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Shanghai to Liberation: A Journey Through the 1960's

Overview

This is a story of liberation from oppression and covers the challenges of a young man's assimilation into American society during a time of great turmoil torn apart by the Vietnam War. This story is touched by Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, Mizmoon Saltzik of the SLA, Mark Rudd of the SDS, Che Guevara and Ann Romney. It is also a story about the kindness of many Americans, and the Author's unabashed joy of becoming an American. California history during the 1960s is the backdrop for the story. In addition to the ...
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Shanghai To Liberation: A Journey Through the 1960's

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Overview

This is a story of liberation from oppression and covers the challenges of a young man's assimilation into American society during a time of great turmoil torn apart by the Vietnam War. This story is touched by Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai-shek, Mizmoon Saltzik of the SLA, Mark Rudd of the SDS, Che Guevara and Ann Romney. It is also a story about the kindness of many Americans, and the Author's unabashed joy of becoming an American. California history during the 1960s is the backdrop for the story. In addition to the Watts Riots, this history includes Miss Teen LA contests, the first Beatles concert in the Hollywood Bowl, the original Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Burbank, the design of the LA County Art Museum to float on a lake of tar, the planning of the Irvine Ranch for development into UCI and the city of Irvine, and the slaughter of the SLA in South Central LA.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781477267042
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 10/2/2012
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Shanghai To Liberation Shanghai

A Journey Through the 1960's
By William "Bill" Lee

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2012 William "Bill" Lee
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4772-6705-9


Chapter One

Liberation From My Homeland

Eighth Route Army Enters Shanghai

"Where were you during the liberation?" I was in Beijing on a retail development consulting assignment in 2003; and a young client from the "Sky is Red," the third largest housing development firm in China, asked innocently enough. The "liberation" as the Communist liberators called it was 1949, but I always knew of it as the "rebellion." In 1949, I was four years old and living in Shanghai. My family and I were being librated.

I can remember it vividly. It was late May in 1949, and the Nationalist troops had quietly abandoned Shanghai, China's largest and most important commercial city. Once a few Communist scouts determined that the city was cleared of the enemy troops, the Eight Route Army marched into Shanghai in victory without firing a shot. I could see them from my second floor window. My amah took me down to Nanking Road to get a better look.

My mother and step father had left for Hong Kong. I stayed behind with my grandparents because my mother was pregnant, and the housing situation for my family in Hong Kong or subsequently in Taiwan was uncertain. My stepfather was in the diplomatic service of the Nationalist government, which necessitated their departure well ahead of the imminent arrival of the Communist army. My grandfather was terminally ill with throat cancer, and my grandmother did not wish to move him given his condition.

On that day in late May, our household was tense. "After all, they are Chinese." My grandmother would comment trying to reassure herself of the decision she had made to stay in Shanghai in full anticipation of the regime change from the Nationalist to the Communists. Our family had live through the Japanese occupation, which included the slaughter of 250,000 civilians in the "Rape of Nanking." We had a house in Nanking, which is about 120 miles west of Shanghai, and heard about the Japanese soldiers using babies for bayonet practice to terrorize the civilian population into submission. Her implication and hope was that the Communist could not be as bad as the Japanese, after all they were Chinese.

The tension stemmed primarily from the uncertainty caused by regime change. While it was not clear at that time to my grandmother, this was Mao's peasant revolution. It was a revolution directed at the class my family represented. My grandma, Mary Nieh, was the granddaughter of Tseng Kuo-fan. During the Ching Dynasty, he was the epitome of the conservative Chinese gentlemen—intelligent, honorable, loyal to his subordinates and obedient to his emperor. Because of his effectiveness in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion during the 1860s, he was appointed Governor General of Kiangnan Provinces. The Taipings were influenced by Christianity but also believed in the communal ownership of property. Because of that belief, their rebellion was considered by some to be the precursor to the Communist Chinese revolution which would succeed a century later. Governor General Tseng effectively and, according to some accounts, ruthlessly suppressed the Taiping movement. Because of his success in defending the throne, he was reward handsomely. At the time of the Eight Route Army's entrance into Shanghai, my grandmother's family had at least three houses in Shanghai and Nanking, substantial stock holdings in a silk factory and of course jewelry and other assets.

The victory march of the Eight Route Army was not at all what I would have imagined, neat parade uniforms and bands playing marching music. It was a ragtag guerrilla army walking in silent single file. Some had rifles on their shoulders, and others carried submachine guns in their arms with bandoliers around their necks. Once in a while the line would be punctuated by soldiers pulling a wagon with a mounted heavy machine gun or small cannon. The most curious part of this caravan was three characters lying in boxes being carted along. "What is that grandma?" Grandma didn't know at the time but she later figured out that it was three characters in effigy, and the boxes represented coffins. The characters were Chang Kai-shek, Douglas McArthur and Harry Truman. When the march reached its culmination point, these characters were burned in effigy and numerous firecrackers were set off in the victory celebration.

A couple weeks later the Nationalist Chinese Air Force bombed Shanghai. We had pasted strips of white paper against the glass window to prevent shattering. After the bombing, we pasted some more. During the bombing, we moved into the interior of the house away from the windows. I heard airplanes, anti aircraft fire, which shook the house, and two or three explosions. The power plant was hit and we lost electricity for two and a half days, and we later heard it was two or three aircraft. My family thought the Nationalist Chinese defense of Shanghai was pathetic. The troops departed before firing a single shot and the air force return to bomb the city and caused us to lose electricity.

The regime change had implications even for a four year old. I had two dolls that were given to me by my Aunt Maggie when she left for the United States to go to college. One was a military figure in parade dress of black and red with a white sash; the other was an American girl doll. I had one in each arm outside the kitchen door one day soon after the liberation. A number of older kids were making fun of me. A girl about eight came up and yelled "that is a Japanese soldier." "You shouldn't have that." She grabbed it out of my hand and ran off, while the other kids laughed. I was conflicted, I had been robbed on one hand but on the other hand thinking that it was probably a Japanese soldier doll and I was wrong to have it. She then came back and grabbed the second doll and ran off with the other kids egging her on. I was not conflicted any more. She robbed me. I went back into the kitchen and picked up the first thing I saw, the meat cleaver, and went after her down the street. Of course I could not catch them, and the meat cleaver was so heavy I could barely hold it up. My grandma gave me a good scolding when she found out. This was the first small step in the property redistribution that was our liberation.

Shortly after the liberation, I resumed kindergarten. The text books in kindergarten changed within two weeks. I had only been in kindergarten about two weeks prior to the liberation, but I could read because my grandma had used flash cards to teach me 400 characters. Rather than addressing family or ancestors like the old text, the new Communist text emphasized peer group even for kindergarteners. It was all about little comrades doing good deeds for their community.

After the Communist takeover, our household members no longer talked in a normal voice but always whispered especially when talking about the new regime. Apparently informants were everywhere. Within a few months, my grandfather passed away. He had cancer of the throat from smoking cigarettes. My grandmother had his body cremated and his ashes placed in a white porcelain box. We were to take his ashes for burial to his family's burial grounds outside of Beijing.

Beijing Family Burial Ground

In order to board the train for Beijing, we had to fly to Nanking. Most likely the rail tracks between Shanghai and Nanking had been destroyed by the either the war with Japan or by the civil war. My first flight was in a C-47, which was the cargo version of the DC-3. The plane had no windows, and we sat on a wooden bench along the fuselage.

In Nanking we boarded the train for Beijing. On the first day the train would pass through some smaller towns. As the train stopped briefly in these towns, hawker would come up to the window and sell the specialty foods for which the towns were famous. My grandma bought soy sauce chicken for lunch at the first stop and the dark brown Shanghai style smoked fish for snacks. They were memorably delicious.

Once we got to Beijing, we stayed with relatives and I met my cousins who were four and six years older. They showed me their new comic books, which were instruments of propaganda produced by the new regime determined to win hearts and minds. These comics described the good deeds of the People's Liberation Army and the evilness of the landlords who deserved punishment and were executed.

Since my grandpa's family burial plot was outside of Beijing, we needed a bus. After considerable search we located and chartered a crude old bus. It held the entire funeral party of about 40, had wooden benches laid out lengthwise for seats and a furnace in back which had to be fed with logs. It must have been steam powered and chugged noisily and slowly. As we drove out of Beijing into the foothills, I was awed by the vivid colors of the autumn leaves, shades of yellow, orange, red and green.

After an hour's climb, we begin to see a few Communist soldiers in neat uniforms and armed with submachine guns. A pair blocked the path of the bus and ordered us to halt and turn off the motor. Everyone was ordered off the bus with the exception of the bus driver and me. The tension and fear amongst the group were palpable. Our family was clearly of the wrong class; we did not have calluses on our hands which indicated physical work. A civil war was still raging in parts of the country, and a sudden and mass execution was a possibility. Summary execution of landlords in villages was not uncommon. I did not want to be separated from the group but was the only one ordered to stay on the bus.

The soldiers ordered the group to push the bus uphill. Was this peasant soldiers teaching the landlord class a lesson about physical work? After the funeral party pushed the bus for what seemed like an eternity but was probably a quarter of a mile around the bend of a hill, they were allowed back on board. We restarted the bus and proceeded to the great relief of the entire group. The soldiers finally explained that the Chairman was napping up the hill and the bus was too noisy and would likely disturb his nap. Much later I learned in a biography written by his doctor that Chairman Mao's biological clock dictated a 29 or 30 hour day and that he often slept during the day and conducted business in the middle of the night.

One morning not long after our return from Beijing, there was considerable commotion at our neighbor's house. A dance troop of six dressed in white silk had come with musicians. Three of the troop was pretty young women with make-up and red sashes highlighting their bright white silk outfits, and the other three were young men with green sashes. They danced for about twenty minutes accompanied by music and drums. Banners were then pasted on this neighbor's door when the dancers finished. "What is all this excitement about grandma?" "Fodder for the American cannons" she replied. Our neighbor's son, who was nineteen, had volunteered to fight the Americans in the Korean War.

Leaving China with One Suitcase

After grandpa was buried, grandma decided that she and I would leave Shanghai. My Uncle Morley, who was in New York City at the time, had urged her to leave, as did my mother. She would later tell me that she was already old at age 60 and tired from caring for my grandfather and probably would have stayed. The concern for my future was a key reason for her decision to leave. In thinking back, I was frail and sickly with asthma as a child. Had I stayed, my survival in Mao's China was questionable, especially during the tumultuous upheaval of the Cultural Revolution two decades later when several million lives were lost and many more of the intelligentsia was psychologically destroyed.

Grandma was an exceptional woman. At no more than five feet tall, she bore and raised seven children. The five uncles were all over six feet tall, and there was my mom at number three and Maggie, my aunt, the baby. By 1950, all her children were either in the United States or in Taiwan. As I grew older, I learned to really appreciate her intelligence, refinement, culture and grace. She did calligraphy, poetry, some painting and spoke good English because as grand-daughter of a mandarin she had an English tutor from age nine to twelve. Most impressive of all, she was always calm, wise, incredibly open minded and could appreciate all sides of any issue.

The decision to leave Shanghai was not an easy one. My grandma knew she would not be able to take any of her valued possessions out of the country. She had money, stock, art and fine jewelry. Our plan was simple. We would travel to Hong Kong on the pretense of visiting my mother for the weekend, and to make the plan credible we would pack one small suitcase. In the hope of having some asset after leaving China, grandma sewed four crisp US$100 bills into the bottom of her outer sock. She had tiny bound feet and wore an inner pair of socks and an outer pair for additional support.

