Charles H. Riggs

Based on: Suping Lu, They Were in Nanjing. The Nanjing Massacre Witnessed by American and British Nationals. Hong Kong 2004

Last updated: 08/07/2019

Charles Henry Riggs was born on February 6, 1892 in Aintab, Turkey. When Riggs was two years old, his family moved back to Ohio. He grew up in Oberlin and graduated from Oberlin High School in 1909. He received his B.S. in Agriculture from Ohio State University in 1914. A year later, he met his later wife, Grace Edna Frederick. They married on August 31, 1916 and traveled to China together. The couple spent one year in Nanjing attending a language school and then traveled on to Shaowu, Fujian province where Riggs was in charge of the newly organized Agricultural Experiment Station.

Later, Riggs returned to the United States to further his education. He earned his B.D. from the Union Theological Seminary in New York City in 1931 and his M.S. in Agricultural Engineering at Cornell University in 1932. After his return to China, he was appointed Professor of Agricultural Engineering at Nanjing University in 1932. 

In the fall of 1937, as the Japanese army approached Nanjing, Grace Edna Riggs took her children back to the United States, while her husband stayed behind and began working for the Safety Zone. Riggs was the Housing Commissioner of the International Committee for the Nanjing Safety Zone and as such was responsible for opening and preparing houses for the refugees. According to one of his letters to his wife, he relocated over 100,000 people in a single week. During the early days of the occupation, Riggs often patrolled the University grounds and chased away any invaders. Later he took charge of the transportation of fuel for the facilities in the refugee camps and became a technical advisor who supervised the transportation system for the new “Self-Government”.

In 1939, he briefly returned to the United States, where he reunited with his family. After only three months in the U.S., he and Grace returned to West China, where the main body of Nanjing University had been relocated. Riggs was requested to help with the production of textiles such as army blankets. Later, he acted as advisor to the National Agricultural Engineering Cooperation in Chongqing, Sichuan province and Guiyang, Guizhou province. 

In 1945, he was called to Washington D.C. to provide his services to the United Nations Rehabilitation and Relief Agency (UNRRA) China relief programme. After only six months later, he traveled back to Nanjing, where he resumed his professorship in 1946. Riggs left China in 1951 and returned to the United States, where he passed away on March 13, 1953.

Testifying and Contesting War Experiences in China and Japan