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Facets of Lei Ruozhao 雷若昭 in her youth

Su Wu 蘇五

(February 13, 2020)

 

Our Mother, 雷若昭 Lei Ruozhao, moved to southern California after moving out of a senior residence in Walnut Creek in November, 1994. She lived in Manhattan Beach until November 2001.

Every week, Robin and I took Mother out for Sunday brunch. In addition, we often we went for Chinese food, or for cool refreshments in summer months. Even though I always concluded our order to the waiter with the request "少盐,少油,免味精", "not too salty not too oily and no MSG", most Chinese dishes were still considered too salty by Mother and she could taste microscopic traces of MSG. More often than not, she would remark that the chef used too much cornstarch. On the other hand, Mother's favorite at a classic American hamburger joint called Johnny Rockets was root-beer-float, or, "root-beer fnoat", as she used to say it. She sucked on the straw very hard such that it made "croaking" sounds, until not a single drop was left.

After most meals, Mother and I had many leisurely, long chats. Occasionally, Mother reminisced on numerous facets of her interesting youth, while I just listened with wide-eyed fascination, but without interruption. I never asked Mother about anything. In our family, we never questioned our parents, that was somehow required by "filial" politeness. I now regret that I should have bent that "rule", ever so slightly, of never asking questions; I might have learned a bit more.

Mother remembered many aspects of her youth, and narrated them in a random fashion, sometimes repeating a story, but with additional details. The stories were told during the years from 1994 and 1997; none were told after that. Although details of some topics may not be in very sharp focus when they were told, I concatenate these precious facets of our Mother's interesting youth in chronological order, and record what I can remember.


† I was slandered and persecuted by the Inquisition, then incarcerated (1998-99). Mother first fractured her hip and then her ulna in 2000. It was a time during which Mother suffered immensely.


1. Birth into a tea-merchant family

In the spring of 1981, when I lectured at Academia Sinica's Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics, I took a a trip (with Robin) to the Wuhan area in Hubei to visit relatives of our parents. We first visited 么爷 Uncle and his clan, the Lee family. Then we visited relatives on Mother's side, the families of Lei and You .

Mother's cousin Lei Qian 雷潜's children showed us the tea plantation and tea factory in Yangloudong ⽺楼洞 that once belonged to Mother's family. There was a verdant field of tea shrubs (Camellia sinensis) as far as the eye could see, covering also the gentle hills on the distant end of the vast tea plantation. Four character 万亩茶顷 were inscribed on the side of a hill, formed by trimming the tea shrubs; the characters were so large such that they were recognizable from a great distance.

Mother came from a rich tea-merchant family, their tea products were sold all over the country Their tea bricks were sold to the border territories, Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet. Sister Atong has a precious sample of that tea brick. If indeed that tea plantation was as large as the claimed size 万亩, then the property would have been about 1650 acres.

Mother's father 雷峙东 was the son of rich parents. He was very well educated, and, because of family wealth, was a man of leisure. He married at a very young age, at around 20 if not younger.

Our Mother was born on a Lunar New Year's Eve, the date was ⼄卯兔年 ⼰丑⽉ 庚午⽇, 2nd of February, 1916 on the Gregorian calendar,§ which was the 除⼣ (eve) of 丙申龙年 (Bing-Shen, the Year of the Dragon). Were she born a day later, Mother would have been a Dragon instead of a Rabbit.


§ For a long time, our mother's birthday was known as 2nd February, 1914. After matching "Feb 2" and "除⼣", and fitting chronological events in her life as well as matching the narratives of her closest friends, we arrive at the 2nd Feb 1916 date as the only logical solution. See the section Some loose ends.


Our maternal grandmother was a gentle person, soft spoken, dainty and rather fragile. She died of consumption, or pulmonary tuberculosis in 1922 when Mother was six years old. Mother said she has very little recollection of her biological mother, because she was sick in bed in most of Mother's memory.

Fig 1. Our maternal grandparents, handsome 雷峙东 and his lovely bride. Photo was taken probably before our mother was born. Our Mother inherited grandpa's facial structure, the large eyes, the high forehead and the jawline.

Following the custom of 续铉 "continuation", grandfather remarried almost immediately, this time to a Manchurian woman Pan (潘⽒). Subsequently, he married a third wife, a younger woman than stepmother Pan.

I think that of our maternal grandma was 游⽒, but I am not certain. Of grandpa's third wife, mother mentioned her name only once, but I cannot remember what it was. Mother has no memory of what she did.

Mother says she in indebted to her stepmother Pan from saving her from the fate of having her feet bound. In the olden days, it was the custom to bind the feet of young girls starting at age 5 to 7, by gradual deformation of the metatarsal,§ thereby making women "mildly handicapped" for life. When Mother's feet-binding day arrived, everything was ready for the procedure; it was supposed to be an important event.

But, Mother suddenly decided that she did not want to go through with the procedure. She ran out of the house and climbed up a tree, refusing to come down. Her father was taken aback! Stepmother Pan was a Manchurian, and Manchu nobility do not bind their feet, so she took on Mother's side, convinced her Father to cancel the event; thus she saved Mother from a life of being needlessly handicapped.


§ A skilled foot-binder bends the metatarsal gradually, a lousy foot-binder fractures the metatarsal at the beginning, making an instant cripple out of healthy young girls. The gradual process of deforming a foot is similar to wearing braces to straighten crooked teeth.


Grandpa 雷峙东 was an educated man, he employed a knowledgeable private tutor to teach Mother the classics when Mother was 6 years of age. Mother loved the outdoors; she was a bit of a tomboy. As a young child she would often climb up trees to look at the distance. Grandfather often took Mother to fish in nearby lakes, and Mother became an expert in baiting a hook. During fishing trips, grandpa had our Mother recite the classic literature she learned. Many years later, when I was in middle school during the 1950s, we had to learn classic literature by heart. I practiced aloud at home; whenever I got stuck during recitation, Mother was always able to remind me of the next sentence. Mother knew by heart all the famous literature, such as 范仲淹《岳阳楼记》, 诸葛亮《前出师表》, 苏轼《念奴娇·⾚壁怀古》, and much more, and could still recite them. Needless to say, I was totally impressed. If any of you still have copies of Mother's letters in written Chinese, then you will notice that her calligraphy was distinct and had a strong character.

Grandpa 雷峙东 became an opium connoisseur, not an addict; it's called 抽⼤烟, which was fashionable in those days. Grandpa smoked it regularly for relaxation and recreation, but he wasn't curled up in an opium bed smoking all day long. Mother used to prepare grandfather's opium pipe, pinched off a small piece of opium from a fist-sized lump, rolled it into a marble- sized ball, heated the dark-brown opium ball in a spoon over a candle flame, and then inserted it in the bowl of Grandpa's opium pipe; he would light it and smoke away. Mother was familiar with all the opium paraphernalia, knew of the different grades of opium and their quality, and she never forgot the unique aroma of opium smoke that filled grandfather's study. Mother did not smoke, but kept his father company and imbibed whenever grandpa consumed alcohol.

There was no doubt, on the one hand, that Mother was a somewhat wild, "unsupervised" child, on the other hand, she was a brilliant rebel.

Regarding the wealth into which Mother was born, Mother told us, from a very young age, that it is far better to learn a real skill, than to rely on a rich inheritance. Her motto, repeated many times: "良⽥万顷,不如薄技在⾝ Owning one thousand acres of rich field is not as good as possessing a skill".

In fact, Mother had a Buddhist view with regards to material wealth, titles and trappings. She would frequently and emphatically utter: "都是⾝外物 It's all external objects!"

2. Seeing the real world, and adventures in high school in Beiping 北平

When Mother was a teenager, she became restless and felt the urge to learn something more than just Chinese classics. Her dad wasn't able to find a local school 私塾 that was qualified to teach her mathematics, science and foreign languages, as was the fashion of the time. So he packed her off to live with a series of relatives in various cities, where Mother attended schools, until finally, she was sent to Beiping 北平 (Beijing 北京, as it was then called), to attend high school ⾼中.

In Mother's very first trip away from home, on a train as a young teenager on her way to relatives, Mother was shocked to see, for the first time, abject poverty in China. On the train tracks at the Puqi 蒲圻 station, countless beggars with extended hands begged for food. An old woman dressed in rags, ran from window to window along the train in her tiny bound feet, selling hot water from a thermos flask. As Mother mimicked her, saying, in earthy Puqi dialect "开⽔开⽔ 好热开⽔ 两分钱 Boiled water, boiled water; good, hot boiled water. Two cents!" tears welled in Mother's eyes.

On later trips to other relatives to attend school, at every train station, Mother could not forget the sight of beggars and undernourished, destitute people in filthy rags. Mother witnessed the unwashed masses through the window of a train. The sights and sounds saddened her immensely. She felt deeply for them, and told me that one must always have compassion for the less fortunate. And, always do your best share what you possess - 尽⼒⽽为.

Mother recalled that the period when she was sent to live with relatives in various cities was not very memorable, she felt like a transient; she was unable to make any friends due to lack of any sense of permanency. However, ⾼中 high school was a time of emancipation. Beiping was simply magical; Mother remembers it with nostalgic wonderment. Mother might have felt like Alice in Wonderland. This was a stable period in Mother's life when she was able to make permanent friends. She started smoking cigarettes with miss Wan 万叔寅, who became of one of her best lifelong friends. Mother went her friends often to see the sights, go to movies and try out restaurants. Because of early training with her father, she was able to hold her liquor better than any of her friends.

Mother recalls that when she and friends sometimes ate at a crowded restaurant, the waiter would tally the number of small plates after the meal and charge them accordingly. So she and her friends each hid a small plate under their skirts, and thus ended up paying less for a sumptuous meal. Such were the pranks of naughty, young teenagers.

Nonetheless, Mother excelled in her school work, and participated in track and field. She competed at least once in the high jump event.

Around 1930-31, Chiang Kai Shek 蔣介石failed in his first and second Encirclement Campaigns. After the Japanese initiated the invasion of Dongbei 东北by provoking the Sep. 18, 1931 Mukden Incident 九⼀⼋事变, Chiang Kai Shek dispatched General He Yingqing 何应钦 to Beiping to negotiate for a truce with the Japanese military authorities so that Japan would cease aggressive military action in Re-He 热河 (presently part of Inner Mongolia); this would then allow Chiang to concentrate his military efforts on wiping out the communists with subsequent Encirclement Campaigns.

The Japanese occupation of Dongbei resulted in a massive influx of refugee of Dongbei students into Beiping. Anti-Japanese sentiments were high among students Mother and her schoolmates were caught up in this turbulent era, they went along with the "progressives" and joined the Young Communists League 共产党青年团, because they advocated resistance against the hated Japanese invaders instead of fighting our own countrymen.


‡ In total, Chiang launched Five Encirclement Campaigns against the communists 「五次剿匪」 between 1930-34, which ended in the successful escape of Mao et al. The epic event is known by the ultimately victorious communists as The Long March ⼆万五千⾥长征. † On Sep. 18, 1931, Japan invaded Dongbei 东北 and later set up the puppet state Manchuko 滿洲國; Mukden is the Japanese transliteration of the city of Fengtian 奉天, presently Shenyang 瀋陽.


Mother joined her classmate in boycotting classes, and participated in multiple large-scale city- wide anti-Japanese-aggression marches, singing patriotic songs, waving banners, and shouting slogans.

A song Mother remembers from that period: 枪⼜对外 瞄准敌⼈ 不杀⽼百姓 不打⾃⼰⼈? Guns pointed outward! Aim at the enemy! Don't slaughter civilians! Don't strike your brothers! to the melody of DO DO DO-DO--, Sol Sol La-Mi-, Do-Do Sol-Sol Sol--, Do-Re Mi-Re Do--...

The Japanese authorities stationed in Beiping were furious and irritated by this sort of activity. They filed a serious complaint with General He Yingqing. The general had to curb the student demonstrations, otherwise it would be a breach of truce with the Japanese military. Thus began the "reign of terror" when radicals and commie youths were arrested by KMT gestapos on the streets during demonstrations, and dealt with harshly. Mother was terrified at the sight of the severely battered faces of those arrested and later released; one was missing an eyeball.

Nonetheless, Mother continued with enthusiasm. During one of these marches in which Mother participated, the demonstrators walked into a trap. All of a sudden, dozens of KMT gestapos appeared. Uniformly dressed in navy blue robes 长袍, black fedora hats and black leather shoes, they rushed into the crowd of young kids in an attempt to arrest them. Amid screams and panic, the large group dispersed. Mother ran for her life, she was an athlete and a decent sprinter. She escaped from the melee.


† The Kuomintang secret police were called TeWu 特务, or Special Task, the organization is modeled after the German Gestapo.


Quite out of breath, Mother ran into the courtyard of a Si-He-Yuan 四合院 (four little cottages sharing a common courtyard), saw an old woman sitting on a low stool calmly washing vegetables. Mother begged the woman for permission to hide in her house. The old woman allowed Mother to hide in her closet, the closet had a sliding door. So Mother hid in the closet, which was full of neatly folded cotton-filled comforters 棉被. The comforters had the fresh smell of having been hung out in the summer sun. There wasn't a sound except for Mother's teeth chattering from fear. Suddenly, Mother heard voices in the courtyard.

An officious voice loudly queried the old woman, and demanded to know if she has seen any students run this way, or, if anyone was hiding in any of the houses in this Si-He-Yuan...

The suspense was too much to bear, and like a dam breaking under severe stress, Mother was unable to hold her urine and released a very large pee... all over the old woman's pile of clean cotton-filled comforters.

When the coast was clear, Mom came out of the old woman's closet, came into the courtyard, thanked the old woman for saving her life, and left in a great hurry. The old woman replied tersely, "Better go home and study 回去读书吧!"

To this very day, Mother felt remorse, because she thought that she should have done the proper thing: she should have gone back and told the old woman of the peeing incident, and should have paid for cleaning the comforter.

Yet she failed to do so. Mother repeated this story several times, saying each time: "This is one thing I most regret doing in my entire life 这是我⼀辈⼦最后悔的⼀件事!". Mother regretted very deeply that she abused the trust of a kind woman, and repaid a benefactor's good deed with betrayal.

3. Please keep an eye on Xiao Lei

Ever since Mother stormed out of her foot-binding ceremony at age 6, grandpa 雷峙东 was well aware that Mother was not only highly rebellious, but also independently minded, precocious, and prone to getting into trouble. He was fully aware of Mother's numerous activities in Beiping, including her smoking, drinking, and infatuation with communism 曾经加⼊共产党青年团 and all the excitement that ensued. Mother wrote letters to her father, to report on all her activities as well as progress, on a regular basis. Grandpa became more than a bit concerned.

Our Father Lee Zhi-Fu 李直夫 attended the Whampo Military Academy 黃埔軍校 and took part in the Northern Campaign 北伐 under the command of Chiang Kai Shek, then (around 1928) went to Europe to study. He sojourned in London, Paris, and Berlin for less than a year and returned to military service under Chiang around 1930.

Fig 2. Our Father, fresh from a European sojourn, back in military service, a ⽂官 sitting among 武官. The year is around 1930. Father was about to meet Mother in Beiping soon.

After the Mukden Incident, General He Yingqing 何应钦 was dispatched to Beiping to negotiate for truce with the Japanese. Father was assigned Secretary 秘书 to General He. So our Father traveled to Beiping. Grandpa 雷峙东 knew our Father's family in Puqi 蒲圻 (now renamed Chibi ⾚壁). Rich families quite often are acquainted with other rich families. So, grandpa Lei asked Father for a big favor: "Would Zhifu kindly keep an eye on young Lei while in Beiping 拜托直夫在北平照顾⼀下⼩雷好嗎"? .

Since grandpa Lei was well aware of Mother's exploits in high school, he entrusted Father to keep her out of trouble. Especially, since Father was close to the top man in charge - General He , it might come in handy someday, in case of need. This is how Father came to Beiping to meet Mother.

Father never once mentioned how and when he came to meet Mother. I never was able to hold a conversation with Father. In the way Father communicated with me, I could only listen, but never question.

In Aachen, April, 1967, after Father told me about his deepest thoughts about his children, I dared ask when and where my elder half-brother ⼤哥 was born, and what about his firstborn, our half-sister 建⾹.§

Father's reply was terse and brilliant: "How would you understand; I've eaten more salt than you've eaten rice 我吃盐⽐你吃⽶饭还多, 你懂什么!". That was the last time I ever asked Father about anything personal.


§ I remember seeing our half-sister 建⾹ in Chongqing 重庆 in 1943 when she visited Mother. Our half-sister's face looked a bit like Fei- Fei's.


4. Love at first sight

Due to KMT gestapo's white terror, Mother and her close friends ended their infatuation with the Communist Youth League and focused on their studies. After all, she as well as her close friends decided that they would attend university together. The hard-core commie schoolmates dropped out to join the revolutionary movement in another world, and were never heard of again.

When Father showed up and introduced himself to Mother, it was probably love at first sight. The chemistry was perfect. It could not have been otherwise. When young hearts meet, what else would one expect? Father was handsome and dapper; Mother was young and beautiful.

In the beginning, the relationship was quite formal. But around 1933, they fell in love.

Mother recalls that, while still in high school ⾼中, she and Father exchanged love letters many times a week. The love letters were folded in origami fashion in a pattern symbolizing two entwined hearts, called Fang-sheng-er ⽅胜⼉. Father folded themlikewise, but not so neatly. More often, Father wrote multipage letters, which were not folded. Mother preferred the unfolded long letters, the longer the better. Mother was fascinated with Father's splendid calligraphy, she would read and re-read them.

Fig 3. A Fang-sheng-er ⽅胜⼉.


‡ Father divorced his 2nd wife, née Luo 羅氏, after her son our big brother ⼤哥 was born in 1932 or 1933.


Later on, when their relationship escalated, Mother folded her letters into a pattern of two overlapping squares 同⼼⽅胜⼉; signifying heart-upon-heart ⼼⼼相印. Father did not know how to fold it the fancy way so he stopped folding his letters altogether.

Fig 4. A "heart-upon-heart" 同⼼⽅胜⼉.

Mother showed me how to fold both versions. Mother also mentioned that 同⼼⽅胜⼉ was mentioned in the classic Romance of the Western Chamber 《西厢记》, or was it in Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦, I cannot remember. It sounded very romantic! By this time, the romantic ideals of communism evaporated as real love took over.

5. Graduation and entrance exam

Romance aside, Mother graduated from high school with her good friends. Mother wanted to become a teacher so took the entrance exam at Teacher's University 师範⼤学.

Fig 5. Mother with her other best friend Wang Linghui 王令惠, ca. 1933. [Note added by Lei Liu. Around 1992, during an academic visit to Beijing, on order from Mother, I paid a visit to Ms Wang and her husband who, needless to say, were extremely surprised and pleased the see me, an emissary sent by her bosom friend whom she had not seen for almost sixty years. The couple lived within the residential compound for (active and retired) faculty members of the famed National Academy of the Chinese Theatre Arts 中国戏曲学院 (not to be confused with the far more famous The Central Academy of Drama 中央戏剧学院), in an old Beijing area just south of 宣武门, not far from the Dazhalah 大栅栏, the Beijing bazaar for local residents. In 2002, with 王百齡, I visited them again, but only saw her husband; Ms. Wang was in the States visiting her children and grand children.]

In Mother's words: "放榜那天, 爸爸去看榜, 爸爸觉得我没读什么书, 所以, 从榜后⾯看起. 看啊看, ⼀直看不到, 爸爸恐怕我是没有考上,...最后, 才发现我的名字是头⼀个. 原来, 我考了个状元!"§ Mother came in first in the entrance exam! Father was impressed.


§ "The day the results of the entrance exam was posted, Father went to see it. He figured that since I hadn't studied much, it would be more efficient to search for my name starting from the bottom of the list. He looked and he looked and couldn't find it, and he feared that perhaps I didn't make the list... Finally, he saw my name, at the TOP of the list. I was the ZhuangYuan 状元, numero uno, of the exam!"


However, Bao-Bao was on the way, so Mother registered at the University, but did not attend classes "办了⼊学注册、没去上课". After Bao-Bao's birth in May 1934, Father hired the best nanny to take care of the infant. Mother was determined to become a teacher, she returned to school shortly thereafter to resume her studies. But, again her studies were interrupted, because Di-Di was on the way in the following summer.

Mother said she would have returned to school after Di-Di's birth, had not events intervened that made Father, hence our parents, leave Beiping.

Exciting, action-packed times lay ahead.

Fig. 6 Winter, late 1934, Beiping. Father hired a nanny for Bao-Bao, so that Mother could return to the University. Mother remarked that the nanny had tiny bound feet, but could run very fast.

6. On to Shanghai

Father left the employ of General He Yingqing 何应钦 , and returned to civilian life. He assumed a new post as County Magistrate 县长 of Salt City County, or Yancheng 盐城县, and my parents moved there in Jiangsu province. Di-Di was born in Shanghai July 1935.

They purchased the house at 苏州 盘门东⼤街30 (30 Panmen East Avenue, Suzhou) in November 1935 for four-thousand silver Yuan 四千银元.§ Mother had it refurbished with redwood and teak furniture, modernized the house with electricity and plumbing. This mansion, bordering some farmland, had a bucolic setting, it was an idyllic place. This Suzhou mansion was to be Mother's forever home.

Mother remembers this period as her happiest moments in life. Mother was living a blissful life with Father; they were young and full of vitality. Mother had great dreams and great plans for her kids. Our parents shuttled between Father's official magistrate's dwelling in Yancheng and their luxurious apartment in the French Concession in Shanghai, where they stayed most of the time. Occasionally, they would go to spend holidays in their comfortable mansion in charming Suzhou. The Suzhou mansion was looked after year round by trusted live-in caretakers.

Mother especially remembers the delicious cuisine she enjoyed with Father at Yancheng. The fresh fish, the sea urchins, the sea slugs, always the freshest catch of the day, prepared in a variety of ways. Mother never tasted better salted fish 咸鱼 like the ones made in Yancheng. And the fried fresh peanuts, the aromatic fresh-cooked rice, and numerous other "little dishes" (Xiaocai ⼩菜), or delicacies, that I now cannot recall the names. Mother mentioned the Yancheng food on numerous occasions, each time recalling a few more tasty dishes.

They dined out quite a bit. There were cooks in the household, Mother hardly cooked in those days. Living in the French Concession, they dined on French food often. Father liked wester cuisine 西餐 especially, French food in particular, having lived in Paris for several months during his European sojourn. Mother learned how to read French menus.

Fig. 7 A beautiful, young and vibrant couple, ca. 1933-34.


§ See the essay "The House in Suzhou" for details of our parents' house in 蘇州. ‡ I wrote down the names of each of those delicacies and tasty dishes in a special notebook. That notebook, among other things precious to me were confiscated during "Sahib's downfall".


After Di-Di's birth, with housekeeper and nannies to watch the babies, our parents did a bit traveling. They went on a summer vacation, traveling to south-east Asia. In Mother's words, 我们去了好多地⽅,安南 西贡, 缅甸 仰光,... "We went to many places, Saigon, Annam (now Ho-Chi-Min City, Vietnam); YangGuang, Burma (now Yangon, Myanma), ..."

Travel was usually on luxury liners. In one of their trips, our parents toured Sydney while Mother was pregnant, but returned to China to give birth to Fei-Fei in Shanghai, in August, 1936. A year later Atong was born in October 1937.

In 1936, Mother opened a bank account in Suzhou, setting aside funds for her children's future education. Sixty years later, in Manhattan Beach, Mother showed me the bank deposit book in the names of BaoBao, DiDi, and FeiFei. It was a thin, small, burgundy-colored book; there were several entries of deposits made. When Mother stared at the deposit book and gently caressed it, her eyes welled up; I could not help getting emotional.

Grandpa Lei visited our parents often and stayed in their Shanghai apartment. At this time, Mother was determined to wean grandfather from his life-long opium habit, so she procured the most exclusive brands of whiskey and scotch as well as an assortment of exotic cigars and cigarettes. Such imported luxury items were abundant in Shanghai during the rip-roaring 1930s. Grandfather preferred the Western alcohol 洋酒 better than cigars, and took to drink like a fish. Mother said, grinning, that she succeeded in weaning grandpa from his opium habit, but unintentionally converted grandpa from a doper into an alcoholic! Mother recalls that grandpa was only 42 year old at that time.

Mother had numerous nannies, one for each individual daughter. There was also a nanny housekeeper, who spoke Mandarin with a strong Nanjing 南京accent. Owing to the nannies accented mispronunciation of bathe (pronounced xi3, approximately "shee") as die (pronounced si3, approximately "ss"), her famous query, upon drawing a bath: "Master, would you like to die first, if not then Lady will die, and you can die later. 先⽣要不要先死,先⽣不死,就让太太死,太太死完先⽣再死?", always made Father burst out in laughter.

Many years later in Taiwan, whenever Father repeated that sentence in the way it was pronounced, Mother always chuckled while Father laughed so hard that his eyes teared. I remember that I loved to see them being so happy with laughter, because the Taiwan years were very hard on our parents.

Fig. 8 Father and Mother, Shanghai,1935-36.

On July 7, 1937, the Japanese incited the Marco Polo Bridge Incident 七七卢沟桥事变 and the full-scale, eight-year Sino-Japan War erupted. At age 21, with the Japanese invasion of China, the brief period of Mother's very happy youth came to an abrupt end.

Mother could never forgive the Japanese for invading China and thus shattering her dreams. She was forced into her next phase of existence, of a heroic struggle to survive. She put it quite philosophically, with a succinct remark: "The good days are over; we are refugees now! 好⽇⼦过完了、开始逃难"!

The next chapter of Mother's extremely colorful life, filled with pathos, peril, perseverance, and ultimate triumph, would unfold.

7. Some loose ends on our parent's birth dates

Regarding Mother's year of birth, how did the year 1914 come about?§ Based on the evidence at hand, I can only speculate from here on.


§Note added by Lei Liu. For as long as I can remember, until this topic began to be discussed among the siblings a short time before Su Wu wrote this piece, the family lore had been that Father was born on December 25, 1900 and mother was born on February 2, 1914, hence Mother was 14 years younger than Father.


In order to register 戶口 with the county office in Yancheng 盐城 and to obtain a passport, one must provide birthdate and birthplace. I suspect that when Father went to fill out the forms for Mother, he remembered 2nd of February, which is always mentioned. However, the year 1914 was either an error or a "guesstimate" when Father made the conversion from Lunar calendar to Gregorian calendar. In those days, it was still customary to use the Lunar Calendar, e.g., 甲寅 虎年 (Jia-Yin, The Year of the Tiger) or 丙申龙年 (Bing-Shen, The Year of the Dragon), etc.

How come Mother says she is from Taishan, Guangdong ⼴东 台⼭ when her Father lived in Yangloudong 羊樓洞 in Puqi, Hubei and Mother was born there, and all her relatives are from around the Wuhan area? I suppose the Lei clan originated from Guangdong, and purchased the tea plantation in Hubei after migrating there sometime in the Qing Dynasty. It would be similar to our case, when Father tells us that we are from Longxi, Gansu ⽢肃 陇西. Our great-grandfather originated from that place and then settled in Hubei. Furthermore, not one of us siblings was born in Hubei, yet in our Taiwan passports, we are registered 籍贯: 湖北 蒲圻 (現稱赤壁), namely, as coming from Puqi, (now Chibi) Hubei.

Another unanswered question: On what date was the anniversary of our parents' wedding? Where is their wedding photograph? Those are questions that I should have asked, but never did.

Finally, our Father's birthday also requires a correction. Father told me in Aachen, in April 1967: "我是腊⽉⼆⼗五⽣, 妈妈是除⼣⽣, 都是年底⽣的! (referring to the Chinese lunar calendar) I was born on the 25th of the Lah month, Mother was born on new year's eve; we were both born at the end of the year!" In addition, Mother said that "爸爸属⿏; Father was a (zodiac animal) Rat" .

Indeed, Mother's birth date, February 2, 1916, is the eve of the Lunar Year of the Rabbit. Were Mother's birthday on February 2, 1914 is the Lunar 8th day of the first month in the Year of the Tiger, it would be at the beginning, not end, of a year.

Now, 腊⽉⼆⼗五, the 25th of the Lah month (in the Lunar calendar) is a wandering date on the Gregorian calendar, it is manifestly not Christmas Day. There is one and only one solution in the Lunar calendar that matches the two statements "the Lunar 25th of the Lah month" and "Rat".

Thus, Father's correct birthdate should actually be 庚⼦⿏年 庚寅⽉壬戌⽇ 腊⽉⼆⼗五, (in the Lunar calendar) the 25th of the Lah month in Geng-Zi the Year of the Rat, which would correspond to February 13, 1901 in the Gregorian calendar. Were Father born six days later, he would have been born in ⾟亥⽜年, Xin-Hai the Year of the Ox, an Ox instead of a Rat.

December 25, 1900 in the Gregorian calendar would correspond to 庚⼦⿏年 冬月初四 the Lunar 4th of the Dong month in Geng-Zi the Year of the Rat, which is not the Lunar 25th of the Lah month, and does not match Father's "都是年底⽣的 we were both born at the end of the year" statement, i.e., the Lunar 4th of the eleven month is not anywhere near the end of a Lunar year. Perhaps, Mother morphed the Lunar 25th of the Lah month (nominally the twelve month) into Christmas for convenience; she made it easier for her children to remember.


‡ The month before a new year, or month of the Cured Meat (for new year celebration). Normally the twelveth month, except in a leap year, then the thirteenth month. † The penultimate month of the year, or the Winter month. Normally the eleventh month, except in a leap year, then the twelveth month.


By the reckoning on the Gregorian calendar, a calculation of the difference between Father's birthday on February 13, 1901 and Mother birthday February 2, 1916, one obtains the result: Mother is 14 years and 354 days younger than Father. The oft-quoted nominal "14 years younger" now begins to make sense.§

Since Mother's birthday is on February 2, 1916, and Father's birthday is on February 13, 1901, from now on, we should have two birthdays to celebrate each February.

In case there is anybody who disagrees with the chronological details, it doesn't really matter. We kids should just rejoice that we are blessed to have exceptionally wonderful parents!


§In fact, "14" is correct if one applies the floor function to compute the difference, i.e., 14.96986301...=14



©P.H.Y. Lee 2009