Peter's Eulogy to Dad at his Memorial Service (12-16-2000)


Dad's Last Moments

Dad spent his last two weeks at Kaiser Hospital Santa Clara. He was dehydrated and treated for aspiration pneumonia. On Tuesday, December 12 at 3:40 am, Dr. Le phoned me saying Dad's oxygen saturation had decreased drastically to 36%. They forced fed more oxygen through Dad's nose and got it above 90%. Jimmy, Margaret, and I got to the hospital around 4:30 am, and stayed the whole day. On Wednesday, December 13, our whole family was at Dad's bedside. Margaret had read to Dad the entire book of poetry from Tagore's Fireflies in the morning. I read to Dad Meditations on the Soul: Letters of Marsilio Ficino. Ficino initiated the Italian Renaissance by opening the Florentine Platonic Academy. His translations of Plato from Greek to Latin had inspired Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Botticelli. Late in the afternoon, Dan left to pick up her kids from school. Margaret brought Mom back to Microstar Care Home in Sunnyvale, and went to a Palo Alto Funeral Home to arrange for Memorial Services. Jimmy was holding Dad's left hand, and I Dad's right hand. Then Jimmy went to see Dr. Wang, a cancer specialist on increasing morphine dosage for Dad. I read to Dad again Ficino's letter on the praise of history:

What is in itself mortal, through history
attains immortality; what is absent becomes
present, what is ancient becomes new.
A young man quickly matches the full
development of the old; and if an old man
of seventy is considered wise because of his
experience of life, how much wiser is he
who covers a span of a thousand or three
thousand years. For each man seems to
have lived for as many thousands of years
as the span of history he has studied. Farewell.

When I finished this letter ending in "farewell", I noticed the pulse on Dad's neck had stopped. It was 4:32 pm. I called the nurse Mina. She listened to Dad's heart with her stethoscope, and said, “Your Dad just died, but he looks so peaceful.” I then recalled Dad quoting Confucius back in January 1970 when he had his prostate operation: “When one hears the Tao in the morning, one may die peacefully in the evening.” I kissed Dad's hands and recited two poems that flowed to me in tears: Passing on the Other Shore and a blessing Release, Release, Strength, Transformation.

Dad's 1979 Visit to Paris

In his last two weeks, Dad didn't read The New York Times or even the notes we wrote him. However on Sunday, December 10, when I showed him the mini-photo album of his visit to Paris in 1979, Dad took the album in his hands and flipped through the photos. He even pointed to the photo of himself drinking coffee at Café de la Paix, saying "15 francs"— my coffee treat to him some 21 years ago, and he remembered at age 98. That summer I was invited by the French Government to participate in a 6-week workshop on "Protein Folding" at the University of Paris, Orsay. I stayed at the Hotel Sorbonne on Rue Victor Cousin just opposite the Sorbonne University. Dad visited me during my last two weeks, and when he looked out of my window, he said, “This hotel was my dormitory when I studied here at the Sorbonne 50 years ago.” Dad took me to see his old friend Prof. Eliaseff at an Asian Museum. He had lunch with Madame Renouvin, the wife of his late Professor Pierre Renouvin while I was at work. Dad was delighted to receive a postcard from Professor Joseph Needham who invited him for a visit to Cambridge University. I left my passport back at the hotel as the train was departing, and Dad made the trip alone to London to see his old friend of 40 years. Dad loved art and we enjoyed touring together the Louvre, Jeu de Paume, Museum Cluny, Museum Guimet, Museum Rodin, and Notre Dame de Paris.

Dad's Memory

Dad had a wonderful memory. His books were filled with clippings from The New York Times and notes on envelopes and scrap paper. Once he phoned from Taipei and asked me to send him Joseph Needham's Science in Traditional China— “It's got a red cover, on the second shelf, fourth book to the left.” And when I checked, sure enough, exactly where Dad said it would be. At 97 years of age, Dad wrote the meaning of "Taiwan"— Tai: terrace, wan: bay or bend of stream. When I checked the Fenn's 5000 Chinese Character Dictionary, Dad was right. Mom visited Dad on his 98th birthday at Westgate Rehab Center. Afterwards, she phoned me and cried that Dad didn't recognize her anymore. When I saw Dad the following day, I asked him to write Mom's name and birthday to test his memory. Dad wrote down Mom's Chinese & English name, her birthday, October 6, 1908, saying "I'm 98, Mom is 92." He then wrote down his three children's names and our correct birthdates, mentally subtracting our birth year from 2000 to determine our age. I congratulated Dad on his excellent memory at 98 years of age. Beside Dad's fine memory, he was also extremely observant. He greeted me each time I visited him with a firm handshake and picked the lint off my sweater. He would pick up tiny tissue paper on the bathroom floor and throw them into the waste basket. Once when I wheeled Dad into the courtyard, he turned a giant sunflower so it faced the sun.

