The Chronicle of Events in Changshu (1856-1936)

From “The Annals of Changshu”, 1990 edition, I selected what I consider to be particularly important events. I now list them below together with events concerning the Zhang Family and some great events at the national level:-

1856             Weng Tonghe, of Changshu, was awarde the rank of Zhuangyuan.

1858             Zhang Zhi was born.

The Christian church set up a branch in Changshu.

1864             The Taiping movement came to the end.

1867             Zhang Hong , younger brother of Zhang Zhi, was born.

1870            Repair work on the Confucius Temple (damaged in the Taiping).

1871            Permission received from the Emperor for the Zhang Family to build a                                   memorial gateway for its charitable work.

1872             Mother of Yu Mengying, was born in Zhujiajiao.

1889             Zhang Yuhe was born.

1892             Yu Mengying  was born in Suzhou.

1895              China was disastrously defeated in the 1894-95 war with Japan.

1897             The scholar gentry of Changshu set up The China West Society.

1898             The “100-day Reform” ended in failure. Weng Tonghe was expelled from the                      court back to Changshu.

1900             Shen Peng, a native of Changshu at the court, petitioned for restoring the                              Emperor and punishing the “Three Evils”. He was jailed.

The 8-power army invaded Beijing, and the Empress Dowager fled to Xi’an.

Steamships began services  between Changshu and neighboring cities.

1901            Telegram service inaugurated in Changshu.

1903            Pang Hongwen was appointed to be in charge of updating the official History                       of Changshu.

1904           Zhang Hong passed the national level examination  and was awarded the                            Jinshi rank.

“Changshu Women’s World Society” and its journal  inaugurated.

The first modern cotton spinning mill started operation.

1905             The thousand-year old examination system was officially terminated.

The Zhang Family ‘s Xiaoyou foundation set up modern school.

1907              Zhang Hong passed the entrance examination  and entered the foreign                               ministry, and was posted to Japan and Korea as the consul in Kobe,                                   Nagasaki, and Inchon. His nephew Yuhe followed him to Japan for studies.

1908               Zhang Yuhe returned to Changshu to wed Pang

1909                Yuhe’s first wife Pang died.

1911                Zhang Yuhe,22, wed Yu Mingying, 19.

Xin Hai Revolution broke out. Qing rule came to the end.

1912                The new government banned men from keeping pigtails

1913                 Zhang Zhi died.

Changshu Electric Light Factory was built and started producing electricity                           on January 15, 1915.

1914                  Yu Mengying gave birth to her first child , daughter Zhang Zhen.

1915                  County library opened its doors.

1916                  Zhang Hong retired from the foreign service and returned to Changshu.

Yu Mengying gave birth to her second child, boy Zhang YaoZhang.

Newspaper “Changshu Daily” inaugurated.

The government banned foot binding and the study of Confucian classics.

1917                   The first movie house opened for business.

Cai Yuanpei appointed president of Peking University.

1918                    The Zhang Family”s Xiaoyou Foundation granted funds for the purchase                               of land within the city walls and build a new school.

1919                    Students demonstrated support for the May 4th Movement.

Xiaoyou  School moved into its new premises.

1920                    The first women’s hospital opened.

1921                     Xiao School started junior school.,

1922                     Local investors formed the first commercial bank.

The Christian church opened its hospital.

1923                     Scandal in the Parliament in Beijing. Members of Parliament from                                         Changshu refused bribe and returned home.

Zhang Yuhe died. Yu Mengying was 31.

1924                    Provincial warlords fought a war. Changshu forced to pay a huge                                         ransom.

1931                   The Mukden Incident. Japanese army occupied China’s Mancuria.

1934                    Zhang Yaozhang admitted to the Central University in Nanjing.

1935                    The highways connecting Shanghai, Changshu, Suzhou, and Wuxi were                                completed.

1936                      Zhang Yaozhang, 20, weds Li Jingfang, 19. Yu Mengying was 44.

Zhang Hong

Xiaoyou School

The GOlden List of 1904


A Brief Introduction to Changshu

Page 20-24

A Brief Introduction to Changshu

In 1911 Yu Mengying settled down in her new home. Changshu is an ancient
Yangts delta town nestled at the foothill of the Yushan in a land of lakes and
canals. It has a long history. To start with, I will take you on a tour to Beimen
Dajie to see two pieces of antique – tomb passageways, but first, a few lines on
the story of Zhongyong who was buried there.

The historians have now identified the year of 1046 BCE as the date when the
Martial King of Zhou led a rebellion against his overlord, the last King of Shang,
and marched from the Zhou territory near today’s Xi’an to Shang’s capital in
today’s Henan province. At the decisive battle, the slave soldiers in the Shang
army turned their bronze dagger-axes against their own commanders, and the
King fled back to his palace. He got himself drunk, set a great fire, and perished in

The tradition has it that the Martial King ’s father had two elder brothers named
Taibo and Zhongyong. They knew that their father favored his younger son for
succession. To please their father, the two brothers decided to leave the Zhou
homeland. The youngest brother became King. He was repressed by the Shang
and was imprisoned for many years. His son the Martial King finally rebelled and
overthrew the Shang and started the glorious Zhou Dynasty.

Taibo and Zhongyong headed east and then south ,eventually settled in the
Yangtse River delta region, then still a wild and backward land of forests , lakes ,
and swamps. They and their descendents established the Kingdom of Wu. When
Zhongyong died, he was buried on Yushan Hill. His tomb is still there, at Beimen
Dajie, now the bustling center of the Changshu town.

Five hundred years later, in 504BCE, the prime minister of the Kingdom of Wu
decided to build a new capital city for his warrior king at a location which
corresponds to the present day Old City of Suzhou. The dramatic stories of wars
and intrigues, of King Fuchai and his beautiful consort Xisi, and of King Goujian of

Yue, and his humiliation and revenge, were all played out on a stage which is a
mere short march south of Yushan Hill.

Shortly after the great new capital city was built, a young man left his home
at Yushan Hill for his studies in the north. He was Yan Yan, the only southerner
among the disciples of Confucius. In the old quarter of Changshu today, there is
still a “Master Yan Ally”, and his direct descendents of an unbroken lineage still
live in the city.

The passageway to Master Yan ’s tomb is side-by-side with that of Zhongyong. It
is a solemn and imposing structure. On the memorial gateway are inscribed the
words “Dao Qi Dong Nan” , honoring Yan Yan as the one who first spread the
Sage’s teachings in this part of China.

The old folks climb up the long passageways for their morning exercises. Young
children run up and down the open lawns of the fenceless public park to fly their
kites. Zhongyong and Yan Yan are like two old much-loved members of the family,
and an inseparable part of the residents’ daily life. In the evenings, people may be
watching TV series based on stories of the legendary beauty Xisi, in their high-rise
apartments in the new suburbs.

For a few hundred years after the fall of the Han Dynasty, incessant wars forced
waves of migrants to the Yangtse delta. Forests and swamps around the Yushan
Hill receded as cultivated area rolled out. By the year 540 CE, this territory finally
acquired a name of its own—Changshu, Always Good Harvest, the wish of every
agricultural community.

Here, in the land between the Lake Taihu and the broad Yangtse , conditions
favor agriculture. Over the centuries, the local governments had been dredging
canals and reinforcing embankments. The canal Yuanhetang between Suzhou and
Changshu was dredged in the Tang Dynasty times, and has seen busy boat traffic
ever since.

The famous minister and writer Fan Zhongyan of the Northen Sung Dynasty 900
hunred years ago was responsible for dredging another canal which runs from

Changshu town to the Yangtse. Even today this waterway channels flood water
from Lake Taihu to the Yangtse and the sea. By 1272, the nine-level Square
Pagoda rose high in the town center. But by then the pace of change had slowed
down , as the whole of China matured as an agricultural society. For some
reasons which are still debated endlessly by scholars, the advances in agriculture,
in education, in commerce and in overseas trade, did not lift the country over the
threshold to move along the tracks towards a different kind of society, as what
happened in Europe.

