1999 / 12月
Laura Li /photos courtesy of courtesy of Pa Hsin-cheng /tr. by Mark Caltonhill
The Civil War between the Nationalists and Communists is a chapter of China's recent history that makes many people weep bitter tears. When mainland China fell into enemy hands, two million soldiers and civilians followed the Nationalist government to the small and unfamiliar island of Taiwan. Here they came face to face with the island's inhabitants, who were still frightened and reeling from Japanese colonization and the Chinese government's bloody suppression in the February 28 Incident in 1947. Amidst these great historic events, the genuinely moving stories of everyday people, whether or not of Taiwanese origin, speak volumes about the fortitude and sympathy of the people in Taiwan.
Pa Hsin-cheng, the 70-year-old president of the Association of Shandong Natives in Taiwan, was just one of many students from Shandong who ended up in Taiwan as a result of their flight from the war. After a harried escape to the Penghu Islands, he eventually made a life for himself in Taiwan. What ups and downs did he encounter along the way?
Half a century ago, as China had just finished eight years of scorched earth policies in resisting Japanese imperialism, the victory celebrations were barely underway when the bugles sounded again. This time they heralded a family squabble: the tragedy of brother fighting brother. The Shandong students were already accustomed to gripping tight to their textbooks as they fled the chaos of war. Seeing the Nationalist-Communist situation taking a turn for the worse, to evade communist rule they followed the Nationalist government all the way south, under the leadership of loyal and patriotic school principals.
8,000 students march
This group of about 8,000 included students from the five Joint High Schools of Jinan and four Joint High Schools of Yantai. The oldest were not much over 20, and the youngest, who had just started junior high, still cried out for their father or mother in their dreams at night.
Then 20 years old, Pa Hsin-cheng was one of these 8,000. Why were his parents willing to let him wander so far from his family and home?
"At that time, parents just hoped that their children could escape the fighting. We went wherever there was no fighting. The most important thing was that we could continue our studies in peace." Now 70, Pa Hsin-cheng still recalls with affection his mother's great concern for his welfare.
Unfortunately, war pursued the students the whole way and this modest desire was never realized. From Qingdao they went to Hunan and from Hunan to Guangzhou. Finally, hearing that the commanding officer of the forces defending the Penghu (Pescadores) Islands hailed from Shandong and was willing to look after the children of fellow Shandong natives, the school principals discussed the matter among themselves and decided to go to the Penghus. Male students aged 17 and over were to divide their time between study and military training; boys under 17 and female students were to take classes in a separate school.
After hearing of their arrival in the Penghus, the Taiwan education authorities sent representatives who decided that a majority of students should serve in the armed forces. At the end of their long flight, the 8,000 students had ultimately failed to avoid being drafted into the war. Further tragedy befell a number of school principals who refused to abandon their commitment to the children and accept this unreasonable arrangement. As a result of their impassioned disputes with the military they were accused of being Communist spies. In the thick winter haze towards the end of that year, Principals Chang and Tsou of the Yantai Joint High Schools, and five student leaders, were sent under guard to Taiwan and executed by firing squad.
"Who talked reason at that time!" Late at night many years later, Pa Hsin-cheng frequently tells himself that the past is past, and there is no point in harboring resentment. As he was considered an activist he was also incarcerated on the Penghus for several months. After enduring torture he was brought to Taiwan, where his imprisonment continued in the Hsinsheng (New Life) Barracks at a Public Security Command Post near Hsimenting, Taipei. While there, he got to know Sheu Yuan-dong, a fellow victim of the White Terror who later became governor of the Central Bank of China. Hsu was also the first person to teach him Taiwanese.
From unskilled laborer to PhD
After leaving the Hsinsheng Barracks, Pa Hsin-cheng was recruited into the army where he spent eight uneventful years as a soldier. Due to "ill health and inability to endure active service," he left the armed forces in 1957 with discharge pay of NT$470.
While army life had been hard, Pa never imagined that reentry into civil society would be harder still. Back then, the Taiwanese economy was in the doldrums, and with nothing to his name, he faced gloomy prospects. To the present day, he still remembers walking out of Taipei railway station, watching the boundless sea of humanity coming and going, and feeling the desolation of belonging nowhere.
Pa Hsin-cheng first worked in Taipei at the mantou (steamed bread) store of a fellow Shandong man. After a while, however, he felt that this was not the job for him. The Bureau of Transportation happened to be testing and recruiting drivers. As Pa had driven buses in the army, he confidently applied to participate in the examination. It never occurred to him that the bus used in the bureau's test would be a new flat-topped bus just imported from Germany. With no chance to get used to the feel of the new vehicle, Pa Hsin-cheng flattened a post whilst reversing on an S-bend.
"When I heard the examiner blow on the whistle, it felt like the end of the world." The examiner wanted him to return three months later, but that still left the problem of how to live during the long intervening period.
The fluctuations of human fate are certainly intriguing. If he had not knocked down the post that day, Pa would probably have become a long-distance bus driver. However, while he was steeling himself and waiting for the next examination, an opportunity presented itself. A teacher at the school in which another Shandong friend taught was about to start his military service. The school required a substitute teacher, so, with his high school diploma and one piece of luggage, Pa Hsin-cheng jolted his way across the bumpy roads of northern Taiwan to teach at the Yunhai Elementary School in the Hsiaoketou Mountain district of Hsintien.
The tiny mountain elementary school was without water or electricity, but the school principal, who was similarly exiled in Taiwan, was good to him and encouraged him to gain formal teaching qualifications. Pa Hsin-cheng, who wholeheartedly wished to continue his studies, both taught and studied in the peaceful mountain school. Before long, he passed exams to enter the Department of Law at National Chungshing University and finally at 35 years old gained his bachelor's degree.
A mixture of luck and hard work
After graduating from university, Pa Hsin-cheng went to teach at the large Hsinchuang High School, the top school in Taipei County at that time. He married, had children, and life gradually became easier. When Fu Jen Catholic University reopened in Hsinchuang, he was recommended as secretary to the university's president, Cardinal Yu Bin, who also hailed from Shandong Province. In this capacity he liaised with the Ministry of Education. Not only was his monthly income doubled from his previous NT$1400, he also had use of an imported American automobile in which he felt most dandy as he drove around the streets.
As working in a university is more suited to those with doctoral degrees, with the recommendation and support of Cardinal Yu, Pa Hsin-cheng took his family to Japan where, after an eight-year work/study program, he obtained his PhD in Business Studies.
"It was quite common for someone in his forties to undertake overseas study back then. Furthermore, gaining a PhD wasn't considered very difficult," says Pa Hsin-cheng.
Pa Hsin-cheng's transition from unskilled laborer to doctoral student, however, was not merely a matter of good fortune. It was a result of his whole attitude. In his early days of teaching at Hsinchuang High School, 70 or 80 teachers often squeezed into a large staff room to relax, read papers or chat about trivial matters. Only Pa Hsin-cheng, carrying his tea and newspaper, returned to his classroom. There, while taking his break, he would mix with the pupils and urge them to study. This conscientious approach made his classes seem particularly well mannered within the boisterous environment of the school. It also left a deep impression on the principal and made him happy to recommend Pa to others. This conscientiousness and prudence has not diminished in the slightest, even though he has already been active in the community for many years.
Realization of his dream
After being awarded his PhD, Pa Hsin-cheng returned to teach at Fu Jen University. Having lived in Japan for many years and having observed the improvements and diversity in Japanese cuisine and diet, Pa felt that this was definitely an area in which Taiwan fell short. Consequently, he invested money to open a restaurant which went on to earn him quite a lot of money. With his wife he also set up the Chenghsin Kindergarten. One of the oldest kindergartens in Taipei, it has won numerous awards. These are the couple's two proudest achievements.
"Ask anybody in the Nanjing Apartment Complex/MacArthur Bridge district and you'll find they were all raised at the Chenghsin Kindergarten." Pa Hsin-cheng and his wife still live where the kindergarten once stood. Elderly women in the neighborhood stop them on the street to report the latest news about their good little boys and girls now grown up-who is studying for a PhD in America, who is married and so forth. Recalling images of the hundreds of former pupils fooling around and acting up, the old couple cannot help smiling.
Perhaps because of having worked his whole life in the field of education, or perhaps because of the twists and turns in his own academic career, Pa Hsin-cheng and his wife Tan You-ling attach especial importance to their children's education, hoping to give them the best start in life. They sent their two daughters to America after graduating high school and, as soon as their two sons had finished elementary school, they were sent to far-off Canada where they were looked after by an aunt.
Had he sent his children overseas as young students with the intention of emigration? The idea of emigration is particularly attractive to some mainlanders wishing to get as far as possible from the communist threat. Pa Hsin-cheng, however, did not subscribe to this way of thinking.
"I did not pressure my children either to stay abroad or return to Taiwan. For myself, I am planning to spend my old age in Taiwan." As he says this, Pa grows emotional.
"Who loves Taiwan? I love Taiwan the most!" declares Pa Hsin-cheng. When he was a soldier, he was touched by the concern of local shopkeepers, who frequently asked in Taiwanese, 'Is it tough being a soldier?' After returning from Japan, it was Taiwanese friends who helped him as he taught and set up in business. Of course, during the half century of life spent here, in which he married, raised children, and had a successful career, people from Shandong looked after each other, but the genuine selflessness of the people in Taiwan was like a loving mother consoling the hearts of these exiled sons. Pa's feelings about Taiwan are without a shred of pretense.
Pa has equally deep feelings for his mother in their distant home in Yantai. In the congratulatory essay that Pa Hsin-cheng's eldest son Pa Chung wrote for his grandmother on her 100th birthday, he mentioned that when the four siblings were small they often saw their father burst into tears at big meals when his thoughts turned to his own parents. At such emotional times he could barely raise his chopsticks to eat.
Memories of their families are what have made mainland Chinese in Taiwan weep most bitterly throughout their time here. Perhaps Pa Hsin-cheng held more tightly to these feelings than other people. In the mid-1970s when the people of Taiwan still lived under a highly repressive government, Pa Hsin-cheng started to make stealthy contacts with his aged mother via friends in Japan and Hong Kong. Pa's efforts to bring his mother to Taiwan to live in peace finally came to fruition in September 1982 when he brought her to Taiwan via Hong Kong at the age of 89.
"My father passed on when I was four years old, and my mother raised me single-handedly." The first thing visitors see on entering the living room today is a large oil painting of the old lady on her 100th birthday. "My mother liked to sit on that big chair, screwing up her eyes to watch the television," says Pa Hsin-cheng. During the 11 years his mother lived in Taiwan, Pa and his wife waited on her every need. They also organized a magnificent 100th birthday feast for the old lady. Filled with satisfaction and peace of mind, he really felt life would be without further regret. After celebrating her 101st birthday in Taiwan, his mother suddenly expressed interest in returning to take a look at her old home in Yantai. The whole family accompanied her. She stayed in Yantai for half a year, but then died after catching a cold.
Not allowing history to gather dust
Looking back over more than half a lifetime, Pa Hsin-cheng is content with his lot. Although he celebrated his 70th birthday this year, he still has a packed schedule. He is now president of the Association of Shandong Natives in Taiwan, which serves the more than 900,000 Shandong people on the island. Each year he leads a group to mainland China to participate in the mid-Autumn memorial service to Confucius and the ceremony for Huangdi, the Yellow Emperor. Because of the injustices he himself suffered during the chaos of war, Pa Hsin-cheng has served for many years as director of the Chinese Association for Moral Education, through which he works to promote Confucian thought.
Among those 8,000 students, some ended up as professors or the heads of academic institutions, some remained in the military and became generals, and others made their fortunes in business. Many more, although ordinary, nevertheless led safe and peaceful lives. Of the six sons and daughters of Principal Chang, who sacrificed himself trying to protect the youngsters, four obtained doctoral degrees. Principal Tsou's children also grew up in Taiwan and have already retired from careers in education. Although history still owes these people their slice of justice, through fortitude, diligence and generosity they have written their own moving chapter of history.
Pa Hsin-cheng and his wife Tan You-ling both hail from Shandong. Still in love after half a century, the couple are photographed in their home surrounded by Buddhist statues. (photo by Diago Chiu)
The young child of yesteryear (first on left) is today an old man of 70. Distant exile finally brought a measure of happiness.
In 1982, Pa Hsin-cheng realized his life's dream when he overcame innumerable obstacles to bring his 89-year-old mother to Taiwan. Here, she poses for a photograph with the children of Chenghsin Kindergarten, which was founded by her son.
Dedicated to traditional Chinese morality, Pa Hsin-cheng every year leads a group to mainland China to honor their ancestors and venerate the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi.