Finding My Mother: The Red Box

Chapter Five: 80,000 Firecrackers


On the day that my parents were married, June 22, 1926, wedding bells rang from St. Marks in celebration of a Christian marriage; 80,000 firecrackers honored their Chinese home.

My parents’ letter describing their wedding was written just before they left for their honeymoon in Unzen, Japan. I can see B.W. sitting at his typewriter with Carolyn looking over his shoulder and gently editing. It was obvious that those wedding bells and the crackle and sputter of those firecrackers still rang in their ears. They wrote their detailed account of the perfect wedding for family and friends, beginning, “You might like to hear a bit about a wedding even way out in China.”

“The morning of June 22, 1926,” they wrote, “dawned with a very overcast sky and every evidence of heavy rain coming, but by noon the clouds were breaking and at 5 p.m., the wedding hour, the weather was absolutely perfect, a gorgeous sun, but with a fine cool breeze. Our little School Chapel had been decorated by Blanche Loucks, Ralph Watts, and Rev. Philip Lee (our Chinese Chaplain). The Chancel was a mass of bamboo (it does make such beautiful arches), palms, ferns, potted plants, and baskets of cut flowers (white and yellow). The aisle was carpeted with white and during the ceremony was kept reserved by white silk ribbons, at the ends of pews, stretching from front to rear of the church. The little church which holds about 150 was filled. The St. James senior class had stayed three days after graduation to attend, and there was a big crowd of most curious and excited Chinese trying not to miss a thing. (The Chinese love a wedding just as we do.)

“Our ushers who later led the wedding party down the aisle were Joseph Wharton (Principal of the other Mission High School here and the friend of every living soul in Wuhu) and Francis W. Greene (the young Cornell Student, from Ossining, N.Y., who has been teaching here for the year). They were both dressed in white summer clothes, in fact were in white from head to heels and wore white gardenias in their button hole. Miss Bertha Cassidy of the Advent Christian Mission was at the organ and played the Lohengrin Wedding March for the processional and the Mendelssohn Wedding March for the recessional. At 5 p.m. the ushers started down the aisle, followed by Miss Faye Robinson, Carolyn’s bridesmaid (a classmate of ours at the Nanking Language School). She was dressed in apple-green brocaded Chinese silk, wearing with it a white lace hat and carrying an arm bouquet of pale pink carnations.

“Then came Carolyn leaning on the arm of Reverend F.E. Lund, the head of our Mission Station. He was also dressed in summer white. As for Carolyn – it isn’t easy to describe her – but she was dressed in bridal white, her dress was white Gloria crepe-de-chine, trimmed with duchess lace and brilliants around neck, sleeves, and lace. Her bridal veil was held by a coronet of lace and orange blossoms and hung in a long train. Bishop D.T. Huntington of Anking (our Bishop who had confirmed Carolyn that morning and had held a special celebration of the Holy Communion for us and who was splendid in every way.) Ralph Watts (my best man) and myself awaited at the chancel steps. Ralph and I were also in white. Bishop Huntington used the full double ring Episcopal Service.

“From the Church, we went by sedan chair to the Stanley Memorial Building at St. Lioba’s which was wonderfully decorated with bamboo, potted plants, and cut flowers. We were escorted by a steady roar of firecrackers all the way from the Church to the Building. They used about 80,000, 10,000 given by St. James students themselves. How was that for a real start? At the Stanley Memorial, Carolyn, myself, Miss Robinson, Ralph Watts, and Sister Constance were in the receiving line. Practically all the guests at the Church came to the formal reception. We served refreshments of ice-cream, fancy cakes, and punch. After the formal reception Carolyn cut the wedding cake which had been made by her mother and which Carolyn brought all the way from America in 100% fine condition. (She left Seattle May 22nd.)

“I am so happy that I can write that EVERY DETAIL went off without one single flaw. As Carolyn went upstairs, she threw her bridal bouquet of gardenias, gladiolas, and snap-dragons, and it was caught by Miss Robinson.”

It is hard to imagine all these decades later that this joyful marriage was playing out against a backdrop of political chaos. Somehow controlling both the Nationalists and the Communists, Chiang Kai-shek, the head of the Whampoa Military Academy, had staged a coup in Canton on March 19. By July, he was the Commander of the National Revolutionary Army and, heavily armed, he was on his way to unify China, defeating every provincial warlord that he and his men encountered.

After the wedding, Carolyn and B.W. headed east on the way to their honeymoon in Unzen, Japan, known for the comforting fragrance of its pine groves and the healing sulfurous wafts from its famous Hot Springs. They chose Unzen for their honeymoon despite the fact that they had both spent several summers throughout the past nine years in Kuling, a summer retreat in the Lushan Mountains. Kuling was known for its gorgeous springs, waterfalls, and valleys, and had been a favorite missionary escape from the hot lowlands for at least one hundred years. Mao himself would wax poetic over the Lushan Mountains, writing that “At twilight I see the rough pines serene under the rioting clouds. The cave of the gods was born in heaven, a vast wind-ray beauty on the dangerous peak.” Clearly, they had opted for the unfamiliar.

In fact, my mother and father had known each other, but didn’t know each other well when they got married. They had been classmates for a year at Language School, she had visited him twice in Wuhu, journeying back and forth from Chungking to Chengtu, and they had met in East Rochester in 1922 when they were both on furlough. But their honeymoon in Unzen was really their first chance to truly get to know one another, sharing each day without old friends and acquaintances.

