Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chapter 7: Not Seeing You Is an Impossibility

I'm very pleased to introduce our guest translator, Scott! He's a friend of mine from NTU's International Chinese Language Program and has taken an deep interest in participating in this translation project. I think it is very interesting to see how others read and interpret Lung Yingtai's writing. Thank you Scott for your contribution in bringing this Big River Big Sea's stories to the English-speaking world.

I arrived in Guangzhou. When I asked the locals if they had heard of Tianhe Airfield they all shook their heads. No one seemed to know.

Finally someone said "I haven't heard of Tianhe Airfield but there is a Tianhe Sports Center." and so I went there.

It was an enormous stadium bounded by streets jammed with cars and people. I wondered where among all this chaos would I find the remains of an old military airbase. But when I turned around my heart almost stopped. Across the street stood a solitary old wall next to a deserted bus depot. On the wall was written neatly "Air Force Logistics - Guangzhou Office." To my surprise, the characters were in the traditional style no longer used after 1949.

Well. This is definitely the place.

Mei Jun's husband Long Huai Sheng, had once brought his military policy company here to defend Tianhe Airfield. Soon thereafter, he would feel his life's most glorious duty had arrived.
?May 1949, the President has taken Zhong Mei 1 (中美一號)and arrived at Tianhe Airfield. Vice President Li ZongRen (李宗仁), Administrative Head Yan Xi Shan (閻錫山), and other high level senior officials were waiting at the airfield to greet him. During this time, we are heightening surveillance and urging everyone to maintain increased vigilance. We are prepared for any contingency."
I leafed through Huaisheng's handwritten memoirs, thinking to myself, Dad, in May 1949, Chiang Kai-Shek had already stepped down and was no longer president. How could you forgot that May? The capital Nanjing had already fallen and Shanghai would soon follow. Chiang Kai-Shek had taken the warship "Taikang" (太康) with Jing Jiang Lun (張靜江) and was scouting the islands between the Taiwan and Zhejiang coast; investigating the conditions and considering how best to deploy his forces for an eventual counterattack. In May he was nowhere near Guangzhou! Look: in Chiang's own diary, May 18th 1949, he's written his investigation of Penghu.
"Yesterday in the late afternoon I went sightseeing along the coast near the hotel. I looked out over the coast of Yu Weng Island (漁翁島). Although the area was vast, nowhere was its elevation more than 50 meters and on the beach were very few trees. It does not appear vegetation grows easily here. In regards to animals while it appears that there is some abundance of Indian cows there does not appear to be enough excess feed to raise other livestock. The salinity of the soil appears to be quite high. Whether livestock or crops, neither will be easy to raise. This area is also frequented by a great many typhoons. Nevertheless this location is of prime importance as it is the center point of Taiwan, Fuzhou, Xiamen, and Shantou; not just a protective screen for Taiwan. As I had overlooked the heat and extreme humidity of this island I took a bath upon my return and listened to Xia Gong Quan (夏功權) report on the situation in Xiamen. Afterwards I went to bed at 10."
As a thirty year old Military Police Company Commander, Lung Huai Sheng was earnestly defending Tianhe Airfield he naturally didn't know that on the larger historical chessboard matters were already settled: He was a pawn in enemy territory. But at that time he merely stood looking out over the streaming crowd of people, this tide of refugees, pouring along the large road in front of Tianhe Airfield and bound for the HuangPu docks. He definitely didn't know, that in that crowd of people rushing before his eyes were over five thousand high school students from Shandong. In exile for thousands of miles, their principals at that moment in talks with the national army generals, how could these children board the boats before them bound for Taiwan? And yet that island whose "salinity of the soil appears to be quite high. Whether livestocks or crops, neither will be easy to raise." The Penghu island "frequented by a great many typhoons" was opening its mouth, awaiting their arrival.

