Mother and I, 1951

Mother and I, 1951

by Winnie Lu

Editor’s note: Kaua`i Realtor Winnie Lu reflects on her mother, Chou Chung Sing in the following article she generously shares with for Mother’s Day. Her mother, age 90, lives in Northern California. Article and photos © 2012 by Winnie Lu

A well-known Chinese writer, Hualing Nieh, along with her husband, Paul Engle, started the International Writing Program (IWP) in Iowa. Nieh’s new book describes her life as rooted in China, the trunk being the years she spent in Taiwan, and the leaves being her life in America.

Nieh’s life parallels that of my mother, Chung Sing. My mother has lived in three countries in her lifetime. She is 90 years old; her life is a reflection of modern Chinese history, as is the case of millions of other Chinese in her generation.

From her father, Chou Boh Nien, my mother inherited her spirit of independence, freedom, equality and social justice. Her father took part in the overthrow of the Ching Dynasty to establish the Republic of China. This is the spirit my mother carries to this day.

Chou extended family gathering, ca. 1922

Chou extended family gathering, ca. 1922, Nanxun, China. My mother, Chou, is the baby, approximately two or three years old, held by her mother. The oldest woman sitting in the front is Chou’s grandmother — my great grandmother.

Mother was born in the family compound in a small town an hour away from Shanghai. Nanxun is known as the “land of fish and rice,” and is a major silk producer and exporter to this day. There are stone canals and ancient stone arch bridges meandering through town.

When I visited there several years ago, I glimpsed the leisure and gracious lifestyle of yesteryear. A lone man sipped tea in a scenic pavilion by a lake. A grandmother sat in the shade under an old tree, her grandchild in a stroller. Friends played mahjong under the eaves of long rows of tiled roof houses stretching along the canal.

At the age of five, my mother lost her mother. When she was nine, her father died. She was raised by her paternal grandmother, who loved green tea and garlic.

Mother was an angry child who kicked over the night pot for the servants to clean up. She threw the food on the floor when lunch was delivered to her school if she didn’t like what she saw.

The extended family tolerated her behavior, knowing she had serious cause to be angry, for she had suffered so much loss. It takes a village to raise a child, but there was not one adult advocate who saw her through the anger, sadness and hurt feelings as she grew up over the years.

My Mother was an eyewitness to pillage, rape, destruction and other horrors of wars. She walked past dead bodies on her way to school during the Japanese occupation. She survived the civil war in China. She is strong willed, resilient and undeterred by life’s challenges.

She went to Shanghai to go to school. She stayed in opulent homes of affluent relatives.

In college, she studied chemistry; in her marriage, sh