To my surprise I have not found a single letter from either of them from Unzen. The first letter that I have from my mother was written on December 31 to her mother and “Glad” Brown, her successor at Syracuse-in-China. Now a teacher at St. James, she wrote that “Final exams are over and my exam papers all corrected, so I have this day free to write American letters. Hooray! There are just three in our little bungalow family today though we had six to dinner last night. Wish you could have come in and have some goose and ice cream with hot chocolate sauce – oh, yes, I should mention the real fruit salad – real because we had American apples and oranges in it due to B.W.’s Christmas fruit basket bought in Shanghai when he was there early last week.

“But speaking of eats, I must tell you about our dinner this Monday, Dec. 27th – B.W.’s real Christmas dinner for Bachelor maids and men (two only of the latter). Surely the fourteen of us who sat down in red candle light amidst holly decoration did seem to enjoy the Lanphear annual dinner even more than in former years, some were kind enough to say so at least.”

Here she lapses into B.W.’s incorrigible life-long habit of making lists whenever he hits the typewriter, particularly lists of food and gifts:Would you like to know what we had? Grapefruit with maraschino cherries, purees of peas and saltines, roast turkey with giblet dressing, glazed sweet potatoes, Franconia potatoes, creamed cauliflower, sweet green tomato pickles, and English Plum pudding with hard sauce.

“Sometime you’ll have to see what our guests wrote in our guest book. It shows a bit of what they thought of it all. This custom of a dinner for the single missionaries has been one of B.W.’s regular customs to which everyone looks forward each year. He says it is his Christmas present to himself, but when you think how gloriously well we have both been ever since we have been married – over six months – It seems to me to that it ought to be called our Thanksgiving for all our manifold blessings. God has been so very, very good to us both and has given us so much joy much of which we can share with others that we should be happy as kings.

“Right here I wonder if I dare write what someone said yesterday. It was told to us by a lady who is the senior single missionary in port. She had heard that B.W.’s face had never shown such happiness. Pardon me, Glad, if I should not have written this but when I see some of the knots which B.W. has been able to untangle for folks just in the last three weeks, well something is just bound to happen to the soul who can be able to serve so mightily as he is serving here in Wuhu. Personal as well as Mission problems just keep coming and coming our way and often I can help by being a silent listener while B.W. very deliberately always, but most effectively, too, always just somehow does seem able to hit the right nail square on the head every time.

“You may say this is all because I am the lucky bride, but my reply is that even our Dr. Hyla Watters (of Smith College and Cornell Medical), who has been here with us since October 28th and wished to stay on through the month of January, at least, has been able to see all the conferences that go on here in our cozy warm study upstairs. Sometimes it is at tea time up here and often it is way after ten or eleven at night that these problems are revealed. Always when B.W.’s view of the situation is given there is something very real to offer as a possible solution. ‘Loads have certainly rolled away’ is what so many say.

“This morning a Mrs. Keating, a widow who has been visiting at the St. Lioba’s, called and asked if there would be any possible chance for her to come and live with us for at least another month. She is to travel around the world before returning to her home in Portland, Maine, and she hoped she could come to us just as soon Dr. Watters leaves. However, I had to tell her that the two days when Dr. Hyla did go back up to her hospital hill, she came back so completely worn out again that it has proven to us all that she can’t possibly go back to full-time work for at least another month, if then. Since we have another bedroom downstairs, it begins to look now as if both our guest bedrooms will be occupied. We both hate to have boarders in our own little cozy bungalow, and yet here are two requests for folks who want to come live with us.”

Fortunately for the newly wedded couple, one of the guests, Mrs. Keating did not move in.

“Being a house by the side of the road, as Hyla calls us,” Carolyn continued, “is really a lot of fun, only the days just do truly fly by on wings.” She mentioned that problems kept “coming and coming” but didn’t elucidate, keeping to her life-long mantra of “don’t make tragedies of trifles.” Until the tragedy actually personally engulfed them, she would keep her focus on the routine of the cozy cottage and each new day. With school closed, and excellent help in the kitchen and house, she spent most days at St. Lioba’s.

B.W. had a different take on handling the problems that kept “coming and coming” their way. He wrote a letter to his family and friends in the U.S. the same third week in December that Carolyn wrote to her mother and “Glad”. “We are in the midst of a civil war,” he wrote. “At the present time, the country is clearly divided into the two parts – that controlled by the North under General Chang Tso-lin and that under the South, or Cantonese, under General Kiang Kai-shek (also spelled Chiang). The former control most of East China and all of North China except for a section of the northwest of which we are not sure. The latter control all of south China and much of central and east China. Up to the time of writing, the northern government has not been a very serious problem in so far as the foreigners are concerned. There have been threats of taking back of the foreign concession at Tientsin but thus far nothing has been done.

“As for the Cantonese, it is another problem. They now control all of the south and have gained most of central China. This territory includes the important cities of Hankow, Wuchang, Changsha, and Kiukiang, and many other places. They are now trying a campaign to move from south and west to the east to get control of all territory south of the Yangtze River. This, if successful, would include Anking, Wuhu, Nanking, Hangchow, and finally Shanghai. Just at present time, their advance seems to have stopped and there are signs that they are now retreating, but we cannot be sure. They have a method of working from the inside by sending large groups of plain clothes men and these stir up the people. Then when the army gets near a place, these men give the signal and the whole city goes over to the Cantonese side. It is therefore impossible for us to tell you just where we stand.

