Zong Xiusong and Her Family in pictures

Zong Xiusong’s elder brother and her future husband Yu Keshi were the best of friends. Both of them were scholars. They went to Beijing for a special national examination and passed with honors together and became best friends. Scholar Zong then married his younger sister to Yu when the latter’s wife passed away. Yu came from a rice-merchant cum scholar family. From rice mill, he went on to run the first electricity generating factory in Changshu  which became very successful. He was a pioneer among the gentry in Changshu  to embrace modern technology, and sent four of his children to Jiantong University in Shanghai  at the same time to study engineering.


The four students shown in this photo taken in 1937 are (from left) Bingyuan, Dehua, Bingchang, and Bingliang, in their Jiaotong University uniforms.

宗秀松 1920

Zong Xiusong is shown in the 1920s photo when she was the principal of Xueqian Primary School.


This 1972 picture shows (from left) Yu Deming, Yin Guanyuan, Zhou Ling (my wife), and myself.


Best Friend Zong Xiusong

Chapter 11 Best Friend Zong Xiusong

Yu Mengying lived in Changshu for 26 years from her wedding in 1911 to the breakout of war in 1937. She had many friends there. Her best friend was Zong Xiusong whose biography is included in The Annals of Changshu 1990 edition, which reads as follows:

“Zong Xiusong(1888-1928), female, a native of Changshu city. Founder and principal of Xueqian Primary School. She received her education at home, was good at composing poems and essays, a graduate of Suzhou Da Tong Girls School. In 1914, she was appointed the principal of Haiyu City Girls Junior Primary School. At first there were no proper school premises. She rented a common residential dwelling. When  the school was  short of  money, she donated her own jewelry. The school  later moved to the Confucius Temple and grew rapidly. It became a municipal girls school and was the largest such school in the county. She emphasized “self cultivation and sorting out the old ideas”, and “developing pupils to enable them to be competitive in society”. She also emphasized sports. She initiated a code of conduct for the principal……She was a pioneer in many aspects of education at that time and received awards 15 times in the 14 years she was running the Xueqian School. …”

Yu Mengying sent all her children to this school. It was a short walk away from the Zhang residence. My father recalls that Zong often came to the house and played mahjong.  Zong died of birth related infections in her prime and her death was a blow to Mengying. The two best friends’  children were also close. The childhood playmates became life-long friends.  My parents’ best friends for  decades in Hong Kong were Zong Xiusong’s youngest daughter Yu Deming and her husband Yin Guanyuan. In 1956, my mother sneaked into Hong Kong though the backdoor alone and it was Yu Deming and Yin Guanyuan  who looked after her. When my father was poor and directionless in Chongqing during the war, it was Yu Bingchang, Zong Xiusong’s son ,who introduced him to the “One Society” that helped him open a new page in his life.

My two younger brothers arrived in Hong Kong from Shanghai in 1960. It was Yu Deming who helped put them into a good secondary school. After graduating from this school, both of them managed to enter good universities in the US.  To this day, they remember with deep gratitude what  Auntie Yin did for them when they needed help most.

During her long illness, my mother always  received comforting  phone calls from Yu Deming from the Bay Area in the US.

Xueqian School  was later renamed Changshu Shiyan Primary School and moved to its new campus in the new part of the city. The beautiful new  classroom complex was named “Xiusong Lou”. A marble stature of Zong Xiusong stands in the center of the campus. On the pedestal is inscribed the words “Zong Xiusong, the Heroine “ by a renowned calligraphy and statesman of the Republic era. The school principal showed me an album of photos taken at an event to mark the “Zong Xiusong Foundation”  which was donated by her son Yu Bingchang. Touched, I wrote down these words in the visitors’ message book: “My grandma Yu Mengying was a good friend of the late Principal Zong Xiusong…”.

Zong Xiusong had outstanding children. Her eldest son Yu Bingyuan(1915-1968), a graduate of Jiaotong University in electrical engineering, was a pioneer and one of the foundation builders of the hydro  turbine industry in China. He was the deputy chief engineer at Harbin Turbine , deputy chief engineer of the Large Electrical Engineering Institute of Harbin, and was the head of the engineering team responsible for designing the turbines at almost all major hydro projects in China in the early years of the People’s Republic.

Another son, Yu Bingchang (1917-1998), also a Jiaotong graduate, studied in the US. The Korean War broke out when he graduated. He  could not return to China and found a job with a Chinese-owned oil tanker company in the US. He had a brilliant  career in the oil tanker business. He also founded the program to train tanker managers and workers in Taiwan which enabled many to pursue successful  careers in the world oil tanker field. He also donated “Yu Bingchang Scholarships” to Jiaotong university.



The Calendar Girls of the 1930s


Today these calendars are hard to find. Those you see in the antique shops of Shanghai are mostly imitations. They feature attractive  young models advertising everything from cigarettes to fabrics. They used to hang on the walls of every household in China and some even found their way to homes in Southeast Asian towns and cities. Most of these calendar art was created by art studio in Shanghai. In recent years, there has been an  increasing interest in these commercial art. Books have been published and studies made to trace their origin, development, and ultimate  demise.

This “Miss Happiness” calendar ad was produced by the Hang Xuying Studio in Shanghai in the 1930s. The model is made to look taller than she actually is.

In the other calendar ad, the model poses with a dog. It must be the fashion. Body curves are now emphasized.


The third picture advertises a brand of battery. What does a pretty girl have to do with a battery? It does not matter. Then and now, an attractive young model can sell anything.


About the Bound Feet

Chapter 10 About the Bound Feet

Yu Mengying was born in 1892, the 18th year of the reign of Guangxu Emperor, two years before the China-Japan War of 1894-95. At that time, all well-born girls of respectable families had to have their feet bound. Mengying was no exception. But her mother loosened the binding cloth from time to time so that Mengying would suffer less pain, and her  feet were considerably larger than most of her peers. In November 1937, the Japanese brought war to China. Mengying, then 45,  walked  from Liyang in Jiangsu Province all the way to Tongling in Anhui Province, a direct distance of 240 km. There  she and her family found a boat that took them to safety. Her feet, bound though they were, saved her life.

When Mengying was eight years old, the eight-power army invaded Beijing and the Empress Dowager escaped to Xi’an. That year, 1900, Zhang Youyi was born.  When Youyi was five, the Qing government abolished the examination system. The whole old structure shook to its roots. The five-year old cried and fought until her mother gave up binding her feet. The young girl won! She grew up, married and then divorced the poet Hsu Zhimo. She went overseas to study ad returned to have an illustrious career of her own.

Another seven years passed. In 1907, Hu Ruihua was born. She followed her father who worked on the Beijing-Shenyang Railway. When she was five, Xinhai Revolution brought  down the Qing. Like many of her contemporaries, she did not have her feet bound. In 1923, the girl was 16 and found herself in Shanghai, where  the new movie industry just began to boom. She metamorphosed into the Butterfly (Hu Die, her screen name), movie queen, and public idol.

Shanghai of the 1930s — that is the place and the time still missed by many as a golden age. Is it because of the appeal of a glittering metropolis? Or the movies and songs ? Yes, all these and more, but the most important reason is found in the beautiful modern women on and off the screen that became the symbol of a new era.

Of course I am talking about Shanghai. What about an obscure county town named Changshu?

In The Annals of Changshu 1990 edition, there are a few lines on this subject:

1908           A Changshu woman Yin Hu Jingfang formed “The Society for Natural Feet”                          calling on women to resist foot-bing.

1916           October 21, the county government reissued an order from the Ministry of                            Education, banning all foot-binding.

The elegant Qipao, modified by the fashion-conscious women of Shanghai, began to be associated with the new-age women of China in the 1930s.  Women’s  hairstyle  also went through a revolution. The awkward “liuhai” gave way to the Hollywood-inspired  style of short wavy hairs. With high heels and Max Factor cosmetics, Chinese women seemed to have astonished the whole world overnight with their beauty and style.

A  Shanghai  studio designed in the 30s the wall calendar advertisements for a popular brand of dyed fabrics. The “Miss Happiness” model is the epitome of the new image of a modern Chinese woman. You look at her, she smiles back at you, and you are excused if you forget that 70  over years separate her from you.

Organ in Pictures


This organ is of the “Ming Feng” (Singing Phoenix) brand, manufactured in Shanghai , probably in the 1930s. It can produce a flute-like sound if one of the four knobs is pulled out. The organ has a built-in chair which can be pulled out as shown in this picture. This piece of instrument is currently displayed at “Old Shanghai Tea House” in the old shopping area called Lao Chenghuan Temple in Shanghai.


This picture circa 1920  shows a primary school, the pioneering Xueqian School in Changshu, music class in session. An organ is used to accompany the singing by the pupils.

An Organ in Mengying’s Dowry

Chapter 9

An Organ in  Mengying’s Dowry

Zhang Yuhe took the boat to Suzhou for his bride. He traveled on Yuanhetang canal. About ten years ago, steam-powered  boats replaced the man-powered wooden boats. One wheel ship would have two or three wooden boats in tow. It was called “lunchuan”, wheel ship, because it carried  an enormous  wheel on the starboard. Later  the wheel was replaced by the screw, but the name “lunchuan” stayed in the new Chinese vocabulary.

Competition for passengers was fierce among the shipping lines that plied the rivers and canals. The boiler of a ship could not take the pressure and exploded in one incident, killing and wounding some passengers and crew. Yuhe’s boats returned to Changshu the next day, again towed behind a wheel ship, with the bride and her dowry on board. In addition to the mandatory rosewood wardrobe, chest of drawers, the eight-immortal table and chairs, there was a “feng  qin”, a wind qin, qin being the name for many  music instrument, that is, of course, the organ. A piano is a steel qin.

Yu Mengying could pedal the organ  (yes pedal, because the two foot pedals produce the wind, and thus the music). She learned it in a girls job-skill school. She was probably on one of  the earliest batches of girls going to this school which taught basic skills such as embroidery, organ playing, in addition to Chinese and even some elementary English. If not for the marriage, she would have learned to be a midwife.

Keyboard instruments are not indigenous to China. The introduction of organ can probably be traced to 1600 when Mateo Ricci, who lived in Macao at that time, presented the “Great Western Qin” to Emperor Wanli of Ming Dynasty. The church organ was then simplified and adapted for use in China, first for church services, then church affiliated schools and finally  the public and private schools. The success of the organ as an instrument for the common people in China  is well worth further study, and I believe, it is connected with the introduction of the numerical music notation which was introduced also from Europe.

The wind qin in Mengying’s dowry was definitely the fashion in upper middle class Chinese families in 1910-1930s. It is cheap and light in weight and was manufactured in China. It is easy for a young woman to learn to play. My mother could also pedal the organ and sing. She acquired this skill in the same girls’ school in Suzhou. After she graduated, she became a school teacher, first in Changshu, then in Chongqing during the war. I remember my mother singing a song while pedaling an organ. She must have taught the same song to her school pupils.

(Please see the book for the song.)

Early Masterpieces of Pang Xungqin

Such is Paris 如此巴黎 1931

“Such is Paris”, oil on canvas, is a collage Pang painted in 1931, collage being a  popular art form in Paris in the 1920s and 30s. The original work  was destroyed by the artist himself during the “Anti-Rightist” movement in the late 1950s.

Daughters of the Times时代的女儿 1934

“Daughters of the Times”, oil on canvas dated 1934, was also destroyed by the artist himself.