A Private China: Return to Hangchow" Manuscript and correspondence


Material Information

A Private China: Return to Hangchow" Manuscript and correspondence
Physical Description:
Foster, Lee
Chung, Kai Lai
Physical Location:
Box: 1
Folder: "A Private China: Return to Hangchow" Manuscript and correspondence


Subjects / Keywords:
Mathematics -- History -- 20th century

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID:

This item is only available as the following downloads:

Full Text

Lee Foster
BOX 4137
(415) 325-5307

December 15, 1973

Dear Kai Lai,

Enclosed you will find a copy of the final typed mss. I have
accepted your suggested revisions of the mss, making only
cosmetic editing changes, except that I am suggesting the first
C in the essay be your full name.

I think we have here a strong essay with good possibilities
for a major magazine.

Enclosed is a xerox of the letter with which I am submitting the
mss to the NY Times. Each submission letter will include the
paragraph about exact fidelity of publication.

Though I do not require it, I think it would be reasonable of
you to reimburse me $20 for this additional typing-xeroxing effort.

Vhoff to New York and will be devoting much of my time there to
the essay. Look it over by my return 4W on January 5 to be assured
that it is what you want.
Warm regards,

`Q i

Lee Foster
BOX 4137
(415) 325-5307

December 15, 1973

William Honan
The New York Times

Dear Editor Honan,
I am the writer from near San Francisco who explored with you
last month articles on the Old Sacramento historical restoration
in California, the new San Benito-Monterey wine country, and
the Sacramento Delta, I am enclosing for you a resume of my
various projects.
Today I am presenting an essay on travel in Mainland China
that I think you will find unique. The essay covers the experience
of a man born in China, who came to maturity in Hangchow before
the war, then moved to the United States* Recently he taturned
for an extended visit. While there have been many essays by
Americans on modern China, this is one of the few you will read
about a born Chinese who knows China today and also knew China
before the war.
Mr. Chung has cooperated with mp on this essay only if I agreed
to make the following requirement on submission: that the final
printed essay, if you accept it, be absolutely faithful to the
facts as presented in this script. He is concerned that any
editorial alterations might distort his experiences as presented
here. He wants to see a copy of the proof, and approve it, if
you contemplate any editorial changes, including missions. (1 am
assuming that my final script, typed in the press of activity
priot to this Christmas visit to New York, is totally accurate.
Mr, Chung will read it over the holidays and report back to me
by January 5. 1 will relay any changes to you by January 15).


aL <4^^


Written by Lee Foster

Based on the narrated experiences of

Kai Lai Chung

Kai Lai Chung, 55 is one of the few modern Americans who has
traveled to modern China and can comment with the authority
of a native. He lived his first 28 years in China, leaving
shortly after WWII.

This native of Hangchow escaped during the Japanese invasion
to the southwestern China city of Kunming, Yunnan province.
There he studied and taught for eight years at the wartime
headquarters set up.by three major universities of China. In
1945 he came to the United States on a fellowship and began
his academic career in mathematics. He is a professor at
Stanford University.

During the years of absence before his recent extended visit,
Mr. Chung carried on a regular correspondence with relatives
in China. Some Americans are surprised to learn that mail
.routes to interior China never were disrupted, even during
the Korean War.

Writer Lee Foster has collaborated to sketch the following
portrait of a private China, contrasting Mr. Chung's memories
of earlier China with impressions during his recent visit.

Lee Foster
Box 4137
Woodside, Calif. 94062
415- 325-5307

As the plane wings from Karachi to Shanghai, last leg of

his Paris-to-China flight, Kai Lai Chung finds himself drift-

ing back to the saddest and deepest impression of his early

life in China: the geography lessons of Tsung Yu-long.

In 1931, C, then fourteen, watched as the dignified teacher,

who was also principal of the school, looked at the wall map.

Old Tsung, born into the mandarin tradition, dressed in his

classic square jacket with sweeping sleeves and sewn-on cloth

buttons, his head covered with a silken skull cap that peaked

in a knotted button, his feet swathed in soft cotton shoes,

shook his head and pondered, before observing, "China is big

but not strong. China cannot resist invaders who will carve

her up. We will never get out of this morass."

The classroom was respectfully silent. The old man, who

seemed to C so much of what was best in China, paus d and almost

wept. He was not a pessimist without cause. Slowi growing

into manhood before leaving in 1945, C came to realize how

accurate was Tsung's malaise.

Geography at that time was a patriotic subject. The brutal

Japanese to the east were thought to be the eternal threat, but

at least they were Asians. If one had to capitulate, it was

far better to do so to one's own race. The encroaching Russians

to the north were considered barbarians, Cossacks, partly because

they were not Orientals. Regardless, all hope was gone. China,

the motherland, was doomed. Such was the standard lament.


C's main thought, as he sits on the Air France plane

winging to Shanghai, is that he was wrong, Tsung was wrong, and

so was almost every Chinese who had an informed opinion in the

grim 1930s and desperate 1940s. China did not slip back into

an Oriental Dark Age; nor did foreigners carve up the spoils.

China not only held herself together but began to act as a

world force.

Believing in the late 1930s that China would be a world

power in the 1970s was like speculating that men would land on

the moon in the 1970s. Such comments in C's milieu were dis-

missed with pitying shrugs. Ah, the foolish patriot nourish-

ing his illusions, the slogan-shouter vaunting his idle delusion,

his flights of imagination. But here she is: China, with her

800 millions, her bomb, her growing productive capacity, her

discernible international voice. C finds himself balancing

equal reactions of wonder, satisfaction, and pride.

He needs not remind Tsung during this visit of his earlier

mistaken pessimism. Tsung is dead. But in his final years the

old man had the resilience of bamboo. He worked for the new

government, changing his life style and storing his former

attitudes, gradually surprised at the success of China under

a regime he would have judged alien. Tsung and C's father

found their communion with the new society in the category of

"enlightened gentleman," an appellation that Mao Tse Tung

specifically created for men who were not exactly springboards

of the revolution but were assets to China. Better to absorb

them than to increase the political strain. Such was the

genius of the Hunan Deadant.

The Pakistani and Burmese passengers on the flight have

deboarded at Karachi and Rangoon. C wonders if the Chinese

remaining on the plane share his passing thoughts. The cluster

of passengers aboard is the Chinese delegation to the World

Ecology Conference in Stockholm. They consist of a white-

haired, scholarly gentleman who is treated with some deference,

several roly-poly political types, and staff members who hover

about like faithful attendants. C would like to talk to them,

especially because the white-haired gentleman could well be a

man he had known in-the 1930s or 1940s. He makes a faint

attempt to talk to the group, but this attempt gets a fainter

response, so he returns to his seat. The members of the group

remain together, congenial to each other, talking busily,

comrades intent upon building a future.

While stretching his legs in the.aisle, C meets another

passenger, an Overseas Chinese. The man is a legendary Chinese

merchant, as recognizable as a repeated character in Dickensian

fiction. He left China a year ago for Paris, where he runs a

Moroccan leather shop. The man's French would cause a Gallic

wince, so C' cannot converse easily; and the man's Chinese,

ironically, is of such a recherche dialect that C can hardly

understand him. The merchant returns to China, typically, to

see his relatives, especially the grandchildren. C's inten-

tions are different. The family is one focus of his visit,

but equally anticipated are strolls in the street, walks

through the lakes and mountains of the Hangchow countryside,

repeats of boyhood ramblings, and tastes of the native food

and wine. If C could have chosen a traveling companion on

this search for past memories, he would have invited someone

who could remember things past as well as Marcel Proust.

As the plane taxis down the runway he realizes that he

is here, at last, in China! Just a brief year ago, this would

have been inconceivable. For years, his Chinese friends in

the United States had occasionally asked each other; "Could

we ever return except as refugees or intruders to China? Do

we risk detainment and harassment? How would the United

States view our visit to an enemy country?"

He looks out the window at the black night, for the streets

of Shanghai are no extravagant milky way of lights. Behind him

now after an absence of 28 years.,is the drama of getting into

China, of obtaining a visa, which is not so much an art as a

concession to blind chance. He remembers knocking uncertainly

on the closed door of the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa to secure

the paper. Later a bland noncommittal reception to his inquiry

at the Chinese Embassy in Paris. The frustrating bureaucratic

answer: neither yes nor no, and a limbo of no comment on the

anxious question as to how long it takes to get a definite

answer from Peking.

An Indian friend with whom he lunched in Lausanne suggested
that C revisit his native land, but SZ kept his plans and

apprehensions to himself. The unknown process by which visas

were approved or disapproved could well dash his hopes. The

trip might fail to materialize! Then the letter from C's wife

in California, enclosing a note from the Chinese that she, a

non-Chinese, could not read. It said yes, the visa is granted.

Then the heady plane flight from LausanneAParis. Calming

down with a hot bath in his hotel. Shouting at a restaurant

that night for service, for he was bursting with good news and

lacked a sympathetic ear, the service was slow, and life in

Paris's Arrondisement Eight proceeded in its everyday manner

while he is going to China! Then the disappointment, while

sitting at a cafe in the early morning near the Chinese Embassy

on Rue George Cinq. Of all things, the piece de resistance,

he read in Le Monde that a worldwide airline pilots' strike

canceled his flight. Getting the visa but then four more

days of waiting. All this is behind him now as he taxis down

the Shanghai runway.

When he left in 1945, he did not wonder about ever returning.

He wondered about very little. Wonder is the luxurious preroga-

tive of people with a full belly. Fortunately, he had won

fellowships to Britain and the United States. He chose the

American fellowship1 though it paid less, because America* had

not been ravished by war and he knew there would be plenty of

food! What an elemental reason! So great had been his priva-

tion during the war that he spent years afterwards coping with

nightly dreams about waking up without a roof over his head,

moving from one r tio i squalid structure to another#

When he left Hangchow his mother had packed him a small

trunk of clothes that would have to last for the war years,

supplemented only byhis lucky purchase of a black-market

sweater. Towards the seventh year his winter clothes had

become so shabby and worn that C constantly worried: would

he weather another winter in such threadbare garments?

When he left China for India, awaiting passage to the

United States, C22y was startled by his sudden well-being.

How easy life in a Calcutta hostel was to a man who had shared

a mud-floor apartment for a year with bold rats thriving in the

adjacent toilet. How sweet were the fruit cocktail and extra

stewed figs ladled out by a generous cook on the Liberty Ship

to a man who had not been able to afford sugar for so many


Chung had been uncertain about getting a visa for this

trip back to China. Deboarding into the warm evening of

Shanghai, he realizes that he has only fall clothes, hardly

appropriate for the sweltering heat, especially the inevitable

tropical humidity of southern China. His prospects for a visa

in Paris had been such a long shot that he did not think of

taking along an album of family pictures to show his relatives.

He feels fortunate to have flown the Paris-to-Shanghai rather

thanASanrFrancisco-to-Canton route. The latter entrance has

the virtue of being cheaper but, in his mind, the heat and

tedium of the approach outweigh the cost. Boarding a plane in

Paris, sitting tight in a seat for eighteen hours without

additional exertion, arriving directly into the middle of the

country--that is how he wanted to return.

