IN MEMORY OF
MS. RENEE KWANG-MING NIEH
Clyde Tsung-Kong Nieh
This article includes extensive descriptions of racial injustice inflicted on Chinese and Unequal Treaties imposed on the Chinese governments in the last one and a half centuries. Chinese suffered grievously at the hands of foreign invaders during that period of time. These facts are included in this article because they happened. The brutal and greedy acts affected millions of lives. It is fair to say that almost every Chinese family suffered from these deeds. We should find out the circumstance that allowed those invaders to inflict on us these acts of inequities and learn to repel such barbarities. We should not let ourselves sink to such weakness again. It is only through learning from our failures that we can avoid falling victims to the same pitfalls in the future.
I have no intention to stir up racial hatred. Racial hatred is wrong and counter-productive. Revenge is pointless. The actual aggressors and the invaders were mostly dead anyway. Discrimination is wrong whether Chinese practice it or Chinese suffer from it. As a victim of discrimination myself, I hope this practice would disappear forever.
No one race or one nation monopolizes either good or evil. I do believe that those countries that had invaded China and had caused substantive damage and suffering to the population should acknowledge the injustice and extend their sincere apology. A fair and equitable compensation should be offered to the victims and their family. It is only through public acknowledgement of their wrongs that those nations could avoid similar ventures in the future.
For our part, we Chinese should not depend on the enlightenment of foreigners to spare us from future harms and humiliation. We should exercise due diligent to maintain our strength and defense. We should establish ourselves as an equal partner in the world. We should not take advantages of others, but we should be ready to protect our interest and defend our citizens against malicious enemies.
TABLE OF CONTENT
HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDGENERAL ATTITUDE TOWARD FOREIGNERS
EARLY LIFE IN CHINA
RENEE’S GRAND PARENTS
FAMILY LIFE DURING RENEE’S YOUTH
FINAL REQUEST OF HER MOTHER
RENEE TREATED FOREIGNERS WITH DIGNITY AND GRACE
A TRASTARTED HER OWN COMPANY, KWANG-TDING COMPANY
DISASTERS UNDER JAPANESE INVASION AND OCCUPATIONLIFE DURING THE JAPANESE INVASION
LIFE IN SHANGHAI AFTER THE JAPANESE DEFEAT
RENEE AND THE CHILDREN
THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
LIFE IN JAPANHELPING HER OLDER BROTHER’S FAMILY
VISITED HONG KONG ON THE WAY TO THE USA
STARTED A NEW LIFE IN THE USA
APPLIED FOR IMMIGRATION VISA FOR TONY’S FAMILY
ASSISTED TONY’S FAMILY TO SETTLE DOWN
ENROLLED THE CHILDREN IN SCHOOLS
FOUND JOBS FOR EDWARD AND TONY
LIFE NEAR RENEE IN SAN FRANCISCO
RENEE’S DEAR FRIENDS
ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE CHILDREN
CARED FOR JANET AFTER TONY PASSED AWAY
RENEE’S LIFE AFTER RETIREMENT
RENEE’S CHRISTMAS INVESTMENT CLUB
GOOD INVESTMENT STRATEGY
RENEE’S DANCING LESSONS
CONSERVED THE ENVIRONMENT
RENEE’S IBM TYPEWRITER
HELPING HER RELATIVESATTEMPT TO ADOPT HER SISTER’S DAUGHTER
THE TRAGEDIES OF RICHARD AND HIS CHILDREN
ASSISTED OTHER RELATIVES
RENEE PASSED AWAY
RENEE’S RESTING PLACE
Ms. RENEE KWANG-MING NIEH
Ms. Renee Kwang-Ming Nieh was the oldest sister who grew up to adulthood of Mr. Tony Kwang-Kai Nieh (1914 – 1973). Renee had two older brothers, Kwang-Jun (1904 – 1943?) and Richard Kwang-Chi (1908 – 1961), two younger brothers, Tony Kwang-Kai (1914 – 1973), and Leon Kwang-Xi, and one younger sister, Diana Kwang-Xu (1918 – 1966). Renee was born in 1912. She passed away in 1991, just after her eightieth birthday, according to the Chinese way of reckoning age. She never married but lived a full and active life.
Renee’s Chinese name, Kwang-Ming, means “Bright Light”. Her close relatives called her “Foo”, which means good fortune. Both these names aptly reflected her characteristics and personality. She was gregarious and vivacious. She brought hopes, opportunities and happiness to people around her.
Friends and relatives could always count on Renee for advice and assistance. Renee would lend a helping hand whenever she could. She did it not for fame or material gain. She might ask the receiver of her kindness to extend the favor to others. She never asked for anything in return for herself. It was her generous nature. It was a great fortune for anyone to befriend Renee.
Renee stood up for the truth against the circumstance. She lived honestly and truly to her principles. She lived life to the fullest. She blazed new trails, expanded her horizons, looked at issues with fresh viewpoints, and faced challenges with courage. That was how she thrived even though she lived in a turbulent period in Chinese history. She treated people with warmth and respect, regardless of the race or other attributes. While her family and society as a whole went through difficult periods and suffered unspeakable tragedies, she adapted, evolved and triumphed.
She was filial to her parents and respectful to her elders. In fact, we will see how she dedicated her whole life to honor the last request of her beloved mother. Following the Chinese tradition, she venerated her elders beyond their existence in this world. She did that not out of superstition, but with a genuine concern for the well being of those in the world beyond, just as she benefited her friends and relatives who were still alive.
While she did not have children of her own, she was the favorite aunt of all her nephews and nieces, and a beloved grand aunt of their children -- an even younger generation. She had a natural knack with children because she genuinely loved them and cared for them with an open heart. Renee devoted time to them. She advised them on how to live, what to do, and helped them to realize their potential. She encouraged them to grow up and take charge. She spoke her mind with consideration for their feelings. Children responded to her sincerity and kindness. Her personality is a good example for many.
To her relatives and her friends, Renee personified loyalty and amiability. She was never pretentious or pompous in spite of her many achievements. She never bragged of her illustrious friends and relatives.You could always discuss your problems openly with her. Using her perceptive mind, experience in the society and her positive attitude, Renee usually came up with solutions or alternatives that were both practical and refreshing. That was one of her great attraction to the young and old alike.
China underwent much turbulence when Renee lived there. Chinese of Renee’s generation in general suffered tremendously because of the numerous civil wars, foreign invasions, and natural disasters such as famines, and floods. In the final chapter of the Qing dynasty, the country suffered disastrous and humiliating defeats in wars against world powers. The government was forced to pay ruinous amount of money as war indemnities. Armies of eight European countries even occupied the capital, Beijing, when the Boxers laid siege their embassies. Internally, political corruption was rampant. Governmental titles and civil service positions were up for sale, which led to corruptions to compensate for the payments. Civil disorders were widespread and continuous. Neither the government officials nor the civilians had much respect for laws or orders. It was symptomatic of a culture that underwent catastrophic changes. The nation broke away from its past success but had not found a new direction in the changing world.
Revolutionary movements against the Qing dynasty had been started and failed in many cities. In 1911, the revolution inspired by Dr. Sun Yat-Sen finally succeeded in Hangkou. The three hundred years old Qing dynasty collapsed in the year of Renee’s birth. Mr. Yuan Shi-Kai (1859-1916), the President of the new Republic of China, reinstated the imperial system a few years after his inauguration, but died in less than one hundred days. Thereafter, various warlords governed different provinces of China. The power struggle among the warlords and among political parties of different political persuasions caused great suffering to the citizen. The national government was ineffective and bankrupted most of the time. There were inadequate resources to support normal governmental operations. China continued its slide into chaos and disarray.
China had become a quasi-colony of many foreign countries near the end of the Qing dynasty. The area occupied by each foreign country was known as concession in the Treaty Ports. British exported opium by force from India to China, with no concern for the health or welfare of Chinese citizens. British captured Hong Kong and colonized it for 150 years until July 1,1997. Its invading army stole Chinese national treasures and exhibited in its museums without any shame. Its actions were governed exclusively by greed. The pretence to be a nation of gentlemen and ladies was cast aside in pursue of commercial gains. In contrast, the Portuguese who occupied Macao were merely ruthless pirates and opportunists. This situationcontinued even after the collapse of the Qing dynasty.
The population in general suffered abject poverty. People struggled from dawn to dusk just to eke out a minimal subsistence. They were victimized by the oppressive lack of daily necessities, such as food, clean water, education, clothing and medicines. The Western powers despised Chinese for living in wretched conditions, but forgot that actions of the so-called “Enlightened Races” directly caused such consequences.
GENERAL ATTITUDE TOWARD FOREIGNERS
EARLY LIFE IN CHINA
Foreigners in China abused their power and killed randomly innocent citizens. Their occupation of China was an insult to the Chinese national pride. The foreign occupiers and some of their Chinese associates killed many finest Chinese youth in various national tragedies and days of infamy. The foreigners even controlled Chinese governmental institutions, such as the customs service and the justice system that ruled foreigners who committed crimes against Chinese in China.
Chinese had little right when confronted by any foreigner or even other Chinese who were protected by foreign interest. Some Chinese took advantage of their association with foreign governments, churches or commercial firms to gain ill-gotten wealth. Sikh security guards were hired by some firms specifically to project an image of high class and because the Sikhs scared off the average Chinese. The typical Chinese lost any vestige of self-respect and had little control over his fate against foreign interest in his own country.
The Chinese commerce and industry were devastated by unlimited imports and abusive foreign commercial practices. The native factory outputs were considered to be backward or of poor quality. The native crafts, medicine and religions were considered obsolete or of little value. Chinese unemployment or under-employment was the norm. Some educated Chinese found better life abroad even if they were discriminated overseas, rather than working in their own country. Many trained scholars after they were educated overseas did not return to China. Thus there was a net brain drain from China in spite of its desperate needs for trained personnel. China was denied the services of some of its most talented citizens.
Chinese citizens resented strongly against governmental ineptness and were ashamed that the country was in effect being occupied. Students and workers manifested in street parades their distaste to the injustice, particularly in Beijing and Shanghai. The most famous and critical incident happened on May 4th, 1919 in Beijing. Beijing was the academic center of the country. Shanghai had become the most important commercial port and industrial center in central China. This feeling of anger, injustice and frustration led the population eventually to accept a government with unrestrained power for the sake of a strong central government that has the military might to resist foreign invaders.
The Nies were natives of a village in Hengshan, Hunan Province; however, Renee and her siblings were born and raised in Shanghai. Renee was born into a well-to-do family of high government officers, which later evolved into an industrial fortune in Shanghai. She was used to luxury in her early years, but she retained her empathy for the poor and the weak.
RENEE’S GRAND PARENTS
Renee’s grandfather, Mr. Nie Qigui (1855-1911), was the son of Nie Erkang (-1872), an official in the southern province of Guangdong. His father passed away when he was only eighteen (18) years old. His mother, Madam Zhang (-1911) was a Hunanese who was born in Beijing. She did not receive formal education in her youth, but was very capable. After the death of her husband, she single-handedly raised the children and managed the Nie’s estate in Hunan province. She built up the family fortune to a sizable amount from the meager saving of her husband. She oversaw family affairs up to her death.
Mr. Nie Qigui and Ms. Zeng Jifen was engaged to marry in 1872, but the wedding was postponed repeatedly to observed the mourning periods, first of her father, Zeng Guofan (1811-1872), later of his father, Mr. Nie Erkang and last of her mother, Madam Ouyang (1816-1874). The two fathers passed away within a short period of each other. Her mother passed away two years later. The official mourning period for ones parent was set at twenty-seven (27) months in those days.
Mr. Nie Qigui was once a director of the most important armory in China, Jiangnan Arsenal and later the mayor of Shanghai. He was later elevated to be the governor of Anhui, Jiangsu and Jejiang provinces at various periods during the Qing dynasty. Despite Qigui’s numerous contributions; a political operator falsely accused him of some trump up crimes. He was relieved of all his duties during the judicial review. After a careful examination, the justice found him innocent of the accusation; however, Mr. Nie Qigui felt he was wronged just the same. He felt that his superiors did not appreciate his characters and allowed him to be defamed. He felt his valuable contributions were taken for granted. So he retired from public service when he was in his fifties. He advised his descendents to avoid governmental service in the future. From then on, the Nies evolved from high-level civil servants in Yangzi valley to industrial entrepreneurs.
The years1910 and 1911 were momentous in the annals of China as well as in the Nie family. The Qing dynasty that ruled China for over three hundred years was overthrew in 1911. Qigui married off three daughters in 1910. The three son-in-laws were all well respected citizens of the society. Qigui’s mother, Madam Zhang, passed away one month after the last wedding in 1911, at 83 years old. Qigui was inconsolable upon the death of his mother. He contracted some illness while he attended diligently to the illness of his mother. He passed away prematurely within ten days of his mother’s death, at the age of fifty-seven (Reference 3). Jixuan, his younger brother, passed away a month later. The Nie family suffered great losses and sadness in 1911. At the same time, the Nie family was also growing and prospering. Five new grandchildren of Qigui were born in the same year.
Mr. Nie Qigui’s widow, Mrs. Nie Zeng Jifen (1852-1942) was the youngest daughter of the famous Qing dynasty governor general, Zeng Guofan. Zeng was the general who had conquered the Taiping revolutionary movement, and restored the Qing emperor to the throne in the nineteenth century. Mr. Zeng, his brothers and his son, Jize, restored the power of the Qing dynasty at a critical point of history. They were richly rewarded in their lifetime.
Upon the death of her husband, Mrs. Nie Zeng Jifen, became the matriarch of the clan, and became the guardian of family values and virtues. She also passed on the teachings of her illustrious father. She donated money regularly for the care and education of orphans. She set aside money for these purposes ahead of allocating family expenditures. Under her guidance, the family donated land and other resources to establish a middle school in memory of her husband. She led her family to prepare and distribute, for free, herbal medicines to the needy, based on prescriptions the family had accumulated over the years; some ancestors of the Nies had been herbal doctors. She also actively searched out prescriptions that had been proven effective and included them in her offering.
Mrs. Nie Zeng Jifen converted from Buddhism to Protestant Christian at the urging of her third son, Nie Qijie (1880-1953) (Reference 3). She was baptized together with Qijie and his wife in 1915. When Qijie’s career suffered disastrous reverses, he became disillusion with the Christian faith and with his business associates. Ms. Xiao, his wife, died prematurely in 1917. He eventually lived like a semi-hermit and reverted back to traditional Buddhism faith. Mrs. Nie Zeng Jifen did not follow her son’s change of religion. She remained a dedicated Christian for the rest of her life.
Renee’s father, Mr. Nie Qiwei (1883-1966), was the fourth son of Mrs. Nie Zeng Jifen. He studied traditional Chinese teachings under famous tutors at home. He went for advanced training in business in Japan in 1906.
In his private life, Qiwei was a poet. He wrote poems in the format of famous poems of Tong dynasty. He was particularly enamored with the poems of one famous poet of that era. This poet is known for his poignant poems describing unfulfilled love between young couples. Qiwei also excelled in the art of Chinese calligraphy. He encouraged his descendents to practice calligraphy. According to him, good calligraphy was as important as proper dress. In his days, people used to read someone’s handwriting, as in introductory letters, before meeting the person face-to-face. The first impression was often formed based on a person’s handwriting. Good handwriting was also mandatory to pass civil service examinations for government positions. Leon Nieh, his son, practiced Chinese calligraphy diligently in his youth and is known for his achievement among the relatives. Qiwei also inspired his grandson Edward to practice Chinese calligraphy on a daily basis.
The Nie family had previously owned the New Huaxin Cotton Mill jointly with another family. Mr. Tang Kuisheng, the head of that family, pleaded with Qigui to allow his children to assist in the management of the factory. Qigui was reluctant because he occupied a high position in government. He preferred to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest. He finally relented and allowed his sons, Qijie and Qiwei, to assist his business partner. Through dedication and hard work, the younger Nies revitalized the cotton mill in the early 1900’s. Upon the death of Mr. Tang Kuisheng, Mr. Tang Zhixian, a relative of that family, decided to retire from the business and sold his family’s interest in the cotton mill to the Nies. The Nie family became the exclusive owner of the cotton mill later, and renamed it Heng Feng Cotton Mill.
After Qigui retired from government service, Heng Feng Cotton Mill was the primary source of income of the extended Nie family. At one time, this factory was the pride of Chinese private enterprises. In addition, the Nies also owned houses in the city of Changsha and many tracts of land nearby in Hunan province. Madam Zhang managed the rental of those lands personally while she was alive. Qigui acquired additional wetland that was reclaimed from the northern shore of Dongting Hu along Yangzi River in 1906. Additional land was purchased up to 1914. The largest tract of land was named Zhongfuyuan.
Zhongfuyuan comprised approximately 7,500 hundred acres. For ten years after Qigui’s purchase, it yielded no harvest at all. The land needed protection against inundation from lake water. Dykes were built around the tract for that purpose. The dyke measured 7 to 8 meters high and sixty-five to seventy meters wide at the base. A team of security guards was hired to patrol the dykes day and night to assure their integrity.
Several large loans were raised to build dykes around the land. Profits from Heng Feng Cotton Mill were diverted to develop the land. The loans were gradually paid off in later years. Qixian, another son of Qigui, and Zhang Qihuang, the husband of Nie Qide, labored unceasingly to improve the land. Only after much hard work by Mr. Zhang was the land made productive. Eventually, Zhongfuyuan provided employment for three thousand tenant families and supported a population of 20,000. The Nies owed a gratitude to Mr. Zhang for his hard work. Unfortunately, Mr. Zhang died prematurely in a battle in 1927.
The neighboring peasants rented land from the Nies. Floods occasionally ruined the harvest. The rent income was minimized when crops were destroyed. In those years, the farmers harvested barely enough for their survival. Some farmers fished to enhance their income. Other farmers raised lotus and harvested the roots and seeds to supplement income.
Due to a difference in management philosophy with his brother, Qijie (1880-1953), Qiwei divested his interest in the cotton mill and became a banker. Qiwei worked first as a vice president of a semi-official bank of the Chinese government. He was forced out of that position when he refused to comply with a request for four million dollars from the President of China, Yuan Shi-Kai (Reference 1). The presidential demand did not comply with the rules of the bank. Qiwie would have compromised his principles and his adherence to laws if he yielded to that request.
Yuan Shi-Kai got the money he asked for from another bank. In China compliance with the wishes of higher authority usually takes precedence over compliance with the laws. Qiwei’s action was exceptional and it was an honored example for his descendents. Qiwie preserved the financial integrity of the bank but the bank president removed him from active management the next day. Qiwie resigned in protest. After that incident, Qiwei assisted an important financier of northern China, Mr. Sun, and worked as a vice president of a private bank.
Qiwei was loved and respected by all his descendents. He lived an honorable and righteous life by adhering to the teaching of his parents and teachers. He was also noted for being full of compassion to his sub-ordinates. He observed these two principles faithfully all his life. He expected his descendents to live life in accordance to Confusian teachings. Qiwei did not live ostentatiously, but was generous to those in need. He rarely raised his voice in conversation, and never bullied those of lower social status. In fact, he was always patient with those who served him. He was honored, instead of feared, by his family and servants.
Renee’s beloved mother, Madam Liu, was a descendent of a nobleman in the Qing dynasty. Madam Liu’s father, Mr. Liu Zi, had been a second grade viscount and financial commissioner of Shanxi Province, during the Qing dynasty. Madam Liu had four sons and two daughters that lived to adulthood. Out of that, she favored Leon the most. Due to her early demise, the family had little knowledge or recollection of her. Most of her descendents had not seen her even in picture.
FAMILY LIFE DURING RENEE’S YOUTH
Renee was luckier than most of her contemporaries. In her youth, she enjoyed good companionship as well as affluence. Her father had eleven brothers and sisters. Renee had four brothers and a sister that survived childhood. She socialized with numerous uncles, aunts, and cousins of the extended family. She was accustomed to being surrounded by large numbers of people of culture. Good manner was ingrained in her from birth. She developed skills in human interactions within the extended family as well as with her friends. Private tutors educated her at home for her primary education. She attended the famous McTyiere Girls’ School in Shanghai for her secondary education.
After Qiwei divested his share of the family business, Qijie stayed on as the chairman of the board of the family cotton mill. Qijie possessed foresight and ability. He managed the cotton mill with effective leadership. Qijie installed machines of the latest design in the cotton mill. Business volume grew at an astonishing rate. Heng Feng Cotton Mill offered classes that trained numerous future leaders of Chinese textile industry. The cotton mill also offered studying opportunities in Japan and in America to qualified applicants. Qijie was elected the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai in 1920.
Qijie’s business reversed disastrously in his later life. He expanded Heng Feng many times through loans from banks. He established other cotton mills and other enterprises. Near the end of World War 1, Qijie procured machinery for these expansions. The contracts were based on foreign currency. With the end of the war, the money exchange rate changed rapidly in favor of foreign currency. The capital required to finance the expansion exceeded grossly the original estimation. At the same time, the domestic textile business deteriorated with the infusion of Japanese financed cotton mills. The Japanese cotton mills consistently supplied products of higher quality at lower price. The market had little demand for low quality Chinese products but devoured the entire production of high quality Japanese products. The glut of excess Chinese products equaled to years of production.
Qijie suffered a series of catastrophic commercial failures and his business owed heavy debts to the banks. Qijie was forced to sell the new business adventures at great losses to repay the loans. His investments were reduced drastically. He conceded his position in the family business to his younger brother, Nie Qikun (1888-1980) in 1924. Heng Feng Cotton Mill suffered economic losses due to management problems, equipment obsolescent and labor unrests. The factory was under severe financial burdens, capital shortage and lowered credit rating. At one time, the lenders effectively took over the business. They allocated the incomes to satisfy the interest and the principal. The payments to the bank robbed the ability of the cotton mill to renovate its machineries. The factory lost its luster as a premier enterprise of the country.
Renee enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle in her youth. Dividends distributed by the Heng Feng Cotton Mill supplemented the family earning, but the income dwindled with the deteriorated business condition of the family Cotton Mill. The Nie family fortune declined along with that of the Chinese population in general. The unstable central and local governments, numerous political upheavals and unequal foreign treaties signed by the Qing dynasty contributed to the decline. The unlimited imports overwhelmed the market and bankrupted the native factories.
FINAL REQUEST OF HER MOTHER
Around 1934, Renee accompanied her beloved mother to visit a famous temple in Hangzhou. Her mother was accustomed to live in a Buddhist temple and to meditate Buddhism teaching several times a year. While she lived there, she only consumed vegetarian diets. Along the journey, Renee’s mother suffered a massive stroke. She had suffered a stroke six years earlier. Her doctor advised her that the next stroke could be fatal. She realized that her condition was terminal. On her deathbed, she requested Renee to take care of her two younger brothers and one younger sister: Tony, Leon and Diana.
In that era, the mother normally nurtured the family members and the father was primarily responsible for earning a living, and secondarily to impart morale training to the children. Hence, in the absence of their mother, the younger siblings would need someone to nurture them. Renee dedicated her life to the best of her ability to honor this commitment to her mother. In fact, she took care of not only her younger siblings, but other family members as well.
RENEE TREATED FOREIGNERS WITH DIGNITY AND GRACE
Renee was proud of her Chinese heritage, but was not chauvinistic. She befriended foreigners of various countries and races throughout her life. She never felt inferior to Caucasians, nor looked down on other minorities. She treated all people with warmth, grace and compassion, and never with prejudice. This was unusual and refreshing since in Renee’s youth, Caucasians normally occupied positions of power and enjoyed undeserved privileges in China. Many Chinese behaved subserviently to Caucasians. Renee was neither envious of Caucasians’ privilege nor xenophobic. A poem of Zeng Guofan summarizes her attitude (Reference 3):
Hate Not and Seek Nothing
“ The greatest virtue is mercy; the greatest vice is envy.
The deeds of one with a jealous heart are like the bickering of wives and concubines – petty, neither straightforward nor upright.
Without talent, such a person disdains the ability of others…”
STARTED HER OWN COMPANY, KWANG-TA TRADING COMPANY
In Renee’s private life, she enjoyed music, dancing and sports. Renee was not satisfied with living passively in luxury. Renee worked hard and excelled in her professional assignments. Unlike the typical woman of her generation, Renee did not marry upon maturity. She manifested her independent spirit early in life.
When she graduated from high school, she worked for a private company. Mr. Herbert Gallop, her superior, recognized immediately from the performance her competency. Her career advanced with assignments of increasing responsibilities. Soon, in cooperation with her brother, Richard (1908-1961), Renee started an international trading company that they named Kwang-Ta Trading Company. The company imported paper, dyes and machinery from America and Europe to China.
Renee treated her employees with her innate kindness and generosity. In return, they worked hard for the company and were dedicated to her with unyielding loyalty. Tony worked at the Hong Kong branch of the company for a few years in the later part of 1930’s until he returned to Shanghai. [Hereafter, Tony’s family is referred to as the family and his children are referred to as the children.] For a period of time, Leon worked at the company headquarter, which was located in Shanghai.
Clyde was too young to know much about the company, but one thing has stayed vividly in his mind. Once, Kwang-Ta Company imported an electrical shooting gallery to Shanghai. The player stood on a rubber mate to insulate himself against electrical shocks, about fifteen feet from the play station. He aimed a simulated rifle to shoot at moving animal parading at the play station. The objects would lay down flat if they sensed that they were shot electrically. A technician, Mr. Jian, supervised the kids to ensure their safety. This machine was a novelty in the city. The children waited patiently in line for a chance to play.
DISASTERS DURING JAPANESE INVASION AND OCCUPATION
From July 7,1937 onward, the Japanese Imperial Army invaded China. The Japanese occupation started from Manchuria, the northern region and expanded quickly to the central and the southern regions of China. The Japanese boasted that its army would conquer China completely in less than three months. Initially it appeared as if they would achieve that goal. They raced quickly down central China. The 19th Chinese Army stalled the rapid advance in Shanghai for over a month. The encircled Chinese army was eventually withdrawn under a treaty negotiated by the International Concession that had commercial interests in Shanghai.
The Japanese employed superior weaponry and armed organization. They created an atmosphere of fear by wanton massacres, widespread raping and public humiliation of Chinese. The Japanese solders competed to see who killed more civilians and killed faster. The Japanese army used chemical weapons in battlefields, and paid no regard to the Geneva Convention that prohibited the use of such weapons. A special unit of the Japanese army, stationed in Manchuria, conducted biological and chemical experiments on surrendered Chinese soldiers while they were still alive. Innocent civilians and surrendered Chinese army were killed indiscriminately. The most brutal incident occurred in Nanjing where up to three hundred thousand men, women, children and even some unborn fetus were killed in their mother’s womb. The barbarities and beastliness of the Japanese invaders were rare in the human history.
The Japanese and their conspirators soon occupied and ruled over most population centers of China, including Shanghai. Food and other productions were confiscated from China to support the war efforts against the allies. The Japanese ruler diffused Chinese resistance by setting up three puppet governments in the occupied zones. These puppet governments were staffed with Chinese politicians who sold their soul for blood money. These governments survived under Japanese protection, although they maintained their own army.
The last emperor of the Qing dynasty was set up to rule Manchukuo outside the Chinese Great Wall. A separate puppet government was set up to rule Northern China. The Nanjing government, under the traitor, Wang Qin-Wei, ruled China south of Yangtze River. Most officials of these governments were only interested in enriching themselves. Their specialties were to extort Chinese civilian, in collusion with the feared Japanese military police. These governments did not merit the title of Chinese governments. They had no popular support. There were frequent sabotages by the Chinese underground resistance. The Japanese and their lackeys imposed cruel reprisals on civilians in the neighboring villages after for such incidents.
The Chinese government temporarily moved its capital to Chongqing. Large number of Chinese escaped from the occupied zones to area still governed by the legitimate Chinese government. They were harassed and shot at by the Japanese and by native bandits along the way. The escapees suffered many hardships, such as hunger, thirst, and constant air attacks, along the way. Many were killed along the way or died from lack of basic subsistence.
Many families were broken up with some members lived in the freed zone and others lived under occupation. Due to long period of separation and with no correspondence between people living in the two zones, some men and women remarried without divorcing their first spouse or even knowing whether their first spouse was still alive. There were many family tragedies after the war because of bigamies.
The population in the freed zone did not lose its spirit in spite of the suffering. Once the coastal towns were lost to the Japanese, China was cut off from foreign industrial supplies. Shortage became even more acute than before. Native factories had yet to be developed to fill the vacuum. Previously, native industries languished from inferior quality and backward technology. When it became necessary for the natives to use their ingenuities, they rose to meet the challenge. Mr. Yu Dawei, a cousin of Renee, designed and set up factories to manufacture rifles that he designed for the Chinese army. Mr. Yu was trained in projectiles trajectory in Germany before the war. The Chinese made rifles proved their high performance in battlefield over those imported from overseas. This came as a surprise to some foreign munitions manufacturers.
Salt had always been a rare and valued commodity in inland provinces of China. During the Qing dynasty, salt was sold under exclusive government contracts for great profits. For the civilians, salt was important as a seasoning and for preserving food. There was little electricity available to the civilian to power refrigerators, even if they owned such appliance. Salt was equally important as an ingredient of industry and pharmaceutical production. When sea salt was no longer available from the occupied coastal provinces, the salt supply inland was reduced precipitously.
There were wells of concentrated brine in Szechwan province. The brine could be refined into salt. However, the steel equipments used to process brine was made of a special steel alloy that resisted corrosion by brine. That steel alloy was imported exclusively from overseas. The salt supply would be depleted if the steel equipments were not maintained. Profession Zhou Zijing, a specialist in metallurgy and ceramics researched the problem and developed a domestic steel alloy that could withstand the corrosiveness of brine. Mr. Zhou was a professor at the famous Jiao-Tong University in Shanghai prior to the war. He was married to Nie Qibi, a favorite aunt of Renee.
Universities and other factories sprung up in the free zone, from the dedication and untiring efforts of scholars, entrepreneurs and business leaders. The war served as a stimulant for Chinese to develop endemic solutions. The Chinese army fought with high morale and overcame the shortage in arms and materials. In spite of the sacrifice, there was a prevalent spirit to win for the survival of the race.
The allies provided valuable assistance to China. War materials were shipped to China through Burma after the completion of a highway across the mountainous Yunnan province. After Japan occupied Burma, allied pilots flew material into China over the Himalayan mountain range, facing great risk and danger. With the help of her allies, China did not surrender, although the population, especially those who lived under Japanese occupation, suffered indescribable hardships. The living conditions of Chinese all over the country deteriorated steadily. The villagers could hardly afford sufficient food for their family. In spite of it, the population in the occupied zone kept faith with the central government. They were convinced that they would be freed one day. The war lasted over eight years. The occupation continued until the second half of 1945; i.e. the end of World War II.
The total Chinese death toll from direct and indirect consequence of battles and occupation is estimated to be over twenty millions. The destruction of civilian properties, factories, agriculture, and infrastructure in China is beyond estimation. The most serious impact of the invasion was that it interrupted the maturing of the Chinese government into an organized and democratic institute for many years. A whole generation of young Chinese was deprived of normal education. This exacerbated the illiteracy in China. The workers were inadequately educated and trained. Worker productivity was reduced in consequence.
LIFE DURING THE JAPANESE INVASION
Kwang-Jun (1904-1943) was Renee’s oldest brother. He worked for an airline company that moved with the government to inland China. He left Shanghai to escape the approaching Japanese army. After he was wounded in an air raid, he recuperated in a town called Yuan Jiang, Hunan province. This was the ancestral land of the Nie family. Unfortunately, the Japanese army captured that town shortly afterwards. The Japanese arrested him as a suspected underground patriot of the Chinese government. Someone, probably hoping for a ransom, informed the Japanese of his identity. Kwang-Jun was tortured and mistreated cruelly during the imprisonment. He died several days after his release. There was no accurate record of his death. It was estimated to have occurred when the Japanese on the fourth attack occupied Changsha. Kwang-Jun’s wife (Ms. Lin) and a young child, Michael, stayed in Shanghai and escaped the horrible fate of Kwang-Jun.
Richard (1908 – 1961) was Renee’s older brother. Richard graduated from a university in Shanghai. He majored in economics. He later earned master degrees from universities in Beijing, London and Harvard University. From his youth, Richard was noted for his organized and methodical mind. He was the bright star among his siblings. Qiwei invested a substantial amount of family fortune to educate Richard. He was well respected by colleagues, friends, and relatives for his learning and achievements. According to Tony, Richard’s motto was “Don’t explain and don’t excuse.” This revealed Richard to be someone who was confident of his capability and was a decision maker. Richard accepted the consequence of his actions. Richard worked for a private bank during the Japanese occupation.
The Japanese army and navy raided Hawaii, and invaded South East Asia without a formal declaration of war on December 7, 1941. The Japanese occupied Hong Kong within weeks. The occupation force soon confiscated large quantity of resources in Hong Kong to sustain its war effort. Due to a severe shortage of food and living necessities, Tony brought his wife, Janet, and his children from Hong Kong back to Shanghai.
When the Japanese first invaded Shanghai, the Japanese army and native bandits destroyed the Nie family mansion, located in Hongkou, Shanghai. Qiwei lost valuable possessions due to the combined depredations of Japanese invaders and native robbers. Mrs. Nie Zeng Jifen comforted her family by advising them not to be preoccupied with material loss due to wars and tribulations. She told them that the important thing was that they had survived the disasters with their lives and health (Reference 2). Material goods were replaceable. She concerned more for the health and well being of even the servants than the family fortune.
When Mrs. Nie Zeng Jifen passed away in 1942, it was a great loss to the Nie family, as well as to Shanghai society in general. Fortunately for the family, Renee inherited and manifested many of her grandmother’s virtues and was ready to continue the guardianship of the family.
Renee’s father and her other siblings - the remainder of Qiwei’s branch of the family, lived in Shanghai throughout the war.
Renee’s father, the wife of Kwang-Jun (Ms. Lin) and her son Michael, Tony’s family, Leon, and Renee lived in a rented four-story house located on Avenue Joffre. The house was situated in the French concession in Shanghai.
LIFE IN SHANGHAI AFTER THE JAPANESE DEFEAT
After China won the war against the Imperial Japanese Army, the Guomingdang government reclaimed the Japanese-occupied zones. The civilians that lived under Japanese occupation anticipated improved living conditions, but were sadly disappointed. The living standard of the population hardly improved with the peace, even in comparison with wartime conditions. The returning government officials matched the greediness of the Japanese occupiers. They were interested more in enriching themselves than to rebuild the country. They behaved like Yankee carpetbaggers at the conclusion of the America civil war.
Without consulting its citizens or obtaining their concurrence, the Guomingdang controlled government gave up claims for damages on the Japanese invaders when the war was concluded. The government did not care how the civilian felt or how they should be compensated for the grievance and suffering. Who would compensate the orphans who lost their parents, the parents who lost their children, and the citizens who lost their schools, health, time, employment and hope for an improved life?
In contrast to the magnanimity of the Chinese government, the Japanese government did not even acknowledge its crimes against the Chinese. They were surprised that Chinese dare to ask for an apology in later years, and did not deign to respond. The Japanese thought that they were the victims of World War II, since American dropped two atomic bombs in Japanese cities. Their own crimes against humanities throughout the war were conveniently forgotten.
It was perplexing to see the government being more lenient to the Japanese invaders than its own civilians. The government officials confiscated many Chinese companies and civilian properties under the pretence that those had been enemy properties, but pocketed the wealth themselves. There was little redress against such abuses unless the property owner himself was connected to some other powerful government official or paid a bribe. Corruption was rampant. It was even more common than at the last years of the Qing dynasty. Heng Feng Cotton Mill suffered a similar fate. Qijie came out of retirement briefly to reclaim the factory for the Nie family. The business circle still respected him as an industrial leader with integrity.
After the Sino-Japanese war, Richard worked for a United Nation organization that assisted dislocated refugees. Later, he managed a trust unit of the government Treasury Department. He and his family lived separately from his father in Shanghai.
Diana, Renee’s sister, married Mr. Vincent Shi-Jing Kuai (19xx – 1992), an electrical engineer. Vincent had graduated from Shanghai Jiao-Tong University with a BS degree in electrical engineering. Vincent was a well-respected electrical engineer in electrical power generation. Their family also lived separately in Shanghai. The Nie family associated with the Kuai family since the time Mr. Nie Qigui served as an official under the Qing dynasty.
RENEE AND THE CHILDREN
Renee was known for her kindness and patience with children. She entertained her nephews and nieces on many occasions. In spite of her busy schedule, she took time out to bring the children to visit her friends. One of them was a florist. This Jewish lady operated a flower shop near the Nie family residence. Clyde can still remember the scent of fresh-cut flowers that permeated the store. Sometimes Renee brought the kids to a supermarket operated by foreigners. This was a rare treat since at that period most Chinese were more accustomed to Chinese food, and could hardly afford imported luxuries. Renee brought home tasty morsels or prepared exotic dishes at home. To the children, these were great treats. They also enjoyed Renee telling stories. They passed many happy hours of childhood in her company.
THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA
The civil war between the Guomingdang and the Communists renewed shortly after the end of World War II. The Guomingdang government caused several hyperinflation cycles. The currency lost its value so rapidly that no one kept paper money in hand. The Guamingdang government legislated laws, which deviated from the Constitution to force the civilian to exchange gold and foreign currency for paper money. People who had no influence that did not comply with that law were killed. The government killed them to scare the rest. The population labeled the implementation of the law as “killed the flies, but left the tigers alone”.
The government looted the personal wealth of the middle class, among it that of the Nies, in a short period of time. The population no longer trusted the Guomingdang and did not support their government. By 1949, the Communists occupied the whole country, except Taiwan province and Hainan province. Chairman Mao proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, with the capital located in Beijing.
The Guamingdang soon retreated from Hainan province. They established a provincial government in Taiwan with the looted wealth, many national treasures and some of the best-educated Chinese. A protest of Taiwanese natives was suppressed ruthlessly on February 28, 1947. Police labeled as revolution students who protested at a teacher university and at Taiwan University. With that label, the government ruined the students’ future even after they were released from prison. The student leaders were punished severely, up to imprisonment or death. The government continued to rule by brute force and by intimidation for over ten years. The government waited almost fifty years before it apologized for its lawlessness and brutalities and compensated the victims.
Tony worked as an interpreter for an organization of the United Nations in Shanghai during the Chinese civil war. He escaped to Hong Kong the year the Guomingdang were routed, to avoid persecution by the new government. Janet single-handedly brought her five children to Hong Kong in March 1951. Renee stayed in Shanghai until 1953. Following several political upheavals, it became impractical to operate private enterprises. She then immigrated to Japan to reactivate her trading company.
LIFE IN JAPAN
Renee re-opened a branch office of Kwang-Ta Trading Company in Japan after she arrived in 1953. The store was located in the city of Yokohama. Tony maintained contact through correspondence with Renee while she lived in Japan. Tony and Renee were both prolific letter writers. The family learned about Renee’s colorful life in Japan. Occasionally the family would see her in pictures that she enclosed in letters. She appeared to be an enigma to the children, since she lived in a social environment so different from theirs. She kept a small brown dog as pet. She grew vegetables in her garden. She employed a gentle and loyal Japanese lady as housekeeper. She maintained a large circle of friends from many levels of the society.
Throughout those years, she packed carefully various items and asked her sailor friends to bring them to Tony and the family in Hong Kong. In those packages, the family would find china rice bowls, plates, snack treats, mushrooms that she pickled in oil, and soybeans that she grew in the garden, boiled in salted water and then sun-dried. There were also toys, stationery and books for the children. She sent several sets of bamboo fishing rods one time, and even some records, including music written by Steven Foster, which was a great favorite of Tony. Clyde started to appreciate classical music after listening to a record of violin nocturnes that Renee sent. It was always a happy occasion for the children when the family received a package from Renee. These packages spoke of her generosity and more importantly, her love. The children’s curiosity would not be abated until Tony opened them and revealed the new surprises. The family benefited from Renee’s thoughtfulness, and appreciated her generosity.
HELPING HER OLDER BROTHER’S FAMILY
Meanwhile, the Nie family members that stayed behind in China suffered many tragedies. The repeated political upheavals totally ruined the family fortune. Some family members were accused of being rightists or capitalists. As Renee father’s resources evaporated, the lives of the surviving family of her older brother, Kwang-Jun, suffered. Kwang-Jun died during the Sino-Japanese war. His widow, Ms. Lin, remained single to care for her son, Michael. Michael was noted from his youth to be a studious student. He was especially proficient with electrical appliances, both in design and repair. Clyde can still remember listening to a radio that Michael built using a crystal. Being the oldest boy of his generation, he was a natural leader of the cousins. As the family financial condition deteriorated, Ms. Lin could no longer afford to pay for Michael’s tuition. In spite of Michael’s excellent performance in school, the principal did not award Michael a scholarship. He thought that the Nies were still affluent and did not need assistance. Renee started to support the widow and Michael financially without anyone’s knowledge.
VISITED Hong Kong ON THE WAY TO THE USA
Around 1958, Renee applied for an immigration visa to America and was accepted. She boarded a freight ship, which carried a few passengers along for the trip. The ship passed through Hong Kong and Guam on the way to America. When the ship stopped by Hong Kong, the children brought some roses to Renee in a hotel, which was situated in Kowloon.
The family decided to see Renee off when the ship departed from Hong Kong. A dear and common friend of Renee and Tony, Mr. Y. D. Chow, was a well-known photographer among the acquaintance. He volunteered to take pictures. As an added treat, he used color film, which was still a novelty in Hong Kong at that time. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate. The weather was overcast on the day of departure. The pictures came out acceptable, but did not have the brilliant colors to which Mr. Chow aspired.
STARTED A NEW LIFE IN THE USA
Renee started a new life in San Francisco, CA. When she arrived, living conditions were more difficult for her than ever before. Her personal wealth was greatly diminished due the adversities and frequent moves from place to place. She did not allow herself to be detracted by those who treated her indifferently because of her reduced financial conditions. She maintained her spirit. She started over again through her own efforts, at the bottom of the job market and at a more mature age. She even worked once as a sales clerk, for the minimum wage, in a bazaar in San Francisco Chinatown. It was quite a comedown for someone who had once owned and operated an international trading company. Yet, she had too much confidence in herself to allow the reversed circumstance to define her worth.
Renee worked industriously with her usual enthusiasm and competence. Soon she found a job working for Security Pacific Bank. This Bank was later purchased by and merged with Bank of America. She worked in the Trust Department. Her supervisor was a gentleman named Carlos Allegra (?). She worked there until her retirement.
Renee rented an apartment at 625 Bush Street when she first arrived in San Francisco. True to her nature, she soon befriended a whole new group of people. Shortly afterwards, she purchased a house jointly with two friends, Jerry (I could not find his last name.) and Hank Roth. The house was located at 554 23rd Avenue, in the Richmond district of San Francisco. She lived on the second floor, Hank lived on the third floor, and Jerry lived on the first floor. Jerry soon moved out and sold his share of house ownership to Hank. The first floor was then rented to a Swiss, named Adolf, for many years. This house became the center of social gatherings for Renee’s friends and relatives. Renee lived there until the end of her days.
APPLIED FOR IMMIGRATION VISA FOR TONY’S FAMILY
Living in Hong Kong was a little hard for Tony and the family. Tony had a reasonable job. But supporting a family of seven on the salary of a clerk alone was stretched. In addition, the children were advancing in schools. Edward and Sidney both had already enrolled in universities at the beginning of 1960. It would be even more difficult for Tony when the rest of the children were ready to enter college.
Neighbors of the family ambushed Sidney one day for some unexplained reason, and bashed open his head with a brick. Sidney was taken to an emergency room to treat the severe bleeding. After that incident, Tony and Renee decided that the family should move to a place where the children could have better opportunities for advancement and would also be safer.
In 1961, China suffered severe famine, induced partially by natural disasters and partially by political policy. A large number of Chinese from Mainland China escaped to Hong Kong for survival. They came by land and by sea. Many escapees drowned or died of exhaustion before they reached Hong Kong. Their bodies, some of which were bounded hands and feet, floated along the East River of Guandong province to Hong Kong. The scenes of the tragedy shocked the sensitivities of American citizens. President John F. Kennedy initiated a “Parolee Program” to allow the Chinese refugees to live in USA on temporary visas. They were permitted to apply for permanent residential status after a waiting period.
Renee took advantage of that offer and applied for immigration permission for Tony’s family. Her generous friends, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Loomis, and Mr. and Mrs. George Takada sponsored the family. X-ray films of Tony’s wife, Janet, revealed signs of residual tuberculosis. A kind-hearted Swedish doctor agreed to care for Janet as needed. This promise removed one condition that the USA Immigration Service had imposed for approval the immigration. The family finally received the good news of approval, but it faced one more hurdle: paying for the transportation. Renee’s housemate, Hank, loaned the money to Tony for that purpose.
The immigration of Tony and the family to the USA was a wonderful opportunity for the children, but it was consummated only with tremendous efforts of Renee and the generous assistance of her friends. The willingness of Renee’s friends to help total strangers was a reflection of Renee’s personality and her friendship with them. Those qualities induced her friends to help Tony and the family, without even meeting them first or received any guarantee of repayment.
It was quite a task to move a family of seven from Hong Kong to San Francisco. Sidney attended Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas that year. He arrived in America about eight months earlier. The family brought along possessions accumulated over a twelve-year stay in Hong Kong. In fact, Tony and Edward even procured some new furniture for the trip. Due to the large quantity of luggage, it was impractical for the family to travel by air. The family went to San Francisco in a ship called “President Wilson”. The ship sailed across the Pacific Ocean in nineteen (19) days, and docked at Pier 40 in San Francisco on February 19, 1963. Clyde still remembered when the ship sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge that he wondered if the chimneys of the ship would clear the bridge. It was an overcast day, but the family looked forward to a bright future in the New World. This opportunity for immigrate to America was a priceless gift from Renee to her brother Tony and the family.
ASSISTED TONY’S FAMILY TO SETTLE DOWN
Before the family arrived in San Francisco, Renee had already located and rented for them an apartment at 1276 Jackson Avenue, near Chinatown. Miss Chow, a friend of Renee, informed her of the vacancy, and Renee immediately secured the apartment with a deposit. Miss Chow even requested the owner first to paint the apartment. The apartment smelled of fresh paint for weeks after the family moved in. The apartment had two large bedrooms, a living room and a dining room. The parents and Marie each occupied one bedroom. The living room was converted to a bedroom for the three boys. The place was spacious compared to the house in which the family had resided in Hong Kong. Sidney still studied at SMU. The view was excellent. One could see the Bay Bridge from the front windows and the Golden Gate Bridge from the rear windows. The San Francisco landmark, Hyde Street Cable Car, ran in front of the main entrance of the building.
Tony and the family faced a whole new set of challenges before they could settle down in America. Tony needed a job and the children needed to enroll in schools. Fortunately, Renee and her many friends extended their hands to assist them once again.
ENROLLED THE CHILDREN IN SCHOOLS
In compliance with California state laws, all children below college level had to be enrolled in school during school year. The children had studied English in Hong Kong, but were not as fluent as they needed to be in order to communicate on a daily basis. A very dear friend, Mrs. Helen Alpert, volunteered to drive them to various schools, talked to the admission officers, and had them enrolled in the proper classes. Marie attended Marina Junior High School, and Luther attended Galileo High School. Clyde had attended the first year of college before he left Hong Kong. Since that college school year had started already in America, he could not attend university that semester. Instead, he enrolled in a college preparatory class for foreign students to learn English at John Adams Adult High School.
FOUND JOBS FOR EDWARD AND TONY
Edward had enrolled in the third year of Baptist College in Hong Kong, majoring in chemistry. He decided to work temporarily in order to assist Tony to support the family. A friend of Renee helped Edward to find a job at Chevron Research Center, which was located in Richmond, CA. Edward was able to keep in touch with his specialties and acquired valuable work experience.
Tony encountered more difficulty finding a job since he was at an advanced age and did not have special training. He had some experience working in ships when he served in the Chinese Customs Service. His cousin who occupied a high position in a shipping company failed to help him to secure employment. Renee contacted her friends in the banking business. After a few months, Tony finally found a job with San Francisco National Bank. Janet found work sewing for a small sweatshop that was located on Pacific Avenue, which was one street away from the apartment. The family finally settled down to new lives in San Francisco. The smooth transition into a society so drastically different in circumstance from that in Hong Kong could mainly be attributed to the continuous assistance of Renee and her many wonderful friends.
LIFE NEAR RENEE IN SAN FRANCISCO
Living in San Francisco meant that the family had many opportunities to visit Renee. The children renewed their acquaintance with her. Of course, now that the children were grown up and Renee was a few years older, the relationship changed to some degree. However, Renee retained her generous and caring nature. She always had time for them and offered kind words of encouragement. She took the children to the amusement park near the Great Highway. She took them to visit museums located inside the famous Golden Gate Park, which was situated near her house. Renee organized many activities for the family to participate.
RENEE’S DEAR FRIENDS
Renee’s many friends virtually adopted the family. Their kindness and generosity made the family feel welcome and at ease quickly. Jack and Anita Loomis owned an eighty-acre farm in Santa Rosa. On weekends, they drove the family to the field to plant corn, tomatoes, squashes, and other vegetables. Except for Janet, the family had never planted anything in quantity in their life. The land was so fertile and blessed with natural irrigation that rainfall alone was sufficient to keep the vegetables growing. There were also many apple trees in the yard of the Loomis’ ranch house. The sunshine, the outdoor life and the exercise were welcome changes to the family who had lived in a tiny rental house in Hong Kong. Of course, the harvest brought extra joy to the family when their labor yielded a crop.
Mrs. Helen Alpert was another favorite of the children. She had an extremely keen and open mind. The children enjoyed conversing with her in English. Their conversation went beyond topics of daily activities and entered into the realm of philosophy and politics. While there might not always be agreement among them, the tone was always civil and respectful. It was the first time that children realized they could converse with an intelligent adult as equals. They started to appreciate democracy. Democracy was not fully implemented by past Chinese governments, and rarely practiced in Hong Kong. The value of these conversations cannot be overemphasized, since they enhanced the confidence and maturity of the children. The children started to appreciate this country, not just for the abundance of material and opportunities, but also for the free and open environment.
Renee was famous for the many parties that she held at her house. Typically, she invited more people than was comfortable for the available space; however, the congestion did not prevent the guests from enjoying those occasions. The atmosphere was free and intimate. The topics of conversation covered anything of interest to the guests. There was some reminiscence, especially when the guests included long separated friends and relatives. Since Renee kept in touch with so many people, the family got to see many relatives that they had not met for years. One special person among them was a younger sister of Renee’s father, named Qichun (1891-197x), a favorite aunt of Renee and Tony. This gentle lady lived in Los Angeles at that time. The children met cousin Michael after many years of separation. Renee also invited Lydia, who was the first wife of her brother, Richard, to visit her several times.
When President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, shortly before the Thanksgiving Day in 1963, many guests of that party cried openly in his memory and for his brave family. The guests discussed politics sometimes. During the era when America was engaged in the Vietnam War, some conversations got a little heated, but that was to be expected when people of different generations and backgrounds discussed such emotionally charged topics.
There were many interesting and erudite guests, such as, professors John and Rachel Carter, who were Luther’s host family at UC Berkeley. John was a professor of economics at the UC campus. Doctor Suzuki, Edward’s supervisor at the Chevron Research Center, was a chemist. The children often sought the company of Mrs. Helen Alpert. Conversing with her was always stimulating. Margaret and Pappy Young were also favorites of the children. Pappy usually volunteered for bartending service. This couple was so down to earth and amiable that the children felt comfortable talking with them. Carlos was Renee’s supervisor at the bank. He had learned to type Braille for the blinds and devoted many hours to transcribe books for the benefit of those unfortunate people. Mr. Takada was a California Highway Patrol officer. He recited many tales of law enforcement, to the amusement of the children. Mrs. Takada worked for the Department of Motor Vehicles. She epitomized the demure and gentle Japanese housewife. Mr. and Mrs. Loomis were both gentle souls who were well verse in Asians affairs. They traveled extensively in Japan and the Philippines.
There were also Chinese friends. Mrs. Harriet Ho was Renee’s high school classmate in Shanghai. Her husband, Mr. Charlie Ho, owned an electrical appliance shop. He spent many hours comparing the merits of American cars and European cars with Hank. Doctor Kuo’s father who was also a doctor treated the Nies in Shanghai. Mr. And Mrs. Foo were Renee’s close friends while she lived in Japan. Mr. Foo brought many packages for Renee to the family while they lived in Hong Kong. The family visited the Foos when “President Wilson” disembarked at Yokohama on the way to America. The Foos had since moved to America. Dolly, a long time friend of Renee, came to the parties many times. It is impossible to enumerate the many other guests.