The educated elite in Changshu devoted themselves to the study of Confucian
classics in order to pass the imperial examinations. From Tang to Qing, Changshu,
a mere county, produced 438 Jinshi (Advanced Schollars), including 8 Zuangyuan
(first ranking advanced scholar), 3 Bangyan (second ranking) and 4 Tanhua
(third ranking). This class of people had focused on entering the civil service
after passing different levels of exams. Their other interests were the traditional
scholarship, literature, calligraphy, and other arts. For six hundred years, from
Yuan to Qing, a huge pool of successful gentry-scholars emerged in Changshu,
including many ministers and high officials, scholars of classics, painters,
calligraphers, book publishers and editors, and families who built up great private
libraries over generations. Absent were great explorers, scientists, great traders,
and others who could propel the society over to a new level.

In 753ce , the Buddhist monk Jianzhen made his sixth attempt to sail to Japan.
He was 65, and had completely lost his eye sight. He boarded a boat at a port in
Changshu and made the sea crossing successfully. He spread Buddhism to Japan,
together with the high culture of the great Tang. This kind of spirit of adventure
had become remote and a distant memory for the Changshu elite one thousand
years later.

In 1840-42, China, the closed pre-modern society, lost the Opium War to Great
Britain, an industrial power. But what really woke up the Chinese elite from their
long slumber was China’s disastrous defeat fifty years later in her war against
Japan of 1894-95. What happened in the county-seat town of Changshu in those
years and after? How did the Zhang Family react to these events and how the life

of Yu Mengying was impacted by the changes. In the next chapter, we will look
at the chronicle of great events (1856-1936) and try to discern some clues to the

Memorial Gate to the Tomb of Zhongyong

The nine-leve Square Pagoda, as photographed in1919

Passageway to Master Yan’s tomb

A commercial street in Changshu, circa 1938


Some pictures from the book

Wedding show as a tourist attraction

Tourist boats on Caogang.

The 5-arched bridge across Caogan Canal


The post office pier and boat.


Silk cocoons

Yu Mengying, 18

A studio photo showing Mrs.Yu, her three daughters and a niece

Zhang Yuhe, Yu Mengying, and daughter Zhen and son Yaozhang, summer of 1918.

The Yu Family of Suzhou

Page 10 – 13

The Yu Family of Suzhou

Mrs. Yu, as the lady from Zhujiajiao was now known, gave birth to seven children. Six  survived, three boys and three girls. The Yu family residence was  situated near the Lou Gate, at Gebaihu Ally, at the northeastern corner of the Old City.  A small  stream meanders alongside the ally.

The Yu family owned agricultural land and houses at Luxiang on the Lake Taihu, a place of great scenic beauty. My father had been there when he was very young. He saw a row of houses and was told they all belonged  to the Yu family. The family also ran a silkworm seeds farm, and owned shares in a silk fabric dealership.

The name of the ally “Gebaihu”says something about its origin. Baihu literally means one hundred households. In the Jin and Yuan dynasties, Baihu was a hereditary military officer rank. A commander of 120 soldiers was stationed in a town of some importance. Apparently a Baihu surnamed Ge lived here once upon  a time. We walked the length of the rundown alley and were told, “The Yu residence has been demolished. The Gu residence is still there.”

Yu Wenlan named his sons “Qi Ya”, “Qi Hua”, and “Qi Min”.  The names can be read to mean: Rise Up Asia, Rise Up China, Rise Up People. He was  ahead of most of his contemporaries  as early as the 1890s. Yu Wenlan was also a connoisseur of culture and the arts. My father remembers a party in the house. One day several dozens of pots of blooming chrysanthemum were placed inside and alongside the courtyards  of the house. Grandpa and his literati friends were  having a “Chrysanthemum Party” of drinking wine and composing poems.

Esquire Yu kept a well cultivated garden next to his house. He planted mainly chrysanthemums, but also orchids. He also had numerous penzai and penjing. A gardener was hired to take care of these exquisite plants. Whenever Yu Wenlan spotted a particularly  pretty penzai, the gardener would hold the pot high with two hands and followed the master into the inner quarters of the house. There Mrs. Yu  would then have a chance to enjoy that beautiful piece of art. My mother told me this. She was a regular visitor to the house when she was schooling in Suzhou.

I was too young to have met Suzhou Lao Taiye, but I once saw a photo of him posing  alone in his garden, surrounded by pots of penzai and orchid. He wore a silk gentleman’s long gown with a mandarin vest. He had a distinctively straight nose bridge and deep eye bags.

Among his children, we were most familiar with his eldest son Yu Qiya, whom we addressed as “Jihaogong”, which term roughly means the nominated grandpa . My grandmother was very close to this brother of hers. Her two sisters, we addressed as “Shou Popo” and “Liu Popo”. “Shou” is longevity. In our dialect, the numeral six sounds the same as the word for happiness. So Popo number six became Happiness Popo. My grandma’s  nickname is “Fu”. The three sisters thus have all the blessings, longevity, and happiness.

When my sister Dayu was very young, she visited the silkworm seeds farm at Gebaihu Ally with Grandma.

Page 11

“There is a river next to the farm. Over the river there is a log bridge. I remember I was very scared when crossing the bridge, but I managed. At that time Jihaogong lived there. I saw rows and rows of racks with big round shallow baskets. Sheets of paper are placed on the baskets where  the silk moths lay their seeds (Note: eggs). These are then sold to the silk farmers.”

“The Annals of Changshu” mentions, “In 1913,… Dongjin…began to have silkworm seed farms which sell silkworm seeds.”

Dongjin  town is right at the border between Suzhou and Changshu . In 1913, silkworm seeds farm was apparently a burgeoning new trade. What used to be a productive activity by the individual silk farmers was now done professionally on a commercial scale.

In the 1950s, my brothers and I also raised silkworms as a hobby. In our garden, we had a mulberry tree. We feed the leaves to the baby silkworms and watch them devour the leaves. The silkworms have insatiable appetite. They  grow day and night, go to “sleep” a few times, and then they become  fat and big, and shining white. Finally the worms raise their heads and begin to spit out the silk and weave their cocoons. It is reported that one silk filament can be as long as

Page 12

one thousand meters. An incredible feat for a small worm!  A brilliant civilization weaved by this simple filament from the humble worm  then spread far and wide, all the way to the shores of the Mediterranean.

The kid silk famers most  likely got the seeds from Yu Qiya’s  farm. Now we are on our silkworms, my thoughts wonder back to the mulberry tree in our garden, and to the berries we picked from the tree branches every summer. Ripen mulberries turn purplish in color. One bite, mmm…  it is so very sour, with only a tint of sweetness…. Ah,  mulberries!

About Mengying’s  childhood, we do not know much. We know she went to middle school, learned the mandatory embroidery , tended flowers, helped her mother make pastries. She could play the organ, and even studied English.

One autumn day,   a team from the leading photography studio in the City lugged their bulky equipment into the Yu residence. They took a solo photo of Mengying at the main courtyard. She posed next to a chrysanthemum plant  in full bloom, a young girl of 17 or 18, looking lovely in a very bright brocade gown with floral patterns. She was dressed up to look her best and the solo photo was painstakingly taken. Photography was expensive then. It could not be just another daily life shot. What was it meant to be? My conclusion: this is the photo for the proposed marriage. Once her parents were satisfied, the go-between took the photo to Changshu and passed it on to Mr.Zhang Zhi, her prospective father-in- law.

Mengying knew why she had to put on her best new gown and pose, and she was a bit nervous in front of the camera. Most likely ,Zhang Zhi and even his son had seen this photo before the marriage proposal was confirmed.

Page 13

When was this photo taken? Most likely the second year of the new infant emperor Xuantong, 1910. The following spring, Mengying was married into the Zhang Family of Changshu. One day, her husband handed this photo back to her for safekeeping. She kept it for 55 years before passing it on to Dakai, her grandson. He then kept it for another 45 years. Yes, this photograph is 100 years old. All the stories told in this book and all the Zhangh family members came down from this photograph.