Shanghai at last! A slight nervousness. Then the first

question from a young woman, a Customs clerk. "Would you like

to be classified as American or as Overseas Chinese?"

He senses that this is a large question. He is an American

citizen, but he is also a born Chinese who has gone overseas.

He inquires what effect his answer will have, but the woman

remains noncommital. In a modest flourish of patriotism, he

responds, "Overseas Chinese," thinking she will prefer the answer,

but her face remains impassive and inscrutable. She notes his

reply carefully on a form. An "American" gets the better hotels,

finer cuisine, and companionship of international travelers.

As an "Overseas Chinese" he must be satisfied with lesser hotels,

common food, and his own resources for company. But he has the

compensating advantage of more mobility. A Chinese lady from

Michigan, who registered as "American," tells him later that

guards with fieldglasses watch the entrance to her hotel, noting

who enters and when. At least he is not hampered by that degree

of solicitous security.

His brother later apologizes for not forewarning C of the

question and coaching him on the right answer. So striking is

the difference in accommodations and service that the relatives

feel C's prestige would be higher if he were classed as

"American." When he becomes sick from the heat for a few days

in Hangchow, his brother's wife tries without success to have

him transferred to a better "American" hotel, but apparently

"Overseas Chinese" papers are all in one building and "American"

papers are in another building, far away. The little episode

becomes a triumph of bureaucratic rigidity.

When Customs has finished, he looks down the long hallway

and sees his brother and his brother's wife. He last saw his

brother 28 years ago in southwestern China during the war, when

C was a student in the city of Kunming, temporary headquarters

of three universities of Peking. His brother headed a corps

of engineers sent to work on the Burma Road. The brother's

arms were covered with watches, American and Swiss imports,

bought from Black market GIs as a hedge against inflation.

C's brother didn't know he was often paying several times the

market value for a Benrus or Bulova watch, so intoxicating was

the possession of watches to a Chinese. GIIA reputations as

sharp Yankee traders were borne out when the watches proved

less valuable than their trade price in crisp greenbacks,

largely because they were found wanting in their main functions,

keeping time. The brother had all the trappings of prosperity

admidst the havoc of war. C was discreet enough not to wonder

aloud how the Burma Road builders came by their affluence.

C had never met his brother's wife, though he had heard

about her in letters. Many Americans are surprised to learn

that regular mail routes to China through Hong Kong have never

been disrupted. Since 1945 C has sent monthly letters to

inland China, all through the Korean War and the excesses of

Joe McCarthy's reign. Because of their private rather than

political content, discounting some slips, such as his father's

comment on how well behaved were local units of the People's

Liberation Army, the letters were probably dull reading for

the poor censors of the FBI and China security. On only one

occasion had the contents of C's letters caused concern among

his relatives. His young son-had drawn a picture of a mammoth

machine, actually a wild geometric pattern, possibly a Rube

Goldberg contraption, which C sent to Hangchow as evidence of

the boy's ingenuity. The relatives feared that the Chinese

or American censors might wonder: What is this? A secret plan?

Another atom bomb design, cleverly disguised?

Upon meeting his brother, C delivers the first of several

gifts he has brought. For Chinese the offering of gifts is

imperative. A watch, of course, is the appropriate gesture for

his brother, who appreciates the $100 Omega. The brother is

brand-loyal, as are most Chinese, so C knows he will like either

an Omega or Longine#, the two companies whose products the

Chinese favored most. The rise or fall of quality in these two

watch companies and the current state of the watchmaking art

are not as immediately thrilling to the Chinese as a comfortable,

well-known brand name. C himself had not been entirely immune

to this typically Chinese craving for watched. After the war

he spent his first pay check earned at Princeton University

on a good Longine.

His other gifts, large and small, meet various receptions

here and later in Hangchow. The French bonbon candies are

highly appreciated because sweets currently available in China

are less refined.

The three cartons of American cigarettes--one Camel, one

Lucky Strike, and one Kool--are a special treat to the relent-

less Chinese smokers. The celebrated China traveler, Chen-ning

Yang, C's former shipmate to America and a Nobel prize winner

in Physics, had advised him that American cigarettes would be


The Ronson cigarette lighter he has brought is prized,

surprisingly enough, for the length of its flame, which is

longer than the flame of lighers available in China. Requests

were made for C to send more lighter flints from America.

Two ounces of ginseng, the one gift that C brought from

San Francisco, includes one ounce of the Korean variety, which

has a potency favored by most Chinese. The Chinese use of

ginseng for general medicinal powers is largely and perhaps

deliberately misinterpreted among food cultists in the United

States as aphrodisiacal. His mother prefers the ounce of

American gingseng, which is milder. "Too much fire," says his

mother. "Korean ginseng has too much fire for an old person."

C's ability to choose gifts failed him when he decided

on two red shawls. Perhaps he was thinking of some flamboyant

tune like "The East is Red" when he selected the garments in

such bright colors. They are for his mother, a senior citizen

who prefers blue or another subdued tone. "Red hurts the eye,"

she notes.

A small electric-coil water heater is received with many

thanks. Good for boiling tea water and warming milk.

One gift he did not bring: a German Zeiss Ikon camera.

A woman friend of his family in Hangchow requested that he buy

a certain model of Zeiss Iron for up to $230 American or 500 Ren

Min Pee, a small fortune in China were wages run from $30/month

for a worker to $140/month for a full professor. He planned to

get this camera at Orly Airport before his flight, but the

selection proved meager. The exact model was not available.

