owners fascinating biography
Please read the selection of Poems at the foot of this page in Chinese and English
Personal area for my friends and
My family Tree in Chinese I
I Envy the Eagle:
My brief autobiography
Written by Frank Xu ( Mr.Shu Zheng Hsu ), translated by Dr.Zhiqun Zhu,USA
Frank Xu in his study
Please click images for a larger more detailed picture
On the desk in my study room sits a color photo of SiPinBu (appliqué gown). The original cloth, embroidered with five-color golden silk, was cut from my grandmother’s official clothes she wore during the Qing Dynasty. With purple color as the background and wild geese standing on rocks in the sea, the gown was decorated with anagram lace and back-lined with blue silk fabric. After over nine decades of wars and plundering, it was rediscovered, still shinning and full of life.
generations my family had lived in downtown Wuxi City’s Chongning Road, where
officials of previous dynasties gathered. Big and prosperous families like Sun,
Qin, Wang, Hou, and Xu had resided here from generation to generation; it had
been a place full of culture. In our house there was a brick arch carved with a
series of scenes from ancient plays and dramas and the four seal characters of
mountain, pool, lake and sea. In a survey after the Cultural Revolution
(1966-1976), it was “discovered” to be the best architecture of the late Qing
Dynasty on Chongning Road. Upon learning this, professors and students from
Shanghai Tongji University’s department of ancient architecture expressed strong
interest. It took them three days to set up stands and shoot a film about our
house, the Bao Shan Hall. Unfortunately the whole house was eventually pulled
down and destroyed in the movement to renovate the old city in the 1990s. It
was in this big house full of inscribed boards that I grew up. We lost nearly
everything during the Cultural Revolution
Part of the intricate carving at our old family home, Bao Shan Hall, on Wuxi City’s Chongning Road
According to the Xu family record maintained by the Family History Research Center at the Shanghai Library, our ancestors moved from Xi county in Anhui Province during the Kangxi years in Qing Dynasty. Over the next 300 years, ours grew to be one of the best-known families of letters in Wuxi.
My grandfather Xu Zhanzhi was a top student of Wu Zhihui (Wu, a Kuomintang veteran, later became a senior statesman of the Republic of China). At a young age, my grandfather followed Mr. Wu to Japan to study military affairs and graduated from Japan’s military academy. Upon returning to China, my grandfather became a battalion commander at the age of 19. He was promoted to level four in the administrative system, responsible for military affairs in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces.
All his life my grandfather followed Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. During his study in Japan he joined the Resuscitate China Society, the Alliance Society, and the Recovery Society. As a revolutionary, he joined the 72 martyrs in launching the 1911 Revolution. When the revolution failed, he escaped to Shanghai and lived there until the Republic of China was founded. Later he was appointed by Dr. Sun to be the police chief of Wuxi. Soon, Dr. Sun lost in the power struggle and my grandfather gave up his office. At the invitation of General Wu Peifu, my grandfather participated in the Northern Expedition government. My grandfather was an honest, uncorrupted and devoted official. At age 41 he suddenly died from stroke. Losing his top student, Mr. Wu Zhihui was heart-broken. He presided over the memorial ceremony of my grandfather. At that time, my father was only 11.
My grandmother experienced a great deal in her life. She lived in Wuxi’s Buddhism Society and studied Buddhism for a long time. During the warring years and the eight years anti-Japanese war, my family could not make ends meet and had to sell some of the land properties. My grandfather was a founding member of the China Kenye Bank and owned many stocks. But in a later lawsuit my grandmother lost and had to mortgage all stocks. Before escaping from the anti-Japanese war, my grandmother stored a dozen suitcases and a full house of mahogany furniture in an old friend Mrs. Qian’s house. Unfortunately, Mrs. Qian’s house was burned down to ashes by the invading Japanese. Recalling this, my grandmother was very open-minded. “Our family belongings have gone with the wars, but the revolution is perhaps more worrisome,” said grandma. She deplored that if my grandfather had not passed away early and if she had not lost all the stocks, life might have been very difficult for our family when the Communists came to power.
