Finding My Mother: The Red Box
Chapter Four: Famine, Flood, and FurY
Long before I received the Red Box, I had a telegram containing the single word “Yes”.
This one word was relayed courtesy of The Chinese Telegraph Administration between “Eastrochestery” and “Wuhu,” or East Rochester, New York, and Wuhu, China. Carolyn March was still at home recovering from typhus in Syracuse, and still active in Syracuse-in-China, when she received a telegram from her fellow missionary in China, B. Woodward Lanphear, asking her to marry him. What I now hold in my hands is her answer. The minutes of Syracuse-in-China from March 9, 1926, announced “the great joy it had been to our Executive Secretary to have served with the Syracuse University-in-China Association yet asked for a release to be granted April first in order that Miss March might sail for China late in May to be married in June to Mr. B. Woodward Lanphear of the Episcopal Mission at Wuhu.”
Carolyn March and B.W. Lanphear had attended Language School together in Nanking from 1917 to 1918 – I have a photo that proves it. Although I have no further evidence, it is reasonable to assume that their paths crossed more than once. Even her maid-of-honor, Faye Robinson, was a fellow classmate at the Language School. Both Carolyn and B.W. had spent summers in Kuling, the Lushan Mountain retreat where both missionaries and employees of the Y escaped from the summer heat.
Working for Syracuse-in-China while she recuperated, my mother was responsible for raising money for China and for stimulating “student interest” in China, which included a second-hand book sale, a mincemeat sale, a homemade fudge sale, and a window-washing service. But given how much she loved China’s language, culture, history, and people, she must have longed not just to raise money for projects in China but to return there herself. All of that played a large part in her return, I suspect, but it is clear that she also returned to China at least in part to marry my father. And I suspect that she married my father at least in part because she wanted a child. She had just spent more than a year at home near her sister and her children. Her “Window in China” shows how captivated she was by young people. She was in her late thirties – a far riskier age at which to have child then than it is now – so there was urgency to begin as soon as her medical recovery would allow.
But a different Chinese world awaited her. She would be, not a single, female YWCA Secretary, but the wife of a missionary educator. She would now be living in Wuhu, not a major city like Tientsin, nor a city steeped in rich Sichuan history like Chengtu, but an inland town on the Yangtze River.
With nearly nine years in China under her belt, my mother had been exposed to the famines and floods that gripped the country in misery on a seemingly recurrent basis. Yet neither she nor B.W. understood the extent to which they would be swept into the political turmoil that lay ahead for them.
In one of her Tientsin YWCA reports, Carolyn March had reported how the Y had helped in a Famine Relief Parade for countless refugees. “If measured,” she added with pride, “it would have reached from Tientsin to London and a thousand miles beyond.”
There were also many references to floods throughout my research into the country where my mother made her adult home. The February 1918 issue of the Red Cross Magazine explained that floods had to be expected in Tientsin since it was only 29 miles from the sea. The land was badly deforested, and the dykes were badly maintained, so the low land to the west of Tientsin flooded periodically. The detail in the article that struck me most was an account of a corpulent gentleman “leading a procession including his detached kitchen, flooded only not so high as to reach the hearth of the cooking stove, moving about on a platform of planks laid on stools, and serving dishes through the kitchen window.”
A particularly devastating flood reached Wuhu, the town where my father made his home, in 1931, although neither my father nor my mother experienced it firsthand. But their friend and frequent houseguest, Dr. Hyla Watters, did experience it. In her memoir of her life in China, Dr. Hyla, as she was known, relates that, one day, she was on a crowded bus when the rain dripped through the cracks in the roof and “ran down our faces like tears.” Even coffins could be seen floating by. She noted that the flood waters at Wuhu spread more than 100 miles wide. The year’s rice crop was a total loss. The Mission outstation at Tatung remained under five feet of water for two months. Farm workers couldn’t find enough dry land for a proper night’s sleep.
Dr. Watters noted that much of the political turmoil to come could be attributed to the fact that no one saw to the annual dredging of the Yangtze or Yellow Rivers or the Grand Canal.
My mother’s May 1920 report for the Tientsin YWCA included her observation that “the Chinese Generals or Tuchuns’ War had destroyed railroad and bridges.” As a friend Ms. Li, the daughter of General Li Yuan-hung, she was fully aware of the political upheavals following the Revolution of October 10, 1911. For three brief periods between 1916 and 1923, General Li was President of the New Republic. He was close to two of the principal revolutionary leaders, Sun Yat-sen and Yuan Shih-k’ai.
B.W. was even closer than my mother to the political chaos engulfing China, from the first day he landed in China in October 1917 until the day he died there in July 1951.
On July 19, 1917, my father was teaching at the Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, when he was appointed missionary teacher in the Episcopal Mission, District of Anking, with a stipend of $850 per annum. B.W. was replacing Alan Lee, who had been drafted to go to France with a group of Chinese workers. Declared 4F when he tried to join the war, B.W. had first sought foreign adventure in Lebanon at the Syrian Protestant School for Boys, which has morphed into the American University of Beirut, the finest legacy of the U.S.’s imprint in the Middle East, bar none. But he developed a severe case of rheumatic fever and returned to the U.S. before being reassigned to China.
My father’s first letters describing his impressions of China were to Marjorie Castagner, a former student at the Academy. Like so many missionaries in China, he was required to study Chinese at the Language School in Nanking before taking up his post. To Castagner, he moaned that he had never worked so hard, even during his studies at Clark University. But he also marveled at China. “How do you describe a new country?” he wrote. “China is exceedingly strange and very interesting. The gardens would interest your Dad. They mostly have Chinese celery and cabbage with a few carrots mixed in. … the men all wear dresses and the women trousers. If a girl wears bangs, it means she is not married, but is willing to be.”
In her letters and writings, Carolyn demonstrated a keen interest in Chinese tradition as well as in Confucian, Tao, and Buddhist beliefs. B.W. was never as enchanted as she was with the intricacies of the Chinese language or with Chinese history. He almost always focused on practical matters.
B.W. served as principal of St. James Middle School in Wuhu from 1919 on, and in that position he could not escape the boiling cauldron of China’s political upheaval. Because my mother was only married for two years before her untimely death in 1928, she was only a teacher at St. James Middle School for those two years, but they forced her, too, into the maelstrom.
B.W. was a prolific letter writer and on March 3, 1919, he noted that “they are having great doings out here now as China is having her own Peace Conference. I am afraid the results are not to be very satisfactory as the Military Party has too much power and they simply will not give up. Perhaps I ought to explain that the Peace is being made between North and South China, which have for two years been having a most awful Civil War and at the request of the outside Powers, they are trying to settle. I have my doubts as to their succeeding as things are in a very bad way at present.”
Scholars today point out that “China abides by Confucius’s first commandment: Know thy place.” They further comment that, “for the Chinese, order is the central political value, and the alternative to order is chaos.” But in 1919, students throughout China had definitely forgotten their “place” and chaos reigned. They were taking to the streets en masse. St. James’s students were no exception. Surprisingly, at least in the letters I have, B.W. does not mention the famous 1919 May 4 Movement that swept up 3,000 students from 13 colleges in Peking to protest against the Versailles Peace Conference in which the Chinese province of Shandong, then under concession to Germany, was awarded to Japan.
The intellectual revolutionary Chen Duxiu, who was dean of Peking University in 1916, had founded a periodical called New Youth in Wuhu in 1906. The periodical called for a simplification of the rigid structure of the Chinese written language. In 1915, it demanded even more radical changes: “Without a new culture,” it proclaimed, “there will be no new political system.” It is not surprising that, by 1921, this Wuhu personality was a founding member of a new political movement, the Chinese Communist Party.
By July 1919, a month after the May 4th Movement began, B.W. was forced to shift most of his attention from the pleasantries of daily life as a missionary in China to the politics of running a middle school in a time of political strife and, increasingly, violence. His letters are no longer filled with asides about a birthday trip up the river in a sanpan (“bigger than a row boat”) for a picnic on the river bank under a beautiful moon. In a letter written on July 7, he notes, “We had a lot of excitement before I came up to Kuling. As a protest against the government’s actions, all the students in China went on strike. We had to close school on June 3rd instead of June 21st … the strike was not against us but against the government to make them stop their pro-Jap activities. The boycott of Jap stuff was started and I want to tell you that it is still on. The Chinese are certainly sticking to their ideas. I feel sure that they will win out, and the Japs will have to come down from their high horse and give the Chinese what they want and stop their everlasting grabbing at China.”
A year later, on April 16, 1920, B.W. wrote that “there was a call for all Middle School students to strike. However, Mr. Maa, the Military General, issued a decree that every student must be back in his classes on Tuesday morning. I do not know whether you gained an insight into the Chinese ‘face’ proposition or not – but this order meant a tremendous ‘loss of face’ for the students. However, we had already declared a holiday for a week, therefore our students could not be here, and General Maa was willing to accept our plans. Thus the ‘face’ of our students was saved.
“We have investigated carefully and find that the movement is not a united one since it is only the students of the Eastern Yangtze River Valley. The Peking, Tientsin, Canton students have not struck – and so far as we can learn, those of Kiukiang, Hankow, Wuchang, and west have not.” He was incorrect in regard to Tientsin, for in her YWCA report, Carolyn commented that the Student Bible Class met three times during the many weeks when school was closed during the troublesome ‘strike-days.’”
B.W. felt the student movement was doomed before it began: “The students,” he wrote, “made a second mistake when they said, ‘We are going to demand that the Government promise first to have no direct negotiations with Japan in regard to Shandong and second, to publish all secret treaties between Japan and China made during the past four years.’ Then they said, ‘If the government does not grant these demands, we will strike for three weeks.’ In other words, they limited themselves, and have done exactly that what the Government wished. In striking they have to a great extent cut down the student activities since they (the students) are not gathered together so completely. The Government has wanted to close the schools, but has not dared – now the students have helped them out. Thus the whole thing is entirely useless. What does the Government care if they do lose three weeks? It means money in the Government’s pocket.
“As far as I know, nearly all the Mission schools have taken the same action. They have declared a holiday for two reasons. 1: for we are in sympathy with the students ideals (not entirely with methods) – and to have ignored the strike would have done much harm. We could not, however, as American Mission schools, openly accept the strike. Therefore the simple solution was the holiday. 2: The students’ ‘face’ – for all the other schools to strike and the Mission ones not to do so would have the students ‘lose much face;’ our holiday ‘saves their face.’ (Remember the ‘face’ idea explains many things which pages of words could not do).”
The chaos soon flared up again. On May 25, 1921, B.W. wrote that “there is some difficulty in Anking (in this province) when three students were killed. In Shanghai the police and the soldiers were on the suppressing job and making things very uncomfortable for everyone. Many schools in other places had just begun to strike and to make a suitable climax, the situation here suddenly became rather critical at least from the viewpoint of the boys. Last Friday the students of the Government schools went to the President of the Chamber of Commerce and asked him to call a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce and to persuade them to promise to import no more Japanese goods. He is an opium fiend and was most indiscreet. After keeping the students waiting all day with nothing to eat, he finally told them that he did not know what could be done.
“No one knows exactly what happened next, but some way, he was hit over the head with a Japanese vase and there was trouble. He at once proceeded to order the arrest of six students, one from each school in the city, including one of our boys who was not there. Naturally we protested, and they have told us that the accusation will be dropped. But the military officials of the province are very anti-students, and they have been trying to find some excuse for action and this trouble gave it to them. They surrounded the Government schools with soldiers and will allow them to have nothing to eat except for rice until they go back to classes. …
“[Because] we were talking of opening school, students who were outside the government schools came and begged our boys not to go back to classes, because if they did then the military officials would run to them and say that one school had started work and they could do the same. The officials would then tell the Higher-ups that by the use of soldiers, they had broken the strike here. One of the worst troubles in China today is the overbearing attitude of the soldiers. Our Chinese teachers were all inclined to think that we would make a great mistake to open just then so we have let the city boys go home and let the out-of-towners stay.”
In November, contemplating his upcoming furlough back to the U.S., B.W. asked to do graduate work at Clark University, his alma mater. He wanted to take courses in Education and Modern International History: “I am now teaching History and International Affairs which are bound to play an important part in the development of China in the decade ahead.” He also wanted to spend time at the clinic of the Worcester City Hospital: Since “coming to Wuhu, I have done practically all the medical work of the school, including two epidemics.”
While on furlough, B.W. continued to assume, incorrectly, that things would calm down in China. But no stable institution had arisen to replace the old Imperial dynasties. Not one had been formed since October 10, 1911, when the Wuchang Uprising, an armed rebellion, led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning, on February 12, 1912, of the Chinese Republic. Moreover, the new Russian Soviet government that was formed in November 1917, after putting an end to the Imperial reign of the tsars, offered Chinese revolutionaries a helping hand.
I have mentioned Chen Duxiu, the iconoclastic intellectual revolutionary who lived in Wuhu in 1906. By 1917, he was Dean of the School of Letters of Peking University and Editor of the enormously popular New Youth magazine. From those two platforms he heralded the Russian Revolution and argued that China should emulate it. In 1920, he met two Comintern agents who came to China to explain the workings of the new political system, with its centralized Party dictatorship. He was in favor of any system that could rid the country of the political fiefdoms had kept it divided. By 1921, Mr. Chen had succeeded in helping to found the Chinese Communist Party.
Sun Yat-sen, who lived from 1866 until 1925, was China’s singular statesman, and, unlike Mr. Chen, he did not turn to the CCP with its call for world revolution for ideological reasons. After the fall of the Imperial family, he served as the first Provisional President of the Republic of China from 1911 to 1912. What happened to make him resign the presidency, I wondered? As with everything in China that affected my mother and father in the few years that they were married, I had to understand why. One thought triggered another in my scatter of thoughts and memories of China. I remembered having seen Sun Yat-sen’s 88-year-old widow, Soong Ching-ling, at an International Worker Woman’s Day tea when I was working with a group from Georgetown University in Beijing in 1980. I had to take another look. Sun Yat-sen had spent time in America early in his life and Soong Ching-ling herself had been a student here. She understood the West well, and so had her father.
Why then would Sun Yat-sen open the door to the Russians? It did not make sense. It turns out that, in the 1880’s, one of Sun Yat-sen’s brothers who had immigrated to Hawaii invited him there. He spent three years at a British missionary school and one year at an American school before returning home to Guangzhou in Canton province. His plan to study medicine faltered as he began to focus on the political disasters striking China. He plotted an uprising in Guangzhou in 1895. It failed and he spent 16 years away in London, Canada, and Japan. In Tokyo, he founded the United League, a revolutionary coalition of Chinese activists. Back once again in China, when the Imperial Dynasty fell, he was elected Provisional President. Realizing how weak his United League was, he resigned, thinking a former Imperial Minister, Yuan Shih-k’ai, could better realize a united China. Above all, Sun Yat-sen wanted a united China that would espouse the Three Principals of Nationalism, Central Democracy, and Socialism, meaning “people and race, people’s rights and power, and people’s livelihood.” Yuan Shih-k’ai had other ideas, seeing himself as the Emperor of a new Dynasty – his own, of course. His death in 1916 ended those efforts.
B.W.’s return from furlough in September 1923 was just in time to confront all of this political unrest. His first letters back to the United States, however, are only concerned with what was happening at St. James. He was pleased to report that student enrollment was at a high of 156, proving the “present demand for education in China and our great opportunity to provide it. … We are having Organized Games twice weekly and every boy is supposed to get in one of the games. Football is the most popular with tennis a close second. The boys are also trying to play volley-ball and basket-ball with one group trying to learn to play baseball. Talk about your Charlie Chaplin movies. I want to add that the Victrola and records which some of you made possible are being most appreciated by the boys. They like the band pieces best. Jazz, too. The whistling records also appeal. I have several Kreisler records which they enjoy.
“We have been fortunate to make arrangements with the head-nurse in the local hospital whereby we were to grant him a full scholarship and in return he was to do our general medical work. With over 150 boys we had had to get along as best we could.” B.W. was referring to himself – more medical training while on furlough notwithstanding. “As St. James is a Boarding School and the students are only allowed to leave the Compound once a month and as parents are not allowed to send in extra food and as Chinese boys are like boys the World over in their liking for ‘sweets,’ a way had to be found to provide these. To be sure, many peddlers would be most glad to invade the Compound with their trays of dusty, dirty candy, cakes, and fruits; but these goods do not meet my ideas in regard to sanitation and health. Having a closet, fortunately with a small window under one of the stairways, we turned it into a small store and twice each day the students can go and buy cookies, certain kinds of candy, Sun-Maid raisins, and fruit in season (we can easily sell two or three cases of American red apples every week).
“The Boy Scouts have charge of the store and take turns in selling. Part of the profits is given to the Library to buy newspapers for the students to read. All the regular work of the School is going along very smoothly. We are feeling no direct results of the War, and in fact it is difficult to realize that there is a War for, both in the School and City, all is so quiet and peaceful. Except for a couple of weddings and the gift of a cake of soap to each boy by Parke, Davis and Co., there has been no unusual excitement.”
B.W. may have returned from furlough in September 1923 and found everything “quiet and peaceful,” but that did not last long.
Only one month later, Borodin arrived in Canton as advisor to Sun Yat-sen. As John K. Fairbank, the brilliant China scholar, so succinctly puts it, “Sun invited the bear into the bedroom.” Mikhail Borodin joined the Bolshevik Party in 1903 and worked with Lenin in underground activities. At one point, two years later, rather than face arrest by the Tsarist police, he chose exile in the United States. He taught immigrant children English at the Jane Addams Hull House in Chicago. He returned to Russia after the 1917 November Revolution. From 1919-1922, he worked back in the U.S., as well as in Mexico and in the United Kingdom, as a Communist Party agent.
Like Sun Yat-sen, who had traveled and worked in the West, Borodin understood the West. The West had offered no help to China’s new Republic’s and its struggling new Provisional President, Sun Yat-sen, in terms of weapons, money, and advisors. The Bolsheviks did. They not only sent advisors, they dismantled the Tsarist treaties and concessions. Borodin was right there, offering practical advice on how to set up a centralized party organization or government. In the case of China, it was obvious that calls for a Communist world revolution led by the world’s proletarians were irrelevant. China had neither a significant number of proletarians nor a significant number of industrial wage earners. However, it did not lack “Imperialist” industry owners. Anti-Imperialism would be the new call to action. Slogans and public rhetoric exploded, heating up this new reality. Sun Yat-sen’s National Party successfully morphed into the Chinese Nationalist Party, the KMT, and it was set to lead the country. The KMT, Chen Duxiu, and the newly formed his Chinese Communist Party would have to cooperate with each other, like it or not.
Borodin not only helped reorganize Sun Yat-sen’s National Party, he worked feverishly to launch and run the Whampoa Military Academy in the spring of 1924. Chiang Kai-shek, who had been sent to Moscow for military training the year before, became the President of the Whampoa Military Academy and Zhou En-lai the Deputy Political Director.
Zhou En-lai? John Hersey mentions that he was in Tientsin at the same time as Carolyn March, so it is entirely possible that she had met him. As I researched my mother’s life, I happily learned that, in 1919, Zhou En-lai organized the Tianjin Students’ Union to participate in the May 4 demonstrations that my father had written about. John Hersey, born in Tientsin and raised there by his YMCA parents, Carolyn’s cohorts, was certain that Zhou had been a student in his mother’s class at the Zhong Boling Nankai Middle School in Tientsin. In 1917, Zhong Boling had studied at Columbia University and visited high schools in the U.S. He became passionate about the importance of athletics to the academic experience. And here in Zhong’s high school was the wife of Tientsin’s YMCA leader teaching Zhou En-lai! West meeting East!
I also learned that Zhou, thanks to the Boxer Indemnity, had been able to travel to France. The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 had not only ended in failure but had also forced the Qing Dynasty to pay for the costs incurred during the foreign invasion of Peking to protect their nationals. The Indemnity payment to France enabled Zhou En-lai to go to there. Instead of French liberté, équalité, and fraternité, he learned Communism, along with Deng Xiao-ping.
Once again, John King Fairbank stepped in to answer my never-ending questions. He wrote that, in 1908, the U.S. Congress was “inspired by missionary educators in China.” It decided to apply half of the share of the American Indemnity to the “educating of Chinese scholars in America.” Unquestionably the Indemnity payment to the United States “enabled bright, young Chinese students to study in the West.” All of this may not have had the impact of the Bolshevik advisors like Borodin, but Zhong Boling, for one, did study in the West. And he did have an important impact on education in China upon his return.
Zhou En-lai studied in Boling’s high school and so did Hu Shih, known as the “father of the Chinese renaissance.” At age four, he had been taught the age-old Classics. However, in 1910, he was able to go first to Cornell and then to Columbia, where he studied under John Dewey. Hu Shih wanted to build a new country on a foundation of mass education, not political revolution. His public platform was extensive, as were his books. He became Professor of Philosophy and Dean of the College of Letters at Peking University upon his return to China in 1917. Instead of Communism, he pleaded for a new political government “by way of non-political factors.” He proposed a new, living literature, liberated from the tyranny of the old classics by the use of the vernacular. He wanted students to be activists for studying. His “Tentative Proposal for Literary Reform” was published in his colleague Chen Duxiu’s New Youth magazine. He was already helping to found the Chinese Communist Party, even though it wouldn’t be launched formally until three years later.
Missionaries like my mother and father were not aware at first of the dangers posed by the new political movement, and, in fact, some of them embraced a few of its key figures. This East-West confrontation, both positive and negative, filled my mother and father’s China years. When Zhou En-lai and his wife fled Wuhan soon after my parents were married, they found refuge in the home of Bishop Logan R. Roots. It is said that Bishop Roots found Zhou “open-minded, willing to discuss all beliefs.” The Bishop added that he thought Zhou made a good Christian – “he believed so deeply in the spiritual value of man.”
Bishop Roots, who was first assigned to Hankou in 1904, wrote that he could see “Chinese patriotism awakening.” It began, he wrote, with the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, and was given urgency by the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the Revolution of 1911, and the First World War. The Comintern demonstrated its strategic powers by relinquishing Russian treaty privileges with China in order to soften the Chinese stance against Russia. The new Russia was the first foreign government to send an ambassador to the Revolutionary government. When Bishop Roots and his fellow missionaries began to understand the threat posed by Chinese Communism, he noted how brilliantly the Communists paid the fees of Chinese students attending Christian schools like my father’s in order foment troubles among them.
There is another early encounter between the first Chinese Communists and the West that I cannot leave out. I was astonished to learn that Mao had a tie to the Yale-China Association, which was founded in 1901. Unlike my mother’s Syracuse-in-China, which was based in Chungking, Yale-in-China was based in Changsha, where Mao was born. Of course, a Yale education was not in the cards for Mao. He left Changsha for Peking in 1918 where he found a job as Assistant Librarian at the University of Peking. The Head Librarian was working with Chen Duxiu, who was well on his way to helping found the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party. Surprisingly, for personal reasons, not political ones, Mao soon resisted the cultural “renaissance” being promoted by Hu Shih. Mao writes that his interactions with Hu Shih and his friends in the library let him know that they thought he “didn’t exist as a human being.” After half a year he quit and went back to Changsha.
Now comes Yale! In Changsha, Mao published a periodical, the Hsuang River Review, and, when it was shut down by the governor of Hunan, he was then made Editor of the Yale-in-China review The New Hunan. It, too, was closed, but Yale-in-China rented Mao three rooms in which he opened a “Culture Bookshop.” He started seven more small shops “all selling Marxist books and periodical; profits were used to finance the socialist youth corps and the fledgling Communist Party.”
For my father, the political unrest was beginning to make serving as Principal of St. James more and more difficult. He reported in September 1924 that “we are very little disturbed by the war conditions, and in fact would scarcely know a war was going on,” but he belied that happy comment by adding that “it is difficult to get money, as nearly all the Native Banks and Exchange Shops are closed, and that prices are high because many of the farmers are afraid to bring in their products for fear they will be conscripted for military service. We hope to have an excellent year in spite of the circumstances all about us.”
What remained of B.W.’s optimism had vanished within six months. Not only were the provincial North China military fiefdoms battling with those of the South but Borodin’s handiwork was paying off. B.W. reported in the second week of May 1925 that “trouble started in the St. James Parish School, but they had declared a holiday to give the students a chance to think it all over and so we felt that we were safe. On the 17th we received word that the students of the other Mission Senior Middle School were going to strike the next day (as a matter of fact, they did not strike until a week later and probably would not then have done so if it had not been for the pleas of our students who worked upon their sympathies), but all was quiet here.
“Then at noon on the 18th, some outside students appeared in the Compound, but we thought nothing of that as it is a very common event. Just after supper, however, we discovered that the visitors were here for the purpose of persuading our students to strike. Our students organized at supper time and made every student sign a paper that they would not take part in any religious activities of the school, that is they would not attend Chapel or Bible classes.
“About nine p.m. that evening a delegation of students appeared at the Principal’s house [B.W.’s own house] and demanded that Chapel Exercises and Bible Classes be made voluntary at once. It was, of course, impossible to grant such demands under such conditions. We did promise to take the matter into serious consideration and to see just what could be done. We talked to the students and they seemed, with a few exceptions, to be quite willing to abide by this idea; but a few leaders were too strong and the next morning, all students refused to attend Chapel. It was now very clear that the majority were against this action but were forced by threats to join the others.
“The delegates were called to the house of the Principal and asked what the desire and purpose of the Student Body might be. They said that they must have a definite answer about Chapel. Each class was asked the purpose of their Class. The Senior Class refused to join the others and said that they would abide by the rules of the School.
“As a result of this, we decided to declare a holiday for six days to give the students a chance to go home and talk the matter over with their parents. The students held a meeting and decided that no student should leave the Compound and organized themselves into a ‘Temporary Students’ Self-governing Society.’ As the school had already declared a holiday, we could only insist upon order and quiet and wait developments. It was quickly evident that the Seniors, who had refused to join, were going to be abused and scolded, so they were allowed, by the School, to leave with all their baggage. This seemed to be the only way to avoid trouble of a more serious nature.
“The Self-governing Society carried on a form of control and during the whole week – regular school rules were followed – and they even attempted to carry out regular class periods, without teachers. At the end of the holiday, it became clearly evident that the students who were opposed to Chapel were in control and had filled the others with fear through threats, etc. At the end of the time set, we asked the students their purpose and they again refused to attend Chapel and so we had to declare the School closed for the term. Without using any form of force, we were able two days later to clear the building of all the students. We are glad that we can report that no serious damage of any sort was done to the School or School property; but we are sorry to report that practically every Bible, Prayer-Book, and Hymnal in the School was torn into bits and thrown about the Compound – this being done daily upon a sort of installment plan and for days we looked as though we had had a snowstorm of paper.” In a letter, he wrote that he saw an old woman scurrying about with leaves of cabbage held in a sheet of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
My father had the students; my mother, the women. Unlike my father’s trove of letters and reports, I have only my mother’s Tientsin YWCA official reports to try to learn where her thoughts were focused during these last years of her life. Carolyn March’s YWCA reports focus not only on helping women unwind the bandages that had shaped their feet when young but also on unwinding the constraints that society had long placed on the shaping of their minds. She reported with obvious delight on the work of the Social Service Club plus the four fulltime Chinese Y secretaries: “There is a workshop where famine devastated women were making winter garments for the 36,000 poor encamped at Tientsin’s South Gate. They were paid ten coppers per half day.” There was a Handwork Class, where women were taught to embroider a simple pattern on Chinese linen for sale. There was health talk prep for a Better Babies Week. My mother was head of a Social Service Club that made a survey of all the industries that employed women and children in order to improve their working conditions.
Then I made an amazing discovery – my father knew quite well one of the key early figures in the Chinese Communist movement, a man named Wang Jiaxiang. In 1943, the CCP official Hu Yaobang credited Wang Jiaxiang as the “first person in our Party who officially raised the scientific concept of ‘Mao Zedong Thought.’” And this same Wang Jiaxiang was in B.W.’s Civics 1.01 class at St. James in 1925.
I have a photograph of my father with some students, and there Wang is, the scrawny, bright, intensely-focused student with the wire-rimmed glasses slipping down his nose. His crossed right-leg is shaking with irritation and impatience. B.W. was making sure that his students had a good grounding in their responsibilities as well as in their rights in civil society. But for Wang these rights and responsibilities were not China’s. They belonged to the foreigner standing in front of him. My father soon expelled him from St. James.
Wang was a young man in a hurry. His curriculum vitae attests to it. He left Wuhu and enrolled in the Middle School of Shanghai University for just a few months before joining the Communist Youth League. He was easily recruited, along with some one hundred other young, impatient students, to go to Moscow to study at the Sun Yat-sen University. He was there for three years and was one of the few Chinese students to qualify for entrance to the rigorous Red Institute for Teachers. He thrived on a hectic schedule of translating Marx, studying, teaching at the SYS, and working as a Russian and English interpreter. In 1928, he joined the CCP in Moscow. Unlike the others in his group of “28 Bolsheviks,” he did not return to China until 1931.
Still in a hurry and confident in his thinking, Wang waded fearlessly through the Chinese CCP infighting. He supported Mao as the man to lead a struggling China. It was Wang, recently wounded, who lay on a litter beside Mao on the famous Long March of 1934 from Jiangxi to the Yan’an caves. It was Wang who is credited with the Sinification of Marxism. It was he who wrote the “Rectification of our Studies” in 1941, asserting that “Subjectivism and Sectarianism” had to be rectified.
Mao’s emphasis on self-criticism and rectification – and Wang’s – was not something new. They have been in the Chinese psyche for centuries. Confucius said that a ruler’s first initiative should be to “rectify the names” (the meaning behind the spoken and written word).
But the philosophy would have a murderous new meaning under the Chinese Communists and Wang would eventually lose his faith in it and, I think, can be forgiven for not seeing how far Mao would take it. Mao began, benignly enough, in 1957, with the campaign known as “Let a hundred flowers bloom” but it lasted only a few months. It gave way to the Great Leap Forward Campaign, which lasted from 1958 to 1962. Mao swore China could be industrialized in five years but instead the country was devastated and tens of millions of people died. Wang is said to have wept over the starvation and misery that campaign cost. The Cultural Revolution followed the Great Leap Forward, lasting a decade from 1966 until 1976. Wang himself was caught up in the chaos of bloodletting and placed under house arrest where he died in 1974.
I would like to think that, even though Wang and my father separated on bad terms, something of B.W.’s Civics 1.01 class stayed in Wang’s brain and never disappeared.
Wang couldn’t have been the only student who looked upon my father as a representative of the Imperialist West. In July 1925, the National Student Union proclaimed, “Now the Anti-Christian Movement has publicly undertaken the fight against Imperialism. We decided that Christmas Day, December 25, and the week December 22-28, should be observed as anti-Christian week. Student Unions everywhere should continuously inform the public of the evils of the Christian Church and of Christian education and show that they are not filling the need of China. We should also explain to the public the insidious plan of cultural invasion employed by the imperialists. … We must work for the freedom of the two hundred thousand youth who are receiving the ‘slave education’ of the Mission schools.”
