An educator and scholar recounts her journey from war-torn China to a new life in Taiwan.
Born in 1924, Chi (Emerita, English/National Taiwan Univ.; The Last of the Whampoa Breed: Stories of the Chinese Diaspora, 2003, etc.) grew up in Manchuria, where her father was a prominent member of the anti-Japanese resistance. Her richly detailed memoir palpably conveys the violence and fears that marked her youth. Japan’s bellicose incursions into China resulted in “relentless and violent bombings,” and her family repeatedly was on the move. By the time she was 13, she admits, she was filled with ardent patriotic fervor and anger. Life in China was precarious: Students and teachers at the Sun Yat-sen Middle School, founded by her father, were forced to change locations frequently, during which the boys lived in caves and the girls in thatch shacks, while her father desperately tried to find a place—indoors or outdoors—to hold classes. Chi’s modest, serene prose belies the many physical and emotional hardships of her youth. “Every day the sun would rise as usual,” she writes, “but in the sunshine survival was a luxury.” Education sustained her, especially literature, which helped to foster her “fiercely unconquerable spirit.” In 1947, Chi left China, where “the whole country was caught up in a political whirlpool” between left and right. With a literature degree, she took a position as a teaching assistant at National Taiwan University and began an illustrious career as an educator, translator, and scholar, which included winning two Fulbright fellowships to teach and study in the United States; guest teaching positions in Hong Kong, the U.S., and Berlin; appointment to the National Institute of Compilation and Translation, where she made contemporary works of Chinese literature available globally and oversaw the compilation of new Chinese textbooks that excluded propaganda. Through her teaching, writing, and presentations, she helped to define Taiwan as “a free and democratic nation, preserving a high degree of Chinese culture, while pursuing peace and prosperity.”
An inspiring life story of unvanquished resilience.