My father learned to do business after graduating from junior high school. He taught himself while working. Soon after the 1949 revolution, my father started to work at the Southern Jiangsu Grain Bureau in Nanjing, and our family moved from Wuxi to Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu province. During the Cultural Revolution he was labeled as anti-revolutionary. Since my father was born in an “official and land owner” family, even though he participated in the revolution before 1949, he became the target of every political campaign. Most of his colleagues at the Grain Bureau were revolutionary veterans; my father was much younger and his family background made him vulnerable to every political movement. He was imprisoned in 1952 during the so-called “Three Antis-Five Antis” movement. Without a steady income, our life became extremely difficult. My younger brother had to be adopted by another family soon after he was born. Only several years ago, after countless efforts, was I able to finally find him. He grew up in a poor family and suffered enormously and was not well-educated.
My father could never forget the injustice imposed on him until he collapsed at the age of 77. I told my father that even Liu Shaoqi, the country’s president, did not survive the Cultural Revolution, so he should be satisfied to live to see the rectification of the wrongdoings committed by the party in the past. My father left me a paper bag after he died. The bag was full of his letters of appeal for redressing the wrongs done to him. I could not help crying as I read his letters.
My grandmother Madame Shao Yujin came from an aristocratic family of Changzhou near Wuxi, well conversant with the ancient Four Books and Five Classics ever since she was very young. In my memory, my grandmother always enjoyed reading, with her golden-trimmed spectacles on. She had great hope me on me as her eldest grandson. She often kept me beside her, teaching me herself. In the ultra-leftist years, she was a ready target for the revolution.
The porch of the Doorway to our old family home
After I moved to Nanjing with my parents, I always returned to Wuxi every winter and summer break. My grandmother and I would read in the study all day, sometimes forgetting to cook and eat. I still clearly remember how she taught me the four tones in Chinese reading. Her deep interest in classic Chinese and Buddhism influenced me as a young child. She would tell me stories that she experienced during the Qing Dynasty; we would enjoy Pingtan opera “Yang Naiwu and Little Cabbage” together. She would tell me that the story about Official Yang and Little Cabbage was real because she read the story from the “imperial paper” in Beijing at that time. “Don’t tell others,” she would advise me each time.
My eighty-year old grandmother passed away during the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution. I was only 18 then. Now after so many years, I can still see my grandmother walking with the help of her black stick. I’m not a Buddhist, but every year I burn tin foil paper from Shanghai’s Town God Temple for my grandmother during the Chinese New Year and the winter solstice. I’d rather believe that one’s spirit lives on after death.
In 1964 I was accepted by the renowned Nanjing Foreign Languages School (NFLS). I resolved to follow the steps of my forefathers and to become literate in both Chinese and a foreign language. The school’s general admission regulations clearly stated “our school trained advanced experts in translation and interpretation”. At that time, foreign language education received utmost attention from the central government to provinces. The training of foreign language students was based on foreign minister Chen Yi’s instruction that all students had to be both “red and expert”—politically reliable and professionally competent. All of us benefited enormously from NFLS’s rigorous style of study and our teachers’ expertise and high moral standards.
Unfortunately, the Cultural Revolution that started two years later dashed our hopes. I spent the following seven years in the countryside during the 10 years of turmoil. When I returned to Nanjing, I was almost 30 years old. I spent the next 25 years working for import and export companies. Though very busy, I kept in touch with the outside world and widened my horizon.
By 1988 I had worked for 12 years in
the foreign trade business, mainly in charge of the export of stationery. I
attended the Guangzhou Trade Fair twice a year and traveled abroad every year.
