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:


  1. I am glad that you started this blog!

  2. I like to add the story on how Mother got her education and became a primary school teacher.

    Mother received her early education probably from a local old traditional school. This was the private “one-teacher-school”, similar to the US frontier days, teaching Chinese literature, history, etc. which was a common education system at the time. Grandfather died earlier in mother’s life. After grandmother also passed away when mother was 14, her second brother, Er Jiu or second uncle to us, became head of the family. Er Jiu wanted to marry mother out as a child bride and mother refused. She had this aspiration of going to Wuhan, the capital of Hu Bei Province, to continue her education. Of course, Er Jiu would not give her any support. Mother’s older sister, who was married and not living in Chen family home at the time, gave her 7 silver coins, about 7 US dollars, for her travel and living expense, for which mother was eternally grateful.

    The Chinese public school was in transition at that time. The new public school, Shi Shuer or Western School, started to teach various sciences, mathematics, foreign language classes in contrast to the old traditional private school where only Chinese teachings were taught. The public school recruited student by conducting open entrance examination. To attract the best student, government would pay student tuition, room/board and sometimes a small stipend if the applicant could pass the entrance test and became a student. Mother was a beneficiary of this free public education system when she entered the Wuhan Normal School for Women.

    Mother was very poor and isolated from her family during her student days. She told the story of rummaging for left-over food with a schoolmate in the empty dormitory during holidays when school was closed. On the other hand, she was popular, active, open to new trend/idea and progressive for her time. She was a member of the school varsity basketball team and learned bicycling, singing and playing organ in school. Her basketball team represented Hu Bei Province to attend the Chinese National Athletic Meet, which was a high point of her student life. After graduation mother was assigned by Provincial Education Department to a primary school in Wuhan thus started her teacher’s career.

    ~~Ed or Tao Kang~~

  3. Thank you, Ed, for writing this story!