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From Shanghai to Tientsin 天津

My Father’s Career

My father Yang Sih-zung 楊錫仁 was born on January 9, 1892, he went to primary school in Soochow (now Suzhou) then to Shanghai graduated from Shanghai Nan Yang Middle School 南洋中學.  In 1910 when he was 18 years old, he applied to enroll in the second batch of students to be sent to US by the Tsinghua University 清華大學.

After the Ching Dynasty lost the boxer rebellion war, the American, one of the eight victorious countries asked the Chinese government to use the compensation payment “庚子賠款“ to send Chinese students to the US.  This task fell on the Tsinghua University 清華大學, which was just being organized with American help and the first two batches of students were sent directly to US financed out of the compensation.  Among the 70 candidates who took the enrollment examination, my father got the best grade and became the top of the class, ahead of many university graduates.  His classmate included many famous persons like Dr Hu Shih 胡適 (號適之 which was given by my eldest uncle Yang Chien-li 楊千里), who later became Chinese Ambassador to USA, Chao Yuan Ren 趙元任, a prominent linguist and also Dr Mei Yi Chi 梅贻琦 who later became the principal of Tsinghua University and two of my father's friends, S Y Elephant Chow 周象賢 and P C Chan 陳伯莊.

Dr Hu Shih had the highest respect to my father as the most brilliant student who was way ahead in his class.  Dr Hu described my father as “楊錫仁聰明絕頂 , 我輩遠不及也”.  In 1960, Dr Hu Shih made a hand-written record of the Tsinghua class of 1910 and sent to my father with a hand-written tribute.  

He went to US in 1911 and on the advice from Dr V K Wellington Koo 顧維鈞 (his wife at that time was a daughter of 唐紹儀 who was a distant uncle of my mother) he attended Columbia University before going to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute for his  bachelor degree in Electrical Engineering in 1915. Then he went to Lowell Institute of Textile in Lowell, Massachusetts for his textile studies.

唐紹儀 was once the first Premier of the Republic of China.  After the Japanese invasion of China, he was living in the International Settlement of Shanghai and was sought after by the Japanese to head a puppet government.  He was assassinated at his home in 1938 by a disguised delivery man.  There were a few other potential candidates all meeting the same fate.  There had never been any proof the killings were done by the Chinese underground or by the Japanese because they had refused to cooperate.

HaiChing Carpet 海京地毯工廠

After Lowell, he joined a firm in New York named Gaston, Williams and Wigmore, Inc 嘎什頓威格摩爾公司 nicknamed “Gas-Water-and Wind” which represented many US companies in Shanghai, Tokyo and Vladivostok after World War I.

Elbrook, Inc, the predecessor of G R Coleman, Inc 海京股份有限公司 was founded by a Mr G Ellsworth Huggins for the purpose of carrying on a two-way trade with China.  Its headquarter was in New York.  My father joined the company and set up office in Shanghai 上海, Tientsin 天津 and Beijing 北京.  The Shanghai office represented many American Industrial Machinery Companies including some of the agencies held by the former Gaston, Williams & Wigmore, Inc.

In Tientsin, Elbrook started to use modern machinery to produce woolen carpets, which was branded as the “Hai-Ching Super-Carpet”.  It received immediate approval from the carpet trade in New York.  By 1926, the export volume had reached half a million square feet per annum and domestically it was sold through all the leading department stores as 海京地毯 under the trademark 海鯨.  In 1927, Mr Huggins sent to Tientsin additional equipments to make woolen blankets and fabrics.  Hai-Ching became a household name and its blankets were used on most of National Railroads and woolen piece goods were in great demand.  Elbrook Inc also started a laundry service with pick-up and delivery service by truck – a first in China.

I remember very often when a new woolen piece good was produced, my father would have a suit made for himself.  His ‘suit’ meant a regular western three-piece suit plus a traditional Chinese outer gown out of the same material so he had a choice of wearing the western jacket or the Chinese gown over the vest and trousers.  It was a great idea to promote more sales!

Another great idea was to put on all the Hai-Ching woollen blankets an unseen hemming underneath the decorative satin trimmings so when they worn-out, you just rip out the satins and have a blanket with perfect hemmed edges!

In 1937, after 7/7 incident which was the start of Japanese invasion of China, Elbrook decided to close its manufacturing facilities in Tientsin 天津 and kept the office opened in Shanghai until Pearl Harbor.

My father received his college education in the US; my mother went to school in England while staying with her sister Alice who married Dr Alfred Sao-ke Sze 施肇基 the Chinese Minister to London.  My father was from Soochow (now Suzhou) and my mother from 廣東珠海唐家灣 in Guangdong 廣東省.  And they got married in Tientsin.   How did they meet?  I understood it was through the introduction by my father's eldest brother and Dr Sze when both of them were sent to US for an international meeting in 1919. 

My parents’ wedding was held in Tientsin and from the wedding picture I noticed that there wasn’t one person from my father’s family.  All the bridesmaid, flower girl and page boy were from my mother’s side.  This I felt was a little unusual.  I started to question and in such a big family like ours, secrets are difficult to keep.  Later I learned that my father actually had a marriage all arranged by my grandfather and the wedding was planned for on my father’s return from the States without my father ever meeting his ‘bride’ beforehand.   My father decided to make a drastic move and ran away just before the wedding to Tientsin.  My eldest uncle was working in Peking 北京 at that time

As the first child I was born in Shanghai and grew up in Tientsin 天津.  So was my sister Victoria.  My sister Rose was the only one born in Tientsin and grew up in Shanghai.  I have two other younger sisters, Jane and Helen.