My life was basically good. However, I felt that the state-owned companies
lacked vitality and prospect. I had a sense of crisis. In that year, Shenzhen
and Hainan became front-runners in China’s economic reforms. An old classmate
of mine encouraged me to restart my career in Shenzhen. I was persuaded by her
and became the first person in Jiangsu’s import and export companies to request
a change of job. I waited for very long without any official document for my
job change from Shenzhen. Finally I was told that the Shenzhen Personnel Bureau
delayed my application due to my lack of a college degree.
Doorway section to our old family home
In September 1988 a friend of mine introduced me to Kang Hua company in Shenzhen. I was promised with the position of department manager, with a salary of 500 Yuan per month (my salary at the import and export company was only 70 Yuan). There would also be a company car for picking me up for work and sending me home after work. So I decided to join Kang Hua.
It was unforgettable how I left Nanjing. On the day of my departure, my company was kind enough to dispatch a car to send me to the airport. My flight was delayed from noon till midnight. It was not a good omen. As soon as I arrived at Kang Hua, I smelt something wrong. Most of the people here were a law unto themsleves who used their privileges to fraudulently buy up commodities of limited supply and sell them for more profits. When I arrived, Kang Hua was already under heavy pressure, including criticism by top leaders in Beijing. The company had promised me that I would be handling import and export businesses, but there was already no business left. I became a window dressing. Having been busy and efficient all my life, I became frustratingly idle at Kang Hua. They reneged on all their promises and only provided me with a basic fee for living. If I had not experienced a stormy life during the Cultural Revolution and lived in the countryside, I would not have been able to bear it psychologically.
From a major employee at a large provincial-level foreign trade company to a person with nothing to do in Shenzhen, I felt greatly lost with a very dim view of the future. The discrepancy was too huge. One of my old customers in Hong Kong came to see me and asked me: why have you come to Kang Hua now? Newspapers overseas had already reported that Kang Hua was a heavily corrupted company and was in deep trouble.
My God, but how could I know? The story was not reported in mainland Chinese news. The propaganda department of the provincial import-export bureau did have Hong Kong newspapers like Ta Kung Po and Wen Wei Po, but they were kept for “cadres” and not available to ordinary people. I suddenly remembered that when I bade my farewell to an old friend who was the deputy director of the customs office, he told me with worry in his face that “Kang Hua seems to have some problems”. At that time, we never heard that a state-owned company could go bankrupt. I was not sensitive to politics. I was more sympathetic with those new graduates from Fudan University and Beijing Foreign Studies University who joined Kang Hua at the same time.
The June 4 students’ movement in 1989 actually started with a campaign against Kang Hua. As soon as students’ demonstrations were crushed, President Jiang Zemin declared to disband Kang Hua. But it did not matter much to most employees at Kang Hua since they had already made a big fortune over the years. A colleague, who graduated from the Science and Technology University, and I had to look everywhere for an apartment to live and a job to do. It was capitalist Shenzhen, nobody cared about you.
What was unforgettable was that an old friend from Beijing’s China Light Industry Import and Export General Company made a special trip to Shenzhen to see me. He introduced me to Shenzhen Light Industry Import & Export Company, whose manager was surprised to see my certificate for conducting export business. He said probably I was the only one in Shenzhen to have this nationally recognized certificate. “Why didn’t you contact us earlier?” he exclaimed.
I already had much trouble in Shenzhen and was frightened by the situation at Kang Hua. So I agreed to go to Shenzhen Light Industry Import & Export Company. But just a few days later, my old boss at Jiangsu Foreign Trade recalled me and asked me to resign from Shenzhen Light Industry Import & Export Company. He said since Kang Hua would collapse soon, it would be easier for me to leave from there than from Shenzhen Light Industry Import & Export Company. After careful thought, I realized that I still miss my old job in Nanjing and decided to return to Kang Hua to wait for official documents for my transfer back to Nanjing. After several months no such official documents came. I went back to Nanjing and asked why and learned that the director of the provincial economic and trade commission would not accept anybody returning from Shenzhen and Hainan. But in Shenzhen, no company would accept you if they knew you worked for Kang Hua before.
