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I was born in Chongqing under bombardment

By Su Wu 蓬蓬

August 19, 2020



【詩經.小雅.蓼莪 】公元前前11世纪-前6世纪

I mourn my parents, so much hardship to raise me!

Chapter Water Paper, Xiaoya, The Book of Songs, 11th-6th Century BC

|Letter, SW to LL, August 19, 2020

Lbr LeiLiu,

I write this little piece of history with an aching heart. Painful, because of memories of the participants, our parents, Bao-Bao, and Waipo, who have all passed away.

It's about the time around my birth on April 20, 1939. The story was told to me many times by Mother, and I haven't forgotten a single word.

Father went to ChongQing in Spring of 1939 to assume a position with the Chinese government. Mother took Bao-Bao along, because she planned to move there to be near Father, and was searching for a suitable place for her and the kids to live. It was a house-hunting trip, not a vacation!

Then, the time came for me to be born.

Mother was not able to get into the maternity ward of the hospital 宽仁医院 because it was full, so upon Mother's insistence of admission, they put her in the hospital cafeteria 医院餐厅.

Right after I was born on a dining table, the daily Japanese bombing raids began§ Incendiary bombs were used mainly.

During the bombing, everybody, staff and patients, hid under the large, heavy dining tables. When a Japanese bomb exploded to the right of the cafeteria, the glass windows shattered, all the tables moved to the left. When a bomb exploded to the left, and all the tables moved to the right. In retrospect, Mother thought it was a comical scene to see so many tables move in unison. But it was not amusing at the time. The daily bombing continued unabated after we got home from the hospital.

Shortly thereafter, Mother found out that she was rather lucky, so was I. The maternity ward of the hospital suffered a hit from an incendiary bomb, most of the mothers with their newborns and a handful of doctors and nurses perished in the flames.

One night, I was wrapped in a blanket and put on a dining table. It was getting very warm and I wriggled my way out of the tight wrappings around me. Somehow I continued kicking, and fell off the table's edge. I landed on the back of my head on the cement floor with an audible thud.

A great commotion ensued. Since it was against blackout regulations to turn on any lights during night-time due to incessant bombing raids, Mother groped frantically under the table in the dark.

§Japan conducted a terror bombing campaign in Chunking (now Chongqing) designed to cower the Chinese government and part of their Sichuan invasion plan. Incendiary bombs were used mainly. See, e.g., Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China.

She caught an ankle, and quickly dragged me out from under the table, with my head banging against the table legs on the way out. But I had stopped breathing. Panic!

Some neighbors came around, screaming advice of all sorts. Fortunately there was a doctor among them, and he said that the baby must breath! So he grabbed me by an ankle, held me upside down and proceeded to pound my back. After half a dozen heavy punches, I burst out wailing, and by the dimly lit candlelight, Mother saw that my eyes would not stop blinking in fear while I cried my lungs out.

And so, I lived to see another day. Much later, Mother would describe the sound when my head landed on cement as a gut-wrenching DingDong "叮咚!"

During one of the air raids, Mother took Bao-Bao and me in her arms to a local air raid shelter. It was pure mayhem and pandemonium at the entrance. People were hysterically jostling each other, all trying to enter the air raid shelter, which was dug into the side of a rocky hill. As Mother saw the human wave approach, Mother told Bao-Bao to hold on to her dress, with face against Mother's belly, as Mother held me in her arms and lowered her head firmly against the rocky wall. That was all she could do to protect us. After the raid was over, Mother exited the air raid shelter, and saw numerous people outside the shelter that were trampled to death. A ghastly sight, but not uncommon during those horrific days. Mother had bruised her forehead against the rock wall while resisting the enormous human pressure from behind her!

In June, 1939, Mother had a picture taken with Bao-Bao and me. This was my first ever photo.

Baobao 寶寶 with Mother holding the baby Pengpeng 蓬蓬 Chongqing, 1939.

On the back of that picture, Father's annotation of the event states that it was a very hot season, and that the Japanese were viciously bombing Chongqing.

The boom and the bang of ear-splitting bomb explosions from constant air raids gave Father the idea that I should be called Peng! Peng! 蓬蓬.

Due to the incessant bombing by the Japanese invaders, Chongqing was quite unlivable, so our parents decided that Mother should return with Bao-Bao and me to Hongkong for safety's sake.

Back in Hongkong later in summer, as soon as Waipo found out that I was dropped on my head, Mother caught holy hell from Waipo! However, there were more exciting episodes that would soon unravel.

Besides the name Peng! Peng! that attests to my birth-time experience, to this day, I can still feel the large indentation on the left side on the back of my skull from that precipitous descent onto a cement floor - a permanent memento of the DingDong "叮咚" incident. It's fortunate that all infant heads have flexible sutures and fontanelles!

哀哀父母,生我劬劳! 哀哀父母,生我劳瘁!

I mourn my parents, so much hardship to raise me! I mourn my parents, so much suffering to raise me!

Remembering Bao-Bao and Waipo with great sadness, and with deep gratitude to our loving parents,

lv, sogdian sw (August 19, 2020)

Copyright ©Su Wu 2020