• 13th April 2015
  • Evelyn Ch'ien
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My father went to Japan when he was nine years old, as a result he was never really in China. My father’s private tutor was Hu Hanmin. Along with Sun Yatsen, they had meetings at Liao Entao’s place in Japan. During the Qing dynasty, they were looking for Sun Yatsen all over the place and he was at Liao Entao’s house, they were all having meetings with Liao Zhongkai, who was later assassinated. So they were having meetings right there, and the police the Japanese notified Liao Entao to look for him, and there he was having meetings at his house. At the time my father was a little boy, so he was with Hu Hanmin and his elder brother. Hu Hanmin was Cantonese, and my father was born in Canton, and he was a good fit. Hu Hanmin was a great scholar, and also his brother Hu Xingdui, and they followed Wu Jingheng吳敬恆(also known as Wu Zuihui). Wu Jingheng wanted to open a Chinese university in France. So he was dickering with all these people, all the French missionaries, and so my father went to Japan and studied French from the very beginning, he only studied Chinese with Hu Hanmin, but actually he studied French and Japanese in a school in Japan. Later on, Hu Hanmin followed Chiang Kaishek and became a lifayuan—head legal counsel—and then he fell out with Chiang Kaishek so Chiang Kaishek had him under house arrest. We were in Shao Longxiang, we stayed in one of these row houses, and there was a big compound where Hu Hanmin stayed, we could see him walking in the garden, in Nanjing…so he never really did anything remarkable because Chiang Kaishek wouldn’t let him.

Entao, at the beginning of his career, was practically like a clerk in the foreign ministry. So one day Cui Daren, a foreign diplomat, asked my grandfather to come to his house, because he said he wanted him to copy some things so he could present it to the Empress Cuxi. So he came, and Cui Daren said, for this I will treat you to a dinner at my house.

So my grandfather arrived at his house, and his house had no furniture. And he said, how can I write? And Cui Daren said, oh it’s easy, just come into the bedroom, remove the bedding and sit on the floor and write on the bed, so he’s famous for being frugal. So after he finished writing he says, time for dinner. And just as soon as he sat down here came a little rascal with hair all tangled up and a mess coming in followed by a woman who was also dressed in rags and hair all messed up and she was beating him, the little rascal, like mad. And then another woman followed in and the two of them started beating him. And you know why, Cui explained: this rascal, I gave him a penny to go and buy soy sauce so we could eat our dinner and he didn’t bought it, he bought candy for himself, that’s why we’re beating him. Grandfather said, please don’t do that, you might hurt him, kill him?! Then they went into the bedroom. Cui himself started beating himself and his chest and saying I don’t know what I did to deserve a son like this, I am so pious, and I get a son who doesn’t listen, so grandpa said, oh no I will go home, so he went home and didn’t get any dinner.

Japanese Invasion of Hong Kong
The Japanese came into Hong Kong in 1941 on Monday the 8th of December. They bombed Pearl Harbor, Manila, Singapore and Hong Kong at the same time— it’s known as December 7 in the United States but it’s December 8 across the international dateline for Hong Kong. I was on my way to to the University of Hong Kong and I couldn’t get across on the ferry; soldiers started machine gunning from behind the sandbags and then they got all killed and I ran away. For three days after we were in no man’s land, there was no law or order or anything. The British had gone and the full Japanese troops hadn’t come in. The Japanese that came in didn’t want to stay the night, they were afraid because they were just a few forward contingents. So everyone went out to loot. Every day and every night. The contingents would shoot us on sight; I had some very close calls. When the Japanese troops came, the soldiers were looking for women. We had pasted all our windows with newspaper so it was pitch dark in our house. So when the Japanese came to us, they ran into total darkness, they wanted us to open all the windows and find the women. All the women were in the back room, way back in the kitchen area. There was a long corridor in between the front and the back. We were on the Kowloon side on Granville Street, no. 4, in an apartment or what they would call a flat. And I was talking to the soldiers and trying to deal with the soldiers who were going through the drawers, and there were baby clothes so they said well there must be women here. While they were in the living room my brother went back there to try to lead all the women through the corridor but there was no back door, they had to go in front, so just at the time he was coming towards the front, the soldiers decided to go look at the corridor, and it was just a split second, officers came and knocked on the door and said come on let’s go, they said haigu haigu, and my brother heard it and pushed all the women into the back room again. In just a split second they could have caught all our women.
And the next day the Japanese came in and said “we want your house,” and I said, “you want us to move?” And they said, “Yes we want all of you to move out” and I said “how many days,” and they said “right now right now,” and so we all started moving out, we had no place to go, we’d have to look in the neighborhood for places, we had had four floors and four flats, that was just fine for their headquarters so they wanted all of that, so I dashed out, we looked for a place, and my uncle found a place and we all moved into there. An hour later I remembered I had buried – to me, was a very valuable thing, it was a Waterman’s 100 year old pen, and it was in the fireplace, so I decided I was going to go in, and it was just full of Japanese soldiers already starting to unpack their bedrolls. I thought of an idea; we had not moved our ancestral plaque, so I went in there and I kowtowed and I took the plaque down from the mantelpiece down to the fireplace and I grabbed my pen and put it under the plaque and I held the plaque over my head and I walked out and they didn’t bother me. Anyway we decided we couldn’t stay in Hong Kong because there was no place to stay permanently.