Carolyn may have been back in Rochester at the time, but she would have had added her signature to an extremely accommodating STATEMENT that the missionaries issued in response: “As missionaries of the Church of Christ in China, we are becoming increasingly aware that in preaching a gospel of the triumph of love over force, of right over might, our cause is immeasurably weakened by our rights and privileges gained and maintained through the use of foreign military forces. We therefore desire to free ourselves from such rights and privileges, and to this end we wish to express to our respective governments our desire as individuals to waive all the privileges of extraterritoriality. We are willing to be governed by Chinese laws, and in case of danger to our persons or property, we desire no protection other than that afforded by the Chinese authorities.”
But the Soviet Union had beaten us. They had already renounced their extraterritoriality treaty a year before. Borodin and his colleagues had been busy arguing that Christianity was inseparable from Imperialism.
On May 30, in the Shanghai International Settlement, British officers fired on a crowd of demonstrators, killing 13. On June 30, in Canton, Anglo-French marines killed 52 demonstrators. The shouts of anti-Imperialism and its fiery subtext of anti-Christianity were becoming deafening. By July, B.W. acknowledged that “a group of more or less radical leaders here in the City are quite determined that the Mission Schools should not open in the fall.” Was he referring to Wang? However, B.W. continued, “fortunately no damage has been done to our property. The Military General of Wuhu, who is really a very decent chap about 30 years old, has taken control of the situation. He seems determined to keep peace and order unless some very serious difficulty takes place somewhere else in China and thus upsets things here.”
By Christmas, the anti-Christian incidents were building to a crescendo. But they do not yet seem to have reached Wuhu. B.W. reported that “we have been quite free from outside student activities and rather to the surprise of everyone, we have been left quite alone by the Wuhu Student Union. I have heard of no case of any student being interfered with or harmed in any way. Already there are signs of a number of the old students wishing to return next term. On Christmas Day (and in fact during the whole week), we were prepared to expect some sort of an anti-Christian demonstration. While nothing happened on Christmas Day, the Wuhu students had a parade and they marched past our compound yelling and cursing and waving banners, but our students behaved in a splendid manner and ignored the whole thing.
“A great deal of the sting of the affair in so far as our students were concerned, was taken away by the fact that those on parade were followed by a heavy guard of police and soldiers, both groups heavily armed and, we have since learned, with instructions to shoot if any attempt was made by the those marching to do any sort of damage or interfere with any person. We have definite information that the whole affair was a disappointment to the ones in charge and a source of amusement to the general public.”
By now, even Borodin and the Soviets were losing control over the events unfolding in China. Sun Yat-sen’s death in early 1925 was a blow to Soviet influence. So was infighting between Stalin and Trotsky. As Fairbank writes, “Stalin was betting the Marxist faith that class struggle for social revolution can be combined with simple nationalism.” Trotsky was determined that the world revolution should take place everywhere and at the same time. But it was Stalin who was now calling the shots.
The Soviets thought they had Chiang Kai-shek under control. And, to all appearances, he was. Eight months after he set out with his army from Quanzhou to unite China, he announced a Chinese revolution that would be run by the Chinese. Interviewed by the Hankow Herald, he declared that China would be ruled by government committee, modelled along Soviet lines. In regard to Chinese courts, he said a new code was being drawn up that not only guaranteed protection and justice to foreigners but to the Chinese from foreign aggression. He commented that America boasted of a democratic home government while following an imperialistic policy in the Philippines. When China became free, its ultimate aim would be abolition of “imperialism throughout the world.”
In 1926, his government, which was based in Canton, also issued a set of regulations for private schools like my father’s. The regulations were especially strict on schools that incorporated religious instruction.
As Chiang Kai-shek and his troops marched north, my father was sending his telegram asking Carolyn March to be his wife and she was sending back her one-word response: Yes. On March 9, my mother resigned from her position at Syracuse-in-China. That same month, my father wrote a letter to a friend noting that, “as far as outside conditions are concerned, everything here in Wuhu is very quiet indeed.” But he also admitted that “the trouble makers outside have been very busy and have made all sorts of threats against the students that dare to enter a Missionary school. The Military General here has issued very definite orders that all anti-foreign and anti-Christian activities must stop. He has always acted rather slowly, but when he has finally acted it has been with a very definite result.”
It was in this moment of complete turmoil that my mother returned from Syracuse to China to marry my father, to begin work as a teacher at St. James, and to begin a family.