He looked at a slightly different and larger camera. Seeing

him waver, the salesman showed him a cheaper but similar camera,

which he swore was of as high a quality. It was made in mainland

China! But C was going to China! Probably the camera was not

available for sale in China. Only for export. He knew that

among his compatriots, ex-bourgeois of an older generation,

there was a distinct preference for foreign-made goods, especially

German. Among similar items these Chinese would instinctively

choose a foreign product. Finally, pulling out his traveler's

checks, he decided to buy the German camera. Promptly the

shopkeeper revealed himself to be a man of the French tradition.

Already the selection in the camera shop had been meager and

the prices high. As should be expected, the service was now

about to become quixotic. The shopkeeper kindly requested that

C cash his traveler's checks at the Airport bank, to save the

shopkeeper trouble. The bank was two or three flights of

stairs above. C took one flight. Was it worth it? What if

the lady in China was not happy with this model, which is not

exactly what she wanted? He walked out the concourse and

boarded his plane.

During the week in Shanghai C longs impatiently for the

three-hour train ride to his native Hangchow. Shanghai appears

to him like the worst parts of Chicago, both shabby and badly

polluted. The hotel to which he is assigned is:as Spartan as

the Ukranian hotel he had lodged at in Moscow, with the consola-

tion that the room in China costs a third of the Russian tariff

six years ago. The weather is oppressively hot and the only

air conditioning available is a rotating fan.

Because it is politic to do so, C stays longer in Shanghai

than he intended. China Travel has scheduled him to see a

watch factory, youth palace, exhibition hall, and an evening

performance of the drama "White Haired Girl." He makes a

special visit to the leading university, Fudan, where he has

a round-table discussion of science in general and mathematics

in particular. He is pleased at the warm reception because

his studies epitomize a Western-style research that is theoretical,

divorced from the practical and pragmatic priorities that are

the current governing vision of Chinese life. There are no

opportunities in his work to genuflect before the Chinese

trinity of "workers, peasants, and soldiers." He would be hard

pressed, indeed, to argue that his studies "serve the people"

in the immediate, tangible manner that China now demands.

His meager enthusiasm for Shanghai rests partly on his

past humiliations there. In the 1930 he pursued his last

year of high school studies here, under the immediate guns

of Japanese gendarmes patrolling the intersections. He remembers

how students crossing the streets to school had to bow to the

conquering Japanese to avoid a beating.

He visits the old apartment in the International Settlement

where his parents took refuge during the early years of the war.

After Pearl Harbor they returned to Hangchow. C wishes to

glimpse only the outside shell of the building. The wash

hangs out in the courtyard and he feels like an intruder.

Several families now crowd into the building, one family to a


The train trip to Hangchow surprises him because so little

has changed. The lush rice fields, near-tropical fecundity,

hard rain, and patches of vegetable fields next to the railroad

track are as he remembers them, timeless and changeless.

Lounging back in his seat, C recalls his first of many rides

on this train. He was a boy of 12, traveling with his father,

a man of some means who journeyed in comfort. Especially in

a culture that did not indulge children by showing them around

as readily as do Americans, traveling to Shanghai with his

father was a great treat for C. His father's presence

occasioned special services. C still remembers a plate his

father ordered for him--macaroni with chicken giblet sauce.

The dish was C's first taste of something foreign, a large

world beyond his own. Since then he has consumed in Italy

and elsewhere tons of pasta with a variety of sauces, but never

has he found that first taste equalled. He wonders if memory

has cheated him by investing that first experience with a

quality it never possessed.

C. feels in this voyage a nostalgic return to the setting

of his youth. As the train speeds toward Hangchow, he recalls

historical allusions to his home town: Marco Polo and others

had sung praises to the temples in this capital of the Southern

Sung dynasty. More recently, President Nixon had spent a day

of sightseeing,relaxation,and pleasure in the same place. From

his home TV set C had watched with longing as the President

stepped into a pleasure boat on the famous lake of Hangchow.

HangchowUhs the scene of his life through early manhood.

C's first eighteen years here were a boyhood that had touches

of the idyllic, though at times he was a rebellious youth. His

father, a fairly prominent man, was regarded as a lone wolf.

Typically, C as a child did not know what his father's

professions were. In earlier years, the elder C had managed

a Shanghai newspaper and an electrical company. Once he had

been linked with a rebellion of a less powerful warlord against

a more powerful adversary, but through good fortune he was not

executed. Later he served as adviser to the provincial govern-

ment and administered the area's stamp tax program. He had a

Doctorate in Economics from Waseda University, Japan, and was

associated in the early years with the national revolution

under Sun Yat-Sen. There he &adethe acquaintance of many men

who later became dignitaries, some of whom joined the new regime.

He died in 1961 shortly after receiving the cable announcing

the birth of his first grandson.

His father's one word of advice struck C as a young man.

"Don't become a government official," his father admonished,

"or you will always be beholden to some warlord."

He favored for young C a dependable, profitable career

in Engineering; but young C was not so practical minded,

partly because he was strongly influenced by literary friends.

He and his father compromised. C enrolled in college to study

Physics, which would eventually allow him to slide into


His asn cQmed from Soochow, which is famous for its

beautiful women. She is well versed in the old literature,

rare for a woman, and has a strong interest in poetry and

calligraphy. As a child, her feet had been bound in the old

manner. Herfather, a noted Buddhist scholar, was famous late

in life for a long stone scroll that he had carved on a large

wall after going blind. In the high passions of the recent

Cultural Revolution this mural was destroyed.

In Hangchow the China Travel officials first lodge him

in a park on the famous West Lake of the city. "Flowery

port viewing fishes" is the literal translation of this agree-

able hostelry, where even the sandalwood furniture exudes an

aroma of perfume. The measured background symphony of

cicadas and the fragrance of water lilies greet him on early

morning walks. He picks up a fistful of water and flicks it

onto the lilies where the droplets scatter like small pearls.

After seeing the lakes of Italy, Switzerland, and the United

States, his impression is that West Lake is cramped, not quite

on the grand scale he remembered. He can walk around it easily

in a day. However, the lake has a subtle charm that Chinese

poets have described with the phrase "close to you." Beyond

the lake, the historic and aesthetic ambience of the city

gives to the people a style that is civilized, though from

the point of view of a world traveler, slightly provincial.

His first destination is his mother's house. During

the Cultural Revolution her house has been "appropriated,"

but she has been allowed to keep two rooms. Acknowledging

her old age, the State allows for her care a woman companion

named Old Chou. Respect for age remains a compelling tradi-

tion in China, though the old form of greeting which meant

literally "earlier born" has been replaced by "comrade," mean-

ing "person of common purpose." He finds that his mother's

situation is tenable. Some of the old mahogany tables and

chairs as well as some household utensils remain. The larger

room looks out on a courtyard containing a tree that provides

pleasant shade. Old Chou, who does all the housekeeping and

keeps C's mother company, has excellent culinary skills. She

prepares special dishes for C and talks about her own son, a

factory worker held in high regard. At the direction of C':s

Other, Old Chou fixes two favorite dishes of C's youth. The

first combines freshly picked bamboo and mushrooms. Shortly

after C visitiM his father's grave and gave the attendant $9

to thank him for keeping the grounds nicely, the gravekeeper

return lto the rooms of C's mother with a gesture of his own,

a huge chunk of freshly picked bamboo shoot, ideal for the

bamboo/mushroom delicacy. On another day, Old Chou prepares

a second masterpiece; two small fishes, a species of carp

are brought alive and jumping to the house. Freshness is the

key to this dish. The fishes are steamed in a soup-souffle

that is an epicure's delight.

Commuting from C's hotel to his mother's rooms is difficult.

The buses are crowded, infrequent, and stuffy. But staying

with her presented problems. The lack of a modern toilet is

a serious drawback, precluding his spending the night in her

rooms, though he takes naps and meals there. The rickshaw

drivers of old are being phased out because it is felt that

they symbolize exploitation of man by man. Even use of these

tricycle taxis requires explanation if one wishes to avoid the

nasty remark: Can't he walk by himself? When C first signals

a tricycle and climbs aboard, the driver waits for several
seconds, presuming that C has some heavy baggage to load.

Would a man without a load dare to use a tricycle? The young

in China walk or ride bicycles; oldsters simply don't move

around much.

Some splendors of the Hangchow he knew have diminished.

As C walks this provincial capital, he discovers that some of

its famous 360 temples have been emptied of the relics and

color he once knew. The Japanese in their invasion and the

mobs during the Cultural Revolution have removed or desecrated

many of the ancient relics, such as ink and tablet masterpieces

of the calligrapher's art, which will be sorely missed when

China eventually retrieves an interest in her awesome heritage.

Paintings belonging to C's father perished during the Japanese

war or were appropriated as national treasures during the later


The style of Hangchow as he knew it does not exist today.

Many cafes have so succumbed to the egalitarian ideal that

cuisine is not an accurate term to describe their food. Youths

from all over the country, speaking in a clatter of accents,

wade with muddy boots through the once clear brooks at Tiger-

Run Temple. The best tea available in local stores is a Dragon

Well variety of Grade 4 quality, in the 10 recognized grades.

Higher grade teas are exported to Hong Kong, where he will

buy a quantity before returning to San Francisco. He asks a

shopkeeper where he can buy the delicate jellies made of

crab apples that sold for 10 cents a box in 1937. But the

shopkeeper replies, "Ah, that is no longer made. Too wasteful

of material and labor. Now considered too bourgeois. I am


Much of his earlier China exists only in memory. He goes

looking for the Middle School where he studied for three years

after being tutored at home until age 11, but the streets are

so altered in name and the appearance so changed by mounds of

dirt from bomb-shelter excavations that he cannot find his way.

Russians are the bates noir who inspire these diggings.

One of the constant visitors at his mother's house is a

cousin, Y, a stooped old man who comes every day for reasons

of economy to eat with C's mother. He has a square face, dark-

rimmed glasses, crew cut, and an owlish air. He is a fine

walking companion for C and an able rconteur of the legends

and history of Hangchow. At the time of the Communist victory

in 1948, he was the editor of a provincial newspaper that

was judged "reactionary." Now he is employed by the city as

a "paper cutter," literally. When he returns with C from

house to hotel, he never enters the building itself, for that

requires showing the hotel guards his identification card on

which employment is noted. His job has the stigma of a

charity position, hardly an exalted status for a man with

his background and education. Too proud to risk the humiliat-

ing glances of the guards, he turns away and walks to his

home or, more properly, to his small room, which he never

shows C. Physically and emotionally he is a stooped man.

The paper-cutting job has bent his body, but perhaps it could

be said more accurately that he was broken and cast out by the


Y's daughter will not visit Magg She is over forty,

unmarried, a Chemistry teacher. She fears that C might ask

her questions on Chemistry that she will not be able to answer.

She worries that she might be humiliated. How curious her

reaction appears to C until he learns of her problem. At the

outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1967, she had a position

teaching Chemistry at the University. When she was required

to mix political teachings with science she became confused,

confiding to her mother, "When I face my class I am no longer

sure whether I am teaching Chemistry or political thought.'

Her students and the Red Guards challenged not her Chemistry

but her explanations of Mao's Thought, which she was supposed

to perceive "correctly" and expertly. She became so distraught

that she could no longer teach effectively. Gradually she

also lost confidence in her scientific knowledge.

Y's son is also initially apprehensive about visiting C.

In Hangchow politics the son is an important mover and

shaker. He had the foresight to join the Party before Libera-

tion, adopting a pseudonym and escaping to Yenan. He directed

the building of the new Hangchow airport for President Nixon's

visit. As a man on the rise, he is cautious because his

father was known to be suspect, and he doesn't want to displease

his comrades. Should he associate with an older exile relative

from America?

One day, while C is on an excursion, he comes to visit

C's mother, asking "What is the status of second uncle his

extended family title for C? Does he consider himself

Chinese or American?"

C's mother solds SS for asking the question, for

hesitating to meet a returned relative. She browbeats him into

visiting C at his hotel. He capitulates, arriving with gifts

of Mao buttons, which are proper and postage stamps for C's

son in California, which are greatly appreciated. He also

offers some Grade 2 Dragon Well tea. Later he invites C to

see his apartment, which appears to be no more opulent than

that of an ordinary worker, a fact that comments eloquently

to C on the moral force of the Revolution.

The family's former rickshaw puller, a private chauffeur,

comes to visit C and greets him with the title "second junior

master," a salutation now outlawed because it suggests class 4 S'-hCo\-s,

Several people try to shush the old man and prevent him from

using the archaic and forbidden term, but he either does not

hear or chooses to ignore them. He is partially deaf,

which is sometimes convenient. Of hearty and rude peasant

stock, the old rickshaw puller is now past 70. He visits

around the neighborhood frequently, partly because he does not

enjoy his son's family, with whom he lives. His reversion to

such taboo greetings as "second junior master" is viewed

with benign tolerance because he is too old, too incorrigible

to be reformed. And who is more deserving of sympathy as a

true proletarian? People seem to say: Let him live out

his old age with deserved respect.

His coming to see C at the supper table is a sign of

China's new social order. Previously he would have stayed in

the kitchen. He does not eat with the former masters, however,

for that would have been too much in the rickshaw puller's

eyes. He also refuses gifts, so great is his pride, until C

forces him to take a few American cigarettes, which he accepts

reluctantly but gratefully. Like many Chinese, he is a fiend-

ish smoker. In China, smoking is an inexpensive way to relax

and relieve tension. The Chinese generally believe that smoking

will not harm an otherwise healthy man.

Because the C family is progressive, the old rickshaw

puller could have remained secure in the family's protection.

He lived in a small room in front of the house when C was a boy.

He was free to leave the family's employ if he wished. C re-

calls fondly how the rickshaw man pulled him to Middle School

on days when his father was not being taxied about. (ften C

and the rickshaw puller took trips to see some outlying

scenery, villa, or temple, even in the rain, covered by

thick glazed oilcloth. Though the man could have stayed with

the family in his old age, other people in his situation were

less fortunate. Sometimes old people died of starvation if

they had no family. Old workers were discarded like used

furniture. Now they are all pensioned off, preferably to the

homes of their relatives, who are paid by the State to keep

them. All old people are secure in the knowledge that they

will share whatever degree of prosperity the body politic


This current confidence of the Chinese people amounts to

a major shift of attitude. Such a new mantle of security

has little to do with their immediate wealth but, rather,

with the knowledge that they will not be dealt with capriciously

by landlords, employers, roving bandits, or the government.

Each person now feels part of the society, certain that he will

be taken care of, that he will never starve in his old age,

unless everyone starves with him. They know they are part of

the group. By contrast, the Chinese commoner of the 1930s--

especially the peasant--has been described as a man up to his

chin in water, who could be drowned by the slightest ripple.

C feels this cohesiveness at his mother's house when an

official of the local cadre makes an appearance. The pleasant,

middle-aged woman, who might be the structural equivalent of

a precinct leader in the American system, is most solicitous

of the wellbeing of C's mother. C is told that the average citi-

zen today has a basic assurance that he will share, equally with

those in his area, such health services as are available.

C spends much of his time in Hangthow wandering the

streets, imbibing his past, savoring his sojourn. The shop

windows are shabbier than in former days. The people are ab-

sorbed in their daily work, a sharp contrast with the langorous

mood of his bourgeois youth. He visits briefly the home where

his family lived before moving to the house where his mother

now resides. In the courtyard of this earlier home he had a

large stone container about two feet in diameter and about three

feet tall. As a boy he had filled this container with water

from the well and plants from nearby ponds. He then gathered

all sorts of sea life, retrieved from the cook's daily market

basket, such as prawns, minnows, and clams. Once he even

boosted an eel into this aquarium, where his small menagerie

thrived in their little artificial world. Now the courtyard

i-s used by several families. Women were performing their

various household chores. He did not feel like walking into

his childhood home. Glancing up at the second-story balcony

window where he once perched to watch the activity in the

street, he feels that he would intrude if he asked the people

to let him look out the window again.

C makes an effort to relive some of his favorite boyhood

trips to the mountains near Hangchow. When he was in the sixth

grade, he would organize a small party--perhaps of five: or i

friends. His mother would prepare for the group an excursion

lunGh of canned food, Western-style bread, and sometimes a whole

watermelon. They would take the paths to the mountains, visit

caves and temples along the way, and wade streams they came

upon whileStrolling the region known as Nine Streams and

Eighteen Brooks. Peasants in the region would be picking some

of the finest green tea in China. At a secluded spot they tacs

a dip after stripping off their clothes, a more risque act in

China than in present-day United States. Later they entertained

themselves with school problems, especially little mathematical

tests. Toward the end of the day, they would seek the hillside

cedar forests where they could always count on a breeze. If

they were hungry, they would end the day in an ancient temple,

sipping tea and eating noodles. C learns that the celebrated

cedar forest was destroyed by the Japanese, who chopped it into

firewood during the war. Many of the temples have gone into


For 35 years he has lived with a memory of a particularly

delicious brand of canned, fried anchovies enjoyed during these

early picnics. Now he can buy them, imported in the United

States, for one dollar a can. In Hangchow much of the fun has

gone out of his revisits to these mountain retreats. He is

not so spry as he used to be. His childhood companions are

dead or dispersed. Several times on the streets he passes

people who look vaguely familiar, acquaintances drifting from

the past back to his consciousness.

One day he meets in the park a group of curious soldiers.

After striking up a conversation, they ask what it costs to

fly Paris-Shanghai. For fun he throws the question back

at them. One soldier ponders his answer before reaching for

a sum he feels is safely high--the Chinese equivalent of $140.

C doesn't have the heart to tell him that the actual figure

is more than ten times that amount, so he merely begs off by

saying it is very expensive. The soldier's answer impresses

C with how little comparative ,information these people possess.

While sick for several days, partly because of the constant

950 heat, he takes much solace in the two books he has brought

from Paris, reading them slowly so he will not finish them

before he is well. No literary books are available in Hangchow,

except propaganda, which does not suffice to while away his

enforced idleness. He has George Simenon's Quand j'etais vieux

and a volume on two Chinese poets, by Kuo Mo-Jo, the leading

Chinese academic. The books are welcome company because, as

his stay in Hangchow stretches on, he finds that he has little

in common with the other Overseas Chinese from Asian lands who

overcrowd the hotel. He hungers for some intellectual and

international company, if only for tourist chitchat, but he is

not allowed to move into the-foreigner's hotel in Hangchow.

Once, however, he is invited to glimpse the Hangchow Hotel

by a Chinese lady from Ann Arbor, who classified herself as

"American." C knew the Hangchow Hotel before the war as an

exclusive domain for political big shots, movie stars, and

foreign tourists who came from Shanghai to spend their holidays.

Being foreign in those days meant a right, ipso facto, to

the best of everything. He finds that the Hangchow Hotel

has kept up its grand manner except for a slight change of

clientele--a crowd of Asian visitors, apparently from Sihanouk's

Cambodia. C envieS most the air conditioning in their rooms

although the lady from Michigan complained that it stoppA too

early in the evening. The dining hall, the Western and

Chinese menus, the white-uniformed waiters, and the Friendship

Store full of the best of Chinese-made gifts and souvenirs,
vgg a marked contrast to the homely atmosphere in C's own

hotel. The difference -A-as s--E that between a de luxe

hotel in Paris or Rome and a category III lodging. And all

for a difference of about a dollar a day! Such are the ad-

vantages of claiming foreign status.

Finally he leaves Hangchow, via air, for Peking. The

Friendship Shop at the airport sells fine cloth, which he buys

for his brother's wife before departing. He asks the luggage

attendant before boarding, "Will we eat on the plane?" The

man says he doesn't know. C finds that a simple piece of in-

formation regarding schedules and services is seldom ventured

with certainty in China. On the two-hour flight he receives

chewing gum, soft drinks, and fruit.

This is not his first visit to Peking. Shortly before

the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937, he began his

freshman year in college there, but he was back in Hangchow

for summer vacation when the Japanese took Shanghai# in July

1937. At the end of August he left Hangchow and fled south

with a group of Peking schoolmates, leaving his family--father,

mother, and younger sister--ensconced in their suburban hideout,

an old temple, while Japanese bombs fell sporadically.

For five days he savors the encounter with Peking, basking

in the company of Chinese and foreign intellectuals. He

delivers a Mqthematical lecture at the Academy of Sciences and

is hosted by the vice-chairman, his Physics teacher during

freshman year in 1937. He succumbs willingly to Peking Duck,

superbly prepared for only $1.75 per person. He shared this

dinner with two Chinese-Americans and an American girl who was

married to one of them. The married couple had come from Taiwan

after their Chinese Studies. He was informed by this couple

that they were able to get a reserved table only by using C's

name. As an American professor who had been invited to the

Academy, C had obtained a VIP status, which did not surprise C,
for the college professor is the highest-paid profession in China.

Their table was indeed in a large, otherwise empty, private

dining room.

C. regrets missing a tour of the Ming Tombs and a display

of recently unearthed burial treasures of fine gold and jade

craftsmanship. Archeology is one study, oddly enough, that has

f urished in spite of the cultural changes.

The weath in Peking is more comfortable, hot but not so

muggy. He cools himself in a marketplace by drinking yogurt

flavored with the natural tastes of walnut and grape. One

"foreign" restaurant amuses him by offering dishes made exclus-

ively from canned food, presuming that Americans and other

foreigners prefer such fare. For two dollars he gets a salad

consisting of canned chicken and potatoes /)almost devoid of


One foreign visitor who crosses his path in Hangchow,

Peking, and Canton, is a medical doctor of Chinese ancestry

who now lives in California. When this medical man finds that

C is from Stanford University, he asks, "How could they let

those students riot?" and "How could they let Angela Davis

out of jail?" His comments suggest to C the political spectrum

of visitors to China as well as the range of dislikes fre-

quently found among struggling Chinese overseas. The doctor

has a low opinion of blacks and rioting students. He does not

have a high opinion of much of the New China, especially the

goods for sale. Typically he has come to China to visit his

native Fukien ancestral home and burial site.

"This is not too important to me," he notes to C. "But

my family and friends in California will not let me return

without at least one picture. Then my duties are over."

In Peking C meets him at the Temple of Heaven, a round

structure celebrated as one of the world's beautiful pieces of

architecture. The doctor, resting on the stone steps, gazes

up at C and says, "I've had it." He trudges out, the tired


From Peking C flies south to Canton, passing over the

ground of his earlier sad trek under the distress of pursuing

Japanese. In 1937 he fled first to Changsha, an area known

for its rice, perpetual rains, spicy foods, and passionate Bn4l.h,

The Japanese pursued without pause.

He and other students were ragged refugees, catching oppor-

tune trains south to Canton, where they were packed into the

dorms of a Christian college. Three months later they took a

boat to Hong Kong, stayed there for a night, then boarded

another boat to Hainan Island, and finally to Haiphong and

Hanoi. China was so backward in those days that he had to go

through Vietnam to take a train into the primitive Southwest

China where, residing in Kunming, Yunnan province, students of

the exiled Associated Universities of Peking had the protection

of a warlord for the duration of the conflict. For the next

eight years he studied in this obscure location. The province

later reminded him of California without a coast because of its

agreeable climate. His situation was far from carefree, however.

Eight students at dinner were served a communal bowl of vegetables

cooked with an occasional piece of meat and the staple rice,

which was often riddled with the ubiquitous pieces of gravel

that farmers mixed in to increase the weight before selling.

Spitting out the gravel was a deft art in the hurried meal.

The speed with which a few slices of meat were trapped by

chopsticks was a measure both of one's agility and hunger.

Because the nutrition level was low, many daylight hours were

spent idly in the tea shops of the town, playing chess or gos-

siping4which demanded little concentration.

He was a studious young man in an environment that had a

profound respect for professorial knowledge. The eight years

of privation in his young manhood had some consolations;

young men and women were thrown together in a Bohemian style

unusual for China, with the attendant love intrigues. By

1945 he had finished his degree, taken a Master's Degree,

and become an instructor in.the University. With a fellowship

earned two years earlier, he then exited from China.

He flew over the Hump to Calcutta after the war ended.

From there a boat would take him to America. Though he had

five dollars a day (then a fortune!) to spend on himself in

Calcutta, the years of wartime hardship caught up with him.

Because of his weakened condition he became deathly sick with

a local fever. He was unable to travel, but fortunately the

boat arrived late. With twenty other Chinese students, he

crowded into Fourth Class quarters.

On this boat C had his first experience with Americans.

A Southern lieutenant put an open bottle of ink into his bag

of clothesfand then threatened to beat him if the prank was

reported. When he arrived in New York, too weak to carry his

bags down the tilted ramp, a friendly American solder rushed

to his assistance. With several fellow Chinese, C took a

taxi to his hotel, -the Edison, on Broadway. The taxi meter

read 65 cents, so promptly each passenger gave that amount

plus a tip to the driver, who smiled benevolently and drove

away. At the Bond Store on Broadway he bought a new blue

coat for $45. The coat stood up well over the years, but the

sweetest moment# of ownership came on the day of the purchase,

a special buying spree that was exultant, a sharp contrast

to the years of subsistence living. He rode up to Princeton

to begin his academic career in America.

C ends his current China journey in Canton, which appears

to him to be the shabbiest city he visits in the country. Hot,
humid, smoggy, unruly, and dirty, Canton is the ambiance for

illustrating the Southern Chinese character: they are a

smaller, shorter people than the Northerners; they are more

individualistic, more sensuous, and more aggressive. The city

is terribly overcrowded. His hotel is run down, with cockroaches

and crude food. The standard "Chinese food" in American restaur-

ants, until recently, has been Cantonese; but the cooking style

does not always appeal to Northerners. Emperors from the North,

in the eras of the dynasties, sometimes brought their cooks and

food with them when traveling in the South. C wonders if the

culinary traditions have been enhanced in the last 25 years.

Probably not, he concludes, because of the thoroughly egalitarian

emphasis that he notices everywhere. He wishes he had friends

in Canton with whom to share a dinner.

He exists from China with a bureaucratic flourish. In-

formed by the Central Bank of Peking that he could exchange his

money at the border, C declines to spend about $90 he had changed

into Chinese currency. The bank at the border is not of one

mind with the Bank of Peking on the subject. They will not

exchange the money, offering him the option of sending it to

someone in China. C wonders aloud, "What if the traveler has

no relatives in China?" He sends the sum to his mother.

The border guards search his luggage meticulously, even

opening his tube of toothpaste. He explains thoroughly what

he is taking out: a small Han dynasty figurine that his

mother had given him, an4 ink holder carved of green stone,

and his grandmother's ivory fan. About his most cherished

souvenir the border guards have no questions. They cannot

see the memories of his private past in China, now freshly

renewed but also transformed.


Lee Foster
Box 4137
Woodside, Calif. 94062
415 325-5307


Dear Kai Lai,

Enclosed is the revised essay. I have cast it in more of
a third person manner, for two reasons. I think it will
give to the piece an objectivity that will remove, for you,
some of the reservations you have had about intimate
subjects. And secondly, as we proceed, I think you will
feel more willing to explore your reactions to China and
your past if you can see yourself as the character of the
book rqqher than the first-person confessing/revealing.

Lee Foster
Box 4137
Woodside, Calif. 94062
415 325-5307


Dear Kai Lai,

Enclosed is the revised essay. I have cast it in more of
a third person manner, for two reasons. I think it will
give to the piece an objectivity that will remove, for you,
some of the reservations you have had about intimate
subjects. And secondly, as we proceed, I think you will
feel more willing to explore your reactions to China and
your oast if you can see yourself as the character of the
book rqaher than the first-person confessing/revealing.

SecAetauial SeAvice
Suite 320
261 Hamiiton Avenue
Palo Alto, Califok-La 94301
(415) 327-9345

November 7, 1973

Mr. Lee Foster


"A Private China ...


(This should have been $44.00!

Please don't ask me to discount

my work again. I can't afford it!)






f I 2 A





3,1 i~~Re

7r 4fY

5 33