Ruth's Record: The Diary of an American in Japanese-Occupied Shanghai 1941-45

Ruth's Record: The Diary of an American in Japanese-Occupied Shanghai 1941-45

by Ruth Hill Barr


$22.49 $24.99 Save 10% Current price is $22.49, Original price is $24.99. You Save 10%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Use Standard Shipping. For guaranteed delivery by December 24, use Express or Expedited Shipping.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789888422005
Publisher: Earnshaw Books
Publication date: 07/01/2017
Series: China History Series
Pages: 348
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Ruth Hill Barr was born in Dallas in 1903 and graduated from Columbia University in New York before moving to Shanghai where she worked with the International YWCA and married a Scottish missionary teacher, John Barr. After release from the Lunghwa internment camp at the end of the war in 1945, Ruth and her husband returned to Shanghai in 1946 and lived there until 1952. They then moved to Hong Kong until 1965 when they retired in Scotland. Ruth died there in 1990. Their daughter Betty still lives in Shanghai.

Read an Excerpt

Ruth's Record

The Diary of an American in Japanese-Occupied Shanghai 1941-1945

By Ruth Hill Barr

Earnshaw Books

Copyright © 2016 Betty Barr
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-988-8422-00-5



Let me introduce my mother to you. She was a feisty Texan who lived most of her life in Shanghai, China, and, latterly, in Scone, a small village in central Scotland.

Her own mother, Pearl Porter Hill, my grandmother, was the eldest of nine siblings in a large Southern family. Pearl was a strong believer in the importance of education and I, at the age of twelve, lived with her for a year while she was the Superintendent of a large Sunday School in a nearby Southern Methodist Church.

When it was time for a meal she would shout down to the basement where her husband, James Hill, was pottering about, "Mr. Hill! Dinner's ready!" That formal Southern mode of address must have influenced me because for the whole of my life I called my maternal parent "Mother," never the British "Mummy" or "Mum" or the American "Mom."

Ruth was born in Dallas on July 17, 1903, and a sister, Esther, was born two years later. I know little about my mother's childhood. Like most of us, I wish now that I had asked her more questions.

She attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas and then went to Columbia University in New York City to study for an MA; not many women had such strong qualifications in the 1920s. At Columbia she took a course in the History of Chinese Civilization; her well-known professor was Carrington Goodrich. My mother always said that she came to China not as a missionary but because she admired Chinese civilization.

She came with the YWCA, an organization then in its heyday. The "Y" sent her first to Beiping (as Beijing was then called) for a year of language study. The language was, of course, Mandarin. I have now in my possession several photograph albums of black-and-white photos showing how much she enjoyed that year.

On arrival in Shanghai, Ruth began her work with the International YWCA, work she thoroughly enjoyed. All her life she kept in close touch with friends, both Chinese and foreign, she made in Shanghai at that time.

Before long, however, she met and married in Community Church on Avenue Petain (now Hengshan Lu) a Scottish widower, John Snodgrass Barr. Their wedding photo shows them standing outside the church with Juanita Byrd, an American Southern Baptist missionary who was my mother's close friend.

John Barr was a missionary teacher whose first (American) wife, Marie Raffo, had died in childbirth on July 1, 1930. Ruth became the stepmother of John Richard (Dick), and I was born on April 8, 1933, in the then Country Hospital (now Huadong Hospital.) Dick and I were brought up together as brother and sister.

In the early 1930s we lived in a large house in the London Missionary Society (LMS) compound in Hongkew (now Hongkou) next door to Medhurst College, a secondary school founded in 1899, where my father was a teacher. In addition to looking after the children, with the help of three servants — a cook, an amah and a gardener — Ruth also did some teaching in the school.

It happened that in 1937 my father was due to go on furlough and so we sailed across the Pacific Ocean, a month-long journey, in the President Wilson. (I have to admit that the family photograph albums are an aid to my own memories.) Ruth was going to introduce her husband and family to her own parents and friends.

While we were in Dallas, news came that Medhurst College and our house had been bombed by the Japanese. On our return to Shanghai a year later, my parents found small pieces of their wedding china in the rubble. My mother later said that the experience taught her that material possessions are not the most important thing in life.

The school moved to temporary accommodation on Tifeng Road (now Wulumuqi Lu) and so the Barr family moved to Yu Yuen Road, outside the International Settlement. We lived in a ground floor flat in a three-storied building in Lane 749, a building and lane which still exist. Dick and I attended Shanghai Municipal Council primary schools for foreign children; the buildings now house a middle school and the fire station beside them on the corner of the present Yu Yuan Lu and Wulumuqi Lu is a landmark of my childhood.

We have now reached 1941, the year when my mother decided to begin to keep a five-year diary. I will let the diary speak for those years.

After the war, Mother took me to Dallas where I had my freshman year in Adamson High School — a huge culture shock, coming, as I had, straight from a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai. The following summer we sailed across the Atlantic to join my father and brother. It was decided that Dick should stay in Scotland and go to a boarding school in Perthshire, the same school that my father had attended. The LMS wanted me, too, to stay to attend a boarding school, like the other British missionary children. My feisty mother would have none of it, pointing out that I had just had a year of American-style education. She did not want me to be more mixed-up than I already was!

Thus, we returned to Shanghai in the fall of 1946 and our home was now back in Hongkew in an LMS house that had survived the Japanese bombing. Shanghai American School (SAS), which I was to attend, was, however, far across the city on Hengshan Lu, across the street from Community Church where my parents had married. I therefore became a boarder at the school.

As a teenager, it did not occur to me to ask how my parents managed to pay the high fees. Only later did I realize that my mother came to teach several days a week at the school for that purpose. At SAS Reunions, schoolmates have told me that my mother was the best English teacher they ever had. One of them recently wrote to me:

I'm sure I've told you probably several times, that your mother was the most long range helpful teacher I ever had in school because she made us write every week and then read to classmates what we had written. Reading out loud teaches a lot about tuning into one's own writing.

In 1949, when many other foreigners, both business people and missionaries, left China, my parents stayed on, just as they had at the onset of the war. I think their purpose was to be with their Chinese colleagues as long as they could be of help.

I myself left Shanghai in the spring of 1950 to go to Wellesley College near Boston. I well remember Christmas Day 1951 when I was back in Dallas with my grandmother. Feeling homesick for China, I wondered whether it would be possible to phone my parents who were still in Shanghai — at the height of the Korean War. When I asked the Dallas telephone operator whether it would be possible to telephone Shanghai, she said briskly, "Yes. What number, please?" Fortunately, I remembered. My parents were having a Christmas morning breakfast with a Chinese friend.

Since my father was the last of the LMS missionaries in Shanghai to leave, they had to wait some time for their exit visa, there being properties and other matters to deal with. Finally, in late 1952 they departed China via Hong Kong and went to the US on their way back to the UK.

Like quite a number of former China missionaries, my father was sent in 1953 to Hong Kong, where he taught at Chung Chi College, later part of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. My mother enjoyed living on the beautiful campus in the New Territories, where they continued their tradition of inviting both Chinese and Western friends to their home, just as they had done in Shanghai.

In 1965, they retired to Scotland. Perthshire, where my father had gone to school, is a beautiful part of Scotland and at first they rented a house in Scone, a historic village near the town of Perth. Mother loved living there. She rose to the occasion and learned from the neighbors how to grow different kinds of vegetables — to supplement my father's mission pension. Both of them went to the Village Institute to do Scottish Country Dancing.

Sadly, my father died of lung cancer in 1970, just five years after his retirement. But Mother continued living in Scone for another twenty years. She loved the village itself but she also found that from Perth it was easy to travel by train to either Edinburgh or Glasgow.

In her later years she had many interests. Ever an internationalist, she played an active part in the United Nations Association. Even in her eighties, she could be found on street corners in Perth on Saturday mornings selling flags to raise money for the UNA.

She took up yoga seriously and in her eighties was still standing on her head. Alternative medicine was another interest; she regularly consulted an acupuncturist. I once went with her to a Reflexology Weekend at a hotel in Perthshire.

When I told Mother in 1984 that I was returning to Shanghai to marry a widower, George Wang, she took it in her stride. After all, she too had married a widower unknown to her family in a far-away country.

Many retired teachers enjoy the lectures given at the University of the Third Age (U3A) and so did my mother. She grew away from the church, joining the Humanist Society in Edinburgh. That led her to join the Voluntary Euthanasia Society of Scotland (VESS.)

She even wore in her lapel the VESS badge, a white dove flying upwards, and was happy to give an explanation to anyone who asked about it. She and I discussed the subject many times; her explanation was simple but deep — she thought voluntary euthanasia benefitted the individual, the family and society. In July 1990, she acted on her principles.

I am proud of my beloved mother. I am only sorry that it has taken me twenty-five years since her death to share this diary of hers with you.



Working and Playing

Mother's first entry in the diary, on January 1, 1941, sets the scene for most of that year:

New Year's Eve — dinner with Juanita on Kinnear Rd: turkey, roses, mints. Movie afterward. New Year reception at Community Church attended by 150+. Harriet & Hoovers leave on Coolidge. Betty — bronchitis.

One main impression of her life gained from the diary is of the many social activities in which she was engaged and of her many friends of many nationalities. The names of a few of her friends and some information about them are given in the section entitled 'People,' beginning on p. 287.

It must be remembered that in that era, all foreign residents in Shanghai usually had servants — a cook and an amah at the very least — and thus it was relatively easy for them to entertain their friends in their homes. Mother sometimes writes of two or three such activities within one day.

It seems they went to a movie after dinner. Hollywood movies were very popular in those days. Mother mentions "The Thief of Baghdad" and "Citizen Kane" (Orson Welles.) Some of the movie theaters, like the Grand and the Majestic, still exist in Shanghai today, though others, like the Roxy, have disappeared. She also went to see Chinese movies such as "Chia" (Family) (Oct.6.) And, in those long-ago days before TV, a primary reason for going to the movie theaters was to see Newsreels.

Many of Mother's social activities centered on Community Church, the church where she and my father had married. It is amusing to me to see that even in this first entry she has given an approximate figure for the number of people present. Throughout her life she was a very orderly and organized person. I can remember my parents sitting together at the end of the day to write down how much money each of them had spent that day.

On January 1, 1941, she mentions the names of friends who were leaving on the Coolidge. It is difficult in this era of air travel to imagine the importance of the American President Lines ships to foreigners in Shanghai at that time. Frequently in the diary, Mother writes not only about friends arriving and departing but also about the incoming and outgoing mail carried by the ships.

Finally, in her January 1, 1941, entry, she mentions B, her daughter, having bronchitis. I do not remember that particular illness but to this day I have had ear trouble, an ailment which appears frequently in these pages. I do remember, with embarrassment the incident when, on February 13, 1941, Mother had to take me to see Dr. Dunlap because, liking the smell, I had stupidly put a mothball up my nose — and could not get it out. I could not, of course, have told you the date without having read this diary.

Naturally enough, in these pages we often read about her activities and her many friends. Besides meals in friends' homes, Mother went to restaurants, both Chinese and foreign. Sun Ya (January 23,) a Cantonese restaurant, was a favorite as well as the Chocolate Shop for Western drinks and snacks (January 9.) Mother uses the Shanghai term "tiffin" as well as the American "lunch" and "luncheon."

Shanghai, then as now, was a cultural center and Mother enjoyed going to plays performed by various associations or school groups. On February 8, she records, my father took me to the Russian ballet and in May they both came to see me perform as "Mr. Woodpecker" in a ballet titled "Who Killed Cock Robin?" (I am proud to say that I attended the same School of Dancing in Shanghai as Dame Margo Fonteyn.)

In the summer the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra, under Maestro Mario Paci, gave evening concerts in Jessfield Park. I can remember being woken up at what seemed like midnight to go and sit in a deckchair under the stars to listen to Dvorak's New World Symphony.

One surprise which awaited me when I read the diary was the frequency with which my parents played bridge! In the 1940s this was a favorite pastime and they played with a variety of friends from many countries. My parents also opened their home to people of varying backgrounds, such as German Jews then living in the Hongkew ghetto, Japanese friends, the Danish parents of my good friend, Stine, and my father's former Chinese students and their wives.

One of my mother's activities which must be mentioned in addition to all the above is her great love of reading. At the end of the whole diary is a list of books read during the five years; this list is included near the end of this book. It can be seen that on the whole she chose rather serious nonfiction: Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain, The American Presidency by Harold Laski and Dawn Watch in China by Joy Homer, for example.

Another activity carried out at home was handwork. She liked needlepoint (January 9) and throughout 1941 she mentions going to friends' homes for knitting bees for the war effort. On June 17 she was knitting the neckband of her first air force sweater. I am proud to say that on our bed in Hongkou now is a patchwork quilt made by my mother out of my childhood dresses.

It should not be thought that my mother spent all her time 'playing.' She taught English at Medhurst College and also at the University of Shanghai, both part-time. This work, however, is not mentioned very often in the diary except at exam time, perhaps because of its rather routine nature. She also continued to be involved with the YWCA which had sent her to China. On January 10 she was campaigning for the YW and on January 20 she attended a meeting of the National Executive Committee.

In amongst all these activities she was a mother. Apart from taking Dick and me to doctors and to visit our friends, she spent time trying to educate us. Roland van den Berg, Dick's good friend and later Dutch Ambassador to China and then Japan, has told me that he, like me, remembers sitting on cushions on the floor (I think) while listening to, say, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony being played on a 78 rpm record on our gramophone.

Mother's diary is full of her daily activities, some of which, such as shopping and washing her hair, were mundane. But they, too, reveal the quality of her life. In the summer of 1941 she several times mentions the bad floods after heavy rains which kept her in the house for several days at a time. When she writes about moving around the city, we learn that she either took a tram or a pedicab — or walked. We did not own a car.

From time to time there is mention of the larger environment, i.e. the political situation. On January 23 she mentions briefly an incident well known in the annals of Shanghai history, a Ratepayers Meeting which "was broken up when Hayashi shot Keswick upon failure of the Japanese amendment." The Japanese ratepayers were opposing higher taxes. On February 10 she writes, "The lane was full of Ta Tao police. Wang Chingwei party, says cook. On February 19, "More Americans leaving."

Even though more Americans were leaving, the American marines were still in place in Shanghai in early 1941. Mother writes on May 11 about a "Mother's Day Dinner for the marines" at the church! However, on November 14, the story has changed: "Marines ordered to leave China."

In November there were other unsettling signs: (November 3) "Tailor's prices went up 80% on November 1. Postage abroad doubled." And on November 17, "The cook spent all day trying to get permit for bag of rice." On the morning of December 8, everything changed.


Excerpted from Ruth's Record by Ruth Hill Barr. Copyright © 2016 Betty Barr. Excerpted by permission of Earnshaw Books.
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.

Table of Contents


Brief Historical Timeline,
Books Mother Read,
Notebook 3 – Notices,
For Further Reading,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews