Interview of Pu Rung Wen. Conducted on March 1, 1998 in West Caldwell, New Jersey. By Peter Wen
Pu Rung Wen
Pu Rung Wen considers himself a lucky man to have narrowly escaped both the Japanese and the Communists in their ravage of mainland China. Orphaned at a young age, Pu Rung was brought up by through a collaborative effort of his eight older siblings. The interview begins with yet another childhood trauma, the exposure to war.
I was born on May 30, 1919, in a town called Tangkeng, in the xian (county) of Jieyang. I was the youngest of nine children. My mother and father passed away in the same year when I was three years old. When I was three or four years old I moved the Meixian, where my sister's hospital was. . . her dispensary was. It was still in Canton province. I went to school there, graduated from grade school and had a very happy life there. Meixian is a pretty good size city, I would say more than 100,000 people. Traditionally, it was a very important city.
That year, the communists started to attack the city. Meixian was surrounded by a brick wall, very well protected. So the communists had a hard time to attack. They sent so many troops to attack the city. Suddenly, one afternoon, there was the rumor, saying "that the communists are over, the red army, the red army, the red army is coming." So, I happened to see my niece and grabbed her hand. I said, let us run home, let us run home. And then the crowd was all coming out of the school and I couldn't hold her hand any longer and we broke up. Suddenly I was pushed by the crowd. . following the crowd. . . after 10 or 15 minutes. . we were out of the city now. I found out myself alone just alone. I don't remember how I got there I was only pushed by the crowd. But the fighting is going on. The communist are attacking, shooting the city and the people, the guomingdang, the soliders, have the machine guns set up on the city wall, high up on the wall, shooting down. They were shooting very fiercely, and I was running under the fire-line. The bullets flew over my head and I could hear the bullets hitting the ground. Thup, thup, thup, that kind of sound. I had no time to be scared, I just wanted to run. Suddenly, I found a boy who was in my class, I forget his name. He said "my home is not to far away, lets' go over there, so we ran in that direction." So we ran in that direction and while we were running, we still kept feeling that the bullets were around us. We arrived at the house. They were very poor. His mother said. . We are so poor we barely have food for ourselves. . . why did you bring a friend back home. I had no other choice because I could not go back. I stayed at that house for one night. They only had potatoes, the red potatoes. They didn't have rice not to talk about meat or fish.
This is outside the city?
It is outside of the city, maybe a few miles.
Where did you live? Did you live inside
My sister's hospital was inside the city. OK, so the night was over and the mother was praying to the Buddha, "Buddha, please push those people away" but you could hear the bullets hitting the wall, thup thup thup.
But you didn't know it was the communists?
I don't know, I have no idea. most likely it was from the communists, because it was far away from the guomingdang, anyway. I think it was the communist trying to rob the people.
So we passed one night, The next morning, the war is over, the shooting stopped, so all of the neighbors came out to the yard to talk about it. I said that I wanted to go home. But one gentleman, an elderly gentleman, said, "No, you don't go home, If you go home, you'll be killed on the road. If this family is too poor, come to my house, I can take you." But since I didn't know that family, I'd rather stay with my friend. So I stayed with my friend one more night.
At the evening the fighting began. I spent one more night at my friend's house. The next morning, when the fighting ceased and everybody came out to talk about the experience. I said that I wanted to go home but nobody told me how to go home. Suddenly, a man dressed in a long gown . . that is the traditional Chinese dress. . .a long gown, with long sleeves, large sleeves, came to see me. "Oh, you are Ah ban a, OH, I know your name, your sister is looking for you." I said "could you take me home" He said, "Ok, I'll take you home, just follow me." So he lead be back to Meixian city, but we had to pass through the fields. The fields are graveyards. Most of them were graveyards. They build the tomb with a stone in front of it with a small yard, so that people could have an honoring festival in the yard. They were well-off people... but there were many many of those kinds of graves. But I could see that. . .so many communists died there. The bodies were spread all over the field. Some were behind the gravestones. I think they tried hide behind them. Some had been dead for two days already, to the bodies were already swollen. The scene was terrible. I have never, never, seen this kind of scene. I have never seen this again. But this gave me a very strong impression. . .sometimes, at night, I have a nightmare with these kinds of bodies. So that guy, leading me, holding by hand. . . I didn't want to see the bodies, so I was shielded by his long sleeves. I just didn't want to see the bodies. Finally, we got to my sister's hospital. My sister was so glad to see me. She embraced me saying we had to thank god that you are safely home. So we knelt down and prayed to the lord.
So when I was nine or ten years old, I moved to Nanjing. I was in Nanjing until I was about thirteen or fourteen years old.
What were you doing in Nanjing?
Going to school. In Nanjing, my brother just graduated from the University of Nanking in chemistry, so he got an appointment at Jinling college. Jinling college is a very prestigious college for women. Just like welleley in America. Very ambitious women were educated there. I think it was founded by American chiristian. Ok, so . . I had a very happy life. . . . The only thing I want to mention is in going to go to my high school, which was about two miles away, I had to walk through very wild fields, very isolated fields. Paddy fields with not to many people. Occasionally you could see a farmer ploughing the land, but most of the time you saw nobody. One day I thought it was going to rain, so brought an umbrella with me. When I walked about half way, I could see about a half-dozen wild dogs. .. at that time, wild dogs were a problem in Nanjing. Suddenly the dogs barked at me. I didn't know what to do but people told me that when you see dogs like these, you don't run. They can run faster than you. You have no way to beat them. So you just stand there and face them. So I just stood up and faced them. They kept barking and if I showed any weakness, they might have attacked. Suddenly, I had an idea. I don't know why. Suddenly, I pulled out my umbrella, and ...
So how long did you stay in Nanking?
How long did I stay in Nanking? Until I finished my Junior high. I graduated from Senior high in Changzhou. Changzhou is a city about 200 miles from Nanjing. Changzhou is a very beautiful city but with a very good high school.
So then you left Nanking sometime in the
Uhh. . . . sometime. . 33, 34. I finished my Junior high in Nanking and my Senior high in Changzhou.
What was high school like?