Dad's Scholarship

Dad was an Adviser to the Chinese Delegation to the United Nations for 25 years. A historian by profession, he tried to be objective in the international issues that confronted him daily. Dad's favorite newspaper was The New York Times, but he also read often The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The London Times, and Paris Le Monde to get a balanced viewpoint.

Dad was a Professor in European History at numerous universities in China. When I asked him what was the hardest course he had taught, Dad said "Pre-History." Dad had to prepare lecture notes from scratch on a subject he never studied before, because the expert was ill one semester. One day when I was cleaning out some of Dad's manila envelopes, I found an old set of notes with drawings of bisons and woolly mammoths from the Lascaux Caves. These were Dad's lecture notes on "Pre-History" and I saw how hard he had worked on them.

Dad spent two years (1972-74) translating the philosophical works of the Neo-Confucian sage Chou Tun-Yi (1017-1073), and quoted from him often: “Sincerity is the foundation of the sage.” He consulted books in Chinese, English, French, and German during this project, and typed notes on 3x5 index cards and on yellow-lined paper that filled two loose-leaf notebooks. When he found a copy of Chou Tun-Yi's work in French at Stanford's Hoover Library, tears welled up in his eyes. He told me, “Only one person checked out this gem of a book in 30 years— and it's my old friend Mary Wright.”

Mary Clabaugh Wright wrote The Last Stand of Chinese Conservatism: The T'ung-Chih Restoration, 1862-1874 published by Stanford University Press (1957) and was a noted historian at Yale. But when Dad first met her, she was in her 20's and a Field Representative in China (1945-47), and later Curator of the Stanford's Chinese Collection. Dad advised Mary to subscribe to important Chinese newspapers and magazines in the 1940's. Dad would find articles that he had written in these rare papers 40 years later at Stanford that were missing from the U.S. Library of Congress and Taipei's National Library. He would always bring friends to see Mary Wright's portrait at Hoover's East Asian Library and tell them, “I must thank Mary for building such a rich resource material at Stanford of those important years in China after the War.”

Dad's Courage

When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1931, Dad donated his entire month's teaching salary towards freedom efforts in the Sino-Japanese War, a controversial action that landed him in prison. Humbled by his jail sentence, he changed his name from Te-P'eng (virtuous giant bird) to Tsien-Chung (modesty infused). He wrote love letters to Mom during this time, and after his release, they got married in 1934.

When the Minister of Foreign Affairs Yeh Kung-chao issued a passport to Dad in 1949 for Mom and his three children, he asked Dad how he's going to support his family on four month's salary at the United Nations General Assembly. Dad said he'll find enough work to take care of his loved ones. Dad commuted five hours by bus and subway to Seton Hall University in New Jersey where he lectured on Far Eastern History. He translated articles and books for Archbishop Paul Yu-pin. He edited and wrote articles for a Chinese newspaper in New York for Dr. Lai-Lien from the United Nations.

Dad spent his last year at Westgate Rehab Center in San Jose. Because of swallowing problems, Dad needed gastrointestinal feeding 20 hours a day. I visited Dad four times a week on the days I was not working in the Computer Lab at Foothill College. Dad was eager to get out of bed for exercises in the Rehab Room. Dad threw the bowling ball at the ten plastic cups I set up for him until he got a strike. He was focused in throwing the horseshoes into the ringer three times in a row. He lifted two wooden canes over his head 12 times and stretched two small barbells from his chest 10 times. He'd climb the four-step staircase slowly, and walked across the room with a cane through the two parallel bars. Dad enjoyed hitting a giant beachball to me 20 times, and caught a volleyball a dozen times. He punched the boxing bag with gusto some 20 times. Even when he fractured his right wrist and had it in splinters, Dad punched the bag with his right thumb. Five days before he died, the nurse by his bedside was shocked when Dad yanked off his oxygen mask, leaned up and played pattycake with me, clapping my hands left & right & both three times.