Mengying, being the eldest in the family, was her mother’s companion.  As her father was enlightened, she often accompanied her mother to the city. In her room upstairs, she would touch up her make-up after hearing her mother downstairs, and then rode the family rickshaw with her mother to Guanqian Jie. There they would patronize tea houses, eating Suzhou-style dimsum while enjoying the performance of pingtan, the traditional story-telling and ballad-singing in the soft Suzhou dialect. Listening to pingtan thus became her life-time passion.

After Mengying got married, she often travelled back to Suzhou with her children. Her mother was caught up in the new craze  of being photographed in the many studios which sprang up in Suzhou. Mengying would follow her mother and her sisters and cousins for photo-taking.  The picture on the next page, taken in the early 1920s, shows Mengying with her mother. Her youngest sister was playing the organ, a “must” for fashion-conscious  young ladies. The studio’s prop man sprinkled rice straws all over the place. The “Farm House Look” was in. Studios in Changshu, a smaller town 40 km north of Suzhou, did not wish to be left behind. Rice straws were strewn randomly  the studio floor. No attention whatsoever was paid to relate the studio “village” scene to the contents  being  photographed (See Chapter <The Death of Zhang Yuhe>).

In the early  decades of the 20th century, marked by the tail end of the Qin dynasty  and the advent of the Republic, life for the Suzhou residents was still very comfortable. There was none of the restlessness, brashness, and noises of Shanghai. After the civil war of the Long-Hairs (Note: the Taiping rebellion of 1851-1864) fifty years ago, Suzhou, the Paradise on Earth, had been slowly fading. Young men of talent and ambition had flocked to Shanghai. Others who left for overseas studies had also returned to Shanghai to advance their careers. They would occasionally come back to the old houses in narrow allies  behind the high walls on short visits.

I wrote in my other book on Suzhou: “In the mind of most people, Suzhou has become a quiet, ancient administrative seat, peaceful, yet a bit decadent, like an old lady dreaming of her past glories.”













The Xu Family of Zhujiajiao

Page 4

The Xu Family of Zhujiajiao

Caogang , as its name implies, was part of the extensive canal system which, in the olden days, was responsible for the vital transport of grain supplies  from the rich Yangtse delta region to the imperial  capital Beijing. The canal builders thus made sure that this trunk  waterway is  straight, wide, and deep.

Zhujiajiao, the town on the  canal, was already a prosperous center of trade  even before  the 1500s during the Ming dynasty. Its population grew when merchants and tradesmen moved here to take advantage of its superb location. Around the year of 1600, the leading local families built the  five-arched  stone bridge across the canal. By 1900, Zhujiajiao had become the undisputed top township in the whole of the county of Qingpu.

The town was famous as a production and distribution center of cotton cloth in the Ming dynasty. Nine out of ten households were said to be  engaged in cotton spinning and cloth weaving. By 1900 and up to the breakout of the Anti-Japan War, Zhujiajiao was a busy center for the rice trade. When new crops were harvested, boats laden with  rice jammed the canals. The rice merchants had their mills and warehouses along the canal. Oil mills, rice wine makers, cloth dyers, pawnshops, sauce makers,  and crafts and services of all sorts lined the long streets. Zhujiajiao is connected to Shanghai’s Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek by convenient waterways. New things and new thoughts poured in from this window to the West.

I do not have any direct source of information on the Xu Family of Zhujiajio.  My father recalls that his maternal grandmother, that is, the bride mentioned in the preceding section, had a younger brother. He regularly visited Changshu to attend board meeting of the Changshu Electric Light Company. On each visit, he would stay in the house of his niece Yu Mengying, and would amuse her son by drawing little dogs and rabbits. A rough estimate puts the time as being the 1920 and the 1930s.

In “The Annals of Changshu” published in 1990, there is a short reference to the Changshu Electric Light Factory:

“In the 2nd year of the Republic (1913), an electric light factory was built at Small East Gate…, which began producing electricity on the 15th of April 1915. Electricity produced was used to power the rice mill, and surplus was sold to outside users.”

Now there is this distinctive possibility: The Xu Family of Zhujiajiao were rice merchants and owned a rice mill,

Page 9

and , before coming to Changshu, already started using electric power for rice milling. The electricity produced was for their own use and was also sold to others when there was a surplus. After his success in Zhujiajiao, the rice merchant Xu partnered other rice merchants in Changshu in a similar venture. Doubtlessly, the Xu’s of Zhujiajiao were a progressive family and that fact had a positive impact on Yu Mengying’s mother who grew up in that environment.

In 1915, Changshu Electric Light Factory began  producing  electric power. Investor Xu visited Changshu every year to attend board meetings. If my father was then five years old, then Entrpreneur Xu, then 40 -50 of age, regularly travelled by steamers among Zhujiajiao, Suzhou, Changshu, and, of course, Shanghai. The last-named rose rapidly and entered her golden years. 1920s and 1930s saw the growth of modern industries in Shanghai and Wuxi. Trade and commerce  in the delta region enjoyed a period of boom.

We addressed the mother of our grandmother “Suzhou Lao Taitai”. I remember seeing her when I was maybe 6 or 7. One Lunar New Year, Suzhou Lao Taitai came to our house at Yuyuan Lu in Shanghai. She was accompanied by her son. My father knelt on the floor and performed Kowtow. He was going through the customary rites. We kids were peeping  behind the living room doors.  Lao Taitai was very tall in my eyes and stood upright  with a dignified air. She was quite blind though due to “Blue Light Eye”(Note: glaucoma). She used her fingers  to stroke down  the face of her son, then in his mid-50s, and said in her soft Suzhou dialect, “You are still a young fellow.”

My grandma always enjoyed good health. Except for piles, she never suffered any serious health problems, and lived a long and active life, thanks to the strong  genes she inherited from her mother.

December 2009. My wife Chow Ling, myself, and our daughter Le Yin visited the popular tourist  destination Zhujiajiao an hour’s drive from  Shanghai on the Dianshan Lake. I asked a shop woman  in the old town and was told that some of the descendents of the prominent Xu Family were still living in Zhujiajiao.








Boats from Suzhou


Page 3

Boats from Suzhou

The year was 1891, the 17th year of the Reign of Guangxu Emperor.  A bright Autumn day on the broad Caogang Canal which bisects the ancient town of Zhujiajiao in the county of Qingpu.

Suddenly the morning quietness on the Canal was shattered by the deafening sound of firecrackers. Pungent gunpowder smoke irritated the eyes and noses. The crowd of spectators surged forward  when the joyful music from the suona reached a crescendo. The bridegroom and his bride had boarded the richly decorated boat which came from Suzhou last night, her dowry having  been loaded earlier. Now the boatmen untied the hemp rope, pulled back the wooden plank.  With their bargepoles the men steered clear of the clusters of rice-laden boats.  Soon  they started pushing and pulling the big stern oars, and the boats glided gracefully  forward. Minutes later one by one Suzhou boats passed under the tall arch of the old stone bridge  towards the Dianshan  Lake.

In the cabin sat the bride, 19 years of age, a native of Zhujiajiao. Xu is her family’s surname. The bridegroom was Yu Wenlan of Suzhou. In the Fall of the following year, in the morning of the 27th day of the eighth moon, the young woman gave birth to her first baby, a girl.  Later, perhaps when she was schooling, the girl  was given  her  formal  name – Mengying.  She is my grandmother.

Introduction to my blog

My Grandma Yu Mengying

the Book and the Blog

My book is in Chinese. I have decided to re-write it in English because then more people, especially the younger generation who did not grow up in Mainland China, Hong Kong  and Taiwan, can also read it. Even my daughter Stella, who is supposed to have received a bi-lingual education, has difficulty in reading it. She only knows the simplied Chinese.

Yesterday Stella had a blog set up for me. I will put the English book on it, a few pages at a time, as and when I finish them. At the suggestion of several of my readers, I will also compile a tree of names that appear in the book and indicate how they are related. When it is done, you can find it on my blog too.

After these are all done, I will then translate the explanatory notes to the photos. Until then, those who can read Chinese can chip in to help those who do not read Chinese.

Modern technology is wonderful. Here not only I wish to thank everyone who has made the book a reality, but also those hundreds of thousands of people who brought this technology which has enriched our lives immeasurably.