MEMORIES OF LI HUANG (1895-1991)
Palo Alto, 1991 When the phone call came
from Taipei that Li Huang died at midnight
November 15, tears welled up in Dad's eyes.
Uncle Li, so we fondly called him was 97,
and just had his 75th wedding anniversary.
The last surviving member who signed
the United Nations Charter in San Francisco,
he was Chairman of the Young China Party,
Advisor to Chinese Presidents, author of books
on education, history, literature, and sociology,
and Dad's best friend. His calligraphy poem
West Lake Hermit hangs in our living room,
telling of Dad's Hangchow visit in December '47,
persuading him to attend the National Assembly
in Nanking. He had declined Chiang Kai-shek's
offer to be the economics minister, saying:
I'm not the nation's doctor.
Tired of politics, speaking
of right & wrong, O give me
a poet's life. Amidst falling
leaves and winter frost, I ponder
the grandeur of these mountains,
the sad state of my country.
When China fell to the Communists in '49,
he refused to be Chiang's advisor in Taiwan,
preferring a history professorship in Hong Kong.
Ithaca, 1970 Uncle Li came with Dad & Mom
from Long Island to attend my commencement
at Cornell. After their six-hour ride, I served
them that semi-burnt casserole from my oven,
Mom couldn't recognize what I had cooked,
but he did "Macaroni & Cheese!" and
his warm laughter still echoes in my heart
He was not surprised at the Vietnam peace
demonstration during my commencement,
as I didn't know then of the students' protest
he had led at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference
when Germany's prewar rights in China were
parcelled to Japan. He founded a news agency
in Paris to bring worldwide awareness to our
carved-up motherland. When Chinese students
learned that Li Huang was at Cornell,
they invited him to a picnic by Cayuga Lake
and tea at a faculty's home. I was impressed
at his forecast of Mao's downfall when he cited
case after case of dethroned Chinese emperors
who seemed so invincible. He rushed to finish
his Oral History project with Columbia,
so those whom he spoke about could refute
his facts while they were still alive.
I admired his treating of history with a scientific
sense of reverence. He relished us with firsthand
stories of Chinese leaders, how he found a job
for Chou En-lai at the Paris Renault factory.
But after an hour of Q&A, he said,
"That's enough for today" as if the nectar
he fed us needed more time for digestion.
He was a sage with a golden sense of measure.
Peking, 1933 This is my favorite story
of Uncle Li which Dad has recounted often.
After co-founding the Young China Party in Paris
in 1923 to promote nationalism, Li taught
at Wuchang, Peking, Szechwan, and Shanghai.
When Japan invaded Manchuria, he went to Peking
and from the Great Wall, led guerilla attacks
against the enemy. Chiang Kai-shek declared
Li's activities illegal, ordered him arrested.
When Li returned home, the soldier asked
"Who are you?" Li replied in that split-
second wit of his: "I'm the debt collector.
The houseowner owes me money." The soldier
scolded him, "Go away! This is no time
to collect debts. We're here to arrest Li Huang!"
Chiang's soldiers were everywhere, so he walked
slowly to Hu Shih's house for help. Hu gave him
thirty silver dollars to bribe the train driver
for hiding him in the coal-bin boxcar, and
that's how Uncle Li escaped to Tientsien.
Taipei, 1988 I declined the tea invitation
at the Presidential Palace because Uncle Li's
dinner date meant more to me. But he was gracious
to push back the time two hours so I could see
Lee Teng-hui, my elder Cornell aluminus,
whom he appraised as a humble scholar,
the new President of the Republic of China.
After the sumptuous banquet Uncle Li hosted,
I requested to photograph his famous hands.
Dad's old friends all laughed, but he stretched out
his palms perhaps with the same pride he did some
62 years earlier at the 1st Young China Party Congress
in Shanghai in 1926 when he told Dad:
Fortune follows me everywhere I go.
Look here: I've got ruby-red hands!
And he was right blessed by four bright children
and eight grandchildren, his integrity honored by
friends and foes alike. I overexposed the snapshot
of Uncle Li's palms, much like the Chartres photos
I took of the Virgin's Veil that came out all white.
Perhaps great mysteries should never be captured
on film, but in my memory, I see Uncle Li's
ruby heart, head, and life palm lines
how they branched deep and long like rivers
of the Pearl, the Hwang, and the Yangtze,
and his fate line running straight north
like the Black Dragon (Heilung) over
peaks of snow, a shooting star to heaven.
Peter Y. Chou
Palo Alto, 11-21-91