Dad's Friends

When I began my quest for spiritual enlightenment around 1968, I'd share with Dad books of the sages who had experienced cosmic consciousness. Dad told me that the authors of those books were his long-time friends. He met the British professors Joseph Needham and E. R. Dodds in Chengtu during World War II, where they taught at Szechwan University. Needham wrote about Taoist alchemy and the encyclopedic Science and Civilization in China. Dodds wrote about Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists and later lectured at UC Berkeley on “The Greeks and the Irrational”— one of my favorite books. When I showed Dad the Sutra of the 6th Zen Patriarch Hui-Neng, Dad told me that Hu Shih had discovered the Tun-huang manuscripts that shed more light on the origin of Zen. I knew that Dr. Hu Shih was one of the greatest Chinese scholars in the 20th century, that he had modernized the Chinese language (pai-hua), but I never connected him with Zen master Hui-Neng. Dad brought me to visit Hu Shih at his Manhattan residence when I was 10 years old. I had never seen so many books in my life as his apartment was a wall of bookshelves. Dr. Hu called me "Little Professor" and Dad told me to say “Pu Kan Tang”— (“Thank you for your generous flatter”). Some twenty years later, when I read Hu Shih's Zen debate with D. T. Suzuki in Philosophy East and West, I was amazed that Dad had introduced me to such an amazing scholar. When I showed Dad Carsun Chang's Wang Yang Ming: idealist philosopher of 16th century China, Dad showed me letters that Carsun Chang had written to him and their long friendship. The same was true when I found a letter that General George Marshall had written him when Dad was at the UN in Paris. Likewise with Dad's best friend Li Huang whose beautiful calligraphy graced our living room. When I look at the common thread of Dad's friends, I realized that they were all men of integrity and wisdom. Each had put their personal self behind to help their country and the world in times of crisis.

Value & Wonder in Dad's Life

Like the philosophers of old, Dad was not interested in fame and fortune, but yearned passionately for truth and wisdom. Albert Einstein is one of my all-time heroes. A week before Einstein died in April 1955, a father brought his son to visit him in Princeton. His son was going to attend Harvard and the father asked Einstein for some words to guide his son through life. Einstein told the boy: “Try not to be a man of success but rather be a man of value. A man is considered succesful if he gets more than he puts in, but a man of value always gives more than he receives.” Dad was a man of value. He declined cabinet positions with limo services and preferred teaching history at several Chinese universities. Our home in New York was an open house for many children of Dad's friends from Taiwan and Hong Kong who first embarked on their studies in America. Several students met their future mates over our house in New York, and Dad gave away six brides at their weddings.

Another favorite quote of mine is from the Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel: “I didn't ask for success, I asked for wonder, and God gave it to me.” Dad was a man of wonder. For Plato had said (Theaetetus 155d): “Wonder is the hallmark of a philosopher, for philosophy begins in wonder.” One day in Paris, Dad led me to Musée de l'Homme and ran through the corridors mumbling aloud, “Broca's Brain, Broca's Brain— Where is Broca's Brain?” Apparently Dad had just read Carl Sagan's book by that name published that year (1979). Earlier this year, after Dad's exercises in the Westgate Rehab Room, I wheeled Dad over to the computer and connected to the Internet. We went to the Huntington Museum's website. I remembered Jimmy bringing Dad & Mom there on their way to Los Angeles to see Disneyland in 1981, but Dad loved the Huntington Library more and bought several books there. So I was curious to see what Dad would click on— the library's collection of Shakespeare's early folios and the Gutenberg Bible, or the paintings of Gainsborough's Blue Boy and Thomas Lawrence's Pinkie. But Dad surprised me by clicking the Botanical Gardens for a view of the world's largest & stinkiest flowerAmorphophallus titanum which had bloomed on August 1, 1999. Dad was fascinated by the interesting facts on this gigantic flower, and enjoyed the time-sequence photos of the blossom.

Yes, Dad lived a long life spanning almost the entire 20th century. He witnessed so many historical events first hand at the United Nations, and he had wonderful friends of great learning & wisdom. But above all, Dad was a man of value and wonder, and I thank him for sharing these traits with me that I'll always cherish in my heart.

— Peter Y. Chou, 12-16-2000

To honor Dad's exemplar as a historian, I've added more details
with book titles and dates which were not included in my original eulogy
at Dad's Memorial Service. Return to unlinked version.


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© Peter Y. Chou, WisdomPortal.com
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: peter@wisdomportal.com (1-24-2001)