DRIFTWOOD Stories of China, Migration, and New Haven November 10, 2014 – July 31, 2015
飘 洋 过 海 的 中 国 遗 珍
Introduction Within the houses of six families in the New Haven area, Chinese heirlooms, documents, and objets d’art sit on mantels, adorn walls, and rest in 20th century steamer trunks. They are treasured artifacts of their owners’ stories—tangible heritage that accompanied families as they traversed the Pacific Ocean, culture to culture, generation to generation. Now, whether through affinity for the trans-Pacific spirit of Yale-China’s work or just by chance, these pieces have arrived at the Yale-China Association. We invite you to marvel at them both for what they are and for what they represent. Precious Driftwood: Stories of China, Migration, and New Haven, Yale-China’s exhibit from October 1, 2014 through July 31, 2015, features the narratives of individuals and their families in the greater New Haven area—some began in China and others began in the United States. This collection of precious objects illuminates the diversity of the Chinese diaspora and the people who worked side-by-side with their overseas peers seeking to create a more multicultural community in a time of world wars and xenophobic demonstrations on both sides of the ocean.
Featuring Estelle Mae Bell Franklin and Shwen Dji Yu Ho Mary C. Hu Clara Shen James and Charlotte Williams King-lui and Vivian Wu
Estelle Mae Bell As Troop 56 of the Girl Scouts of Connecticut proceeded to pitch tents and gather water during an overnight outing, a copperhead approached. The troop leader saw it and killed it, and resumed her supervision of the camp. The troop leader was Estelle Mae Bell. Estelle Mae Bell was born in 1924 in New Orleans to Agnes and Joseph Bell, growing up in a community of mixed races, where if one was not of English descent, one was considered a person of color. Her father, who was from Guangdong, was known in New Orleans as Papa Hsu, and he became a beloved hero after saving lives from a horrific granary fire. Estelle’s mother was descendent from a line of placées, or women of color who married wealthy men as secondary wives. For her whole life, whether in New Orleans, Groton in Connecticut, or North Haven, Estelle was a veritable force in her community. Though she did not finish high school, she encouraged others to excel and pursue the best education. In New Orleans, her family may not have had enough to eat for dinner, but she handed food out from the back door to those less fortunate than her. In Philadelphia, she brought her nine-year-old daughter to a demonstration for black women’s rights. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, another daughter provoked controversy by demanding the flag at her school be set at half-mast, and Estelle advocated for her daughter’s leadership. Estelle was generous, steadfast, and full of conviction, and she led her family by example to be compassionate and caring members of their communities.
Franklin and Shwen Dji Yu Ho The first time that young Franklin Ho met his future wife, he was a library aide at Pomona College, where he graduated in 1922. He was dispatched to escort an incoming student named Shwen Dji Yu from a ship docked in Los Angeles. The dean of women at Pomona was concerned that Shwen Dji’s English was not yet proficient enough to navigate her way to the college campus. She did not know that Shwen Dji received her secondary education in missionary schools in China. Not only was her English
proficient, she had brought to the United States what would be a lifelong love for music, born of the hymns sung in church services at her school in Nanjing. When the couple moved to New York, Shwen Dji would tune in to the Saturday broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera as she ironed the week’s laundry, while her children did their homework. Shwen Dji and Franklin Ho were an unusual Chinese couple within their social circles in America in that, while they were very proud of being Chinese, they upheld Christian-Confucian values that influenced the artwork they appreciated, the food they ate, and the lessons they taught their children. The Ho family warmly welcomed non-Chinese guests throughout their time in New York and New Haven. Franklin was one of the few Chinese-Americans to receive tenure in the United States. He had made notable contributions to the development of modern economic policies in China and the narrative of prominent Chinese leaders from the Republican era (1911-1949)—a major oral history collection that is now housed at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. When he began teaching at Columbia, he moved his family from New York to New Haven, emphasizing the need to be part of this country rather than part of a large community of Chinese immigrants in New York. The warm embrace of the greater New Haven community from his earlier years as a PhD student at Yale assured Franklin that the move would be ideal for Franklin and Shwen Dji to raise the family. Today, Franklin and Shwen Dji’s children identify with John Adams’ vision of the opportunities for enlightenment each successive generation enjoys in a new century:
I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce, and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry, and Porcelaine. (May 12, 1780, letter to Abigail Adams)
Franklin and Shwen Dji’s six grandchildren each pursued their passions as a jazz musician, a ceramicist, a curator, a writer, a non-profit leader, and an extreme sports athlete. Franklin and Shwen Dji’s early choices led the Ho family toward a future where opportunities were limitless and dreams attainable.
Mary C. Hu When Mao Zedong established the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, Chengdu, like many other prominent cities in China, became a place of great social and political upheaval. Local party officials established headquarters in the family compound of
Mary Chou Hu. Her husband, Ian, was in New York City, attending Columbia University on a fellowship to study oral surgery. Because of the escalating social and political instability, Mary’s family advised that “anyone with an out, should go.” With a basket in one hand and a year-old baby in the other, Mary fled Chengdu, relying on friends, strangers, and luck to escape the perils of the revolution. After traveling for four months across a thousand miles, Mary and her daughter, Nikki, found refuge in Taiwan. It wasn’t until 1955 that Mary and little Nikki were reunited with Ian in the United States. Mary C. Hu braved her hardships with courage and perseverance. After six years of separation, Mary and her husband settled into American life. A son and a second daughter were born, and Mary devoted herself to raising her family. She and her husband were well-respected members of an ever-growing community of Chinese professionals, academics and notable ex-patriots. Mary was a vivacious hostess and community builder, noted for her lively mahjong parties. At these gatherings, Mary always wore the most fashionable cheongsams (a form-fitting dress worn by women in Shanghai and Hong Kong in the 1920s), which she had tailor-made in Hong Kong. Over the years, Mary made a point of welcoming new Chinese immigrants into her social circle and helping them adapt to American life. After he children were grown, Mary worked for Lipton Tea Company. Mary celebrated her 90th birthday in 2011. Her three grandsons still remember their favorite meals (dumplings, meatballs, soybeans, and noodles) made by “Popo,” which Mary always had ready whenever her grandsons visited her in New Jersey. She lived through the dramatic changes of her time and survived many hardships with tenacity and grace. Throughout her life, she honored the traditions of early 20th century China. Mary’s children remember her struggles and bravery. They honor her perseverance, which not only changed the future for her family, but also enriched an entire community.
Clara Shen On July 27, 2012, Clara Shen turned 100 years old. She had four children, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. When the extended family gathered every year by a lake in Maine, they listened to stories that “Gma” or “GGma” told about her life: her childhood in Oregon, the “perfect” Cantonese she picked up from her father’s business associates in his dry-goods store, modeling for magazines and poster art, lessons from her brief career as a concert pianist, teaching piano in Hamden during the later
years of her life, perusing shops in Maine for exceptional Chinese antiques, and many other remarkable tales. A favorite story was when Clara gave a piano recital at Yale University’s Sprague Hall and, while pedaling, her heel was caught in a dent previously made by a cello’s endpin. Clara was born in Portland, Oregon, and began her concert piano career at the age of four, regularly performing live radio broadcasts—a “Chinese” sensation within the local community. So important was music to Clara that when she was nine years old, her family shipped her piano from Portland to Shanghai when her father moved his business there in 1922. Things didn’t work out as planned, and the family returned to Portland after several months—with the piano. After Clara’s father died when she was thirteen, time for studying piano quickly faded away, though it was not long before a new chapter in her life began. At the age of seventeen, during a visit to Chicago, she was swept off her feet by the son of a wealthy merchant, and before she knew it she was married and living in Hong Kong. The next eleven years were steeped in Hong Kong high society, the rites of filial piety, her in-laws’ Toisan dialect, and motherhood. By 1940, with both her marriage and Hong Kong’s political situation collapsing, Clara escaped to the United States with her two daughters to start again. It was only after she had remarried and settled down in Hamden that Clara resumed her studies as a pianist, culminating in her debut at New York’s illustrious Town Hall in 1947. Feeling pressure to prioritize raising her children, however, she directed her musical talents away from professional performance and into social life—teaching piano, playing chamber music, and serving as a trustee of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra—and into three generations of her family. Today, Clara’s legacy lives on in her family and her friends as they remember her music and her stories, and continue to be inspired by her fortitude.
James and Charlotte Williams James W. Williams was a Yale graduate of the class of 1908. He was a man of faith—a quality confirmed by his devotion to his wife and four children, his lifelong commitment to education exhibited through his career in teaching others in all matters of life, and the pursuit of his own erudition and curiosity. After earning a master’s degree in biology from Trinity College in 1915, he moved his young family with two toddlers to Changsha—a city in central
China unknown to most outsiders beyond the Yale graduates who had established a preparatory school and Western hospital and medical school. This was the Yale-in-China campus, where he spent six years teaching biology to pre-medical and medical students. During those six years, his wife, Charlotte, found herself in an adventure of her own, raising a family in a Chinese community. She was expected to provide meals but didn’t know the names of the food she was using; to take care of her five children (one of whom died at six days and another who required a multi-day train ride to see healthcare specialists); and to work with women who had bound feet. She accepted the move to China neither as a golden opportunity nor as a burden, and this stoicism allowed her to persevere, perhaps opening her mind to appreciate a vastly different value system. Charlotte’s deep respect for a culture unlike her own shaped the legacy of the Williams family. The children and grandchildren of James and Charlotte Williams grew up in a household where rice was served, handmade dynastic silks and embroidery were treasured, and Chinese culture was honored. The Williams flourished in both China and the United States because they did not allow cultural differences to blind them to the humanity in others.
King-lui and Vivian Wu The main room of a house on Prospect Street is spacious and well-lit with stone tiling and a hidden drain in the middle of the floor. This particular space at the center of the home, which may appear to be a living room in any other household, was conceived as an indoor garden. Single rooms extend from this main room, encircling the main room like petals around a pistil, and each room is fully lit by natural sunlight afforded by giant, two-pane skylights and windows. There are no hallways, and no two rooms are alike. This was the residence of King-lui and Vivian Wu. In 1978 after 10 years of owning a plot of land that was meant to bear their home, King-lui and Vivian finally had the means to design and construct their ideal home. “I let him do everything because he would only have one opportunity to build it his way,” said Vivian. King-lui met Vivian when she first arrived in New Haven as a student at the Yale School of Architecture. The two married after two years and began building their future together as a true partnership that is still remembered by students and friends
today. Vivian led her family of three children as a devoted mother, educating them with an open mind, likely influenced by her own liberal education at several universities such as Chung Chi College in Hong Kong, Cornell, and Yale. King-lui, an architect and professor, was dedicated to his work, though he always found time to spend with his family. Each attended to his and her own sphere with utmost perfection and dedication. Vivian describes their relationship as a neiren-waizi (内人-外子) partnership, where traditionally, a woman cares for the household and the husband works as the breadwinner—each equally important. While seemingly separate, their strong partnership functioned with subtle communication. When it came time to build their house on Prospect Street, Vivian anticipated her husband’s yearning to realize a vision he had for his home, and she refrained from voicing any suggestions. King-lui solicited her opinion anyway, and Vivian made two comments: “I do not like corridors, and the atmosphere should change from one room to another.” The result was a house constructed in the style of King-lui Wu’s artistry, but inspired by these two characteristic elements put forward by Vivian. Whether great or small, every task was completed with care and consideration by husband and wife, and today, the remnants of their partnership still stand on Prospect Street.
Special Thanks The family of Estelle Mae Bell The family of Franklin and Shwen Dji Yu Ho The family of Mary C. Hu The family of Clara Shen The family of James and Charlotte Williams Vivian Wu
About the Art Exhibit Series As part of Yale-China’s mission of fostering understanding between About the Art Exhibit Series Chinese and Americans, the art exhibit series presents art and artists
As part of Yale-China’s mission of fostering understanding who explore elements, subjects, or themes inspired by Yale-China’s between Chinese and Americans, the art exhibit series work at the intersection of Chinese and American culture. presents art and artists who explore elements, subjects, or themes inspired by Yale-China’s work at the intersection of Chinese and American culture.
Stories of China, Migration, and New Haven November 10, 2014 – July 31, 2015
飘 洋 过 海 的 中 国 遗 珍
Yale-China Association 442 Temple Street New Haven, Connecticut www.yalechina.org