c1905 - HSU Chu Lien, Beijing
What had it been like to be a student in those days. Not only a student at home, but in Germany, a far away land of foreign customs and foods, and months away from the lives your ancestors had known for generations. What had it been like to be asked to join the Chinese Legation there, and later as an ambassador to represent your country half way around the world at a time when foreign powers were gradually taking away your country piece by piece.
How did it feel to anticipate the birth of a new daughter, your first and only child, and then be greeted with the tragedy that the mother, your wife, the beautiful girl you had loved, would not survive the birth.
What had it been like to start coughing blood in those days, and realize, at a young age, when you had thought that your personal and political life could not get any worse, that you had not long to live.
c1920 - KAN Chieh-Hou, Shanghai
What was it like to grow up in a family that had won the ease of life and lost it. To have studied so hard you still had nightmares of books and exams. To travel across oceans and continents to study in America. To sit on the terrace of your apartment in Cambridge, a world away, watching people walk by as you were finishing the reading for your thesis, for your future.
What was it like to see that beautiful girl, the girl who would be your wife, across the swell of fabulous people, at that party for the rising star of your leader, Chiang Kai Shek and his Wellesley educated wife, in Shanghai. What had that girl been like in that moment, bold and educated, and unlike any girl you had ever met.
What had it been like to be constantly on the go, running from danger, from agents, from war, from the great uncertainties in those days. What was it like to choose sides, to leave a war-time capital of infighting when you knew you wanted no part of that fight. And to support an honest man against a league of opponents.
What had it been like to leave for America again, to plead for help with their President in vain. And to realize you would never be able to return to your country again.
c1930 - Katharine HSU KAN, Beijing
What was it like to have never known your real mother, having died in childbirth. And when did you get to see your father, always busy, always traveling, and then dying well before his time, shortly after the death of his own sick father, while you were still at a young age. What was it like to have your momís sister as your step mother. To be traveling here and there, not sure which of those large homes were really yours.
What was it like that year when you came back to school, and a few of the other students did not return because they had died of disease. What did it feel like, the loss, the uncertainty, the fear of losing your life.
What was it then like to be young and alone at Yenching, the all girls college staffed by Western missionaries, and progressive ideas. To have the world open to hopes and dreams before you, only to have them swept away in yet another war.
What was it like to meet the handsome young diplomat of whom your step-mother had been reading about in all the newspapers. To be so bold in conversation with this man, unlike any other you had met before at all those birthday and evening parties. To know that this was the man you were going to marry.
c1940 - George Teh Pei KAN, Hong Kong
What was it like growing up in Britainís crown colony, unaware in that happy time of the tumultuous events happening all around, with a country in a virtual civil war, Shanghai under attack, and countries around the world falling to invasion like dominoes.
What had it been like when suddenly that peaceful bliss was broken by the sounds of bombs and bullets, of screams, and of soldiers at the door with guns. What did you think when your father was taken away without returning for weeks, and when your mother was kneeling at her bed with folded hands, crying beside herself. What was it like to live in that war, in that uncertainty.
What was it like when you thought the war over, and your family was able to return from being among the Chinese armies in Kunming and Guilin. What was it like to hope in that time, with the rest of the country still in civil war. How did it feel waking early each morning, and running the track at St Stephens with Colonel Martin to practice your English, and dreaming of what would come.
And then, what was it like to have to leave all that, all your new friends and bunkmates, to leave alone with your siblings on a ship bound for the United States.
A U L
P H O T O G R A P H Y
all images © 1995-2006 Paul W.H. Kan
Hong Kong, SAR
People's Republic of China