We then moved to Canton, as I said my father had one of my aunts married to this Taiwanese guy and we had a little privilege so in exchange we got to go to Canton. But in Canton there was nothing to do, I tried to look for a job but I was only seventeen years old, no one was going to give me a job, I saw an old friend of my fathers who was a classmate with him in Japan, of course he was now all-powerful working with the puppet government in Canton. He would not give us my brother and I a job, so we came out on a boat, on a Dutch boat, to Shanghai, because I wrote to auntie Susie and auntie Susie said come back to Shanghai. And the boat sailed only during the day, At night we had no lights, we didn’t dare to attract the submarines. Two boats left on the same day, one boat arrived, that was ours—the other boat was lost at sea. When I got to Shanghai I joined Tianmei and her mother and the Liao family, and auntie Susie put me through school at St. John’s University. This was only in 1942, the Japanese were still in Shanghai, St. John’s University still had all the American professors and everyone wore a red arm band because they were still considered prisoners of war, but they were allowed to teach and we were taught by these professors. I stayed in school only one term because Auntie Susie gave the money to Meimei who then dished out money to me. I was 20 by them so Meimei must have been 18. She was not so kind. She had all those St. John’s university boys around her…she was a playgirl and not so civil to me. So I went to my uncle #12 on my father’s side, he’d been to University of Michigan and had gotten his masters in civil engineering all through the support of my father, so he was obliged to be good to me, and he gave me a job in the stock market. So I went and worked at the stock exchange, answering telephones (he was not an engineer then he was as stock broker), so I tried to make a living with that, and that was 1942 until 1943, the big crash came in 1943, everything went down the stock exchange all completely deserted. Our brokerage firm closed down, I got a little severance pay that was not quite an ounce of good, and got it made into a little ring, it was soft and bendable. That’s all I got out of that…so I was out of a job again.
The only thing that saved me was that cousin Inez recommended me to be a tutor to a rich banking family and so every night I had a good meal. I was going to try to join the customs service. Shanghai customs service, Chinese customs service under the aegis of the Japanese. Everyone told me you had to have connections to get into customs and the exams would be nothing. I had nothing to lose so I took the exam, and came out first out of 3000 applicants. They took 55. And they couldn’t believe my English was so good even though under the Japanese the official language of the customs was in English, so they immediately put me in the office to write memos, which was a terrible job because I couldn’t get to the squeeze money, to all the bribes, because I was in the office. But they promised me they’d get me to Wusong after 3 months, because then they could bring back the guy in Wusong who was also very good at writing memos in English and we could exchange posts. I could make my money, the workers in Wusong made one small gold bar per day. Su Wongyi was an area where the boats came in, an outlying area. All we collected was interport duty, when you go from port to port you pay a duty, because there was no real import going out of China or into China. It was completely blockaded by the American Navy.
I stayed in the office for three months, they put me in the baggage party and that was a time when you could really make money. Well we first went out, this whole group of new recruits, we were in training for six months, again because of my English, they asked me to translate all the documents so I didn’t have to through all the drills all the stuff they were doing. I found all the baggage parties and figured out how it all worked. All the exports from Shanghai were factory goods—cigarettes, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, shirts—all of this went to the hinterland, and from the hinterland pork, rice, oil all of the farm goods came in. There were no regular customers who were travelers; the only travelers were those called zoudanbang(走單幫), they only carried goods to make a living. We would let them go even though all the commodities they were carrying were supposed to be controlled by the Japanese military. You could only do it with permits, and none of these people had permits, they were all smugglers. But we let them through because if we didn’t Shanghai would starve, because pork, oil, rice, salt all of this was controlled. I was in good shape once I was in the customs service. For every dollar that we collected we wrote out a receipt for ten cents, we pocketed the other ninety cents, because we weren’t going to give the money to the Japanese, we would rather just spend it ourselves. If someone found out, there was a possibility of execution but it wasn’t a strong one, because in every team there was a Japanese member. In our team our Japanese member never took bribes and was also a good friend, he was not a military type at all. Our member was a violinist and carried his violin everywhere. He was having a good time in Shanghai together with us. He had his Japanese pay, he didn’t need ours. And every day after our duty hours we started at seven in the morning and we finished about twelve, in five hours we collected big sacks of money and we went to Er Malu, Lao Zhongxin, we went to the restaurant there. We usually had a big lunch and there was a room underneath no one else could see, there was a staircase down there, and we would eat and then clear the table and put all our money sacks on the table, pull it out and count. Those bank notes were so thick; we took our shares and put one share for the government, and every night we went to the night club and paid for the dancing girls with our money. But that didn’t last long.
