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Chapter One

I January 1, 1937 was a Friday. It was a clear, cool day; the northern cold front had just passed and the temperature had begun to warm up a bit. Although the Nationalist government had already declared the lunar calendar obsolete, the atmosphere among the people during the western New Year celebration fell short of the anticipated excitement. All over the country, conferences were being held for New Year’s Day. From the central government all the way down, auditoriums were packed with high-sounding stately meetings. It seemed as if anyone who didn’t attend a conference wasn’t really celebrating the new year. The year 1937 arrived amid a wave of strong anti-Japanese sentiment. The Xi’an Incident* and its peaceful resolution not long before had raised Chiang Kai-shek’s *An

episode that occurred in December 1936 when a former warlord, General Zhang Xueliang, kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek in an effort to force Chiang to take a more anti-Japanese stance and join with the CCP in a second united Chinese front against Japan.

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prestige to an unprecedented level. Nationwide, there were magnificent fireworks displays in celebration of the Republic of China’s auspicious turn for the better. Initially, the most widespread fear among the people had been that the Xi’an Incident would incite a large-scale civil war. They were also worried that for the Japanese, who had long set their sights on Chinese soil, the Incident would provide the perfect opportunity to strike in a time of weakness. Amid the grand rejoicing of the soldiers and citizens of China, Chiang Kai-shek safely returned to the capital, Nanjing. With his promise never again to bow down to the power of Japan, the long-anticipated initial stages of a democratic and unified antiJapanese campaign had finally begun. The desperation in the hearts of the Chinese people seemed to have been replaced with a newfound hope. On New Year’s Day 1937 there was a virtual flood of government bigwigs in Nanjing who, after rushing to a never-ending series of meetings, came down with colds. Attending conferences became a heavy burden for those party and government VIPs. But there were at least three that couldn’t be missed. First was paying homage at Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum. This was also the most utterly exhausting. Each year on the first day of the new year, one had to respectfully take part in this ritual. Of the visitors who climbed the steps to the mausoleum, there wasn’t a soul who didn’t come down panting for air and reeking with sweat. After that, one had to rush to the Central Party Headquarters on Hunan Road to hear Yu Youren deliver his New Year’s speech. Finally, one had to go to the Nationalist Government Building to listen to Chairman Lin Sen’s address. Every word uttered would be printed in the newspapers the next day, but attending these three events in person observed a kind of official decorum and indicated an individual’s status in the government hierarchy—and this was something no one was willing to give up. Rushing back and forth, many of the people in attendance ended up with the chills and broke out into a series of feverish sweats. Those older gentlemen a bit on the frail side were sneezing before Lin Sen’s address was even finished. Ding Wenyu also caught a cold on New Year’s Day, but it certainly had nothing to do with attending conferences or speeches. Except for a single wedding ceremony, he didn’t go anywhere. He had long since thrown all those large red invitations with golden trim into the wastepaper basket. Although Ding Wenyu had already earned quite a name for himself, what really set him apart was his peculiar character. What other 10


Nanjing 1937: A Love Story

people went out of their way for he was always slow to take to heart. It was as if he couldn’t even understand what there was worth celebrating on New Year’s Day. We know that he caught a cold because he recorded this tidbit in his diary. Ding Wenyu habitually recorded his whereabouts and personal experiences in his diary; on New Year’s Day, he surprisingly added the following passage: Today is a special day. I have a terrible cold and a runny nose, which toward the evening has grown especially acute. It is a good thing that the day wasn’t a complete waste, because during an annoying wedding banquet, I ran into the beautiful Miss B. Instantly, my heart was thrown into disarray by this exquisite young girl. Here I describe her as a lovely and attractive girl, but actually today was her wedding day. As I write these words, it is very possible that she is already no longer a girl at all. Ah, why must women marry such vulgar creatures as men? I have no extravagant or ulterior motive; I desire only to be her eternal friend. This shall be the greatest happiness of my life. I shall do my utmost to carry this out.

It was the first day of 1937 when Ding Wenyu, already a middle-aged married man, in the strong cursive writing of his diary, first conveyed his fanatical feelings of love at first sight for Yuyuan. Because his diary was written only for himself, not to mention the fact that it was written in English, his wording and phrasing came across as a bit brazen. From simply looking at that day’s diary entry, one would never guess that any kind of noteworthy story would unfold between him and Ren Yuyuan—the woman referred to as Miss B. Since it was written for his eyes only, inordinate comments about bold and beautiful women repeatedly appeared in Ding Wenyu’s diary. In actuality, only a fraction of his nearly one-thousand-word journal entry that day was devoted to Yuyuan and his cold. Most of the entry recorded vile remarks about another woman, a certain Miss Chen. For Ding Wenyu, the first day of 1937 was an abnormally difficult day. He had stayed up all night playing mah-jongg with Miss Chen at the Morning Cloud House near the Temple of Confucius. This was indeed a bitter task; Ding Wenyu truly despised the game that has been hailed as the quintessence of Chinese culture. Just one month before, he had made the 11


Nanjing 1937: A Love Story

acquaintance of this already passé pop singer, a single woman with a passable appearance. Besides singing, Miss Chen’s biggest source of entertainment was playing mah-jongg. If Ding Wenyu wanted to get close to her, his only means would be to accompany her at the mah-jongg table. The night before, Ding Wenyu had lost miserably. By the time the sun rose and he saw Miss Chen home to rest, his eyelids were fighting to stay open. He had been yawning all night, his sole desire being to rush home and get some sleep. Yet the moment he lay down in bed, all he could do was toss and turn, unable to sleep. The schools were closed for vacation, and children with nothing better to do set off firecrackers left over from the celebration of Chiang Kaishek’s return from Xi’an—right under the window of Ding Wenyu’s faculty apartment. As if they were intentionally trying to antagonize Ding Wenyu, the children used an extremely economical method when lighting the firecrackers—separating long strings of them into single units so they could light them one at a time. Curled up beneath his comforter, Ding Wenyu had just slipped into a groggy slumber when he was awakened by the explosive sound. He was about to lose his temper but figured that there was no reason for him to act rashly with the kids. And so, between the periodic blasts, he would capriciously think of Miss Chen. She seemed a prize prey that could be taken at any moment. As far as winning the hearts of women went, Ding Wenyu considered himself an expert. Getting Miss Chen into bed was but a matter of time. With much difficulty, he finally got some sleep. It was already past noon and the annoying kids outside were gone when Ding Wenyu awoke, suddenly remembering an afternoon wedding ceremony that he was supposed to attend. Monk, the rickshaw puller, had arrived early and set his three-wheeled rickshaw down near the university gate. He basked in the sun napping as he waited for Ding Wenyu to arrive. These days Monk’s rickshaw had practically become Ding Wenyu’s private chariot. Ding Wenyu was already quite late and there was still no sign of him. The longer he waited, the hungrier Monk got. Finally he rushed to the small stall across the street and bought four large pork buns to fill himself up. The plentiful warmth of the sun shone down, and Monk’s face looked carefree and content. At the campus gate, the university intercom system was relaying a recording of Government Chairman Lin Sen’s radio address from the Central New Year’s Day Celebration Meeting. The topic of his speech 12


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was self-reliance, and the quality of the recording was pitiful, as screeches of electronic feedback periodically came through the speakers. Male and female university students emerged through the campus gates in dribs and drabs. One student wearing a long blue cloth gown and pulling a female student by the hand approached Monk and requested his services in a thick Manchurian accent. Monk had already passed up several customers that morning. He opened his eyes, lazily sized up this young couple, and then quickly closed his eyes again. The university student said, “What’s wrong with you? Are you going to take us or not? Say something!” Monk was a reckless fellow with a leisurely attitude who paid no heed to others. One look at him in his unbuttoned semi-new cotton jacket and you knew he was someone who took his sweet time. He was not an easy fellow to deal with. Monk intentionally didn’t make a sound, continuing to rest his eyes. The student repeated his question, but Monk simply went on ignoring him. The university student’s temper started to burn. He scolded Monk while his girlfriend standing beside him chimed in. The student indignantly snorted: “What the hell is going on these days? You’re nothing but a lousy rickshaw puller! So what’s with the stinking attitude?” When Ding Wenyu arrived at the campus gate, that pair of young students were still harassing Monk. Monk was indeed bored, so he took advantage of the argument to help pass the time. He paid no heed to the guy, spending all of his energy arguing with the girl, holding on to her every word and not letting go. That girl was a student in the department of foreign languages. She wasn’t especially good at arguing, and as soon as she became anxious she’d stutter; once she started stammering she became increasingly nervous. Suddenly she caught sight of Ding Wenyu, who had already walked up beside her. She hastily shut her trap and grabbed hold of her boyfriend’s sleeve, signaling him to stop arguing. No matter how you look at it, carrying on with an incoherent rickshaw puller in front of a professor is out of character for two university students. Not complying, the guy wanted to continue his battle of the tongues. His girlfriend, seeing that her efforts were to no avail, began to turn red. It was a good thing that Ding Wenyu wasn’t paying attention to what happened. He looked a bit ridiculous, wearing a red nightcap, a trim western suit, a large red tie, and an oversized gray wool overcoat, and carrying a cane in his right hand. He looked like he was still half-asleep. 13


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When Monk tilted his head and caught sight of Ding Wenyu, he made as if nothing had happened. Smiling, Monk greeted him: “Mr. Ding, did you get enough rest?” Ding Wenyu muttered an irrelevant answer and climbed into the rickshaw. The male university student glared angrily at him, but Ding didn’t sense a thing. Turning around, he stared in the direction of the girl student. Her face turned even redder and she looked away. Finally she couldn’t help it and burst out with a snicker. The female student had once taken his class. Ding Wenyu always had a somewhat indecent look in his eyes. There wasn’t a single girl in the school who didn’t know about him. He was the star professor of the department of foreign languages, and all the girls enjoyed his classes. The jokes about him were too numerous to mention—and most of them had to do with his interest in female students. Whenever Ding Wenyu’s gaze fell upon a pretty student, his eyes shimmered without even the slightest hint of shame. Once, after walking into the classroom, Ding Wenyu suddenly refused to teach. The reason? Too few girls, so he wasn’t in the mood. As soon as girls from the department of foreign languages mentioned Ding Wenyu in the dormitory, they would instantly cover their mouths to hold in the laughter. As the rickshaw passed The House for Reciting Classics, Ding Wenyu dug his gold watch out of his jacket pocket, looked at the time, and asked Monk if he could speed it up. Monk, who was obviously already quite close with Ding Wenyu, turned his head, displaying a set of snow-white teeth, and uttered laughingly, “Don’t tell me that Mr. Ding has his days when he is in a rush. Everyone says that you’re not even afraid to be late for class!” Ding felt he had a point, so he calmed down, made himself more comfortable, and let Monk slow down. Since the Nationalist government had established its capital in Nanjing, the streets of the city had changed quite a bit. Sun Yat-sen Avenue stretched out from the heart of the city with one road after another linked together. All over they were breaking ground on new construction projects, and new stores were opening almost every day. No wonder people who had departed Nanjing just a few years ago said that they could barely recognize the place when they returned. A rickshaw-puller friend of Monk’s approached and said something to Monk. Naturally it was some dirty joke, after which the two of them snickered and jokingly cursed each other. 14


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Monk’s mouth didn’t get a moment of rest the whole trip. The glaring sunlight was brilliant, and the rickshaw happened to be headed south. The radiance of the sun made it difficult for Ding Wenyu to open his eyes, so he simply shut them. He couldn’t help but open his mouth and let out an enormous yawn. The exaggerated yawning sound caused Monk to turn around. Monk knew that Ding Wenyu still hadn’t gotten enough sleep. That morning at dawn it had been he who rushed to the Morning Cloud House at the Temple of Confucius to pick up Ding Wenyu after his morning tea and take him back to campus. At the time, they had agreed that Ding would ride Monk’s rickshaw again at noon. Ding Wenyu had grown accustomed to Monk’s rickshaw, and Monk disliked running up and down the street looking for business. He liked customers like Ding Wenyu—liberal with money and pleasant to chat with on the road.

II When Ding Wenyu arrived at the Officers’ Moral Endeavor Association compound, Yuyuan and Yu Kerun’s wedding was already approaching its end. In the Nanjing of 1937, the OMEA compound was an almost mystical place. It was located on East Sun Yat-sen Road; if you were on the eastern side of the Central Hospital and continued straight over the Sun Yat-sen Bridge, you’d run into it in no time. Usually it was only the handful of personages with some degree of status who showed their faces there. Designed by a well-known architect, the compound was the paradigm synthesis of Chinese and western architectural styles. It was composed of several complementary palace-style halls; from the outside its upturned eaves looked typically Chinese, but the internal structure was completely western. In Nanjing in 1937, getting through the door at the OMEA compound was decisive in determining who you were. The fashionable topic of conversation among Nanjing citizens was the never-ending gossip about government and party big shots, which is not all that different from what we see today in Beijing. As if he were a famous movie star, Chiang Kai-shek could twitch and it would instantly become the talk of the town. For example, gossip articles such as yu youren injured foot, vice-committee chairman feng comes down 15

New Year's Day  

Read an excerpt from NANJING 1937: A LOVE STORY by Ye Zhaoyan, translated by Michael Berry. For more information about the book, please visi...