The school was not a very rich school. They used a confucian temple as the school, so we had to live in the side of the temple, which they built as as temple. But you could see the buddha's image, confucius' image over there, they didn't move them. But the spare spaces they used as classrooms and so forth.
So why did you move from Nanking to Changzhou?
That is because my brother got a scholarship to go to Germany. In Berlin. So there was no one to take care of me. But in Changzhou, he had a very good friend. He said "Will you take care of my little brother" He said, ok bring your little brother to this school and I'll take care of him. But actually, I didn't need too much help at that time anyway. But anyhow, that is the main reason I went to Changzhou.
Well, at this time, I know that the Japanese
were already on the mainland. . .
Ok, at Changzhou high school, I studied very hard. In front of the Confuician temple there was a beautiful garden. I remember that garden. I always walked in that garden, reciting chinese poems, tang poem. I also recited English. Particularly, I remember reciting. . . uh. . the Gettysburg address.
The Gettysburg Address? Now where did
you learn that? In school?
The school was a general education, but I paid special attention to language. I studied Chinese very hard, I studied English very hard. . . of course I took physics, chemistry and all those courses too . . .at that time. But I graduated from that school.
Ok, after I graduated, that was the year of 1937, spring. I was 18 years old, right. So I graduated from that school, so I moved back to Nanking, because my sister was still in Nanking. At that time the school entrance. . . you had to be very competitive to be admitted. That means that there was a series of tests, exams that lasted two or three days. At that time, I went through two examinations. One was the Central univeristy of china, it was a dental college. Another was the college of pharmacy. So I took the tests and both accepted me. That means I did very good job. So I was accepted by the Dentistry school and the Pharmacy school. My preference was the dental school, so I didn't bother about the pharmacy school. So when I went to the dental school, my sister, the youngest eldest sister (wu jie), she was at University of Nanking . . .Central university. . .She was studying music.
Is that the University of Nanking?
Yea. . . um no no. Central university, Zhong yang da xue.
Yea. In Nanking. She was studying music. So she helped me with registration and all those procedures. So I remember that I had taken some courses as a basic medical school student. Like anatomy. The first day I went to the anatomy class, the professor raised up a body. This is the body that you are going to . . . some girls just fainted. . . they never saw a body before like that. (laughs) However, I took some anatomy courses .. . see because I and another student shared a body. Two students shared one body. You could cut it, do whatever you wanted according to the manual. So I got a very good education on the body structure.
So this is . .
This is Nanjing, ok 1937, but remember that 1937 is a very eventful day. That was the year that the Japanese attacked Nanking.
So you were in Nanking when the Japanese
I was in Nanking then. But when they attacked. . .Of course the Japanese first sent airplanes over. To bomb. So when walking on the street, I could see the Japanese. . . the airplanes flying over and I could see the black dots coming from them. . . they were the bombs. The soldiers on the street didn't have that much training. So the soldiers and the policeman saw the planes flying over and just pulled out their pistols and shot at it. (laughs) What was the use. Of course nobody knew at the time. . . but that was the reaction of the people of the time.
So when I went back to my dormitory, my dormitory was hit by the bomb. Of course, not a direct hit. So in my room, I found some schrapnel, some pieces of bomb. Actually, I picked up one to keep in my pocket as a souveiner for quite a few years but then I lot it when I went back to Guangzhou. That means if if stayed in my room, I may have been killed by that bomb.
So, when the Japanese invaded, my sister knew that the situation was not right, so they bought tickets. I had two sisters there. We knew the situation was not right so that we bought ticket . . .by boat. Going to Hankow. Wuchang, Hangkou, Hanyang. Three cities along the bank. Actually, Hanyang was the most famous Chinese arsenal was over there.
Why did you choose there?
On no that is because that was the end of the ticket. I had no idea that there was the arsenal there. At that time I was just a high school graduate.
But why did your sister choose that city?
Oh, because that was the end. . as far as you could go. Another reason was that from there you could buy a train ticket back to Guangdong.
So you were planning to go back to Guangdong?
Yeah, because there was no way to stay in Nanking anymore. We might as well go back home. So to go back home, the first step was to the Wuchang/hankow.. .
Do you remember the month?
Nineteen. . seven. Nineteen thirty-seven. Sometime in the winter. Either December, thirty eight. I would say it was thirty seven December. Or Thirty eight of January. And then my sister studying chemistry went north to Sichuan. Because that is where Jinling college moved. She followed the school and finished her study in chemistry and got her B.S. I and the music sister went back home.
So her whole college moved? Out of . .
Yea yea, her whole college moved to Sichuan.
When the Japanese invaded?
Exactly, so the whole college moved, that's why we moved.
How many people do you think moved out
of Nanking before the Japanese invaded?
Not too many. Lucky people. Only a few thousand or maybe ten thousand.
How did you know beforehand, as opposed
to other people who didn't move out?
I have no idea. I have no idea, I was just a high school graduate. What did I know. I just followed my sister. My sister wanted. . my sister followed the school. The school wanted to move. See. So that is how we ran away from the Japanese. But if we stayed in Nanking we definitely . . .we are not. . .I doubt whether I would be alive.
So did you have any friends you left back
Well, there are some friends left behind I have no way to get in touch with. I have no idea how they are coming. Even now I'd have difficulty in getting in touch with them.
At the time in Nanking. . .why did only
some people leave, why didn't more people leave?
There wasn't that much transportation facilities. If you wanted to go, but how could you go?
So you consider yourself lucky?
I consider myself very very lucky, that I got a ticket on the boat with my sister.
Was the boat crowded?
Very crowded. Very crowded. Even. . . Do you know where I stayed? There was no place I could sleep. I slept in the compartment. . inside. They put the luggage in. I was sleeping in that. My sister, you see that my sister was a teenager at the time. She was very afraid of the man. See because, at that time, you could never expect what a man could do to a teenage woman. So I played a protective role. So when we slept inside there I was always alert for any bad guys to coming in. . . to attack them. But we were lucky, on the boat they were safe.
So then, when did you hear about Nanking
after you left?
Not immediately. Only after the Nanking .. the people. One or two years, and then I read from the newspaper the horrible things that happened.
So when is the first time you really felt
you were lucky you left Nanking at that time?
Oh, of course, at that time I didn't have that lucky feeling. At that time. But now, when I reflect back, I know that I was very lucky.
When was the first time that you felt
that you were lucky?
Oh, maybe after my college graduation, several years later.
So where did you go after Nanking?
After Nanking? As I said, my sister in chemistry, who followed her school, went back to finish her study in chemistry. She got her chemistry B.S. in 1938. I remember the year. I, with the music sister, went back to Yundong. This is where my family was. Back in Guangdong province. Very beautiful suburban countryside. I stayed in Yundong about half a year and then I moved to Changsha. Changsha was about 1938. The reason why I moved to Changsha was Mr. Li. Li Guoding. He usually worked with my brother in Jinling college. The three professors. My brother was a chemistry professor, Li Guoding was a physics professor. And another is Zhu Yuchi, a metallurgy professor. Those three were really good friends. And then my brother went to Berlin, Germany for advanced education. Mr. Li went to England, Cambridge. And then when he finished, he came back. He came back and was in Changsha. And then my brother wrote me a letter saying, that now you are at home, with nothing to do. Why don't you try a letter to Mr. Li, and see if he has any opportunity. So I wrote a letter to him. He said that ok, we need some help, so why don't you come out to Changsha.
Ok, what was my role in Changsha? It was a military installation. A military organization. It was called the fangkong xuexiao. Anti-. . .Air-defense school. Air defense school. Fangkong. Air defense school. Air defense school, of course mainly anti-aircraft unit, the guns. But I wasn't assigned to the gun unit. I was assigned to the searchlight and sound locator. At that time there was no computer. No advanced technology. So the only thing to detect the enemy airplane coming in was with a sound locator. A sound locator is just like two big ears. As big as this table (gestures to table) With four sound absorbers, two top, top and bottom, two on the left and right. So two soldier operated this. It was attached to a earphone. You could determine the direction of the airplane. You could control the sound locator from right to left, up and down. Once you determined the direction of the enemy airplane, you fed the information to the searchlight unit. The searchlight unit was a very huge searchlight. About one and a half meters in diameter. They emitted a very strong light which was shown upon the airplane. Then the information was sent to the gun. All of the guns were connected by cables. When the anti-aircraft gun received the information they could point towards the airplane to shoot it. That was the unit was in.
How were you trained?
The training were just a few short courses. A few weeks. No big deal, with my knowledge. But my role was to maintain and repair the searchlight unit and the sound-locator, but usually the sound-locator didn't have much trouble because it was so simple. Usually it was the search light unit that needed repair. It was very high tech at the time.
Did you ever view any training films?
No, no I didn't see any training films. Film and cameras were very expensive at that time. But one thing that was very popular was the automobile. Once I knew how to handle the search light unit and the sound-locator, I paid attention to the automobiles. I said that I wanted to be an auto-man. See. Very luckily I had the chance to shift. So I learned how to drive and repair automobile.
What sort of cars were they?
Mostly German and English cars. I rode a motorbike. That was a German Zundupp. They called it a Zundupp.
Any American cars?
Uh, there were some American cars. I remember we ordered some search lights units from America. And they were pulled by a tractor by Ford.
So how long were you in Changsha?
Uh, I think about one or two years. One and one half years. I learned to drive. See at that time, the tractor was a very huge thing. I remember that it was a British made tractor pulling the searchlight. And I was very curious about it. It was parked on the paddy field. And I watched how the driver operated it. I remembered what the operation was. No one taught me what a gear box was, what a steering wheel was. I just knew. So one time I had a chance. I got into a British truck, started the engine, shifted the gear and pulled it about 200. . 500 feet. And stopped. That was the first time I drove anything. I said, I can drive, I can drive. The first time, it was a huge monster truck.
At that time...
I didn't have the chance to carry a pistol. That wasn't my role.
Even as a spotlight operator, did you
ever engage the enemy?
No, I never had a chance to come face to face with the enemy. The enemy was always miles and miles away, up in the air.
In those areas, where our unit stayed, it was very isolated. It was not very close to the city. So when units are isolated, they broke up into smaller units. One sound-locator here, one sound locator there. You put a solider there to guard it I was not a soldier, I was only a mechanic so I didn't carry a pistol.
But in that area, the problem is what... tufei, tufei are bandits. Bandits is what? The local bad-guy. They have the rifles, the have the weapons, they try to rob you. They attack you suddenly. So the policy at the time is. . . the bad people, the tufei, when they want to rob you they only want two things, the one is money, the other are weapons. They don't want the search lights, they don't want the sound locator. So when. . .this is the policy they decided on the top level. . . when you send soldiers to guard this unit, don't give them weapons. (Laughter) Tell them I have no weapon. So why? you take everything you want, I have no money, I am a solider, So those soldiers, when they were sent to guard this. . . their pistols, their rifles, are taken away. The reason why is because of local tufei.
So then who are they guarding it against?
Well if you run I'm just bad luck. You just take what you want. You want to kill me, so what, I don't want to resist, I don't want to defend. Because defense is the worst thing.
Well, then they didn't need the guards.
Well, the guard were for any animals. (Laughter)
So you were there for two years?
Well, actually, I spent almost three years, 37, 38, 39, until 40. We moved from Changsha westward, because the Japanese were coming after us. See, the Japanese were sending airplanes to bomb us, but they were also sending ground troops to chase us. But the terrain was so bad, they couldn't go fast. There was no highway, their mechanical unit didn't go fast. So we moved from Changsha to Hengyang and then finally to Guiyang. Guiyang is a very poor country. The terrain is so bad and the weather is so bad. They say, Tian wu san ri qing, the sky never has three days of fair weather, clear weather. Di wu san li ping, the ground has never has three miles of flat land. Ren wu san fen ying and the people don't even have three pennies worth of money in their pocket. So that describes Guiyang. I stayed in Guiyang for about a year.
And then in Guiyang I had a swimming accident.
I went with my friend to go swimming in the river. The water was so clear, so beautify. We swam, and I came up and jumped back in. One time I jumped in and didn't know that there was a huge stone there. I (smacking sound) could feel my head hitting something. I could still come up. When I came up, my face was all bloody, and then my friend took me to the hospital. I think that the doctor gave me about 20 or 30 stitches. See, you can still see the scar.
So you were only 21.
Almost 21. Of course, they gave me stitches and a bandage. The next morning, I could feel it. I smelled so bad. Something was wrong on my head. Because there were no antibiotics, it was infected. It became infected with all the flem and that is what I smelled. Then suddenly, in the hospital, I fainted, I blacked out. It was the first time I blacked out. Of course, the doctor redressed me and gave me a new bandage.
Ok, in Guiyang a very important thing happened. Although I was working with the soldiers, with the troops, with the weapons, all these years, I was still thinking about my education. I still wanted to complete my college education. For a college education, there were several ways. One was a school. One school I wanted very dearly was the so called Xinan lianda. (Southwest combined university). A union university, combining Yanjing university, Qinghua university, all of the large universities. Just like MIT and Harvard. They combined them and moved to Sichuan, Chongking.
They moved to Chongking?
Yeah moved to Chongking. Because Chongking was the final. . . they thought that the Japanese would have a hard time getting there. At that time, I took the examination. They still recruited students through the examination. They had different stations in Guiyang, in Sichuan. I participated in the examination and was accepted by Xinan university, Mechanical Engineering. But they were still moving, so we had no idea when the school would start. So I wrote a letter to the president. You know, just a high school graduate, a kid. Wrote to the president, saying. . I understand. . I introduced myself, I was accepted by your university already, but I am anxious to continue my education, and I want to know how your moving situation is. I have been working as an automobile mechanic, beside the search light unit. The search light unit nobody wants. I said that I had good experience in driving, good experience in maintenance. If in your moving business, you need me I'd be glad to help. But of course, the president wrote a letter back saying that "well we thank you for your offer but we don't need your help." But this killed my intention to go to that university I knew that that university was still uncertain. So at the same time I took an examination at a so-called ordinance college. An ordinance college trains people in the arsenal.
Wait, I thought you were already passed
the exam for the other university.
Oh Yeah, I was accepted. But they had no plans as to when the school was to open. Well, before I wrote that letter I took the exam for the ordinance college. When I got the letter, I gave up hope for going to that school. Actually, that school was not to be located in Sichuan. It was located in Kunming, in Yunnan. It is a very beautiful place. Because of the situation, I knew that my chance of going there was very slim. But luckily I was accepted by the ordinance school also. The ordinance school's aim was to train personnel for the arsenal.
Where was it?
It was in Chongking. Mainly, they had two departments. One was mechanical, one was chemical. Mechanical is how to build a weapon. How to build a rifle. How to build a gun. This kind of thing, mechanical things. The other was chemistry. How to make explosives. How to make propellant charges. I was enrolled in the mechanical engineering side. Another thing was the financial problem. If I went to Xinan university I had to figure out how to pay the bill. But this ordinance school was a military school. It was government sponsored. Not only did I not have to pay any bills, but they also supplied everything. They even gave you an allowance, a monthly allowance. So I decided to go to that school.
So you were never drafted by the government.
Were people ever drafted?
Well, I don't think that at that time there were any drafting plans. No. No. I don't think the government had any drafting plans. So all of the soldiers were just by recruiting. They took some kind of examination, to see if you were fit and then you come into my unit. So similar to when I went into the Fanggong xuexiao. Once they knew that you were a high school graduate, they already knew that you are well educated.
How many years were you in Chongking?
The ordinance school was very technical. Similar to whatever-they-call it, MIT in China. Highly prestigious. Now as I said, there were two departments. One was chemical, one was mechanical. Them mechanical was called zhaobin the chemical, yunhua. Almost with the same amount of people. Now their program was... usually, college like that takes four years. But we needed five years. The reason why five years number one, this was a military school. You needed some basic military training to become a military leader. So we had half a year in boot camp, and then six months in practical training. As a trainne, you had to go to the arsenal before you could get a permanent job.
What sort of military training did you
Talking about the military training, we were trained in Sichuan. Chengdu. North of Chengdu, is called Xindu. Xindu. Our training center was there. The training was conducted in a Buddhist temple. By using their facilities as a camp. It was beautiful scenery anyway.
So just military training?
We had military training. Drills. Running. Jogging. Pushing. Target shooting. All of the basic solider training. Hand grenades. Shooting.
So that was the first time you had military
Oh, I was a soldier. Training as a solider. Really.
What were your classmates like?
Oh, they were all ordinance students. They were all well-educated. Once we were in the training camp, we became classmates in the college anyway.
What was their viewpoint on the war, with
Of course we hated the war, we hated Japan. There was no doubt about that. But we didn't have too much time to talk about the basic principles, like Clinton's "oh, we don't like the war". No, we had never had a chance like that.
Did many people want to go to war? Were
they anxious to fight?
Well, the point of view at that time, was that you had no choice. You are in this place. You are training. I give you money for it. Why do you complain. Not like saying I don't want war I want peace No, no such a thing. I just wanted to finish training and get a good job and to get good pay. That's all.
But I mean. . . you didn't have any political.
No, no there's no political. Well, of course there was a political advisor at the time. The political advisor was always. . . well more or less against the communist, rather than war or not war. Saying how vicious the communists were. We are going to fight the communists. Something like that. . .Sanmin juyi. They talked about sanmin juyi.
And the basic training included . . it was ranked by height, see the highest one stood in the front, the lowest one. . . I think I was in the lowest third. (Laughter) The highest one is what? See, we have . . . something like Mommy's situation, a company, about a hundred and twenty people, after a company is a battalion, after a battalion is a platoon. A platoon is about ten to twelve people. So we were actually in a platoon, 12 or 10 people. The tallest one was in front. He carried the machine gun. We, at the back, back carried the rifles. (Laughter) So, usually, the top three or four are the machine gunners, and then the follow up were the riflers.
Were any of your classmates anxious to
go to war. Did any want to go and fight the Japanese?
Its not that I want to fight the Japanese, I just want a job. I just want to get work, and get paid. That is all. See, that was the main thinking at the time.
So then Chongking was run by Nationalist
It was Nationalist. The Communists tried to take over, but they never succeeded in taking Chongking.
Chongking. I thought that the Communists
and the Nationalists, in order to fight the war against Japan, had peace
with each other.
Oh, yeah, at that time it was peaceful, very peaceful. Zhou Enlai went to see Chiang Kaishek. The negotiated at that time, they had a conference. So we had a very peaceful time in Chongking. During the training, during my college days. Very peaceful time. But however, we still. . . those political trainers, those political advisors. See, they are not commanders, they are political advisors. Still, they said that you are the guard against the communists.
I see, so they were more worried about
Were there many foreigners in Chongking?
Well, in my class, there were no foreigners. All were Chinese, except that they came from different provinces. Some from North, some from South. See, I was delayed from going to college for almost three years, so I was a little older, a little more experienced than them. Those people were freshly graduated from high school. Very few people, like me, had any experience, how to drive a car, how to drive a truck, how to operate a search light unit. No. I had a little bit more seniority over there, but it was no use over there anyway.
So, how long were you at school. . .in
What was the last year you were there?
Well, actually, it was four and a half years, almost five years. Because my military training, half a year over there and four years of college training over their too. And part of my practical training was over there. So by the time I graduated, it was almost 1945. Do you know what year is 1945??
The end of the war. . .
The atom bomb was dropped. So. . I read on the newspaper "Atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima" so then at that same time I graduated.
So you learned about the atomic bomb from
Yea. Yea, from a newspaper, so that gave me a linking between these two events. My graduation and the bomb.
Not on the same day?
No not on the same day, but on the same year. (Laughter) Almost on the same I would say that. In the school I read, oh, wow, atom bomb. I didn't know what an atom bomb was. But the war was over.
So you were very glad?
Yea, I was very glad. But because the war was over, they needed training people. Since we were fresh college graduates in weaponry, we were sent to Kunming. Kunming, you remember that is where the Union university was located. But, of course, I didn't have anymore interest it that. See. So they shifted me, the whole class, to Kunming. The reason why? Because they wanted instructors to train new recruits for ammunition. So I was as an instructor, a jiaoguan, in a so-called junzhai xunlian. Junjia means ammunition, weaponry. Training school. That training school was originally set up by the American troops.
Wait. . .I want to go back, before you
go on, about the four years you were Chongking. I mean. . . Those are the
four years most of the Americans would know of the war. 1941 to 1945 was
World War Two for an Americans right? Those are the years for World War
Two. So what sort of information did you know of the war in general. Not
Pearl Harbor, say. . . Not
Or. . .
Well, Pearl harbor was already over at the time. But I would say that I read those stories. Do you remember the German ship? . .What was it .. . they suicide. They were surrounded by . . .uh uh. What was the name of the German ship again? They built a German ship so strong, so advanced technically, they could fight their own war, just by their own ship. A battleship was surrounded by British ships and then the captain surrendered. . . the captain not surrendered, they suicide. they sank the ship themselves. They didn't allow the British to take hold. See . . so another news from the bulletin board. The German ship, what do you call it? I suddenly can't remember the name. Very tragic story.
So most of your news was from the bulletin
board and newspapers?
Newspapers. Not much radio, no to talk about TV. No TV.
No TV. No flims? No film.
What about Pearl Harbor? Do you remember.
. .what information of Pearl Harbor. .
Pearl Harbor, that was way before that. That was way before I ever entered school. Pearl Harbor was what . . . 1942?
1941, yeah, 41. So I read it from a newspaper. It was very sad. Pearl Harbor.
At that time you thought it was sad.
Not only very sad. That means you can never trust the Japanese. Japanese are the most tricky people in the world.
Is that you felt at the time?
Exactly. I hate the Japanese, because the Japanese send bomb on my head. (Laughter) I don't want to see Japanese again. Anything about the solar. The flag, we hate.
Were you glad America entered the war?
Oh yeah, definitely. America entered the war.
Had you ever met an American soldier?
No, not at that time. Until I went to Kunming. As I said Kunming was set up by American troops, American soldiers, American army. So we went there just to assist them, to help them, so our title was instructors. On thing was that, you know, I was the only one who could drive a jeep, who could drive a car. So at that time, when Americans, they sent over there for repair. Those mechanics were my students. So if I wanted to drive the jeep, I could drive out with no problem. So one time, I remember it, I had a friend. . .not a friend, a classmate, who had an auto accident and stayed in the hospital. So I drive my jeep to see him. See, one thing that. . making a left turn to the hospital, making a left turn. And ah, I could see a girl, with a beautiful figure coming this direction. (Laughingly) I just drew my attention a few seconds on this girl. Suddenly, I bumped on a post. (hits fist on palm) (Laughs). So that gave me a good lesson, saying that never look at an attractive object when driving not to talk about drinking. So, but the damage was not that bad, see because the jeep's mud guard. Only the mud guard was squeezed a little bit. But very good, my student was the mechanic, he fixed it up right for me. Even the American captain didn't notice that I smashed his car. But this gave me a very good lesson. When you are driving, don't look at those attractive figures.
So it was an American officer's car.
Yeah. It was an American officer's car. I smashed it. (Laughs)
Ok, from here, was another experience. Next door to my camp, to my dormitory was another family. This family, I think the father was a general in the army. He has a daughter, 15, 16 years old. (Laughing) I was what. . 24, 26. So, a 15 year old girl. We became buddies, we became good friends. Ok, so since I had the privilege of driving the jeep out. So one day I drove the jeep out and asked this girl. Let's have a double date. You take your boyfriend. . . and then . . the four of us. We drove to the most scenic place in Kunming. Called Long . . Longmentiao. The dragon door. A very beautiful place. So we drove there. That was very tricky. All the miles, you could go in and we had no way to turn out. So you know how I just backed it up, backed it up the whole way. It is a high cliff, if you are careless you would fall down into the sea. But I managed to do very well. We came back. But one thing happened, you know what? Because we are four young couples, people were very jealous. See, how come you four people are so so enjoyable. You have a good time, have a car, have a girl. So, he pulls out his knife. (Gestures like a knife) So when I come out, one of my tires is flat with a bad cut in it. See I was the driver, you see that. That happened to me.
So you had to drive down with a flat tire?
For an emergency I stuck some straw. I stuck some straw on it, so it was still driveable. I went to the nearest gas station and put back the tire, because I had a spare tire, right. But it was already two hours. So that means the girl, the father, the mother, expected the girl to return at 6:00 but not until 8:00. You know what? Of course, they could do nothing to me, because I was the instructor. No no you couldn't blame me. So you know what? The girl got beaten. The general's daughter. Only 15 year old. Of course, I . . was not like Clinton, we didn't have any sexual relationship, but just had the fun of driving, that is all. But, this girl, she wrote a secret letter to me. Saying that I was beaten by my father, my mother. You know how she sent this letter to me? Usually we have a small boy, a little boy. With a limp arm. He cannot grab anything (holds arm to side). But he is wearing a working shirt. . . a workman's shirt. A workman's pants. So with a pocket in the front. So the girl put a letter in his pocket and he came to see me. And gave me the letter and I realized that the girl was beaten. So the same thing, I wrote a letter back to the girl saying that I am sorry, very sorry. So we communicated in this way. Without her mother, her parent's knowledge.
It's romantic isn't it? Ah?
Its very romantic, very romantic. (Laughs)
So what happened with the girl.
Well, afterwards, we met a few times. Ah,...because I was good at mechanical drawings, so she wanted so of . . the musical lessons to be copied. So I copied some for here. So that's. . .
Was that your first love?
Well, whatever ... maybe the first love, I could have love stories earlier than that. (Laughs) But that was a very good girl. Because, she was coming from Canton also. She was Hakka also. She spoke Hakkanese.
You spoke Hakkanese with her?
So then how did you move from Kunming?
Oh, ok, I moved back to Chongking again. Because, at that time, my college
needed a teaching assistant. I said that, I'll do it. I flew back to Kunming
without saying goodbye to my girl. So I just left.
flew back? I flew from Kunming to Chongking to take the
There is not very much I can say about being a teaching assistant. I liked the job very much. The war was over. The problem was that the war was over. And then in the pacific islands, the Americans were preparing so much to attack Tokyo. At that time. So all of the islands were stocked with materials, with materials. Suddenly, the atom bomb comes. Those materials had no use. So they declared China, you will be the recipient of these surplus materials. The surplus materials was everything. Including a whole hospital unit, including watches, beautiful watches, including dental equipment, including whole rows of cigarettes. All kinds of things soldiers want.
Also military .. .
Those were military.
All the military. . .say guns
Oh yeah, of course the guns weren't in the package. Only those civilian. . .but the construction materials. The bulldozer. . .they were declared to China.
What about jeeps. . .
Yeah, jeeps and automobiles. Not only jeeps, but also. The commander, the chief operator had cars better than automobiles, better than jeeps.
So one of my classmates said, ok now they have a new organization BOSEY. Board of Supply Executive Yuan. This belonged to the executive yuan. You know, the executive yuan is similar to the State Department in the United States. So that means the State Department had this new organization. The new organization recruited people to work over there. See, since I was an arsenal person. First they had to get in touch with the arsenal people, the most technical people they could find. Do you want to go? I said that "Why not?" As I resigned from my teaching position, I went to Guam, Saipan and Tinin. These three island. They were full of warehouses and even open spaces. Full of these kind of supplies. Our role was what? To take inventory. To count how many boxes. What are they and then to sign a document called a VSD. A vendor shipping document. We represented the Chinese government. And then the American side. They had the Captain, or Major or Colonel to contact us. To deliver to us. And our next role was. . . Shanghai sent a liberty ship. I loaded the ship. Of course, not me, but I directed some people telling them which cargo, which cargo holder, and then marked it down and sent a shipping document to Shanghai. I think in these years, we loaded about a dozen liberty ships. So that was the life in the Board of Supplies.
So which island did you go to first?
Guam. Guam was the most civilized island, as you know. And then I went to Saipan. Saipan, as you know, was the most tragic. Because the Japanese fought very hard to defend that. So, we went to a cliff. They said that this was suicide cliff. Hundred of thousands of Japanese jumped over. Of course the body had been removed. We took some pictures. We put some beer cans over there to shoot them. We were allowed to carry guns. I was very free at the time.
Somehow on the later part of the operation, I became the commanding officer of the Saipan operation. So the Saipan island, particularly, those transferring the surplus property was my responsibility.
All of Saipan?
No, only the Chinese camp. Of course, Saipan was big. They have the local people there, we never touched them. We were not allowed to get in touch with them. See, because all of our supplies came from the ship. Because, occasionally, once a week, the ship that came to pick up came from Shanghai. So they put the vegetables, fruits, all kinds of things, supplies. So under my command, at that time I had about 250 people. What are they? Of course, number is the driver. The have to drive the truck from the warehouse to the dock. Of course, and then the second kind was the stevedore. The stevedore was the labor. The labor to pick up the cargo. Of course, they didn't use their hands, they used the crane and a pallet to pick it up and lay it down on the ship hold.
So, I drove from the dock to the camp frequently. In my car I had two things. I had a dog, I called it Blackie. I picked up a dog, just on the highway. And then he just jumped in my car so we became good friends. And I had a gun. I always had a gun. It was not a rifle, but a carbine. Do you know a carbine? A carbine is a shorter rifle. Longer than a pistol. Always in my car. And also, ahh. The houses were called Quonset. Q U O N S E T. It was not a regular house. It was particularly for the war. It means a semi-circular, made of aluminum. Very large, maybe 150 feet long, 25 feet across. Your office, your whatever was. . very fast to build. So my office was a Quonset building, my dormitory, my sleeping place, was a Quonset building. I was saying that wow, I'm just a college graduate, I haven't gotten to my 30's yet, and you see that I had a telephone, I had an office. Outside, I had a car. See! I was very happy about myself at the time. Ok, thing at the time. Those were people recruited from China. The people under me. So when they want to get a job, they usually replied to an advertisement. But one guy knew that I had influence on the board. That means the Supply Board. So he came to me saying, I want a job in this organization. So all I had to do was write a note. Saying that I recommend this man, please accept him, that is all. So he got the job. What was his job? He was a laundry man. So he was very thankful for me. Of course all of my laundry was free at the time anyway. But he particularly wanted to express his thanks to me. Occasionally. See he was a laundry man. He was not just a laundry man for our people, but he also picked us some laundry from the American. So sometimes, occasionally, he got American dollars. So that was an extra benefit for him. So occasionally, he gave me some money. "I just want to thank you."
Yeah, American dollars. And also you remember that I have an attachÈ case. I don't know where he picked that up. I just want to let you know that was the situation at the time. The relationships between people.
Did you meet many Americans on Saipan?
Oh, yeah. America had a very strong force.
Did you have any personal contact?
Well, we didn't have too much contact except to the highest command. I remember this colonel. What was his name again. . . he was a very good friend of mine. We occasionally talked about the business. Of course, I didn't have much of a chance to talk to soldiers. See, because of my position. See, because, I was the commander of the Chinese camp. Commanding the Chinese people.
I remember in the past you mentioning
something about three hangers on Saipan.
Oh yeah. So occasionally, when we weren't working on the dock or in the warehouse, we drove around. One time in Tinin. See, Saipan, Tinin, they are islands. Isolated islands. When you wanted to travel you could do it two ways. Go by American boat. LST they called it. Landing Ship Transport. LST is very small, very fast boat. You could call the American camp, the captain, sometimes a friend of mine. "I want to go to" "Ok, come in sometime" and then you jump in the boat and over there, there is someone in a jeep. to pick you up. One time. . . beside a ship this you can fly a small airplane. One time, I remember it. I was flying with. . . I was only a passenger. . . a pilot. I noticed that the pilot had difficulty cranking something. I could see that he had difficulty, so I helped him crank it. You know what? That was the landing gear. (Laughs) And then later he explained it to me that his automatic landing system was out of order, so he had to use the manual. So I just helped him. After landing, you could see that. . . he didn't tell me. . .but I could see all of the fire trucks, all of the ambulances waiting for that. See, between the islands was very close. Only five minutes of flying. You go up and then you go down. You see, a very short distance. When you help, the pilot, of course, the pilot doesn't want to explain anything. And then after landing you could see all of the fire trucks and ambulances. And then later on in the station he explained to me.
But I remember you telling something about
three hangers for the bombers.
Oh, ok. Then, the three hangers, that was on Tinin island. Tinin island is the island when the atom bomb flew. There is a big airfield. Two or three miles long. At that time there was nobody. You have all the freedom you want from one end of the end of the runway to the other. Nobody cares about you. We went to the warehouse. The warehouse was well equipped. All air-conditioned, a big warehouse, huge warehouse.
A hanger or a warehouse?
A warehouse. A warehouse. Actually it was a warehouse. They said that this is where they stored the atom bomb.
Oh, they said that? Who told you that?
The American officer escorting me. So I counted them. There were three. I imagined, at that time that, America had three atom bombs. One in Hiroshima, one in Nagasaki. If Japan didn't surrender it had one more to go.
So you just guess that from the three
warehouses? The officer didn't tell you?
No, he wouldn't . .I don't think he knew more than that.
Guam is a typical pacific island. The women, the girls are very pretty. I had a hand held camera and I wanted to take pictures. The girls are very rude. They said "If you take my picture, I am going to smash your camera." (Laughter) So I said, ok if you don't want it, then I won't take it.
So the one time you had to use you gun
was on. . .
Ok, to talk about the gun. You see, I had 250 people in my camp, all in Quonset huts. Right? See, across the street there was another camp. Those people over there were Philippino. So among the workers, they did some black market things I did not know. They did things behind my back I did not know. Actually, the Chinese camp was near the seaside. On one side you could see the beach. One day as I was resting in my quarters, the workers came to tell me. "There is a black market going on." It was already dark. The black market is what? The people steal the things from the warehouse and lay it out on the beach. And the Philippino come in and say that they want to buy it. The sold it to the Philippino to make some extra bucks. There were so many. I didn't pay attention to it. Until the people reported it to me. I was a Captain at the time, Captain Wen. "Captain Wen, there are so many bad things that happen." So I picked up my rifle. I picked up my rifle. Ok, so the reason I picked up the. That was a really hostile environment, so you could never tell what was going to happen. So I always protected myself. And I found out all of these Ditan, ground markets, going on. But those people knew that I was the commander. So when I came in, they got the message. They all picked up their things and ran. They all picked up their things and ran. I said "don't run." Actually, I yelled it. "Don't run." Let me know what is going on. But they didn't care, they just ran. I had no way to stop them. I didn't know what to do. Instantly, I pulled out my gun and shot. Of course, I didn't shoot at them, but I shot it the air. I just said "Stop, stop."
Did they stop?
Well, some of the Chinese people who knew me stopped. Some of the Philippino people who didn't know me, kneeled down and said, "please, please, don't kill me. I'm innocent." See that. I said "what are you doing here?" He said "I just came here for the market." I said, "No, I don't want you, get out of my way!!" So I let them go. So that was another experience. You don't know what kind of people you had to deal with.
What were the Philippino's doing on the
I think they received some surplus property too, but not as much as China. See, because during the war China made the biggest contribution.
Goes to taiwan, again narrowly missing the communists
Did you see any films in Taiwan? Any movies?
Ah, what do you mean? Occasionally I go to the movie house? No, not very often. I don't remember, because movies were not my. . .
So what year did you go to Japan?
Ok, 54, I think 57 I went to Japan. I think that was after Kwang was born. Hsiao was one or two years old. So I went to Japan. They sent me to Japan. Three guys from the factory. One was more senior to me, one was junior to me. But both spoke very poor English. They didn't speak Japanese at all. So the only way to communicate depended upon my English. And then, when we went Japan, they called it Daito Seiko.
That's the company?
Yea, Daito Seiko, a steel manufacturing company. So that company treated us very well.
So who sent you? Who paid for your trip?
That company. Your company? Yea, my passport was not a citizen's passport, it was an official passport. It was called a yellow passport. An ordinary passport was blue. Mine was yellow, three people.
What was you initial feeling in going
Ok, the Japanese. My first feeling was that I hated the Japanese. You know that, because of my past experience. But once I went to Japan. . .for two reasons. Number one, we were the customer of this Daito Seiko. We spent money on this company. Number two, we were the victorious country against Japan. That was only a few years later. So I was still a victor. So they treated me very well. How well? Going back and forth, they always had a limousine. Of course, not exactly the long limousine, but a taxi, I should call it. And they put us in a motel, a hotel, a liuguan, liguan. Of course it was not very expensive. And then they had a special cook, specially to cook things for the three of us. And they had two maids, two young girls, to help us clean. The two young girls, one, I think was about twenty something, one was even a teenager. The teenager, you know, the guy senior to me, the other guy, called her kotomo. See.(Laughs) Ok. So that's how I lived there. I was very well treated. After being very well treated, my impression against the Japanese changed. I think that the Japanese are not that bad. Bad are only those military people at that time. In general, I think the Japanese people are very friendly. I liked the cities, some in Japan.
So how long did you stay there?
First, they gave us a visa, only three months. But later on they extended it another three months. So in total, I spent five. . .uh six months in Japan. The main office of Daito Seiko was in Nagoya. But occasionally, I traveled very wide. In Tokyo, in Kyoto. But I didn't have the chance to go to Nagasaki, or Hiroshima. But I visited so many places. They cultured pearls on the bay. They have the oysters and then the women dove to pick up the oyster. And then you dine over there and they give you the oysters. The oysters have the pearl. So I brought some oysters for Hsiao's mother. I got a bagful of pearls.
Did you travel by train?
All by train. Sometimes by car. By the company's taxi. They treated us very well. Whenever we had business, they always assigned an interpreter to work beside me. He spoke English. Of course I don't speak too much Japanese. Of course I understand a little bit.
So you translated into Chinese from English?
Yea. See, so when I communicated with my colleagues, we talked in Chinese, and then I spoke English to the interpreter. He interpreted it to the Japanese. The company gave us quite good banquets. With geisha girls, dancing, and then drinking and a lot of good food. A very interesting life. The treated us like VIPs.
What were supposed to be doing there?
Oh. The most important role was to buy some steel from them. So it was big money spent on them. Also I tried to learn some precision techniques from their company.
OK, there is some kind of dramatic story.
One day I noticed a young girl washing the floor. I was really impressed by her.
I said, "Can I treat you, can I ask you out?" I didn't expect it. She said ok, yes. So the next day. . . we had date. I had a date. On my mind was that, at that time, I just tried to get some friendship. I didn't have anything bad in my mind. So when I picked her up, I think I called a taxi. In my mind, was only to see a movie, and have a good time, and have a good lunch, something like that. But I don't know what was in her mind. Maybe she was thinking that you are a rich Chinese. Maybe you want to take advantage of me, we go to the hotel, we do something nice. But in my mind I didn't have that. So her response was very good. So we saw a movie. That movie was two....Nihon tade. That means a double show. See that, so one ticket you could see a double show. I thought that it was very worthwhile for me. After we saw the movie I sent her home.
Do you remember what movie you saw?
No, I don't remember that. Something, some kind of silly. . .
Was it a Japanese movie?
Well, they had English subtitles.
Was it a Romance or a . . . ?
Ah, I don't remember. But anyway, we had a very good friendship. But I had the impression. She wanted to do some extra business. But on my mind, I didn't have that kind of thought. So she was a little bit disappointed. She was very nice, but if I wanted to take advantage of her, she was going to answer me very positively, there was no doubt about it.
So that was life in Japan. I visited those pearl places, Kyoto, the big temples. All by myself. All by myself, because, once I got into Japan, I knew how to read the titles. I knew how to read the maps. It was a very enjoyable life for half a year.
First you had a projector. Who had a projector?
Yea, my brother in law.
He owned it?
He was a very modern man at that time. All kinds of new technologies, he had. He had a telephone, that was very advanced, 70 years ago. He had the movie projector and the screen. The film I can remember was the Elephant. .. .about Africa. See. Suck up the water and spray on the back and things like that. That's all I can remember. One told a story about a robber, who wanted to creep into a house and rob it. A house. And then the house owner discovered it, disarmed him and tried to persuade him to become a good guy. That's it.
Was that Chinese?
No, it was American. But in Chinese translation?
Or voice over?
I don't think there was voice at that time.
No sound at all.
There was no battery. You could not plug it in. The power is coming from cranking. Kaa-chi Kaa-chi Kaa-chi. (Cranks) And then you see the movie. Kaa-chi Kaa-chi Kaa-chi, One guy has to work very hard.
One guy has to do it the whole time?
Yea, one guy had to crank it all the time. Constantly. You cannot crank it too fast.
How large was the screen?
Oh, three by four. Not too big.
Do you know where he bought the projector?
I was only six or seven years old!! How do I have that kind of question. Who cares. They let me watch it. That was my privilege already.
How long were the films, do you remember?
Oh, just five or ten minutes. Very short. Very small roll.
Did he own these films?
Oh yah. Oh owned them. He bought them from Swatow. Swatow was a very modern city at that time. See that's what I mean. He owned an ice making factory. He had a telephone. See.
And he was a dentist and a general practitioner.
Did a lot of people go and watch it?
Just the our whole family.
What about the neighbors?
Who cares about the neighbors. (In chinese) Not many people came. Who would come. Only sick people came. If you weren't sick, why would you come.
Well, this was the countryside, right?
Wouldn't everyone be like, "he has a movie!"
No, no that was not the case at the time. You have yours you enjoy it yourself.
How large was the film collection?
Oh, three or four films (Laughter from Kay). It was not a big stack like your CDs. (Gets made fun of by my sister.) Well, maybe six films.
Well, what about cinema. Did you ever
go and see cinema in the city?
(In chinese). Definitely. They were silent. It was not my experience but people explained it to me. What do you call it, a jaishi. A narrator. Ni kan, xianzai Taishan laila. Ni kan, xianzai Taishan shi xiao. You see that.
Tarzan. You see, Tarzan is coming, Tarzan
Oh, like the Japanese benshi. The Japanese
films also had narrators. Do you remember the first film you saw?
I don't remember. I'm a 80 year old man. Don't ask me those kinds of questions! (Laughs)