Renee’s friends really enjoyed the food that she prepared. Renee tried many new recipes in those parties. She cooked mainly Chinese dishes, but also some American dishes. Renee prepared so much food for the party that she frequently had to store some dishes in Adolf’s refrigerator. Renee’s raspberry punch, which was mixed based on her own recipe, was a favorite of the guests. Later on, Janet, some nieces and other female in-laws helped Renee with cooking. Luther, Clyde and C. T. helped with dish washing. For Christmas parties, Renee baked special sweet breads, called stollen, for the guests to take home. After Luther found a job with Ampex Company and relocated from Bloomington, Illinois back to the Bay Area, he roasted turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas parties. He perfected the techniques in roasting and in carving the birds. Luther also baked some delicious homemade breads for the parties.
Adolf, the renter who lived on the first floor, was a trained and accomplished continental dessert chef. He prepared some most delectable desserts for Renee’s parties. Those desserts were so delicate that they melted in the mouth. Each batch that came out of the oven was soon consumed.
Adolf was also a meticulous photographer. He used a special effect camera to take 3-dimension picture slides. As a rare treat, Adolf showed the guests slides, which required a special viewer, along with verbal explanation of the scenario. The guests enjoyed those picturesque scenes, mostly of his home country Switzerland.
Renee was famous for the humongous quantity of photographs that she took and kept. She took photographs at numerous occasions. She took photographs on vacations. She took photographs of pets. She took photographs of sceneries. She must have accumulated over forty albums of pictures, from her youth in Shanghai until her last day. Those albums are still stored in her house situated in 544 23rd Avenue. The younger children sometimes got a little impatient standing in front of the camera.
Renee sorted and posted meticulously the pictures in albums soon after the event, so the pictures were always in order. She developed extra copies for the guests in the pictures. She was so consider to her guests. Those photographs were her pride and joy. Renee’s Kodak camera was her best investment in life. In hindsight, the pictures recorded priceless memories of happier times.
ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE CHILDREN
Renee was famous for her sensitivity and generosity to her relatives. She recognized their achievements and encouraged them to strive toward higher goals. It would be impossible to list all her kind deeds, however, one example illustrates how she encouraged Clyde to continue for higher education. When Clyde graduated from University of California, he was a struggling student. He had to conserve his limited financial resources in order to continue post-graduate education. Graduating from the university was a major achievement in Clyde’s life up to that point. He would love to purchase a school ring to commemorate the event, but he resisted the temptation. Renee on her own initiative told Clyde several times that she would pay for a school ring, and asked Clyde to order it from the university. She brushed aside his objection and told him that he should enjoy the fruit of success. Clyde had to resize the ring a couple of time since the purchase as he gained weight in later years but treasured the ring as a priceless token of Renee’s encouragement.
One has to realize that Renee’s circumstance changed significantly from the time when she owned a trading company to when she worked as a clerk in a bank. Renee did not earn much working in a bank. Yet, she still assisted various relatives financially to meet their needs. Renee took money from her tight budget to celebrate a milestone in Clyde’s life. Renee’s generosity was a strong encouragement to Clyde to grasp the opportunities and to advance his education. To Clyde the significance of the gift was that Renee recognized his achievements and cared about him. It is infrequent that a person takes note of someone else’s achievement and altruistically encourages him to strive for advancement.
CARED FOR JANET AFTER TONY PASSED AWAY
Tony appeared to the children to be so healthy and strong that he was indestructible. His strength was the result of physical training received in his twenties when he served in the Chinese Customs Service and again later on, in the Civilian Auxiliary Service Corp in Hong Kong. Tony claimed that playing handball in high school also built up his physique. He only experienced some minor problems with sinus allergy after he arrived in America. However, Fate made other arrangements.
In the second half of 1972, Tony complained of tummy pain and lack of appetite. The doctor diagnosed the condition to be caused by a stomach ulcer. The medicines that the doctor prescribed and even an operation to repair the ulcer did not relieve Tony’s suffering. After extensive additional testing and months of delay, the doctor finally diagnosed the symptoms to be caused by liver cancer, in March of 1973. The tests weakened Tony’s health and the delays condemned him beyond recovery. When it was finally correctly diagnosed, the cancer cells had already spread to other parts of his body. Tony underwent radiation treatment and chemotherapy. Those treatments did not eradicate the cancer, but ruined Tony’s appetite completely and weakened his immune system. He appeared like a shadow of his former self. He passed away on June 10, 1973, at the age of 58 years. The incompetence and carelessness of the medical staff in America left an indelible mark in Janet’s mind.
Janet understood very little English and was only literate in Chinese. Renee encouraged her to attend English classes for immigrants. Janet learned some rudiment conversation. To understand and interact with the English speaking society on her own was a major challenge. The income tax system in America was another burden that baffled Janet. In addition, Tony left little material resources to Janet. She tithed regularly to the Seventh Day Adventist Church from her meager income. When Tony passed away, all his children had already graduated from universities. However, they were preoccupied with earning a living and raising their own families. They did not fully understood the hardship and stress of their mother, in her widowhood. For various reasons, they were not able to fully assist their mother. Janet cared so much for her children and was so independent that she did not want to burden them, and rarely asked for help.
Edward obtained a doctoral degree in chemistry from the University of Texas. He lives with his wife and children, and works in Austin, TX.
Sidney worked and studied simultaneously. He earned a doctoral degree in electronic engineering from Stanford University in Palo Alto. When Tony fell seriously ill, Sidney was a post-doctoral fellow at University of Southern California. He quitted school and returned to Palo Alto to be close to Tony. He found a job with Addington Labs, a company that manufactured microwave devices. Sidney provided valuable assistance to Tony during his sickness, and to Janet after Tony passed away. After their wedding in Cyprus, Sidney and his wife, Carol, lived in Israel for several years until the birth of their first daughter, Camellia. They were not accustomed to raise their baby in a kibbutz. Sidney moved his family back to Palo Alto, CA. Sidney found employment and worked for Intel Company for many years. During those years, he moved frequently in and out of America, until his retirement in the nineties. He now lives in Portland, Oregon.
Luther was instrumental in helping Tony to purchase the house located at 2211 20th Avenue, in Sunset District of San Francisco. He co-signed the mortgage loan with Tony. Luther often provided direct assistance to his parents in the years when he was still studying for his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering at University of California, Berkeley. After he earned his degree, Luther found a job with GE at Appliance Park West, which was located in Louisville, KY. Janet lived with Luther on several occasions but always looked forward to return to San Francisco. She preferred to be among her own friends and her own church. Luther currently lives with his family in the Bay Area in California.
Clyde and Marie were both married respectively. Clyde’s older son, Calvin, was the only grandson of Tony whom he saw. The two siblings were busy raising their respective families. Clyde worked for General Electric Company in San Jose, CA. Marie was a teacher in the Los Angeles area. Janet stayed with Marie for a few months at a time on several occasions, partly to help Marie raising the babies, a boy and a girl. Again, Janet preferred to live her own life in San Francisco. Currently, Marie lives with Janet in San Francisco. Clyde and his family still live in San Jose, CA.
Once again, Renee honored the promise that she made to her late mother many years ago and extended her hands to care for her sister-in-law. Using the proceeds from Tony’s life insurance policy, Renee paid off the mortgage loan on the house. Janet was assured of at least having a house to live permanently. In view of the outrageous rent in San Francisco today, this decision was both judicious and timely. When Janet lived in San Francisco, Renee attended to Janet’s needs constantly. Janet was closer to Renee than to her own sisters, and addressed Renee simply as “ older sister”. Renee’s attention to Janet’s welfare was greatly appreciated by Tony’s children. The family could never repay their gratitude to Renee for assisting their mother.
RENEE’S LIFE AFTER RETIREMENT
Renee enjoyed living actively. Retirement was not compatible with her dynamic personality. However, she did not enjoy the work that she was performing at the bank, and did not feel that the bank employed her talents effectively. So she applied for early retirement. She still enjoyed excellent health and was too active to retire quietly. Instead, she engaged in many activities that she enjoyed. She was much happier when she did what she enjoyed, instead of doing busywork at the bank.
RENEE’S CHRISTMAS INVESTMENT CLUB
Renee used to give cash to the grand nephews and grand nieces as Christmas gifts. One year, she felt that she should cultivate in those youngsters a habit of investment. She established an investment club for the kids. She initially donated a block of stock shares of Pacific Gas and Electric Company to the investment club. Each year, the kids were required to invest $20.00 each in the club. Renee matched their investment with money that she would have given them as Christmas gifts. She procured additional stock shares for the club members with the money. Utility stocks were safe investment, which paid a generous dividend. Eventually, all stock shares owned by the investment club were disbursed to the kids.
At first, the kids were not too thrilled with the proposal. To them, ready cash in hand appeared to be more valuable than some scrap of paper. Having to invest their own money in the abstract concept of investment was even harder for them to comprehend. After they grew up, they realized the objective of the club. The yearly investments during those years cultivated a habit of investing regularly in their later lives. In today’s society, it is well advised for anyone to invest on a regular basis. Financial experts advise that a steady investment in equity is the best method to build personal wealth. Renee used her business acuteness to cultivate a habit of investing in the kids from an early age.
GOOD INVESTMENT STRATEGY
Renee also invested in stocks herself. However, unlike the average investors who were preoccupied with the daily ups and downs of share prices, or the quarterly dividends, she was among the few investors who took an active role. She actually read the annual reports and kept up to date with the business operations of the companies in which she invested. Her experience as a manager of an international trading company helped her to understand company annual reports. She did not just invest for the short-term returns, but made sure that the companies that she invested in would benefit the society in general. She was not shy to voice her opinion in shareowner’s meetings against things that did not make sense to her. She invested in Chevron Oil, Chiron (a pharmaceutical company), Security Pacific Bank and Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
When opposition to nuclear energy generation was vocal in California, Renee supported PG&E to build nuclear power plants located in Diablo Canyon. She recognized the need to use alternative energy sources other then fossil fuels. Again, her foresight has been proven in time. Today, California suffered from a severe energy shortfall. Without the nuclear station in Diablo Canyon contributing to the power grid, the situation would have been much worst. In fact, PG&E was nearly bankrupted even with substantial power generated from those plants. On the other hand, Renee did not close her eyes when PG&E failed to execute its business properly. She articulated her concerns clearly in the annual shareowners meetings.