That year, as the President of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was setting a new record in high temperature superconductivity, famous physicist Zhu Jing Wu (朱經武) was a seven years old boy; a child who liked to play in the mud, catch mud fish, and do electricity experiments with broken bits of iron and bronze. He had followed his parents and siblings, eight of them as well as a grandmother, from Wuhan on boats and in cars on a road steadily bound for the South. Before leaving the gates of their city they had taken a small yellow dog with them, carried him seemingly to the ends of the earth. But Jing Wu didn't realize, as soon as they boarded a train, that the dog would leap out the window and vanish without a trace. Our little Jing Wu almost cried.

Zhu's father was a Chinese-American who had studied piloting at Portland Aeronautic University (波特蘭的航空學校). In 1931, after the 918 incident broke out the then high spirited 26 year old Zhu Gan Ting (朱甘亭) felt his blood boil. His mind was in tumult day and night until finally he made a fateful decision: giving his beloved Harley-Davidson motorcycle to a good friend (this friend was shocked at Zhu's new found [Warrior with a cut wrist*] mentality) Zhu Gan Ting turned and left San Fransisco; flying to Nanjing where he enlisted in the Chinese Air force.

[Translator's Note: The idiom "壯士斷腕“, which I have translated as "Warrior with a cut wrist" is far superior in the original. In the Chinese the idiom refers to a certain type of warrior spirit; that of a warrior who if bitten on the hand by a poisonous snake would chop off that hand so as to continue fighting. Here it is used somewhat facetiously.]

In May of 1949 as the Zhu family reached Guangzhou Second Lieutenant Zhu Gan Ting helped them to the Huangpu docks where they could directly board the ships and wait for his return. Because Zhu was responsible for handling surplus goods and materials, he needed to pledge a case of gold belonging to Airforce Logistics to get on the boat. He told his family, I'm going to hurry up and do this and then I will see you on the ship.

"But," Jing Wu said, "We waited and waited, straight till midnight, but dad never came. The docks were full of people who couldn't board the boat. Outside the refugees slept in the open air and soon the boat was to start. But dad was still nowhere to be seen. My Mom was anxious and scared and my grandmother's face was etched with worry. Finally, at two in the morning, my father finally appeared. Our tension was released. His entire face was covered with sweat. Apparently, when my father's Jeep was passing Tianhe Airfield, somehow, for reasons he couldn't explain, the gold trunk fell off and scattered over the ground. He was stopped by one of the MPs attached to Tianhe Airfield. No matter what, they were not going to let him go. He negotiated till midnight but still they wouldn't release him. Finally, empty handed and lacking other options he made his escape."

"What?" I asked, "Are you saying the military police at Tianhe Airfield?"

"Yes," Jing Wu answered, "That case of gold was taken by the military police. He almost wasn't able to escape. If he hadn't hurried back to the boat it's probable our family would have been broken up. From there the fate of the family- including myself- would have most likely been of two types"

"Slow Down Jing Wu," I said, "Are you saying my dad stole your dad's case of gold?"

He laughed, somewhat pleased with himself. "You could say that."

"Don't laugh, I remember my Dad's memoirs brought up gold. Wait a second."

From the written works room of Hong Kong University's Robert Black College I again took down my father's memoirs and found the section on Tianhe Airfield.
"May 1949. Stopped over in Guangzhou waiting for orders. In charge of Tianhe Airfield security. In addition all along the road from the airport to Hong Kong we will be doubling the watch, in order to ensure the airports security. There is a smuggling organization here headed by a man named Liu (劉) who has provided 500 ounces of gold as a bribe in exchange for our letting 30 trucks of smuggled goods through. Although I am not charged with suppressing smuggling I immediately refused in no uncertain terms and reported the matter to higher authorities."
I noted this part and read it to Zhu Jing Wu word by word, line by line. Then I asked him "What's this? Was your dad "Zhu" named "Liu" in those days?"


  1. It's awesome that you've been keeping this up, I just got a copy, I'll have to catch up and use your translation as guidance!


  2. 米菲船長,您好:

    我是「大江大海 1949」官方部落格的管理者。

    龍應台基金會有些事要與您聯繫,可否方便給我您的e-mail address?若可,請mail到bin375(at)gmail.com


    水手bin 敬上


  © Blogger templates Newspaper by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP