Sworn Sisters

Mengying was the eldest child in the Yu family. She had three brothers and two sisters. The youngest sister, Mengzhen ,ranking number six,  studied at the Suzhou Skills Training School for Women. The year she graduated, she left Suzhou for Changshu. Together with her was her close friend Shen Cuizhen who was an instructor teaching embroidery at the School. The two of them then set up a school for embroidery in the vacant rooms  at the back of the Zhang residence.  In those early years of the Republic, women eagerly sought financial independence. Acquiring the skills of embroidery was considered as  a feasible path to this goal. Mengying, Cuizhen, and Mengzhen  then took  solemn vows in a ceremony that bonded them as sworn sisters.

My father still remembers Liu Jiujiu and her best friend Shen Jiujiu ( Note: It is a Changshu custom to address mother’s brothers and sisters all as Jiujiu). They stayed in a room across the small courtyard from his room.  Shen stayed with the Zhang family   for over a year, most likely from mid-1924 to end of 1925.

Shen Cuizhen(沈粹缜1901-1997), a native of Suzhou, followed her aunt to Beijing when she was very young to study embroidery. Later she again followed her aunt to Nantong. After graduating from Nantong Academy of Embroidery, she stayed on as an assistant to her aunt who was in charge of the Academy. She was twenty when she left Nantong and returned to  Suzhou where she taught at the Skills Training School for Women.  “Baidu” and other sources are silent about how long she taught at this school. I surmise that Cuizhen was in Changshu in 1924-25. It follows that she stayed at the Suzhou school for 3 years. Shortly after leaving Changshu, Cuizhen and  Zou Taofeng were married  in January 1926, and settled down in Shanghai. In October of the same year, she gave birth to their first child, a boy.

For Zou Taofen (邹韬奋 1895-1944), 1926 was a pivotal year. He got married in January, and became a proud father in October. Also in the month of October, he took over the editorship at “Shenghuo Weekly”. He used his sharp pen to promote  social  justice. In only 7 years, this weekly became the most popular journal in China with an astonishing circulation of 150,000! Zou was totally immersed in his work. Cuizhen had to take on the task of running the household and raising their three children almost single-handedly. Zou had to go on exile a few times. Life for Cuizhen was far from being peaceful.

After “8.13”, Zou left Shanghai first for Wuhan, then Chongqing, and continued to publish newspapers  and journals  in support of the war against Japan.  Cuizhen and her children also reached Chongqing by way of Hong Kong. On April 6, 1940, Yu Mengying’s second daughter Zhang Shu  got married in Chongqing. Shen Cuizhen attended the wedding dinner with her eldest son. This is the last time Yu Mengying and her sworn sister Shen Cuizhen met. At that time, Yu’s granddaughter was  just short of being 11 month old. Shen’s son, then a 13-year old, carried her in his arms at the dinner while his mother and Yu Mengying chatted in their native Suzhou dialect.

While in Chongqing, Sung Chingling  (宋庆龄) introduced Cuizhen to her sister Meiling(宋美龄). Cuizhen and Meiling then worked together in various programs for relief of war orphans and wounded soldiers. They got along very well and made significant contributions  towards the war effort.

On July 24, 1944, Zou Taofen  died in Shanghai of illness. He was only 49. Shen Cuizhen’s two sons were taken to Yen’an and Subei by Chinese Communist Party for their education. Cuizhen and her daughter went into hiding in Wuxi.

After the founding of the People’s Republic, Cuizhen continued her work with Sung Chingling in children’s welfare and women’s affairs. During the Cultural Revolution, Zou Taofen and his Shenghuo Book Store were vilified, and Shen Cuizhen was prosecuted.

In May 1981, Sung Chingling fell seriously ill. Shen Cuizhen travelled to Beijing from Shanghai to keep Sung company day and night. The two of them had heart-heart long talks. Sung Chingling had Cuizhen promise that, if her sister Meiling should come back to Beijing, she would take good care of her.

On January 12, 1997, Shen Cuizhen passed away in Shanghai.

Cuizhen’s  best friend in her youth and sworn sister Yu Mengzhen married a medical doctor, a native of Changshu. Dr. Yin Muqiang(殷木强 1901-1976),who had a doctorial  degree from the Imperial University in Japan, was a renowned dermatologist. For many years, he had his own clinic in Shanghai. At one time he marketed the “Shenghuo Weekly” for Zou Taofen in Japan. From 1957, Dr. Yin was the director of the dermatology department at the Number 6 People’s Hospital in Shanghai. From his research work, he discovered that a Chinese herb Tujinpi could be used to control moulds.

Dr. Yin and his wife had two sons and one daughter.



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