“The Cantonese are divided into two parties – the right wing or conservatives and left wing or radicals. As a whole, the ideas of the former are good and appeal to all the Chinese. I think that many of the foreigners also feel the salvation of China lies in their hands. But the latter are said to be much under Russian influence and their actions are utterly impossible. They are most radical, very anti-foreign, and anti-Christian. They work through the means of labor uprisings and mob control. They often start things which they are unable to hold under their hands. It is this wing which has caused the taking from the British of the British Concession at Hankow. It is one of these mobs which has driven the foreigners out of Kiukiang. They get out of control and then comes the looting, etc. Thus far, all of the feeling has been vented upon the British, and almost without exception American property has been left alone. It has however seemed wise to withdraw women and children from the places which are more or less shut off from means of communication. Hence you may read of American people ‘refugeeing’ to Shanghai. Many feel that just as soon as the conservative wing gets control conditions will be better.”

Meanwhile, my mother continued to comment on more mundane matters. She noted that groups of students asked her about the green raincoat she wore. It bore logos of Syracuse University, which intrigued them. They bombarded her with questions about U.S. students, their lives, and their concerns.

B.W., on the other hand, wrote that whenever he saw a group of students, he had “visions of all sorts of trouble and began to imagine what could have happened to start up trouble. But one day as I approached the group, no student made any move – I then knew that either things were very serious or else there was nothing the matter. In the center of the group, I discovered the young son of Reverend Bernard Tsen (of Kingtehchen). He happens to be next to the smallest boy in school. He had just come from Wuchang where he had been all during the siege of that city; he had a long tale to tell and if ever an audience was interested, he surely had one. He was in the Boone University Compound during the time he was shut up in the city. This little episode was one of our first real touches of the war.”

But perhaps Carolyn’s emphasis on the positive was rubbing off on B.W., since he was trying, at the same time, to keep a steady emphasis on the normalcy of each day. He wrote of “the October 10th National Day being a festive occasion with Reverend Robin Chen delivering a fine patriotic address. Then there were two clever sketches: with ‘girls’ including a very efficient nurse and a very coy maiden. These dramas are always interesting to the members of the faculty for you do have a chance to see your clothes displayed on other forms. I’ll have to confess that I usually escape since my length and width are a bit too much.”

Encountering another unexpected group of students triggered another light-hearted response. “The other night,” he wrote, “I had to go over to school just after study hour and noticed a light in the dining room. I went to investigate and found a bunch of fellows gathered around a table having a wonderful feast of fresh boiled crabs. If you ever took part in any such episode during your school days you can imagine what a glorious time the boys were having – and you can also guess what a grand scramble there was to disappear when the Principal walked in. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I almost regretted that Chinese crabs and I cannot agree.”

On January 2, 1927, B.W. left for Shanghai to attend an Educational Conference about current conditions in schools in China. He wrote that “Mrs. B.W. and Ralph Watts remained in Wuhu. On Monday night the 3rd, about 9 p.m., they suddenly heard rifle shots and a bit later found out that soldiers were looting Wuhu. Refugees began to flock into the compound. The firing continued all night. The next day the school building filled up with women and children who fled here for safety as further trouble was expected and for two weeks we had families living in the building. Several of these families were of former students of St. John’s University, who left there in 1925 with the intention of having nothing more to do with Christian or foreign institutions. In a time of danger, they were glad to turn to us.

“The looting only took place on one night. The big business street of the city, over a mile from here, was the center and no looting was done in this section of the city. No foreign property was touched in any place. The whole thing was very carefully planned. Groups of men were placed at different points to keep up a steady firing of guns to frighten the people. Groups of men were assigned certain districts to loot and certain men were assigned to carry the loot from designated places to the camps where it was divided. The soldiers had received practically no pay for months and were after money only … or things which could be easily turned into cash. There was no burning of places and only two cases of raping and only a few deaths. The worst feature in many ways was the rabble which followed the soldiers and these rascals were the ones who did the worst looting of the property of people. Much loot was recovered from the mud hut district.

“We do ask each of you at home to read everything about China with an understanding that you want to be told real facts before making your final estimate of the situation. We frankly tell you that conditions are serious but NOT DANGEROUS. We are up to the biggest problem that we have ever had to face, and it will mean the giving of a lot of our time and patience. We are all trying to be very cheerful and to do all we can to help each other and to help our Chinese friends. You need not worry about us, but do realize that we are living under somewhat of a strain and do not worry if we do not write often.”

B.W. was not the only one bent over a typewriter. Carolyn was at full throttle, too. I am surprised her finger joints did not tire. Each day she focused on a new unfolding. It’s not as if she was unaware of the turmoil – which she understated in offhand phrases, like “Days are not exactly colorless out here.” But she would deftly change the subject to “a few impressions about the perfectly wonderful work of Sister Constance.”

Throughout the two weeks before her wedding, Carolyn had stayed at St. Lioba’s, which was named after an eighth-century nun. Sister Constance, who was a member of the Episcopalian Sisters of the Transfiguration, had come to Wuhu in 1919. She was the happy replacement for a Sister Edith who had been about to return to Ohio on furlough but refused to go home unless a nurse was sent to help fight the devils of disease. She wrote, graphically, that disease was causing Chinese parents to take their live babies out onto the hills to die. She pleaded for a Sister with nursing skills. Her plea was answered with the arrival of Sister Constance, who soon found out that a dose of salts would stop the dysentery devil. An enema would stop the demon of convulsions, while a good bath and cleanliness would cause many other devils to flee.

I found the story of Sister Constance and her war on devils, told in her own words, in the archives of the Episcopal Church in Austin:

“The other day the postman came running to me and said people were going to burn a live baby.

“I said: ‘Go get the baby and bring it to me. The amah will go with you.’

“After I said this I thought, ‘Go yourself.’ I got to the gate and found a very nice rickshaw and told the boy to take me.

“He said that it was Mr. Lee’s rickshaw and he was inside.

“‘You take me,’ I said. ‘He can wait.’

“So I got in and the boy went as fast as he could.

“I called ‘Stop’ when we came to a hole in the ground where a coffin had been. There was some straw in the hole and two men and a woman were standing there. They were about to pour in oil and light the match.

“‘The baby is dead,’ they said.

“‘Let me see,’ I said.

“‘No use,’ they said.

“I said, ‘Take that straw off!’

“Wood and straw came off and there was an eight-months-old live baby. Nice and fat and so pretty! It had been having convulsions. Five other babies of theirs had died, so they knew that his baby was a devil and belonged to someone else. So to kill the devil, they must burn the baby!

“I said, ‘Pick up that baby and give it to me. I am not afraid of the devil.’

“I told them to give me their warm jackets to wrap the baby in. They looked scared and off came the jackets.

“Then drawing my shawl around the baby, I jumped over two ditches to the road, calling back, ‘If the baby lives I will give it back. If it dies, I will buy its coffin and clothes.’

“Five minutes before, I was scared, but now I felt so strong. Telling the rickshaw man to hurry, I held my bundle tight to me as it was so cold.

“As I reached the gate, I called for hot water and soon got the baby in a tub. I gave it heart stimulants. It revived and then sank back again. We wrapped it in warm clothes and put three hot water bottles around it as we started our watch. Little by little it revived. Water and a little milk were given with a medicine dropper.

“The mother came in, poor woman. They thought they were doing right. I scolded her but it did no good, so I said, ‘The baby is mine.’ She felt relieved.

“When we got the little body warm after four hours, it stretched out its legs it was so comfortable. Then in a few minutes it was asleep in the arms of our Blessed Lord. The exposure had been too great. I was so happy it was saved from a cruel death. The nurses bathed and dressed it in little white baby clothes. When I saw the stockings and cap, I could not forget that a few hours before the little naked body was exposed to the cold. The baby died at 9:00 p.m. We made the coffin and had the burial service in the chapel. Then we carried the little coffin back to the salesroom to be buried at 6 a.m. At six o’clock two faithful servants and I carried the body out to bury it.”

As bombardments and death began to encircle her on every front, Carolyn focused, instead, on butterflies, becoming as skillful and observant as a professional entomologist. For my mother, any heart-warming, human story was a butterfly.

When not teaching a class, she raced over to the St. Lioba’s Stanley Memorial Building. Through the efforts of Sister Constance and Carolyn’s own B.W., who was a volunteer “accountant,” the True Light Industrial Work was bringing in desperately needed funds. St. Lioba’s original mission in 1914 was to found a school for girls but since then it had expanded rapidly.

Carolyn knew from her experience as a former YWCA Secretary in Tientsin that one project inevitably leads to another. It was only natural that a school in Wuhu added a workshop to enable “needy” women earn some money. In Tientsin, Carolyn had overseen projects that helped needy women earn better working conditions and receive a basic schooling in letters and childcare. An excellent Better Baby Exhibit from Shanghai and special lectures were given so that “the mothers might learn just how to help strengthen their babies where defective lines were seen.” In her 1920 Report, Carolyn also mentioned that, “at Christmas time, goodies, toys, towels, and soap were given to 100 poor children in the walnut sorting factory. To seventy children of the poor mothers who sort walnuts, warm winter garments were given at this same time.” Her involvement as advisor to the Tientsin Women’s Social Service Club had her visiting factories with foreign and Chinese Club members.

For me, the first lines in Carolyn’s letter in January 1926, on the subject of “Social Services” in Wuhu, echo the words she had used to report the critical work of the Tientsin Social Service Club. Then she unwittingly reveals who she is and what she is made of.

 “The workshop,” she wrote, “or the TLIW, is in the Stanley Memorial Building. It teaches needy women embroidery of altar vestments and linens for sale in the United States. ... There are also 35 little girls who had formerly worked in the Wuhu cotton mill for 12 hours (one week on night shift and the next week on day shift) all for 20 coppers a day. They now earn from 13 to 29 coppers for ½ day’s work. They go to the free school the other half of the day.

“There is a dispensary that cares for from 60 to 80 patients a day. There is also the ward with its 12 beds and a schoolroom. There is a lovely dining room where hot tea is furnished (the workers bring their own rice). There is a bath room where for 7 coppers or 1 cent U.S. money, the women can have a real warm bath. There are three work rooms and a doctor’s room (where, as I write, our dentist from Anking, Dr. Fellows, and his Chinese assistants are to work for three weeks to care for all the dental work in the city, as we have no Wuhu dentist). There is a drug room, a guest room and a nursery where 20 babies are kept warm while their mothers work. If very small, the babes are kept in baskets which have been placed on rockers and filled with straw and each with a warm cover. If the kiddies are old enough, they enter kindergarten, where all the work is carried on by Chinese teachers who live in the dormitory upstairs next to the bed room of Sister Constance – the only foreign worker and miracle worker.

“The youngest patient is a fine baby boy a month old. The patient no one can forget is a five-year-old little boy, who was brought into the dispensary by an aunt, herself looking about to die. She had six children of her own and to care for this little nephew, who had never been able to walk because of tuberculosis of the spine, was more of a burden. The boy’s father, a rickshaw coolie, had just died. This precious little ‘Tiny Tim’ was soon named Stanley by the Sister in charge of the ward. He was sent to the Wuhu General Hospital for three months, then brought back to the Memorial ward, where for one year he has been cared for and loved. He remembers his parents though both are dead. He is the brightest little lad and has the keenest of memories. For months he was in a plaster cast, but while he had measles the cast had to be removed. Then came the summer’s heat. Again he suffered so the cast had to be removed for good.

“He has seven drainings; many of which are as big as a penny. One is as big as a dollar. All of these must be kept draining, else there is intense pain. When he has one of his bad spells, we all say: ‘How can he live on?’ We know he must die. Yet he is so patient. His smile is so sweet, and he is loved by all who hear of him. He beams happiness even through his intense suffering as he says: ‘Good-bye! See you tomorrow,’ and a few pet words of which he has come to know the meaning. One whom he loves calls him ‘Sweetkins.’ When asked if he knew what it meant, he said: ‘Yes, it means ‘Babobey’ (precious one).

“For ten days our ‘Tiny Tim’ ate nothing but hot water and his medicine. Then he cried: ‘O yao che-tan (I want some foreign cake).’ The Sister-in-charge of the Stanley Memorial work had said he was to have whatever he wanted – this includes a daily orange, apples, American cake, raisins, and eggs. He eats little Chinese food. Two neighbors send in oranges, another sends in angel food cake and cookies. The English lady whom he loves brings raisins, oranges, and eggs for him. He keeps holding on. While he lives, he teaches everyone patience, long-suffering, and love.

“In the bed across the aisle from ‘Tiny Tim’ is another patient. Her name is Wang T’ai Pu, a beggar woman who used to live in a mat shed on the Yangtze River bank. One of the Sisters first met her carrying a bucket of water up from the river. It was heavy and the steps were many. The Sister helped her with her load. Two Sisters later called on her and learned her story there in the mat shed home, a sieve when it rained. She had never had a house. She was born on a boat. She was married on a boat. Her crippled son was born on a boat.

“When her husband died, her mat shed on the river’s bank began. She owned a flower pot made into a stove, a few broken dishes, one stool, and a bed made of boards and straw. These completed her furnishings. She had no cover for her bed, had had none, in fact for five years. She was 78 years old and a beggar on the streets of Wuhu.

“The Sisters knew they couldn’t give her a new bed cover, else the soldiers or police would rob her saying she, a beggar, had stolen it. So patches of cloth used by new workers in the TLIW for their samplers, all scraps which had already served a purpose as practice for the first stiches of embroidery, were sewn together. Good warm cotton was put in between and taken to her late one cold night. Next day, the Sisters called to see if she had kept warm. She had the cover wrapped with straw so that it wouldn’t get wet from the leaking shed. It was too good. It could not have been meant for a poor beggar woman.

“The Sisters didn’t want her to beg, but to stay at home, so every Saturday they took her food for the week. The two Sisters sat, or tried to sit on the tiny stool, so as not to offend her. At Christmas time, instead of her Saturday portion, a real Chinese Christmas basket was sent. There were 20 lbs. of rice, a live chicken, peanuts, salt noodles, cabbage, pork, Chinese oranges, candy, a face towel, and soap. Wang T’ai Pu was so overcome, she couldn’t accept it because she had no present to give them in appreciative return. The Sisters pleaded, saying it was a present for her because of Jesus’s birthday. Early on Christmas day, she carried the heavy basket back to the Sisters, still insisting she had no gift for them. She was given breakfast and finally convinced the basket was hers. She kept it and saved each egg from the chicken for her gift back.

“The Sisters longed to get her away from the mat shed on the river’s edge. Her crippled son was better and could earn his food by carrying baggage to the river boats. Yet she loved her mat shed and her chicken. An American mail brought Sister Ruth a birthday check of $25. It was then that a mud hut was placed near the back of the Sisters’ home. In it was given a brick and mud stove, a table, chairs, chopsticks, a teapot, cooking bowls & a wooden water bucket, a bed made of boards on a saw horse, a straw mattress, and a few quilts. She came to love her new mud home and her ‘Big Sister,’ Sister Ruth. Later came the stroke which sent her to the ward across the aisle from ‘Tiny Tim’s’ bed. She has been in the Ward for nine months now. She is so sweet and happy with a look of peace on her face.

“I would love to tell you about Din Nai Nai, a 72-year-old patient who recovered and was able to earn about 50 cents gold a week in the TLIW. Out of this money, in two years, she has saved $15 with which to buy her coffin. One bad spell had been followed by another, and finally bronchitis, which was nearly pneumonia. When she came to the ward, she had 5 pounds of rice, some lard, vegetables, etc. in her home. She insisted these things be given to Stanley Memorial otherwise they would be stolen. As I write, she has recovered and is back at work making doll clothes at the Stanley Memorial Building. She insists on leaving the ward so others who need to be in there more than she can be helped. She is 73 years old this year.

“What a blessing the ward and dispensary and the TLIW are for those in need. All Wuhu loves the Director of this Stanley Memorial work. Can you guess why? Can you guess why it is that folks who come to the ward sick enough to die just somehow can’t die. A miracle worker and her Chinese assistants are there.”

School had been open only a week when a fury of rumors engulfed the city. Unfortunately, Dr. Hyla Watter’s report that Wuhu was flooded with “horrible casualties” was not a rumor. Hundreds of wounded soldiers from both the Northern Expedition armies and the warlord militias swamped every hospital and clinic. Sister Constance’s Stanley Memorial Hall and ward were filled. Every doctor, nurse, or individual with medical training was enlisted, including B.W. He had spent time volunteering at Bellevue before he went to Beirut. B.W. instantly became a “trained nurse” and, in the same instant, Sister Constance became a skilled surgeon. That happened when a Southern officer arrived at the Memorial Halls who had been shot in the head. Sister Constance managed to push the bullet through the top of the nose at the side of an eye, forcing the bullet out through the neck.

Carolyn, as always, chose not to comment on the unfolding chaos. On the other hand, B.W. chronicled it day by day:

“March 4th – St. James sent delegates to a big meeting of Christians making plans to welcome the Southerners.

“March 5th – Plenty of rumors all day but nothing serious happened.

“March 6th – At 10:00 a.m. the City went over to the South with no trouble. The military leaders of Anhui turned over easily, trusting the winning side was the South. The Nationalist flag, the white sun in the blue heavens on a field of red, was put up on all the buildings. Many men attached red scarves to their uniforms to make clear their noble status as members of the People’s Army

“March 7th – The entire day was given over to welcoming the Southern Army – no classes as the students were in processions and people were all excited.

“March 8th – The morning was very quiet and we held classes, but in the p.m. a mob got together at the Customs. It ended with the complete looting of the Customs Club, the residence of Mr. Starling, Port Harbor-master, and the house of the man in charge of the Native Customs. This looting was not done by the army but seems to have been the work of some opium smugglers who had grudges. That night all the British women and children, the Standard Oil families, and three of our Mission wives were taken on board the Kutwo at the B. & S. hulk.

“March 9th – This day can be marked as a very hectic one. There was a huge Mass Meeting on the Jardine grounds about 150 yards from our front gate. There were thousands of people there and every possibility of trouble. Apparently the China Merchants’ SS Kiangwha arrived that morning with a General of the Southern Army and a great deal of ammunition. In order to unload it, he asked for use of the Jardine hulk. This made it necessary to move the SS Kutwo out into the river and she left that night with the women and children. During the day the Wireless Dept. of the Southern Army came to the school and erected their equipment. They are occupying the Assembly room. (Of course, this was done without my permission.) Thus far they have been most orderly, and have in no way interfered with the school work. To be absolutely fair, I would have to say that at the present stage of the moves, they bid fair to save us from a far worse situation. They are supposed to move on just as soon as the Southern Army has captured Nanking. My better judgement says not to say too much at present as there are only twelve of them. They are a definite protection against many other possibilities I cannot explain in this letter. We were all dead tired that night and glad to drop into bed early.

“March 10th – We woke up to find our football field occupied by a big mass meeting of the workers from the neighboring mill. They were here for about two hours and moved quietly out without making trouble of any sort. Then we heard all sorts of rumors about Anking. We heard all the women and children and the Bishop (because of his illness) had passed through Wuhu on the SS Kungwo the previous night. We have had no confirmation or denial of this, but a letter form Bishop Huntington shows that he is still here. Since he says nothing about the women and children, we think they are still there. The day was quite peaceful.”

In the Archives of the Episcopal Church in Austin, I found additional relevant information about the circumstances of March 10 from a witness at St. Lioba’s: “Almost the immediate result of the arrival of the Southern Army was the unleashing of all the agitation and bitterness which had been held under fairly effective control. Among the unions swiftly organized was the Students’ Unions and their radical activities were now no longer without restraint. Had the H.M.S. Emerald, a large British cruiser, and three American destroyers in the river not been present, the day would not have passed peacefully except for some renewed looting of Customs Buildings.”

“March 11th and 12th – Terrific rain storms have kept things fairly quiet, but we hear all sorts of rumors that Chinese residences are being broken up, but there has been no further interference with foreign property unless the rumor the C& M Mission residence was looted last night proves true. All the missionaries had left. In addition, the students had a big meeting and the students made their chief complaints against the different schools. Five points were brought to our attention: 1. We should teach the “Three Principles” (Sun Yat Sen’s Nationalism, Democracy, and The Livelihood of the People) – we can easily do this. 2. Introduce Military Training – we had this and dropped it because the students themselves objected to it – now they want it again. 3. Students want a Chinese principal. 4. Students want the School registered. 5. Students want the name of the school changed to a name which does not sound so religious. They would like some such name as ‘Lion Hill Senior Middle School.’ I might say these five suggestions have not yet been sent to the school officially and some of them may never be sent. I wish I could tell you just what the future is to bring forth. Conditions are most uncertain, and while we eight, still at the Station, are hoping that all will go along very smoothly and that we will have no serious trouble, yet we may have.

“March 12th to 24th – We carried on some sort of school. To carry out their promises the Cantonese appeared with 551 and commandeered our lovely St. Mark’s Chapel, our dining-hall and one classroom besides the library and assembly hall already taken. They brought dirt, and they had officers who smoked opium. However, we were able to go to classes without interference. Even Mrs. Lanphear had no trouble and went to all classes that met – must confess there were not that many. Then on the afternoon of March 24th, word came by wireless of the Nanking affair. We could not believe it but the next day proved beyond doubt that it was all too true, and the Nationalists had done it. We tried to warn Anking Station by wire. On the 26th all the women and children left in Wuhu were ordered out. They obeyed. They included the remaining women of our Mission: Sister Constance Anna, Sister Helen Veronica, Sister Ruth Magdalene, and Mrs. Lanphear. They left on the SS Kingwo for Shanghai.