Renee took up watercolor painting before her retirement, but involved more seriously afterward her retirement. She also started oil painting later. She painted mostly flowers and fruits. She took lessons at the senior center and practiced on her own. Painting provided her with many hours of enjoyment. Later on, she began making china mugs, plates and figurines at the senior center. She painted those withglaze prior to final heat treatment in a kiln. She soon became an artist in painting and china making. Diana, the wife of her cousin Benjamin Nie, was a renowned critic of painting from Shanghai. She was also vary talented in painting and in making china parts. She became Renee’s companion in those classes. Diana passed away in early 2000.
RENEE’S DANCING CLASSES
Renee enjoyed music and dancing all her life. After attending a few sessions of square dance at the senior center located inside the Golden Gate Park, Renee found the classes enjoyable. The coordinated physical activities and the companionship of square dance appealed to her gregarious and disciplined nature. The one inconvenience was that there usually were more ladies than gentlemen among the students. Hence, some ladies had to dance gentleman steps. Each Saturday morning, she attended classes taught by a couple at the senior center. She sewed several dancing gowns for herself, to match the uniform of the square dance team. She was really saddened when the husband of the teaching couple passed away. She continued to attend those dance classes and competitions almost to the end of her life.
In spite of her age, Renee was not ready to slow down after her retirement. If anything, she picked up the pace of living. She enjoyed traveling since her youth. After President Nixon visited China in 1972, China gradually opened its borders to overseas travelers. At first, the arrangement to visit China was still amateurish and lack organization. Overseas Chinese were still afraid to visit China after the numerous political upheavals and purges. Only people who were venturesome or who wanted to visit long separated relatives would visit China in the early days. Renee clearly belong to that group. She traveled to China several times to visit her numerous cousins and friends. Most of her elders had passed away before then.
Renee also fell in love with Switzerland. Adolf, who rented the first floor of her house for many years, was a Swiss. His brother visited Adolf and lived in Renee’s house once. Hank’s mother and twin sister were Germans. They also visited Renee a number of times. Renee had other friends who lived in Germany and Switzerland. She visited those two countries several times after her retirement. Of course, Renee took many pictures along her trips and shared them with friends and relatives in her famous parties.
CONSERVED THE ENVIRONMENT
Renee was environmentally conscience before the subject was socially popular. She hated to waste foodstuff. She organized younger guests at her parties to dig holes in her garden and to bury food scraps as compost. The soil in her garden was sandy, and not fertile at all. However, it was easy to dig. Over the years, one lost track of how many holes had been dug in the garden. The food scraps enriched the soil over time. The fruit trees in the backyard eventually bore some delicious apples, plums, peaches and prunes. Renee was so happy with some of the fruits that she took pictures of them. Cherries were her favorite, but to her chagrin the cherry trees in her yard did not yield many cherries. The weather in San Francisco was too cold and overcast for growing cherries.
Renee also collected aluminum cans for recycling. The empty cans were light but bulky. Since Renee did not own or operate a car, she returned them to the recycling center only on special occasions when someone drove her. The empty cans were stored in the garage below the living quarters. This became a problem later on. Mice started to suck the residual sweet liquid in the empty cans and infested the garage. Someone had to set up traps to eradicate the pests. The nephews and nieces also helped Renee to deliver the cans to the recycling center more frequently from then on.
After her retirement, Renee was not affluent, but she certainly had enough income to live comfortably. Her friends and relative would testify to her generosity. The proceed from recycling cans was totally insignificant to her, and was not an incentive for her actions to conserve. All her life, Renee did what she conceived to be right. Recycling aluminum cans was her way of conserving energy and material.
Renee enjoyed writing letters. She wrote a tremendous number of letters to friends and relatives. In her hurry, her handwriting might be a bit hard to decipher. After her retirement, Renee decided to type the letters for the benefit of the recipients. She typed with the “seek and peck” method. She procured a top-of-the-line IBM electrical typewriter. Unfortunately, this typewriter did not perform up to its reputation. Renee encountered numerous problems with the machine. Renee needed service from IBM frequently while the machine was under warrantee and later after the warrantee expired. Those technicians provided temporary corrections but did not solve the fundamental problem. Their services did not meet her expectation. Renee was forced to write her letters by hand in spite of owning an electrical typewriter.
HELPING HER RELATIVES
Renee helped her friends and relatives whenever possible throughout her life. She performed numerous deeds to assist others in a most graceful and enthusiastic manner. She never mentioned how or whom she assisted to any third party, since she did not do those deeds for self-promotion or for personal gains. She did them because of her generous nature. It would be hopeless to enumerate all incidents where her action benefited someone, but here are samples of how she devoted herself to improve the lives ofher friends and relatives.
TRIED TO ADOPT HER SISTER’S DAUGHTER, CAROL
Diana, Renee’s sister, moved with her family from Shanghai to Jinan, Shandon Province, in 1964. The company where Vincent worked did not fully employ his knowledge and capability. Due to Vincent’s family background, he was treated with ambivalence. The company underutilized a dedicated and knowledgeable engineer, for political reason. Even after his retirement, Vincent continued to research in the area of power generation and control. He invented a device for better power control, but could not find a market, since the economy in China was still not fully deregulated.
Qiwei was serious sick with prostate enlargement and suffered incontinent in his eighties. Diana traveled to Shanghai to visit her father in 1966. On the train, a gang of Red Guards found out her identity and tortured and murdered her with unspeakable cruelty. The family had no information of what happened to her, nor knew her whereabouts for weeks after her death. Only after the company that employed Vincent made inquiry did the railway company provided some information. Mary, Diana’s daughter, and C. T., Richard’s youngest son, recovered Diana’s body from a picture of her corpse taken by the railway personnel. The picture showed bruises on her face. Diana was cremated and buried with her parents in Shanghai. She was only forty-eight when she was murdered. Diana left behind two sons and two daughters.
Renee wanted to help Diana’s children. During her first visit of Kuai’s in 1979, she offered to help Vincent and Mary to immigrate to America. They declined the offer for themselves for various reasons. Instead, they suggested to Renee that she might help Diana’s younger daughter, Carol.
Carol was trained to be a volleyball player, beginning at the age of fifteen, by the Railroad Division of the People’s Liberation Army. Her height at 5’ 11” was probably a factor for her selection. After the team discharged her, she did not have the educational background to attend university or to find a regular job. She was assigned to work at a remote railway station near Mongolia for about ten years. After she returned to Jinan in 1978, she worked for the same company that employed Vincent. Carol took TV broadcasted classes and received a college diploma. This was an extraordinary accomplishment since she did not even complete high school education in her youth. This achievement revealed Carol’s potential and tenacity if she only had an opportunity to pursue her education under normal environment.
Renee decided to adopt Carol. In 1979, Renee planned to apply for permission for Carol to immigrate to the USA. Carol would have a better future with regard to advanced education and improved job prospects. The paperwork required by the governments of both China and America was rather cumbersome. The application process went on for years. In 1984, Carol took a physical checkup and received bad news. She was diagnosed with late term breast cancer. She went in for treatment immediately. Carol struggled with the disease for seven more years, but she never recovered her health.
Renee provided much encouragement to Carol during those years. Carol described in an article the kindness and encouragement for her health of her aunt. The article was published in the Shanghai Nightly News in 1990. Eventually, the cancer became fatal. Carol passed away in 1991, a few months after Renee’s demise. In spite of Renee’s strong desire, she was unable to provide a better future to her niece, Carol. This disappointed Renee profoundly.
ASSISTED OTHER RELATIVES
Renee continued to assist her other relatives after her retirement. Among them were her brother, Leon, her nephew C. T. Nie and various other members of the family of her sister, Diana.
Leon was a professor of English in Shanghai. He was over sixty years old when Renee applied for permission for him to visit America. Leon arrived in San Francisco in 1984. He stayed behind, and worked for various companies. He even started a store of his own, selling sundries. Later on, he taught English in the San Mateo School District. After a few more years, Leon applied for permission for his wife, named Jian Chen, to join him. Jian came to this country in 1994. Leon and his wife now live in Oakland, CA. Leon retired from formal teaching in 2000. He still performed some odd jobs to keep himself busy.
THE TRAGEDIES OF RICHARD AND HIS CHILDREN
After the communists established the government based on socialism in China, Richard’s working environment deteriorated rapidly. In spite of his continued dedication and hard work, his superiors suspected Richard’s patriotism. They distrusted his family background and his western education. With Richard’s talents, qualification and connections, he could have gained high positions and earned good living if he moved to Taiwan or overseas. They questioned Richard’s motive to stay behind in China. Soon, Richard was forced to resign from one job after another. He was not even allowed to offer free teaching to the illiterates in his neighborhood. Without regular income, life became very difficult for his family. He found a new job in Beijing in 1956. Within one month, he was again punished for what he was, instead of what he did. Based on a casual article he wrote, his superiors decided that he was still under the influence of western thoughts. Some Public Safety Officers decided to re-educate him in a hard labor camp in Hupei province.
The camp offered only the bare minimum for living. Some might even say that it was subhuman. Richard suffered from lack of food and potable water. The physical labor on top of malnutrition caused his health to deteriorate rapidly. He soon contracted serious diseases and physical injuries. Numerous parts of his skin were infected from open wounds and lack of treatments. The camp offered little medical care or medicines. The camp warden even refused his wife’s request to care for him medically outside the camp. In addition, he was subject to mental humiliation, which was designed to strip away his last vestige of dignity. Pui C. Cheung, his second wife, was allowed to care for him for a short time before his death.
When Richard passed away in 1961, he hardly resembled a human being. He died at an age of early fifties. His family never recovered his body for burial. It was truly a waste of a person of talents. He stayed behind in China to serve his country. Yet some misguided persons and policies shortened his life and refuse the service that he wanted to offer to the society.
Richard’s children were denied college education due to Richard’s family background. They were allowed to attend only up to professional school or high school. Afterwards, they were exiled into the farthest corners of China. C. Z., the oldest son, was sent to Guizhou. This province was known for its hilliness, extensive rainy season and lack of amenities. C. Y, the second son, was sent to Harbin, Hailonjiang. This province was in the northeastern corner of China. The city was extremely cold in the winter, due to storms blowing down from Siberia. C. T., the third son, was sent to Qinghai. This province was close to Tibet. The natives were mostly nomads. Farming and herding cattle were the main sources of income. There were few modern facilities or infrastructure. The “Han” Chinese living there were mainly solders or exiles.
C. T. Nie was the youngest son of Richard from his marriage with Ms. Lydia Wu. Lydia immigrated to America before the communists governed China. She applied for permission for C. T. to immigrate to America. Since C. T. was not yet married then, it was easier and faster to obtain immigration permission for him than for the other two brothers who were both married. C. T. stayed with Renee for a short period when he first arrived in this country. Eventually, Lydia obtained permission for her other two sons, C. Z and C. Y. to also immigrate to this country. C. Z. has a daughter and a son. C. Y. had a son from his first marriage. After he remarried in America, he obtained a daughter. All three brothers and their families are now settled down independently in the Bay Area. They all prospered in this country. Their children did very well in their respective schools and universities. Two older children of the brothers now gain professional employments. A sister from Richard’s second marriage, named Amy, and her family also live in the Bay Area now.
When Renee visited the Kuai family the second time in 1985, she again encouraged Mary, Diana’s older daughter, to immigrate to America. Mary felt that she had to stay in China to look after her father, her younger sister - Carol, her younger brother - Weiwei, and her own family. The younger brother was only fourteen years old when his mother died tragically. Vincent was advanced in years. Carol was afflicted with breast cancer. Mary had divorced her first husband and remarried in 1978. Mary has a daughter from her first marriage and a son from her second marriage. Obviously, Mary carried a heavy responsibility.
Renee visited Shanghai a number of times trying to assist her nephew, John Wen-Bin Kuai (Reference 4). John was the oldest son of Diana. Renee promised to help John to go abroad, even if she had to sell some of her jewelry (Reference 5). John went to Perth, Australia in 1988. Renee assisted John financially so that he could attend a language school and maintain his student status. John became a permanent resident of Australia in 1990. He now lives there permanently.
Renee visited the Kuai family a third time in Oct. 1987. Mary was concerned about the future of her daughter, who was named after her own mother - Diana. The younger Diana just reached the age of sixteen that year. With Mary’s salary alone, she was hard-pressed to support Diana to attend regular college. Mary thought of sending Diana to a teacher training college. Renee encouraged Mary to prepare Diana to take the TOFEL examination in order to apply for university in America. Renee promised to help Diana. She would find some way to come up with college tuition. Besides material assistance, Renee encouraged Diana in conversation and with letters.
Diana came to San Francisco when she was eighteen years old on Dec. 18, 1988. She stayed with Renee for ten days. Afterwards. She lived with Sidney’s family first in Portland, Oregon, and later in New Mexico. Renee provided financial assistance to Diana so she could complete her college education. Edward and Sidney also assisted Diana. Diana obtained a BS and an MS degree in electronic engineering in December 1992 and June 1994, respectively, from University of New Mexico. When Diana got her first job offer in 1994, her grandfather, Vincent, burst out crying. He was very proud of Diana for her achievement and for her independence. Vincent blamed himself that his children did not attend regular universities. Actually, they were limited by governing policy at that time. Vincent passed away in November 1994. Diana is now married to Diwakar Vishakhadatta. She lives and works in Austin, TX.
Mary married Yao Hwang in 1978. Yao worked for a government steel manufacturing company. Mary gave birth to a son, Kevin, in September 1979. Renee offered to help Yao to go abroad, but Mary declined since Renee was already financially helping John and Mary’s daughter, Diana, at that time. Yao went to Sidney, Australia in 1990 as a business representative of his company. After Vincent’s death, Yao left that company and immigrated with his family to Australia in October 1996.
RENEE PASSED AWAY
The death of a close relative is always hard to accept. When someone is as dear as Renee was, the impact is devastating. The pain is still fresh after ten years. However, in the case of Renee, there was a silver lining.
Clyde and his family visited Marie in Los Angeles at the end of the summer vacation in 1991. On their return, Clyde telephoned Renee to greet her. Renee had returned from a visit to Europe a few weeks earlier. That time her age caught up with her. She felt tired and lethargic. She did not complain of any specific discomfort or pain. No one took alarm. After all, she just completed a strenuous overseas trip and she was nearly eighty year old.
Marie coincidentally brought her children to San Francisco. Renee invited Clyde, Marie and their respective families to dine the next evening to celebrate her eightieth birthday, according to the Chinese method of counting. Clyde was glad to find Renee had recovered her spirit and was feeling well enough to celebrate.
Clyde and Marie with their respective family visited Renee the next afternoon. It was a sunny day. After some chitchat, Renee proposed that they took some pictures outdoor together. They went to the San Francisco end of the Golden Gate Bridge to take pictures. Marie had just purchased a camcorder, and she practiced filming with it. Everyone enjoyed the warm sunshine and fresh air, except some of the young children, who were a little tired and bored. Soon after, the whole group went to a Chinese restaurant near Janet’s house for dinner. Renee was particularly happy that day. She appeared to have removed a heavy burden from her shoulders and found a new source of energy. She had finally recovered her vitality after the extended trip to Europe.
Around noontime the next day, Clyde received a telephone call from Luther’s wife, Elaine. Elaine told Clyde that Renee had succumbed to a massive heart attack that morning. Renee’s mother suffered a similar fate almost sixty years earlier. This time, there was no immediate family member around Renee to ask about her last wish. This traumatic news overwhelmed Renee’s friends and relatives. It left them saddened and confused.
How could it be? Renee had been so alive and happy only a few hours ago! However, there was no arguing with nature. The only saving grace was that Renee did not suffer at the end. For someone who was so active and outgoing, who had dedicated her whole life to help her friends and relatives, her pass away in this manner was bittersweet. Everyone who knew Renee wanted her to live forever, but that was against the law of nature. Yet, it would be unthinkable if Renee were to suffer some debility such as a paralyzing stroke or mental regression. Renee would be devastated if she suffered limitations from free movements. Not having full control of her faculties would have destroyed Renee’s spirit. Hence, the peaceful and instant death might be considered a blessing in disguise. Was it possible that the day before Renee had a prescience of what would happen soon?
Renee’s nephews and nieces convened in Renee’s house the next day to prepare for her funeral. The first task was to compile a list of her relatives and friends for notification. This involved a little effort because Renee had so many of them. Renee’s several address books were disjointed. Some records were in Chinese and others in English. There was no uniform way of romanizing the Chinese names. There were further complications as some records were obsolete. A list of notification was finally compiled with the combined efforts.
Clyde and Hank contracted with a funeral home for a civil service in the Richmond District of San Francisco. Renee did not seriously participate in church activities during her life, so there was little meaning to hold a religious funeral service for her. Renee’s brother, Leon, eulogized her with a tribute befitting a marvelous and generous lady. Clyde gave a short speech in memory of his favorite aunt. Renee’s friends from her youth, Mr. and Mrs. Y. D. Chow, were there to see her off. They immigrated to America a few years earlier. There were many other friends from all walks of life at the service. Renee had been friendly to them and they were there to pay their respects to her for the last time. Many of Renee’s classmates from square dance classes attended the funeral. Their presence had pleased her more than all the beautiful flower arrangements, since she was so gregarious and active in her life.
Renee was survived by one brother, Leon, three sisters-in-law, Pui C., Janet and Jian, thirteen nephews and nieces from her brothers and sisters, and numerous other relatives and friends.
RENEE’S RESTING PLACE
Renee had not left instructions to her family concerning funeral arrangements. Hank claimed that she would like to be cremated and have her ashes stored near that of her high school friend, Harriet Ho, in the Columbarium, which was located in San Francisco (Note). The Columbarium is a beautiful and serene place with many precious stained glass windows. Those stained glass windows were considered art treasures of San Francisco. It is the only cemetery in the city of San Francisco that still accepts new applicants. The family decided to comply with that wish.
The Columbarium was a resting place worthy of pillars of society and captains of industries, but that was not the real resting place of Renee. The real resting place of Renee was in the heart of her numerous loving friends and relatives. The true measure of Renee was the love that survived beyond time among her and her friends and relatives. This love does not diminish with the passing years. How many people in this world are so lucky as to have a true and dear friend like Renee?
Looking back, Renee did not have an easy or smooth life. She lived through one of the most turbulent era of China. In terms of human experiences, she suffered more than a fair share of tragedies. Her mother, brothers and sister met early deaths, and some were subject to excruciating physical and mental tortures. When her father died, family members could not take care of him as attentively as they would like. No one could ever foresee the straitened circumstance of the family when Qiwei passed away. Yet, Renee concentrated on living positively. She remembered people who were kind to her, her friends and her relatives. She converted sadness into power for living.
To Renee, life was not about reaching a lofty goal at the end, but to live every minute along the way. While it is important to enjoy life, it is not about indulging in sensual pleasure either. Life is not bathing in the limelight, grabbing the largest share of the reward or recognition, or living in past glory. Life is to enjoy what one does and to fill each day with hard work. She lived the motto of her great grandfather:
Zeng Guofan (Reference 3)
“If a family is diligent, it will prosper.
If a person is diligent, he will be strong.
If one can be diligent and thrifty,
Then one’s fortune will never decline.
In the material world, Renee did not expect life to be smooth sailing. She did not ask others to resolve her difficulties or to do her work. Her family fortune declined along with the deterioration of the nation. Her company was not as successful as it should be with the talents and hard work that she devoted to it. She may not have reached her career goal, promised by her brilliant starts. Yet, she did not allow those incidents to affect her positive outlook of life. Renee set up her goals and then strived to achieve them one step at a time. She followed the rules defined by the society. If she did not achieve all that her strived for, she fought a good fight. She would not shirk from challenges or became paralyzed by indecision. She charged ahead with carefully reasoned and decisive actions. These were the true characters of Renee Nieh.
With regard to assistances that she so generously gave to her friends and relatives, she gave freely and without ulterior motives. She gave opportunities to those who did not have a chance. She did not take over anyone’s life and supported him without limits. It was up to the beneficiaries of her kindness to make something of the given opportunities. It appeared that in general those who benefited from Renee’s generosities did improve themselves. It was a reflection of Renee’s wisdom and the encouragements that she continued to give along the way.
Renee wasKwang-Ming. She brought enlightenment and happiness to people around her. She was Foo. It was good fortune for anyone to be her friend or relative. She lived a life that was a worthy model for all her friends and relatives. Considered how much them loved her, Renee succeeded beyond all expectation.
A successful author would gauge the audience that he tries to reach and tailor the material and presentation to maintain their interest. In the end, the author would reach his goal when the audience accepts his message and theme.
In my case, I wrote this article mainly to express my great admiration and gratitude to Auntie Renee. She gave me a chance to turn my life around. I lack the ability to craft this article to convey any particular message. Fortunately, Renee was so honest to her principles that her life reflected clearly her principles. No embellishment was either needed or could have enhanced her achievements.
As I researched the history of the Nie family, I was awed by how many of them who contributed positively to the society, not only those who gained fame in their time, but the less well known, but none the less had improved his fellow man’s life. I am proud of their successes. I found myself lacking in comparison.
I took great pleasure in the time and efforts I spent to prepare this article. I claim no credit at all. I did not uncover any new material or present any new interpretation of the recorded deeds. I only rehashed material dug out by others. To me, it is nothing more than a labor of love. I do want to thank the assistance of all those friends and relatives of Renee who so kindly give me their time and their sage advices.