While in Shenzhen, my friend introduced me to a person who had his own company. As soon as I heard this person’s name, I realized he was the person who, reportedly, willingly returned to his remote hometown after college graduation and gave up good government-assigned jobs. His story was boasted in many newspapers. The guy told me that he was indeed this famous personality. He promised me that if I worked for his company, he would give me 5% commission after each business transaction. I gladly accepted his offer. When they learned about it, my two colleagues who went to Shenzhen together with me asked, Frank, are you crazy? This is Shenzhen, you got to find your own customers and your own factory. You have to do everything by yourself here. You are naive in that you did not even ask him for a loan to start your business. Why would you work for him like this? He is cheating you.
It was not too late before I realized this. My two colleagues spoke out from a sense of justice and asked the guy to pay me. After some efforts, the guy eventually agreed to pay me. But he did not even want to spend postal fees to pay me through telegraphic transfer and asked me to pick up the money myself. This is not the worst case in Shenzhen or China today. For money, anything can happen.
A friend in Spain learned about my difficulties and encouraged me to pursue my career overseas. He helped complete all the procedures for me to study in Spain. At that time, there were only just over 1,000 Chinese in Spain and most came from Qingtian in Zhejiang province in order to make a living there. The initial evaluation by the Spanish Embassy in Beijing suggested that I was well-qualified and would have no problem in getting a visa. But just after I submitted my visa application documents, an unexpected event happened. It was said that a group of people from Zhejiang province used fake passports they purchased and flew to Madrid. They were detained by airport security. Mysteriously they all disappeared overnight and were believed to have been picked up by local Chinese gangs. The next day the whole of Spain was enraged. The Spanish King ordered that no visa would be issued to Chinese passport holders.
I had prepared to go abroad and spent the whole year of 1990 for it, so I was very upset when I learned about the visa situation. My former customers were all in Europe and America, but they were not willing to make business orders through Shenzhen since there was no supply in Shenzhen. After the June 4 incident of 1989, the government tightened financial control and it became more difficult to export. My mother, who was missing me, asked me to come back to Nanjing. So I returned. Through the introduction of friends, I entered another company. Unfortunately, the boss of this company whom I had known before was, for some reason, not prepared to let me do any import and export business although I was fully qualified to do so. I could never understand his reasons. I spent the next unhappy 10 years in the billing department of that company. My foreign trade friends in Shanghai were surprised by this. Although I was very capable and well qualified to handle more responsibility , I ended up doing billing for 10 years. The reason I stayed? I got married and had a child. My mother had three strokes and my father also became seriously ill. I simply could not leave anymore.
I’m honest and straight-forward and long for freedom. I was not happy at all in the past few decades with the many political campaigns in China. Deng Xiaoping’s open door policy warmed me up gradually, but corruption in recent years disheartened me once again. The worst side effect of over 20 years of reform was the much-hated rampant corruption. In my last job , where I had worked for 10 years in foreign trade, the manager of the company was a dictator who brazenly snatched public assets for himself and punished those who disagreed. I was not so easily corrupted. My unwillingness to drift with the tide determined that I would offend him sooner or later. Eventually he forced me to retire and even terminated all my benefits and returned my stocks to me. I suffered once again in the past few years. I’ve learned to look on the bright side of things. What else can I do? After so many hardships I’ve truly had a taste of life.
Life is like a journey. The path is long and full of obstacles. Only by walking around and observing everything can one learn to navigate the path. After all, I’m free now and can live without restraint. 'I envy the eagle'. They live on the cliffs of snow-covered high mountains, but they fly freely in the sky. What kind of life they enjoy!
Today we are fortunate to live in anage of information. The world wide web has shrunk the globe into a small village. Email mmessages can reach 10 thousand miles away instantly. I was an English student and quickly learned how to use computer with the kind help of friends. After a year or so, I started my own online export business, enjoying the benefits of high-tech and have my own web site. Since 2003 my business started to improve on the right track. I walked out of a low point in my life once again. I’m middle-aged now and still have a long way ahead. This is the right time for my career. After so many stormy and turbulent seasons, the spring is still full of beauty and life. The second spring of my life has approached.
