Monday, March 29, 2010

We moved a lot during the war

The Japanese invasion of China started to move inland just before my parents got married. The war started in China’s northeast Manchurian area. After the rape of Nanking in 1938, the war front extended into the western parts of the country. My newly-wedded parents escaped to Sichuan that year. I was conceived in a small town named Bardong, along the Yangtze River. The place is about 120 miles east of Chongqing. (See the map below).  It is on a slope of one large exposed hill on the left side of the river as you go up stream. When the Japanese started to bomb the area, there was just no chance of surviving in that place. My parents moved immediately.

Chongqing area map, the center of Chongqing is the pink area.

I was born in Gouloshan (歌乐山). (See the bottom one of the three circled spots on the left side of the map, it is in large black characters). It means Song-Happy Mountain. I do not know if this has anything to do with my love-of-music character or not, but it sounded natural.  The 24-hour bombing started in 1940. Our family moved more away from the center of Chongqing and Dean was born in Chingmookuan(青木关), north from GouloshanIt means Green-Wood-Gate. By that time, food became scarce, and mother did not have enough milk for Dean. All her life, she was partly apologetic and partly cursing the Japanese because Dean had to drink boiling rice instead of her milk, which caused Dean to be small and unhealthy. Two years later we moved again, this time to Beipei (北培), the top cycled town on map, where our sister Huang Tao-pei was born. (This sister later died in Taiwan). She was nick-named “Peipei” after the town’s name. My mother liked to use double words in a name to express intimacy. For example, when Dean’s daughter, Deana, was born she was called Shin-shin, the happy one.  And our daughter Margaret was nick-named Pan-pan, the long expected one.

When the war was over in 1945, we moved to Nanking! There were five moves in six years for my parents, which was very common for the lucky couples (they survived) during this eight-year turbulent Japanese war period.

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Cousins

The reason that I am going to talk about my cousins here is because they played a very important role in this Chinese family.  “Cousins” often played important roles in many Chinese families during this period, the bigger the family the stronger the connections, which provided strength for the family. This tradition may have changed in later years, but it was very important in our parents’ minds.

When my parents were introduced by their mutual friends for marriage, they were both passed the marrying age of that time. My Father was thirty six and Mother was twenty eight. They had another common responsibility in their respective lives. My Father was supporting five of his siblings’ children for their education (three of the five lived with him), while my Mother had two of her siblings’ daughters living with her to get their education in the big city of Wuhan.

 I have in my hand a picture of my Father one year (1937) before he got married, this will give you a glimpse of his life then:

In this picture, my Father is the third one from the right. The first two on the right and the one on the far left are my cousins Tao-fong , Tao-whi,  and Tao-bean, who were living with Father then.  The fourth from the right is my Father’s older brother who is the father of these three cousins, and of Tao-ping (fourth from the left) who was six at the time, and of six others who are not in the picture. The second from the left in the picture is the husband of my Father’s sister and the third from the left is his son. The one in the center back is ather’s secretary.

The two daughters of my mothers’ siblings, Hwei-shen (on the right) and Fushen (on the left), are shown in the picture below, which was taken much later, in Nanking, in 1947. My Mother and my sister who died later in Taiwan are also in the picture.

When my parents got married in 1938, all these cousins were teenagers. They were forced to live together and to make adjustments. Can you imagine the problems the five teenagers encountered? My Mother never in her life got over this collision, and was never able to forgive the Huang cousins; while my Father was somehow never able to realize that there were problems among them. After so many years, you could no longer tell where it started, and what the results were, etc.  My siblings and I certainly could feel the heat throughout our lives. It was very difficult for us to deal with this conflict when we were young; as we grew older, the problem became ours no longer. It had totally returned to my parents.

Three cousins came to Taiwan and intertwined their and their families’ lives with ours: Huei-shen (we call her Hwei-gou) from Mother’s side and Tao-fong (we call her Xiao gie, or little sister) and Tao-bean (we call him Er-gou, or 2nd brother) from Father’s side. When I was young I liked Huei-gou. I talked with her quite a bit and shared a lot with her. I treated her as my sister. Xiao-gie certainly helped me quite a bit. For example, when I came to the US, she paid for my air ticket, as it cost so much that my family could not afford it and I certainly could not even imagine the figure. Another example will show why I described our lives together as intertwined. All Xiao-gie’s children address me as their 9th uncle, even though some of them are close to my age. The reason is that Xiao-gie has 8 male siblings in her family. I am the continuation as her ninth brother, thus the ninth uncle for her children. 

Monday, March 22, 2010

My Siblings

The picture you saw earlier of my family during the war time was a family of four; Dao-chien (Dean  道健) and I were in the picture. Just before the war was over, a daughter was added to the family. I remembered how happy my mother was. The war ended in 1945. We followed the government and moved to Nanjing. In 1946, after my mother lost a pair of twins, we had another brother, who died in just one year. There was just one picture taken with my sister and the new brother together.
    This picture was taken in front of the famous Linguo Pagoda Temple in 1947. Dean and I were in the middle, while mother was holding our just-born young brother(黄道 一 )and my cousin Fushen was holding my sister(黄道培), who died later in Taiwan just after her sixth birthday.

Huang Tao-kang(黄道刚) was born was born a year later (1948) just before we escaped to Taiwan, Tao Kai(道愷)was born in Taipei, Taiwan, in 1950 so she is exactly 11 years younger than me. Thus was created two generations of our siblings, one during the war, myself and Tao-chien and one after we moved to Taiwan, Tao-kang and Tao-kai. 

    The four surviving siblings in front of our new home in Taipei.

My father accepted a job as the chief accountant of National Taiwan University in 1951 and the Huang family life finally started to become stabilized. We moved from Kaoshung, where we had been staying with my Mother’s brother and his family, to Taipei.

    Kai was one and I was 12 in this picture. Who can say that I did not take care of her!

     We even had a family pedicab with a driver

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Generation Poem

In most Chinese families in China, there was a “Family Generation Poem” for each family. It was used for tracking the generations of a family. It works this way: every generation uses one word of the poem as part of their name, and the next generation uses the next word in the poem. There would be no problem in identifying where you belong in the family tree. I copied my “Family Generation Poem” on the last page of our Wedding Album. See picture below:

I am the sixteenth generation in this poem, so my siblings use the second word of the third line in the poem as the middle part of our names. I am Dao-xing; Dean is Dao-jian; Ed Dao-kang; and Christina, Dao-kai. Yes, you are right we all have the word Dao as our middle word in the names. That is the generation word. (Here Dao means "Way" and is the same term found in Taoism.) The next generation should use “Hong” and our grandchildren’s generation is in the “Wen” generation. Yes, the poem has its own meaning, but the purpose is much simpler. Nowadays, few families use this tradition, which only represents a burdensome habit!
The following is a word-by-word translation, so that you can get a rough taste of the generation poem. There are four sentences (separated by commas below) with seven words each. Remember that each word in Chinese is used as a NOUN in a name, no matter whether the English is a verb or an adjective. Also, each word has several subtle meanings to a Chinese reader. I have selected only one.  

Monday, March 15, 2010


I never remember my dreams, while Janice has enough dreams to share with me, with lots of spares. My Mom had all kinds of dreams too. One dream, which was told to me many, many times, was the one my mother had just before I was born. She told the dream to anyone who wanted to listen - vividly and with pride. This is the dream of a " Pearl Snake". In this dream, a "spirit" had fallen on her, and she was impregnated with a pearl snake. What is a pearl snake? She said, the spirit told her that this snake would be very good or very bad, depending on how you raised him! So I am a " pearl snake". This is what a pearl snake looked like during his first three years:

I am not sure whether my Mother did a good job of raising me, but I know now that I am an “Ordinary Chinese”, and a very lucky one!

Friday, March 12, 2010

My Fathers’ Earlier Years

You will notice that I know very little about my Father’s earlier years.  You are absolutely right.  I cannot remember that my Father and I ever sat down and talked about something until after he moved to the USA in 1984. The only earlier memories I have are of me standing at the side of his desk and reporting on my progress in school or some other achievement. Hopefully, I will talk more about the relationship between my Father and me later in this blog. Even for what I write here today, the primary source was my Mother. I do not think that this is unusual in China.
There has always been a picture of my Fathers’ Father in our house. My Grandfather’s picture hung in my Father’s room when we were living in Tennessee. I am pretty sure that the relationship between my Father and his Father was quite similar to the one between my Father and me. That was the culture and the time.

My Father was born a farmer; at least they (his siblings and other relatives) lived on a farm and survived by working on the land. He tried to educate himself. His main job was taking care of a family water buffalo.  After he passed his seventeenth birthday, the Elder Hu started a private school in the county. He was very lucky to be able to get in as a student helper. His formal education started then. In less than five years, he completed the equivalent of a high school education. In 1927, he was walking on the streets of Wuhan when he saw a sign asking qualified students to register for the entrance examination for the first class of the newly established National Chengchi University. He was attracted immediately by the small words at the bottom of the poster, describing that a free meal would be provided after the exam. For that meal, he took the exam, passed, and entered the university majoring in accounting. Again, Chengchi University provided everything, room and board, with stipends, until he graduated. There was a great job waiting for him as well, as this university was known as the Chiang family’s talent source. (Chiang Kai Shek was the prominent member of that family.) I have only one picture of my Father during that period, as my Father did not have many pictures taken during that time. When he started to work, he had the following picture taken:

Monday, March 8, 2010

My Mother’ Earlier Years

She was from a VERY poor county called Huangpei in Hubei province in the middle of China. This county is now part of Wuhan which is on the banks of the Yangtze River, not too far downstream from the largest Dam in the world. She had three brothers and one older sister, who was uneducated, had bound feet, and lived in the family house all her life. When my mother was two, her father started to work on her feet, to bind her feet like every girl in the country during that time. She was crying murder every time he tried, and he kept postponing his effort until my mother turned three years old. The world then had changed quite a bit; big feet were acceptable and, further, my mother was getting a bit too old to get bound feet anyway. Her father left her alone then.
My mother represented that new, educated, female generation in China. The government provided for them to go to school, and gave them free room and board plus a stipend. She was happy and proud. In 1930, she was a team member and represented the province in a national basketball tournament.

                                                                            My Mother is second from the right on the bottom row.

After her graduation from Normal School, she taught in Wuhan and brought out two or her siblings’ daughters from the countryside to get their education. I will talk about their stories later. This period may be the best in my mom’s life, the pictures below could give you some glimpses:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

War Time in Chongqing (重庆)

Chinese people have a saying: mind your own business, you cannot change the world. It was definitely true when the Japanese attacked China. China was so weak, from every point of view, that individual Chinese could not do anything but try to survive. First of all, the Chinese were very poor. They were trying to find out  where and how to eat the next meal most of the time.  How could they think about fighting the Japanese? There was very little leadership in the Government. Corruption was rampart as workers were so poor that they had to look for anything extra to survive. Poverty is the root cause of losing human dignity. When you are hungry, it’s hard to have honor! Every one was hustling for whatever he or she was trying to achieve or to gain, no matter how small, to get the maximum advantage possible. It could be trying to get a few more green beans after you bought a bunch from a vendor, or just trying to get ahead of one person in a long line to buy a ticket. It was under these kinds of conditions, that millions of us were brought up. Life was very precious to all your immediate family members, but worth nothing outside that circle. It’s none of your business, including another person's life.

My parents, Huang De-Hsin(黄德馨) and Chen Sau-Mei(陈寿梅), were married in Wuhan in 1938. They moved with the Chinese Government to Chongqing soon after the wedding. At the beginning of the war in 1937, the Chinese army fought with the Japanese directly. It was clear that the Chinese army was not in the same league as the Japanese. Large numbers of Chinese defeats, compared to few victories, eventually led to the strategy of stalling the war. The Chinese army no longer faced the Japanese army directly “face to face”, but fought them with unexpected sabotage.   Large areas of China were conquered during the early stages of the war, but the Japanese advancements began to stall in mid-1938. China did not have any air force, for practical purposes. The Japanese started to bomb China at will. In 1940, they started to bomb Chongqing 24 hours a day in the hope that China would surrender due to exhaustion. I was born in a hospital in Chongqing in 1939. Mother was in the hospital for more than a month. It is still a Chinese custom for a mother to have a month of rest after giving birth. They call it “making a month”.  The ladies there even formed a chorus group to enjoy their lives in the hospital. They were lucky, as the Japanese soon started to bomb day and night. No one stayed peacefully in the hospital for that length of time ever again.

Our family moved quite a number of times during the war. My parents first lived in a small town along the Yangtze river, Badong (巴东).  Then they moved to Gouloshan (歌咯山), that’s where I was born. Dean was born when we moved to Chingmookwan (青木关) in 1941. By then, the hospital had already moved practically to a cave, no more month-long stays, or forming a chorus.  The situation had deteriorated greatly, at an accelerated pace, by 1941; there was a shortage of almost everything, including food.  Mother did not have enough milk for Dean; he had to rely on boiled diluted rice for his main food supply. My mother repeatedly reminded us over the years that this was the main reason why Dean grew up smaller than I did. That might be true, but it did not affect his intelligence, that’s for sure. Dean grew up to be a very smart one in the family. That must have been the most difficult period in the war, as we had no vegetables to eat or other fresh food. Only the preserved turnip (榨菜) was available, day in and day out. Or you could dip your rice in soy sauce to eat it with some taste.

There was a repeatedly-told story of an event during a Japanese air raid when more than 4,000 people were trampled or suffocated to death, first trying to get out of the cave shelters and then trying to return when the sirens started again, on June 5, 1941. I was just two years old and mother was very pregnant with Dean.  As usual, when Japanese planes came, mother would take me to the cave to avoid the bombing. On that special day, mother instead did not have time to get to our usual cave; she just went to a nearby, less secure, smaller cave for hiding. Father came to the usual cave after the raid to help mother to get out but found that thousands people were dead at the mouth of that cave. He thought that we all were the victims of the horrendous, tragic, mass-panic accident. He was crying outside the cave, as he thought that he would be all alone by himself, when he saw my mother walking over holding my hand at her side. You just have to wonder how many stories like this, good and bad, there were during the war.

There were wars in our home, too, during this period. When father and mother got married, for practical purposes, they tried to marry two separate families. For these two young people, they had no idea how difficult a task they were facing. Let me tell  you this story from the start. Like good responsible persons, they took the responsibility of raising some of their siblings’ children. Mother had two of her nieces living with her. Chu Hweisheng (朱慧生Hweige) was a daughter of mother’s older sister and Chen Fusheng (陈芙生) was the daughter of mother’s second older brother. Father had even more of his nieces and nephews living with him and depending on his support for their education. There were initially a total of  six young ones depending on them in Wuhan, but only three followed the married couple to move to Chongqing. As you can imagine, this new couple started a family with a total number of six teenagers, all trying to stake out their territories and ready to protect their “rights”. You have to wonder how in the world they could handle the situation. Well, they did not handle the situation well; this conflict formed a gap between the two newly-wed young people. This gap was there throughout  their lives. It was brought up every time they fought; every one in the family heard about and saw this gap repeatedly. My father was thirty five while my mother was just twenty seven when they married. All six of their protégés were teenagers at that time. Can you imagine two inexperienced young newly-weds trying to manage six young adults, some of them not much younger than the two newly weds. I suppose the fortunate part was that all of them had to travel to their respective schools, where they usually stayed during school days. Chinese schools met six days a week and many times they would have extra school activities on Sundays. So the chances that all six came home for a particular weekend were very small.  The Huang-Chen family feud continued until we got to Taiwan. I was too young to be aware of all the details of these conflicts, but we have heard our mother's complaints  throughout our growing up years.

There was little said about the day when I was born: were the Japanese bombing? or was it a cloudy? etc. But I was told that mother stayed in the Kuan-ren(宽仁) Hospital for a total of one month. Mother even joined a chorus in the hospital during that period.  One day before I was born, mother had a dream that a pearl snake would join the family. The way my Mother told that story, repeatedly on different occasions, made me believe that it is a very good thing that I came to this world as a pearl snake. Who can tell me what a pearl snake is anyway?

I do not remember how bad our food was during the war years. I do know that Mom did not have any milk to feed Dean, as she did not have enough good food for herself to generate milk. Did we have some toys? I do not remember anything; at least, there was nothing that registers on my mind. We did not have a comfort blanket, certainly no stuffed animals.

When I was close to five, Mom took me and Dean to take a kindergarten entrance exam. I was told that Dean passed but I failed. No, I do not remember what kind of exam we took, but this was my first failure in my life. Even though I was reminded of this failure all my life, I was lucky that I did not take this failure more seriously, so it did not affect my later life.

The only joyful event I remember during the first six years of my life was when the Japanese surrendered in 1945. It seemed that the excitement was everywhere and felt by every body. Shortly after the surrender, we took a boat to Wuhan. On the boat, the only image left on my mind was that I saw some chickens below, down on the floor board of the boat. In Wuhan we stayed at Cousin Yuan’s home for a short time. I watched my first movie, “A river’s spring water flows to the east”, a very famous movie during that time. The only part in my mind today was that the actress jumped into the Yangtze River at the end. Finally, we boarded a cargo plane to fly to Nanking., where Father’s ministry was located. We moved into a new building, in GonJiao New Villlage(公教), a government developed community for many families with at least one family member in the government teaching and civil positions.