I was named Peter because that was my mother’s favorite name.  Victoria was so named because my father was at Victoria, BC the day she was born.  Rose was named after the first flower my mother received for her birth.  Jane was given because the first letter J is same as my mother’s Joan. And Helen was given because her Chinese name is Lun.

These were the reasons for my father to move our family to Tientsin from 1924 to 1937.  I went to a school called the 耀華小學 known as 天津公學 when I first enrolled there...

During that time my father had to make regular trips to Shanghai to look after the office there.  On one of the trips, he told my grandmother that he would arrive on a certain day by train but showed up two days earlier.  Instead of taking the train, he decided to try flying for the first time.  There was no airline at that time, but the mail plane, a high wind single engine Stimson which could carry two to three passengers besides the pilot and my father decided to try that.  It just happened it was during school holidays, so my mother, I and Victoria already were in Shanghai, and so he did not dare to tell anybody beforehand least we would be worrying.

Because my father’s achievements became known in all Asia, he was invited by the President of the Philippines in 1936 to make a survey and a master plan to develop the textile industry in the country.  His report was well received and he developed many long friendships with many Chinese living in Philippines and engaging in the textile industry.

My Mother’s Family

My mother Joan Tong also came from a large family.  Her hometown was 廣東珠海唐家灣 where there were only two prominent families.  One named Tong 唐 and the other named Leung 梁.  Naturally there were many inter marriage between the two. A great number of they moved to the North, settled in Beijing and Tientsin and active in the Ching Dynasty government.  My maternal grandfather 唐榮俊 was one of the 120 children sent by the Ching Dynasty to study in US.  My maternal great grand uncle was 唐廷樞, a founder of the Bureau of Kai Pibng Mineral Affairs, the forerunner of the Kai Luan Coal Mine Comnpany 開灤公司的前身開平礦務局.

In 2007, the CCTV8 of China presented a 27-episode TV drama series about the life and achievements of 唐廷樞 who established the first railroad in China owned and operated by Chinese to transport coal from Tong Shan 唐山 to Chin Huang Tao 秦皇島.

My mother was the youngest of five children, two boys and three girls.  My eldest Aunt Alice Yu-hua 唐金環 (鈺華) married Dr Alfred Sao-ke Sze 施肇基, and had two boys, Szeming 施思明 and Deson 施棣生 and four girls, Mai-mai 施蘊珍, Julia 施瑞珍, Betty 施瑛珍 and Alice 施嘉珍.  Another aunt Kingling 唐金玲 married Wen Lung Wong 黃文龍 and their daughter Chian Guay 黃振球 married T F Wong 黃檀甫 who was one of the team responsible in designing  and building the Memorial Halls for Dr Sun Yat-Sen 孫逸仙 in Nanking and Canton (now Guangzhou) 廣州 between 1928 and 1930.  My cousin Chian Guay 黃振球 was very close to my mother and one of her sons Kelly Wong 黃建武  is having a successful business in Hong Kong.

My uncle James 唐康泰 went to England as a child so he was very British.  He and my aunt Julie lived in 唐山 and had a home in 秦皇島, a resort near Beijing where he worked for the Kai Luan Coal Mine Company 開灤公司.  He loved playing tennis.  I still remember when my cousin 唐明珍 who was also a tennis player and won the championship of North China Women’s Tennis Tournament.

Uncle James visited Tientsin often and he usually stayed with us.  The weather in Tientsin was extreme: very cold in the winters and hot in the summers.  So we had spent quite a few summers at his place in 秦皇島.   More often we would rent a house for the summer in Bei Dai Heu 北戴河 where together with 秦皇島 and 山海關 are all connected by beaches.  My father would commute between Tientsin and our summer place on weekends.  My cousin May Tong spent a few summers with us in 北戴河.

One of Uncle James' 唐康泰 sons Leslie 唐崇仁, who was later known as John, and Kelly Wong 黃建武 were the only relatives from my mother side who has kept in touch with me and my sisters over the years.

Musical Pets

My Uncle Harry married Gertrude Yung whose father was Yung Kwai 容揆 the grand nephew of Dr Yung Wing 容闳 who was the Chinese diplomat taking the first batch of children to study in US at government’s expense.  Aunty Gertrude, whose mother was an American, was considered one of the beauties at that time.

Uncle Harry worked with my father at Elbrook, Inc and had an apartment in the British concession of Tientsin.  They had no children.  He played violin and had many pets in his apartment.  He trained the birds to respond to the particular tunes he played on the violin.  If he played one tune, the birds would fly out of their cage and around the living room clockwise.  Another tune would make the bird turn around and fly back into the cage.  He would train monkeys, snakes etc with his violin.  So his apartment was like a pet shop and visiting them was like going to a mini circus.  Later, after 7/7 when we all went back to Shanghai, I understood he took a job to teach English at the University of Shanghai.

Small World

On one of my trips to Singapore after I started my own practice in New York, I was invited to have dinner at Trioka restaurant by my friend and fraternity brother King Wong 王立強 together with another couple, Wilson and Helena Chan whom I met for the first time.  During the dinner conversation, Wilson began telling the story of having an uncle in Tientsin who used his violin to train all his pets.  After he finished I said there couldn’t be two such persons in Tientsin so he and I must have a common uncle, that means we must be related.  So as it turned out his mother Tong Moon Lan 唐夢蘭 was a cousin of my mother.  This is indeed a small world.





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