Book Title: Who Was Bao-Xiang?
Author: Jung-Tai Lin.
Publisher: Taipei. 2003. 366pp.
Reviewer: David D. Kuo, Eastern Washington University, Cheney, WA
In the preface, Jung-Tai Lin claims that this memoir is motivated by a strong desire to save his beloved memories of the Lin and Wu families for his own children. This is certainly an understatement. Instead, this book will also be of interest to many others, including this reviewer. First, its storytelling style is befitting and rivets the readerís attention to its very end. This is particularly due to the authorís mastery of Chinese language, though his lucid English version, which is included in the same volume, is a welcome for reaching more readers. Equally important, the story told is not merely contained in a personal and familial scope; rather it has its macrocosmic dimension in terms of history, cultural journey and transition. This is especially attractive to those who have been through a similar experience in this early stages of modern Chinaís turmoil, even on an imaginary level.
The book is divided into five chapters, along with a wealth of annotated photographs, documents, a chart of Jung-Taiís family tree; and of course a preface along with a brief afterword. Chapter one begins with a poignant note of how a non-deliverable letter addressed from father to grandparents in 2000 for remarrying his deceased mother! This is followed by another moving note that reveals Bao-Xiang was the maiden name of his mother and makes clear the deep bond that his father had with his mother. As a result, this simple anecdote, filled with love and very touching, is carried over as the title of the book. Thus, the first chapter is centered on the authorís maternal side with respect to its Republic-era history during the Northern Expedition period from 1926 to 1927.
With chapter two the author shifts focus to his paternal side, in which the Lin family managed to develop as an economic force in their hometown by shipping locally produced charcoal and bamboo paper to the Shanghai market. As the author notes, the precarious ups and downs in doing so is an indication of how, in the areas of Shanghai and Ningbo, the Chinese people had struggled for modernization on the eve of the Japanese invasion in the late 30s.
As the story proceeds, chapter three is placed into a larger context in which it unfolds along with the eight years War of Resistance against Japanese invasion. This second Sino-Japanese War was triggered by a clash between the Chinese and Japanese armies at a bridge, in the outskirts of Beijing on July 7, 1937 Ė- since then nationally known as the Lu Go Chiao Incident. This infamous event was soon followed with the first major battle at Shanghai and the subsequent fall of Nanking. As is now known, the Massacre that occurred there was not publicized internationally until in recent decades, mainly through Iris Changís The Rape of Nanking in 1997. Again, his gripping account of how his father, as a young officer, fought valiantly in an air defense unit, is not just interesting but also significant in the sense of filling a largely unreported aspect of this vast conflict on Chinese soil. The air defense then consisted of anti-aircraft batteries and searchlights.
With the end of WWII, the nonultimate chapter swings back with a more personal touch on how the author grew up happily in Nanking with his parents and sibling. Here the author recalls remarkable memories of his early childhood. Among the many stories told, one strikes me the most. Through sheer luck the author survived not just once but TWICE by failing to board two ships, that subsequently sunk during the January of 1949, one by a mysterious explosion, another by colliding with a cargo ship in the open sea. This rings dramatic or even apocalyptic in hindsight.
The final chapter begins with the authorís first setting foot on Taiwan soil in early l949 and ends with his arrival at USA in the fall of 1964 as a graduate student to seek his dream in the field of engineering. During this growing up or formative period, the author provides us a detailed and vivid account of his life along with his fatherís peripatetic military career, especially of his educational experiences. Here, through his keen observations, we are led to view at the personal level how Taiwan had been transformed rapidly into a developing and developed society.
In conclusion, the reader and this reviewer look forward to having this book extended to cover much of his American experiences since his arrival on American soil in mid-60s. Here we can expect to learn how he established himself as a successful engineer by experiencing a variety of challenges. As a whole, this book is well written and highly readable, even with some printing errors that show up in the authorís English version. However, being a bilingual publication, this book may turn out to be a double treat for students of language. Finally, it deserves a place in a college course, particularly with respect to this part of modern Chinese history, at least as an excellent supplementary text. Also I would recommend this book for general public for its contribution to a genre which is generally referred to as biography that actually qualifies as an important witness to the historical record.