The day I was sent out to Wusong the American bombers came and bombed the hell out of the place. This was the spring of 44, almost the end of the war. We were in the air raid shelter I stuck my head out and people said you damn fool, come back, and they were bombing and our shelter was shaking and all the dirt came in from the side. We were about to be buried alive. I didn’t know any better, I was 22 or 23 years old. Right after that Germany surrendered, so when Germany surrender and Wusong closed down, I was given another job, to be in charge of customs vehicles. We had two cars which ran on ethanol alone and then I had about twenty-five cars that ran on charcoal. The trunk of the car was converted into a charcoal burner with the engine in the back. The buses we had two buses, the buses burned wood, they had a burner on the side, on the running board, and was burning just plain firewood and of course it all smoked like hell and the cars had no power at all, just charcoal, the only two good ones were running on ethanol. Right after that the American dropped the atomic bomb, that was august 45, and two days after the first Hiroshima they dropped another bomb on Nagasaki; after that the Japanese surrendered; I was back in the office in the customs house; all our Japanese colleagues got together and cried and gave us souvenirs when they left; we were very good friends. So I got out of there, luckily I still had my tutoring job I was still teaching those two little kids.
Although I seldom went over there, I didn’t go there every day because I had customs duties and I’d rather go to the nightclubs because it was more fun. My Japanese colleagues had to leave but they weren’t put under arrest. They were sent home. So immediately I got another job teaching English, everybody wanted English. I was working for this factory conglomerate, they had five or six different factories in Nanjing, Wushi, Suzhou and they had their office in Shanghai only for export to Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines; and I had to write everything in English, so they treated me very nicely. It was quite a big outfit, and they were already selling shirting, and I was also dealing with UNRA, UNRA was the relief united nations relief and rehabilitation organization, and we got cotton from them. I had to go and deal with the UNRA officials to get cotton, and Texaco and shell for bunker fuel to run our factories, so I was holding an important job, and we winded and dined the foreign businessmen, people fom Texas who had the cotton, and from standard oil, shell and Texaco, and so I was doing very well when my father came in. My father flew in I think it was 1946. I had a few months of lousy days with no jobs, when customs kicked us out because we were Japanese recruits, then my cousin Anna came in and gave me a job. She had partnered with a photographer and they were doing news, news photography, and she went around with a Chinese general brigadier general and they went around sealing up all the Japanese properties. They confiscated all the Japanese properties and she used one of their big stores to give us an office to do our news photo business, so I did stay with her for just about two months, and then she decided to marry General Chennault.
Anyway my father came in, my mother came in; and said I am appointed to take over Tianjin from the Japanese, do you have a car? I happened to have been doing very well and said I have a drive and a car for you. So my father said, wow, my son is doing pretty well because at the time people were begging. But this factory outfit treated me very well because I was the only guy out of 1000 employees who spoke English, who could get the cotton and oil to export the shirting. My father says no, you don’t want to work here you go back to school and I’ll support you, so I listened to my father and by 1947 I was back in school at St. Johns to resume my studies. I wanted to be an architect, at the University of Hong Kong I majored in architecture but St Johns only had civil engineering. When I went to St. Johns the first time I did civil engineering. This time they had something called architectural engineering. It was an eight year course, you had to study all the civil engineering plus all the architecture. I don’t know why they decided to do that— maybe get more school fees. So anyway I was back there doing architectural engineering. Then the Communists starting fighting.
The first year, by1948 my father was settled in Japan. He was the deputy director for the Chinese diplomatic mission. He sent me a ticket and said go have a good time in Japan. So I spent three months in Japan having a very good time. The Japanese girls would do anything for a little sack of rice, so you just went in the street and got a lot of girls. So our embassy staff really lived it up. So that was 1948. Then I came back. In 1948—when I went there—I met lots of Japanese repatriated, and they were all so sad leaving Shanghai, they thought Shanghai was such a great city and when they went back to Japan there was nothing, just devastation, and also they were all farm boys and big city Shanghai had been great for them. So in 1949 when the Communists were at our door, so my father sent me a ticket to go. He did not send a ticket to my brother. I don’t know why. The only reason I could figure out was Marie Louise just wanted me. Because she was 11 years older than I and my brother was just too old for her, and she was only 7 years older than my brother. So that is 1949, I told you how I got on the plane and out to Japan. I stayed in Japan until I could get a visa. I had to get an admission to a school and all the big universities were real crowded; all the GIs were coming, and I couldn’t get into any of the big universities. So one American consul official had his Phd from—of all places—Montana State College in Bozeman, Montana. He got me an admission to Montana, so that’s where I had to go. I said to myself what a godforsaken place! In order to get there I had to take a ship to San Francisco, from San Franciso I flew to Denver, from Denver I had to take a train to Bozeman, MT. So when I got to Denver I decided I wasn’t going to go to Montana. So instead of going to Montana I went to Fort Collins, Colorado, A & M.

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