Carolyn’s account of March 23 differed starkly from B.W.’s. In a letter to friends at the East Rochester Church, she wrote that “We have been having such lovely spring like days of late that it is quite natural to be thinking of you at home and wishing you all the most blessed Easter possible. The willow trees are already out here in Wuhu, and violets are in bloom. Little children are flying kites, students are playing basketball with a vengeance, and farmers are working early and late in their fields. I have just returned home from teaching juniors History and Language at 9 a.m. and then seniors an hour later. These St. James students are just as interesting to teach as they could possibly be. Even after five and a half years of work with Chinese girls and women, I am having to admit that the present work is just as fascinating. My training in college was for History and Languages, but here I am teaching English and I find it really a challenge to make English grammar a study the boys can enjoy. How I did rejoice today to have some of the students come to me after class and say they thought it was becoming interesting after all.

“Also this morning Mr. Lanphear came from his daily 8 a.m. – 9 a.m. hour at the Red Cross Station next door at Sister Constance’s to teach his classes. He remarked about the great encouragement over there because one of the most severely wounded soldiers has shown so much progress that this one case alone is worth all the trouble and extra work it has caused. Since the Methodist Hospital was more than crowded with wounded soldiers, they asked for help. So now the rooms where the industrial women eat their bowls of rice at noon have been fixed up as a temporary ward. These wounded Southern soldiers are a very fine grade of soldier. They are cheerful and eager to recover so that they may again join the ranks of those who wish to do or die to save their country. Their spirit, which is the same as that of their former leader, Sun Yat-sen, is indefatigable.”

B.W. then picked up the narrative, reporting that “on the 27th, things seemed to be no quieter, so I called over Rev. P.H.W. Lee. We had a long chat about school matters and talked over just what should be done if I had to leave. We completed our plans, and he left. Within an hour, the order came to leave in two hours. I sailed the next morning after spending the night at the S.O.C.O.N.Y. installation. The boat anchored in Nanking for thirty-four hours with a guard from the one of the American gunboats on board. He adds that if the American and British gunboats had not fired, not one foreigner would have come out of Nanking alive. Only later did he learn that Dr. Williams of the University had been killed. A small group of Americans from the Language School and the University fled from one hiding corner to another guided by Chinese friends and students. One such corner was the tiny gate-house where three American teachers spent the night lying on the stone floor covered with straw. Again it was the Chinese friends and students who led them through the horror of masses of captured Northern soldiers now prisoners of war. Arriving at the river they were transferred to a freighter and taken to Shanghai.”

B.W. expanded on the hours he spent in Nanking: “We picked up two Russians, the Captain and the Chief Engineer from a Soviet ship seized at Fukow by the Northern army. One of the passengers on board the Soviet ship was Mrs. Borodin.” He did not elaborate on the Borodins. Carolyn was waiting for him at the Shanghai dock. They went to the refugee camp at Seaman Hall of St. John’s University. Sheets, tied together, end-to-end, may have enabled Nanking foreigners to climb down high Nanking walls to waiting destroyers. They also enabled the Seaman Hall refugees, in Dr. Taylor’s words, to use “sheets to divide a big bathroom, men to one side, women on the other. In the early morning, men and women in all stages of deshabille went back and forth to the bathroom!”

On April 15 Carolyn and B.W. became refugees in Japan – in their honeymoon location of Unzen. The pines may still have been glorious, but the silence and uncertainty were now nerve-wracking. Could they return to China? Would they be sent back to the United States?

Although hundreds of miles from Wuhu, China’s deteriorating political and military situation was a 24-hour nightmare. Carolyn and B.W. had believed that the Nationalists, under Chiang Kai-shek, were taking control of the chaos of interconnecting factions. The NRA had defeated the Northerners when it took over Nanking, had it not? Had Chiang-Kai-shek not made Nanking the seat of a new unified national government? Stuck in Unzen, my mother and father faced the haunting possibility that they might not be able to return to China. Their life’s reason and purpose was China. How could the current turmoil engulfing China be even worse than the one that Carolyn and B.W. and their Chinese friends had just been through? Yet that was their reality. They kept themselves fully informed. However much they wanted to deny what was happening on the mainland, it was incontestable that China was still being ripped apart by factionalism: South China vs North China, Stalin vs Trotsky, right-wing vs left-wing Nationalists.

On April 18, only three days before my parents left for Unzen, Chiang Kai-shek defied the KMT by forming his own government. When he reached Shanghai, he enlisted the support of the militant, horrific Green Gang to wreak havoc among the Shanghai workers and to bolster his grip on power. Then the fireworks between Stalin and Trotsky imploded, with Stalin insisting that the Communists stay with the KMT, which pushed its left wing even further left. Trotsky insisted that worldwide revolution meant the uprising of the proletariat, certainly not an alliance with the bourgeoisie and peasants that was emerging in China. Borodin realized that neither Stalin nor Trotsky – nor even the majority of the Russian advisors flooding China since 1923 – understood China. Stalin may have been willing to work with a bourgeoisie and a peasantry, but even he believed that the Communist revolution would succeed by enlisting the industrial proletariats. China had none.

