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Feifei lost and found in Guiyang 1942


[By Lie Liu, with material mostly supplied by Julie Wei, August 18, 2020] In late 1937, after the Battle of Shanghai, the first big battle that unfolded China's eight-year war of resistance against invasion by the Empire of Japan, Father (Lee Zhi-Fu 李直夫, 1901-1990), who had been county magistrate first Yancheng (Salt City) County 鹽城縣 in northern Jiangsu province 蘇北 after 1935, then later of Shanghai County 上海縣, the post he held when Shanghai fell in late 1937, and Mother (Lei Ruo-Zhao 雷若昭, 1916-2001) moved house to Hong Kong. By that time they had four daughters: Helen/Baobao寶寶, Julie/Didi 滴滴, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, and the new born Dora/Ahtong 彤彤. Not long afterwards Father was summoned to Chongqing to rejoin the national government. In April, 1939 Mother gave birth to Pengpeng 蓬蓬 (aka Su Wu 蘇五) during a short visit to Chongqing when the city was under heavy bombardment by Japanese forces; in August, 1941, Pupu 勃勃 (aka, Lei Liu 雷六) was born. In early December that year Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong and on Christmas day the British forces surrendered. After a short stay in occupied Hong Kong the family left the city to embark on a refugee journey for the deep southwest interior of China then still free of Japanese forces. The incident below occurred in the general area of Guiyang 貴陽, in the province of Guizhou 貴州, in early 1942.

The Four plus One. From left. Helen/Baobao 寶寶, Julie/DD 滴滴, Vivien/Feifei 菲菲, Dora/Ahtong 彤彤, Su Wu/Pengpeng 蓬蓬. Hong Kong, 1940-41

I once was lost but then was found

By Vivien Lee 李菲菲

August 16, 2020


Do you know where the photo above was taken? It reminded me of an incident when the family was in the interior of China and we were fleeing the Japanese. It must have occurred when I was 5-6.

On the run, the Japs are coming

The Japanese were in China, capturing city after city as it advanced ever inland from the coastal cities. The populace was fleeing farther and farther inland, trying to stay a step ahead of the Japanese, into remote areas where transportation and communications were primitive, almost non-existent. Sanitation was terrible. We depended on well-water. Money was losing value by the day.

By now, there were five or six of us children: Helen, Julie, me, Dora, Peter (a toddler then) and perhaps Paul. (I'll assume six). And we each had our own wet nurse (or governess). Mom and Dad had decided we needed to go even farther inland. They had hired a team of rickshaws to move the family, that is all 8 of us, plus our governesses, plus an elderly aunt (or perhaps Wai-Po 外婆, remember traditional families were extended in those days), and all our belongings. The mantra was "Follow the group" (gen-zhe-zou 跟著走) which was drilled into all of us every day. With Mom and Dad's rickshaws leading the caravan we each were supposed to be in a rickshaw with our wet nurse.

I was misplaced and got lost

Somehow, my wet nurse, in helping with the luggage and all our stuff, misplaced me. I saw the caravan leaving, and remembering the mantra, "Follow the group", I followed the caravan as fast as my chubby legs could carry me. Of course it disappeared soon after. The next thing I knew, I was at a police station. I can recount for you the incident from our parents' account. (They often reminded me of my great good fortune).

When they arrived at their destination in the interior of China (貴陽), the first thing they did was count heads. They immediately knew I was lost. My wet nurse wept loudly and uncontrollably, blaming me for being naughty, disobedient and not listening. Mom and Dad were distraught, they knew that a little girl lost in the interior of China was a goner.

Several hours later, a police car showed up and the police delivered a peacefully sleeping me to the frantic household. The police reported that, when patrolling the streets, they had seen this clean and well-dressed little girl wandering aimlessly and so they picked me up. At the police station, they questioned me and asked me my parents' names, my name, whether I had sibs, where I lived, where the family was going, etc. Then they asked me to write my parents' names as well as my name and some other information. In those days, we wrote with brush and ink.

At the police station - What a well brought up five year old

When the police saw how well I wrote with a brush and ink, matched with how well-dressed and how well-spoken I was, they deduced that I must have come from a well-known, well-connected family. Even though they didn't know Dad, they were very aware that many prominent people were fleeing the invading Japanese and were passing through their region. At that time and in that area, there were few, if any, telephones. Some of the police were also army personnel and relied on military communications. Based on the written information I had given them, they made a concerted effort and were able to locate my Mom and Dad and delivered me safely to them. The police emphasized to Mom and Dad that they had never seen a little girl with such poise and confidence: to answer questions coherently and with the presence of mind to be able to write my parents' names and my name and provide information with brush and ink. I think Mom and Dad fired my governess immediately after that. I think they may have fired all the governesses for the girls, and kept the ones for Peter and Paul.

Girls should learn to read and write, too

And from that time I'm sure Mom and Dad were reinforced in their conviction that girls as well as boys should be educated and should learn to read and write. After that, Mom and Dad became ever more vigilant about our education. I don't remember going to schools regularly in the interior of China because schools were not well-organized. I do remember that we had daily lessons at home where we always had to memorize some passages from the Chinese classics and write calligraphy with brush and ink. And much, much later, write the Thousand-Word Essay 千字文 with brush and ink.


[Letter by DD to Lie Liu, August 20, 2020]

Dear Pupu,

Many thanks for the write-up by Feifei. A sweet story. What a narrow escape for Feifei and Dad and Mom!!! Yes, Feifei was a well-trained and bright child.

Just a few corrections on fact: We didn't have our wet-nurses or governesses. On this trip there was just one governess, and she was the only one we had in Kowloon, Ms. Zhuo. I think when we got into the rickshaws, Mom held Pupu the infant, Waipo held Pengpeng, Ms. Zhuo held Ahtong, myself and Baobao shared one rickshaw, and Feifei was just left out because each of the three adults already had a child with her. Also, we traveled from Kuangzhouwan 廣州灣 on the coast of Guangxi 廣西 up to Guiyang first by truck, then by other means, such as sedan chair, train, punted boat, and finally rickshaw.

I remember the grownups were concerned with the younger ones, so Baobao and I were pretty much left on our own on the trip. I remember on the train I had a cold but no handkerchief or Kleenex (which wasn't invented then) and when I was lying in bed on the train, I cried because my nose was running onto the sheet.

My memory is that Dad telephoned the police station to report the loss of Feifei, and then was informed (maybe later) that Feifei had been found. Mummy told me Feifei was found by a policeman in a rice field or some other field, and that her shoes and feet were covered with mud, and they washed her feet at the police station, and that Feifei cheerfully responded to them when they asked her questions. I thought that amazing, because you would think a child would be crying or hysterical.

Mum said that how she realized Feifei was missing was that every time we stopped at a hotel she would order tea for each of us, and she found that everyone had taken their cup of tea, but one cup of tea remained on the table. She was puzzled so she looked around to count the children and then found that Feifei was missing.

By the way, I remember that on the trip, whenever we stopped on the way for food, Dad would always ordered "Egg fried rice" 蛋炒飯 because all you needed for that was one egg, a big platter of rice, and some chopped scallions.

lv, dd

Copyright ©Feifei Lee 2020, ©DD Lee 2020