Monday, March 1, 2010

In the begining

China has nearly tripled its population since I was born in 1939, from .45 billion to close to 1.2 billion. This is  despite all the casualties from the fighting during the years after my birth. The official Taiwan account of the Japanese War reported that the Nationalist Chinese Army alone lost 3,238,000 men (1,797,000 WIA; 1,320,000 KIA and 120,000 MIA.) and 5,787,352 civilians in casualties. Then from 1946–1949, during the civil war in China, the military casualties were estimated to be ~1,200,000. I was young enough not to be affected at all by these wars.

There is no way anyone can predict what kind of life he or she will encounter after being born in such times. Yet, like anywhere else in the world, everyone would like to have a life he or she can imagine. All parents  hope that their children live the way they envision, even thou they know very well that there will be surprises as usual.

When I told the stories of the times when I was born in China, during our family get-togethers, everyone urged me to write them down, if not for others, at least for my grandchildren. Writing about past events is like  picturing smoke; not only is it very hard to get a good grip on it, but it seems to be changing constantly. The real picture is hard to get. Regardless, I will try to catch the spirit of the time as I remember it.

I was born in 1939; two years after the Japanese started the invasion of China from the Northeast, and only a little more one year after the Rape of Nanking in early 1938. I was lucky to be born in a hospital, as Taochien (my brother Dean), who was born two years later, arrived almost literally in a cave, as by then the Japanese were bombing Chongqing 24 hours a day in an effort to “exhaust” the Chinese. A sister was born to the family in 1943, to the joy of my parents, especially my father. Believe it or not, I do not remember her name any more. I will talk about her more later.

I remember the joy of celebrating the Japanese surrender in 1945. Every one was jumping up and down to hear the news from the radio that the Japanese - finally - would no longer be on our land. We took a boat ride to Wuhan and then flew to Nanking where I started first grade for the second time. The first time was in Chongqing, where I failed to enter Kindergarten because I failed the entrance examination. I was reminded of this failure numerous times as I grew up.

Nanking was very good to us. I finished the first three years of schooling. It was when I was in the fourth grade that the Communists started to make noise in Northwest China. Mom gave birth to another healthy boy, but, unfortunately, he passed away because of a doctor’s error. In 1948, my parents were trying to decide what to do if and when the Communists would interrupt our life. The decision was for my Mom to take all the  kids to visit her brother who had been in Taiwan since the surrender of Japan, as he was with the troops to receive Taiwan from Japan. Father was to remain in Nanking after helping mother to travel to Taiwan.

Life in Taiwan started well, but gradually deteriorated and became the worst situation I can remember. As the Communists came down quickly to Nanking, we lost all information about my father’s whereabouts. He finally showed up at our door after four months, after being flown out of Nanking on the last Government plane and catching a warship from Hong Kong. We had rice to eat, but no meat of any kind. I learned to fish. For quite a few months, the fish I caught provided the only meat for the whole family. My sister was sick and weak for a long time, and finally she passed away because of lack of medicine (antibiotics) in the tears and arms of my parents.

Father found a job at National Taiwan University. We moved to Taipei with joy and I started fourth grade for the third time. Overall I had wasted one full year because of this interruption. Taipei was great for us, we had stability and could plan for our future. Father liked his job and he was well respected for his ability to handle difficult situations. Certainly there were a lot of interesting stories during this period. I will try to recall them and to describe them as truthfully as I can.

Life after Taiwan was in the USA for me. Janice Fernald married me in 1965. We have lived in Johnson City TN longer than any other place I have lived. Maybe my appreciation for stability was so intense, that I refused all opportunities to move elsewhere. Practically all my career was in Tennessee. All our children grew up there. We have more stories to tell you about life in Tennessee than about anywhere else I have experienced. Since these smokes are newly generated, I see them more clearly and remember them more distinctly.

We went to teach at the University of Buea in Cameroon, Africa, during the 2001-2002 academic year. It was an eye opening experience for both of us. While life there was tough, the rewards we received were many times more than we anticipated.

After 35 years in Tennessee, and retirement from a University where both Janice and I taught, we moved to Lewes, Delaware, in 2006. The decision was made really two years earlier, as we bought a house there right after we sold our cabin on Watauga Lake. This is a place only three hours drive from both our children in the DC area and is the friendliest place in the US for older citizens in general.

Life in DE is new, but full. Certainly there are plenty of new encounters to learn and report. I will try to talk with you all, taking advantage of this blogspot.