricula should give more emphasis to the humanities."
The Peking of 1984 was much changed from the city he had known. He found the area of the Tsing Hua campus where foreign faculty once stayed "in a state of sad disrepair." The college, which had served 300 students while he was there, had grown to a population of 15,000.
When he had lived in Peking, the street where his house was located was called "The Monument to a Virtuous Woman at the End of 'You Cannot Measure A Great Man' Street." When he returned to it in 1984, the monument was gone and the name of the street had been changed to "Red Star."
At an age when most men might be willing to sit back and rest on their past accomplishments, Freeman continues to study, write and maintain an active interest in projects like the East Asian Studies Program at Wesleyan. For the past 10 years he has worked on a translation of an important text by Tai Chen, the 18thcentury philosopher who was studied by Freeman's mentor Hu Shih and who is known as one of the great thinkers of the Ch'ing dynasty. He has had to rely largely on materials available in this country because, as he says, "Philosophy, except as applied to political and social theories, is not popular in China."
Co-author and assistant on this project is Ann-Ping Chin, visiting assistant professor of religion at Wesleyan. "His endurance, his doggedness is amazing," she says of Freeman. "I am in awe of what he has accomplished. It is very difficult to work with classical Chinese, so hard to get the characters right, and he has spent all his leisure time on these texts."
The man who considers that his long life of action, inquiry and philanthropy was "all very ordinary and straightforward" was recognized by Wesleyan with a Distinguished Alumnus award in 1976 ("for the sensitive intelligence with which you have pursued your learning") and an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1979. The citation for the honorary degree reads in part: "You have sensed the urgency of developing in our country a broader knowledge and deeper understanding of the people and cultures of East Asia. Throughout a long and useful career you have neglected neither the life of action nor the life of the mind, and you have brought luster to both. You have given your alma mater reason to be proud and reason to be grateful."