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.


  1. This is a wonderful initiative, Dad. I'm so glad that you are sharing these stories. I will bring the kids to read them!

  2. Very Cool Uncle Tom! My dad was born in a "cave"! LOL that is great. I look forward to reading all the stories starting from the beginning. Thanks for taking the initiative on this!