Our efforts today are for a better life tomorrow. I’m very glad that during my lifetime I can finally enjoy some freedom to do whatever I want to do now. It was unimaginable before, and I’m glad that China has changed tremendously. I work at home now. My wife is an architecture designer and is very busy. My son is twelve now and will graduate from primary school soon. He is very intelligent and plays the piano very well. My wife and son leave early in the morning and return home late every day. I cook at home every day. My classmates and friends often have get-togethers. After work, I write poems and keep in touch with classmates and friends overseas. I treasure their friendship. What makes me happy and what can make me cry are these faithful friends. As well-educated people we all have the same flaw: we rely too much on the spiritual life.
I sit in front of my computer day and night and contact my friends at home and broad with email. Gradually we formed a literary club. My poems were written for myself, most of which are about my life in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. I’m nostalgic, I miss friends and the past. I believe my poems will be read by others, and that’s exactly the case.
There were over 20 million “educated youth” who went to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. These people and their experiences had significant impact on Chinese society and even the world. In places as far as North America, there are “educated youth” clubs. Yes, we do have a special mentality as “educated youth”. We write songs and poems about it in order to retain our good memory and sooth our injured hearts. However, it is up to our generation to face reality boldly and confidently and pursue a better future. Human beings cannot forget the past. Every major historical topic should be written about. This world is full of instabilities and wars, with human beings killing each other and destroying the nature. The intellectuals are the conscience of their society and who must call upon their people to return to their spiritual home.
My poems have frequently been recommended to the websites of newspapers and the sites of classical Chinese studies. In January 2003 I was accepted as a member of the Nanjing Writers’ Association. What I write in my poems is a true reflection of my feelings. The Qing Dynasty poet Zhao Oubei once wrote: “Poets are fortunate while the country is not, since their poems become succinct and classic when they describe the turbulence.” This is just like a precious pearl being extracted from a sick clam. I am now 57; I have accumulated too much in my mind about the disasters of our nation and our country
There is no limit to ones study. I can not compare my work with the many scholars ahead of me in the study of Chinese classics but there must be grass within every ten steps. I wish to get to know more colleagues in this area to exchange our ideas and to improve my own knowledge. Both Chinese and foreign literatures are as rich as the ocean. Like looking at a picture, only those who truly understand it can appreciate the whole piece, not just the surface or part of it. What I like to pursue is more knowledge about arts and literature; what I want is to succeed in my contribution to society. I am honored to become a member of the Writers’ Association which means that I can follow the steps of my predecessors and, in the process, learn more. This is indeed another starting point in my life.
Although I am already middle-aged I still have all the memories of those tumultuous years in my mind. At my age I reflect on my past and hope that my son will quickly become experienced in his own life. When he is old enough I want to tell him the history of our family and the different experiences of our two generations so that he can draw some lessons from the failure of generations before him and understand our society by himself. He has to decide what to do for a better life. However, he is still too young. It is not a good idea to put all the weight of such a psychological burden on him at this young age. Education is of utmost importance. First he has to complete his Chinese education and lay a solid foundation in Chinese language and literature. Then he can rely on himself to pursue advanced study in Europe or America. That’s my hope. As to what field he should specialize in, it all depends on his talents and interests. Albert Einstein once said, “interest is the best teacher, it’s stronger than any sense of responsibility.” Nothing is truer than this. I want to tell my son that education is a life-long pursuit. We must constantly improve ourselves to catch up with the time.
What kind of person would I wish my son be? He must be psychologically healthy, physically fit, erudite and versatile, with an elegant temperament. I hope my son has a loving and caring heart and shows his concern about everything around him. History cannot be cut off, but our family history should not be a burden for the next generation. Instead, it should be a driving force. I hope my son can enjoy life after work, not like the two generations before him who lived so hard.
I do not understand the current educational system. Even we did not have to study so hard at such an early age. My son is a class leader and a model student every semester. He does his homework as soon as he gets home everyday, sometimes late into the evening. He is only 12, but he has to work so hard, with no time for physical exercise. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. When can the Chinese catch up with Europeans or Americans physically? Its little different in many other cultures around the world today.
The history of a person or a nation is really like a river, with twists and turns, and waves and tides. Sometimes it’s a personal choice; sometimes it’s fate. I believe character determines fate and everything should go naturally. My experience in the past decades taught me the ways of the world. I enjoy helping others, especially those in trouble because I fully understand the quandary of no help and the subsequent loneliness. I still remember when I was in a deep predicament in Shenzhen I found a book published in Taiwan, 'Luolan’s Casual Words.' I did not have money to buy it and had to read it at the bookstand. The words in the book were from those who had experienced all kinds of difficulties in their lives. Their words gave me great encouragement. Indeed, experience itself is a kind of wealth, it does not matter whether you have succeeded or whether you have failed.
On My 57th Birthday
With a poem and a cup of black tea, I seldom celebrate my birthday.
Looking back at a journey of 57 years, I find half in adverse state.
Like busy swallows these
thirty years we are apart
but still my soul remembers
the voice that touched our hearts.
Wrote by Frank Xu,translation of poem by Dr.Jingmei Yuan,USA
In the time of the so called Cultural
Revolution, many students and schoolchildren
were sent away from their families , their homes and their education to work on the
land as peasants. They were sent to distant villages where they were not allowed to
study or even mention former lives. Their days were hard, tilling the soil, working
under poor conditions in the dust or the mud. This was re-education for the body and
mind but perhaps not the soul. While they toiled they always tried to keep our minds
sane by remembering loved ones and the precious times that were had with friends
at High School, university or professions. Some were broken though many did survived
these terrible times. Occasionally they travelled to other villages or towns to visit each
other. Recently, Frank wrote a poem recalled for a visiting 36 years ago for his school
mates who were from his High School and worked in a poor area called Houbai.
The students and children, the flowers of Chinese youth and the future of their country
were almost destroyed. They came back from a visit with that wonderful sound in their
hearts and held in their soul the few moments of joyful pleasure in an otherwise mental
landscape of grey.
Houbai is the name of a small
town which placed in Jurong county, Jiangsu province.
Wang de Hui and some of my old schoolmates settled down in this town to be the
peasants for several years, I once visited them. During those days, Wang and her
roommates sang some "educated youth songs" for me. In China, people call us young
students which were sent to the countryside to be peasants as "educated youth". Some
talent educated youth secretly wrote some songs for our rural lives, but these songs
could not be sung openly by us at that time the composers were soon put into the prison.
The most famous one of them is Mr.Ren Yi, who was forced to stay in prison for over ten years.
You see, it was very brave to sing such songs at that time.
When I visited my friend Dehui Wang, she sang for her visitors. Her voice gave us hope.
It was not always the words but the sound of her voice that gave us all hope. We were very
moved and I remembered the sweet tone of that beautiful voice so many years afterwards.
We could not simply forget our past as Dehui Wang had touched our souls.
Many of her schoolmates at The Foreign Language School of Nanjing miss her after such a long time.
My poem reaches out to, not only, to Dehui Wang but on behalf of all her friends and the other
"educated youths", the talented students that suffered though this period.
Here are two of my poems one which has
been translated by my classmate
Hans Qin when we studied in Nanjing Foreign Language School 40 years
ago and now lives in South Africa. The second is by my old student Dr. Zhi Qun Zhu (USA).
无题 ― 答潘兄
Gone are the days we were toiling in
yet in our hearts they stay
Grey hair we've all grown, before we even know
Stormy ups and downs have weathered us all
Still, our mind is wide as a spring sky.
Written by Frank Xu, translated by Dr.Zhiqun Zhu,USA
Written by Frank Xu, translated by
Personal area for my friends and
My family Tree in Chinese I