Although Shanghai was one of the world's largest cities, with all the ills associated with great urban centers, including widespread crime and social decay, Jiaotong University, located at the city's southwestern outskirts, was in a district more suburban than cosmopolitan, surrounded by quiet residential neighborhoods and small shops. In 1929, the year Tsien arrived, only the occasional rumble of trolleys, the hum of buses, and the screech of automobiles in the distance hinted that the noise of the city proper would eventually make its way to this outermost part. But in 1929 the academic serenity of Jiaotong University was broken only by the occasional pattering of a rickshaw boy or by the calls of vendors selling bowls of wonton soup outside the college gates.
Founded in 1896 as the Imperial Nanyang University, Jiaotong University owed its origins to Sheng Xuanhuai, then the director general of the Imperial Railway administration, who urged the emperor to establish a college of science and engineering. The forced opening of Chinese ports by the better-armed British during the Opium War and the more recent defeat of China by Japanese forces in the first Sino-Japanese War must have reinforced the need to fund