The closer I was to understanding Carolyn March, the more I understood her faith and determination. Neither a relapse of typhus nor a medical evacuation had deterred her from returning to China in 1926. And she wouldn’t be deterred now.

By late 1926, as the Northern Expedition was fighting its way north from Canton, members of the NRA started fighting bitterly among themselves. Chiang Kai-shek decided that Wuhan had too many workers who might side with the leftists. He would keep most of his army in Nanchang to protect his grip over the NRA’s left wing. Day by day, Army generals were assessing which way the political winds were blowing and then switching sides. This is where Zhou En-lai, another key figure in the Chinese Communist movement, enters the picture. When the left-wing NRA found itself ousted from its “capital” in Wuhan, Zhou En-lai and his wife were in trouble.

Zhou had been head of the Political Department at the Whampoa Academy while the NRA was shaping up. Zhou may have studied in a high school in Tientsin filled with American influence. He may even have been taught English by the wife of one of Carolyn’s YMCA compatriots, John Hersey’s mother. But when Zhou had the opportunity to study in France in 1920, he became a confirmed Communist.

With the Wuhan left wing in retreat, he and his wife needed to escape. With the help of Sun Yat-sen’s widow, Soong Ching-ling, they managed to spend three days In Hankow in the safe haven of the Tungting Road home of the Right Rev. Logan R. Roots.

Here was an American missionary who understood China as well as my parents did. Roots had arrived in China in 1904 as the Missionary Bishop of Hankow. Like my parents, he respected China and refrained from judging it by American standards. Like my parents, he cared. In 1911, from this same home, he counseled Chinese politicians charged with framing a constitution for the new Republic. By 1925, he had 22 years in China behind him. He believed that “Chinese patriotism is awakening. The relation between Chinese and foreigners in China and the position of China in the family of nations, which were formerly accepted and widely regarded as acceptable, have become intolerable to the Chinese. There can be no permanent peace with foreign powers until the full and independent sovereignty of China is recognized by due international agreement, and made actual in China’s foreign relations.” He also commented on the triple impact of Russian influence, the beginning of an industrial revolution, and the political disorganization of the new China. That was a lot for a struggling China to handle.

 And what of the Christian Church? How did Bishop Roots reconcile his missionary responsibilities with the unfolding conflict? He didn’t mince words: “The time has come when Chinese Christians and pastors are not satisfied with the predominating influence of foreigners and foreign funds in the Chinese Church. They feel the need of expressing their own national life within the Church. Questions of property and administration, by no means easy to solve, are involved. The standing of the Christian Church in the midst of society which has experienced this new Chinese patriotism is also involved. The latest news from our missionaries indicates that while in some places the stormy blasts of misinformed patriotism have swept every Christian Chinese into anti-foreign demonstrations, the ties of Christian brotherhood are in the main holding China and foreigners together, and the better elements of Chinese society are beginning to assert themselves and plead for the moderation which will prevent violence. We may well hope that the Christian community, both in China and abroad, may have a salutary influence in abating prejudice and promoting the mutual understandings which lead to peace.”

Zhou’s biographer, Han Suyin, quotes Roots saying that he thought “Zhou would be a good Christian, for he believed so deeply in the spiritual value of man.”

Borodin called Soong Ching-ling, Sun Yat-sen’s wife, and the individual who enabled the meeting between Bishop Roots and the fleeing Zhou, “the only man in the whole left-wing of the KMT.” In 1923, when he first came to China, Borodin had become the adviser to Sun. It is clear that Borodin’s assignment by the Comintern was to draw China into a worldwide Communist revolution. Our singular American scholar on China, J.K. Fairbank, commented that, by having Borodin as an advisor, “Sun invited the bear into the bedroom.”

The “bear” came into China outfitted with money and arms and relentless counseling. If Sun was to unify the disparate parts of the Republic, he needed the “bear’s” help. From day one, Borodin tried to shape Sun Yat-sen’s thinking, but he failed. Sun may have proclaimed his “Three Principles of the People” to be Nationalism, Centralized Democracy, and Livelihood of the People. But he made it clear that China would build a new structure that was suitable to itself and not to the Soviet Union.

Soong Ching-ling, was an ardent supporter of Sun Yat-sen’s efforts to unify China. If China was to be successful in joining the community of modern nations, China had to be true to its traditions, its culture, and its national dignity. The three Soong sisters, Ching-ling, Ai-ling, and Mei-ling, had received an education in the United States thanks to their ambitious father, Yao-ju Soong, widely known as Charlie. They understood the strength and weaknesses of the West, which helped them face their own country’s political problems. Eventually, they would adopt significantly different political positions. Mei-ling, the youngest Soong daughter, married Chiang-Kai-shek on January 1, 1927. Ching-ling regarded Chiang as a traitor who betrayed what her husband had fought for. Ai-ling, the oldest, married Kung Hsiang-hsi, a graduate of Oberlin and for a short time a worker with the Chinese YMCA in Japan. Kung became Chiang’s Finance Minister. This did not endear him to Ching-ling.

Ching-ling was not a Communist. Yet she was working with the NRA left wing in Hunan. She even lived in a house near Borodin’s apartment. She had come to Wuhan to organize help for the wounded in the hospitals and it was there that she helped Zhou and his wife find a three-day safe haven in Bishop Root’s house. She bridged the two worlds effortlessly.

Here was a Chinese woman, steeped in two worlds. My mother certainly did not have a similar political career or impact. But she unquestionably demonstrated the same grasp of both Chinese and American realities.