At the crossing from Canton into Hong Kong, we were given a cursory search initially. Our initial hopes were soon dashes as a young female comrade escorted us into an enclosed room for a more thorough search. This search lasted some 30 minutes. She pried open the seams in my coat and the bill of my cap. Eventually she found the four US$100 bills and indicated she would register them and we could reclaim them upon our return. Given the chaos and poverty in China at that time, we had no expectation of recovering that money.

My mother greeted us warmly when we crossed into the Hong Kong side. My family was reunited. We had been liberated but were essentially penniless.

Chapter Two

Taipei To Los Angeles

Taipei

After a very brief stay in Hong Kong, which was miserably hot and humid, we moved to Taipei. It was the summer of 1950, and Taipei was undeveloped. The city only had two or three paved roads, and open gutters for drainage. My sister, Frances, was already born; and my brother, David, arrived a couple years later. David's birth was a crisis for our family. Two weeks before his due date my mother started to hemorrhage. Taipei had no taxis and no ambulance service at the time. We did not have a vehicle and could not get my mother to the hospital quickly. Both mother and child were dire danger. Fortunately, and just in the neck of time, a friend of my stepfather came to visit by jeep. We bounded mother into the jeep and off they went to the hospital. Both mother and baby came back in good health a few days later. The doctor indicated that had the jeep not arrived, both lives could have been lost.

With the exception of conflicts within the family, my six years in Taipei were uneventful. One of the conflicts was over me. I was the stepson that my stepfather never wanted, and my mother was caught between her love for her son and for her husband. My grandma always assured me that my stepfather's temper tantrums were not my fault. Another conflict was over Mahjong. My grandma loved to play Mahjong, and she was very good at it. She played two to three times per week and could support herself from her winnings. However, when it was her turn to host the event, my stepfather would disapprove. Dr. Lee Mong Ping was a modern Chinese and an Anglophile. M.P., as he was called, and my mother Sally played Bridge. Mahjong to him represented all that was wrong with traditional China, decaying, ineffectual and lacking of a strong work ethic.

M.P. was born in Hunan Province in a small town about 30 miles from where Mao was born. His first fiancée ran off with Mao on the Long March and became one of Mao's many mistresses. Born to a small time salt merchant father and raised by a difficult stepmother. He would tell of having one egg per year on his birthday and of walking five miles to school barefoot so his cloth shoes would not be worn out when he got to school resulting in the other kids mocking him for his poverty. I asked him "Why did you not become a Communist?" Because of impoverished background, strong sense of nationalism and intense personality, I thought he could have been a dedicated Communist. "They were too brutal" he answered. The Communists believed that for their Socialist peasant revolution to succeed, they had to eliminate the landowning capitalist class and communize all private property.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Shanghai To Liberation Shanghai by William "Bill" Lee Copyright © 2012 by William "Bill" Lee. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

I Liberation From My Homeland....................1
Eighth Route Army Enters Shanghai....................3
Beijing Family Burial Ground....................8
Leaving China with One Suitcase....................12
II Taipei To Los Angeles....................15
Taipei....................17
Across the Pacific....................23
Los Angeles....................25
Learning English in the Cloakroom....................26
Le Conte and Hollywood High....................29
III Summer Work....................39
Miss Teen LA and Snow White....................41
Computer Matchmaking....................45
Watts Burning....................48
Planning Economics....................50
IV Palo Alto And Beyond....................53
Freshman at Stanford....................55
Lambda Nu....................60
Semmering to Auschwitz....................62
Stanford and the SLA....................65
Nice Body Indeed....................69
V New Your City....................73
Columbia and War Protest....................75
Waiting for Mitt Romney....................78
Induction Notice....................79
Protest Marches....................82
The Killing of Che Guevara....................86
Visit to Harvard Law School....................87
Marie Patterson....................89
Cambodia Incursion....................91
Walt and Marie....................95
VI Becoming An American....................97
Development Research Associates....................99
Becoming an American....................102
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