FIRST DRAFT - JANUARY 1999
FIRST DRAFT - JANUARY 1999
NOTE: These recollections focus on my intellectual development and how the different strands in my life's work relate to each other. They are being written while I'm in a hospital bed recuperating from a broken leg. That means I cannot consult documents to verify dates and facts, but ultimately I will fill in the gaps. Moreover, I have promised my family a real autobiography which, I hope, will be an elaboration of materials offered below, including more personal and anecdotal information. As an intellectual rather than a personal history, however, this first draft will take up the following themes:
Chapter headings include:
Note that underlined words and phrases link to related texts.
1917 was the Year of the Snake and my birth date fell in that
year on July 3 when I was born in Kuling, China. This is a beautiful
mountain resort on the Yangtze river in Kiangsi province where a
substantial resort community for foreigners living in China spread over
several neighboring valleys -- it later became the summer capital for
Chiang Kai Shek's Kuomintang government. My parents went there after
spending a year in Nanking studying Chinese language, history and culture
preparatory to venturing overland from Kuling to Shaowu in the interior of
Fukien province where I grew up.
My dad had been invited to come to Shaowu to establish an experimental farming project
in response to a request from the local community and with the support of the American
Board, the missionary establishment for Congregational Churches. Dad had an
agricultural degree from Ohio State University and was confident his technological
knowledge would enable him to help Chinese farmers increase their productivity. As he
later discovered, most American agricultural technics were irrelevant to the concrete
realities of the Chinese situation and he started to study and learn from the Chinese
farmers, paving the way for his later move to the University of Nanking to start China's
first Department of Agricultural Engineering -- but I'm getting ahead of my story.
On the way to Shaowu, as my mother reported in her family memoirs, local villagers would
gather around the basket in which baby Freddy was lying to marvel at the strange sight of
a tow-headed baby and to feel and touch my head to make sure it was real! My first
exposure to multi-culturalism therefore was as a target of astonishment -- I grew up as an
American in China, part of a widely dispersed diaspora minority that could never
experience ethnicity because, under Chinese laws based on jus sanguinis, only the children
of Chinese could become Chinese. By contrast, under American laws, just soli prevails
which means that anyone born on American soil is automatically an American citizen.
Had this rule prevailed in China, I would have been born a Chinese. Although most
Americans in China learned to love the country and its people, they remained always in
diaspora, expecting some day to return to the United States.
All foreigners in China were
expected to employ Chinese servants and although our budget was very
tight, we were no exception. My "amah," the word use to identify a nanny,
came from Foochow, the port city and capital of Fukien province. I grew
up playing with her son and becoming a bilingual naive-speaker of Foochow
and English. Since my parents had learned Mandarin (the national
language) in Nanking, and started to learn Shaowu in their new home, they
could not understand what I was saying in the Foochow language.
Note: I cannot write "dialect"
because these were really different languages, although by writing in
Chinese idiographs (characters) literate Chinese could communicate with
each other. We use idiographs in English to represent numbers, thus 1, 2,
3, 4, are universally understood regardless of how the words used for them
are pronounced. As I later realized, reliance on these idiographs
facilitated the unification of Chinese empires for two thousand years --
by contrast, the reliance of Europeans on alphabetic scripts which
represented sounds, not meanings, led after printing was "invented" in
Europe -- actually Guttenberg reproduced the Chinese/Korean technology,
with which he was familiar -- to the development of separate literatures
in German, French, English, Italian, etc. -- replacing the universalism
promoted in Medieval Europe by reliance on Latin for all written texts.
As for my childhood usage of Foochow, it included expressions that shocked my parents
when they learned from a visitor that I had been using "naughty" words. Although I later
complete forgot my Foochow speech, I was to learn from this experience that words have no
intrinsic meaning -- their connotations, for better or worse, are completely dependent on
The Calvert School, Warlords and Communists
Because isolated missionaries in China lacked access to English-speaking schools, they often
relied on home instruction, using materials mailed from Baltimore by the Calvert School.
Polly Storrs, an experienced school teacher, taught her daughter Peggy and me, relying
heavily on Calvert materials. These included books on World Geography and World
History, plus a storehouse of books on Greek and Roman myths, Shakespeare, Chaucer,
and Robin Hood. These were surely mind-opening to a child growing up in China,
although they provided little information about the country in which I was living. Only
later, in the Kuling American School, based in my place of birth, I was able to study
Chinese History and fill in part of this big gap. It prepared me to acknowledge the work of
Immanuel Wallerstein, Andre Gunder Frank and others who have gravely faulted the
Eurocentrism of Western secular thought.
During the 1920s, China was in a
state of chaos with a purely nominal though internationally recognized
regime in Peking, Throughout the country, power had fallen into the hands
of local "war lords," often originating as bandits but becoming local
regimes after they captured a city and recruited unemployed mandarins to
help them govern. Although they often fought each other, they also
indulged in share-the-wealth agreements. For example, the local warlord
in Shaowu would tell us that, to insure our safety while traveling down
the Min River to Foochow, we should employ some guards from his entourage.
Failure to do so would increase the likelihood that we would be stopped by
bandits and compelled to pay ransom. In fact, my father refused to pay
and was, indeed, captured. The bandits confiscated his supply of raisins
which they ate with great gusto, but released him after finding that he
could not pay them anything. He always used to say that the warlord and
the bandits were in cahoots -- the guards were not so much to defend us as
to establish some kind of reciprocal agreement for sharing the wealth.
During Chiang Kai Shek's northern expedition in 1927, I recall seeing
slain soldiers on the streets of Shaowu. It was a frightening experience,
but there followed a period of partial unification in which some warlords
became governors under the jurisdiction of the Nanking regime.
Nevertheless, the Communists under Mao Tse Tung, whom Chiang had ousted from the
central committee of the KMT, created a commune in neighboring Kiangsi, through which
I had traveled as a baby, and even expanded his power at one point to include Shaowu.
The Communists were especially hostile to the British and they set about to kill
Englishmen. However, local activists did not know the difference between Americans and
English people, and in their fervor they arrested Dr. Walter Judd, a member of our
mission, and made preparations to execute him. A local parishioner, who also could not tell
the English from the Americans, implored the Communists too spare his life -- they did
know that through his small hospital he had helped many local residents and they swore he
was not "British" (whatever that meant!).
Note: the experience was, of course, very scary for Judd who developed a life-long
antipathy to "Communists" as a result. Later in life he became a Republican member of
Congress from Minnesota, where he dedicated himself to Chinese causes -- including the
repeal of the Chinese exclusion acts -- and especially to fighting against Communism.
Since my doctoral dissertation at Columbia dealt with the repeal act, I had an opportunity
to interview him and recall the time when he was our family physician in Shaowu. He was
a great man and a noble soul although I could not agree with his politics. The experience
reinforced my belief that men are not just "good" or "bad" but always have a complex
mixture of motives that need to be understood if we would avoid the kind of rush to
judgment occurring as I write in the impeachment of President William Clinton.
Although this type of anarchic state was unusual in the 1920s, by the end of the 20th
century it had become a widespread form of anarchianism -- weak rule from an
internationally recognized capital but widespread anarchy and civil war throughout the
domain. My childhood experiences helped prepare me to understand this phenomenon
which contradicts widely accepted notions about the dynamics of modern states and
contributed to my later interest in the institutional features that permit democratic regimes
to survive, always a precarious enterprise.
Sabbatical in America
During 1930-32 my family furloughed
in American -- a "sabbatical" that truly occurred only one every seven
years. However, this time the American Board warned dad they would not be
able to send him back to Shaowu because the depression had undermined
their resources. However, a bid from the University of Nanking to join
their inter-denominational faculty and launch a new Department of
Agricultural Engineering gave us the opportunity to return to China, and
led my dad to take an M.A. in Ag. Engineering at Cornell. His thesis
dealt with farm technology in China as known to the farmers of Shaowu.
In it he recorded his respect for their great achievements under
pre-industrial technological conditions. He also explained why American
technology was largely irrelevant to the solution of many problems faced
by Chinese farmers, paving the way for the development of a research
program in Nanking designed to discover new technologies that would,
indeed, be relevant to Chinese conditions. Although I spent this year the
Silver Bay boarding school on Lake George, New York, I visited my father
and mother in Cornell where I remember his fascinating explanation of some
examples of his findings.
While there I attended a student theater production of a play, Berkeley Square (?) In
which a nostalgic American youth is reborn in an earlier time in England. His modern
attitudes and expectations clashed so much with those of his 18th century English hosts that
they soon became disenchanted with each other and he eagerly sought to be restored to his
contemporary American home. The play reinforced my father's views about the relativity
of technology and culture -- what works in America today is not necessary appropriate in
China or in 18th century England.
During the previous year I stayed in
our family home in Scotia, New York where I was placed in the
9th grade after taking an achievement test to determine how
much I had already learned from the Calvert School course after less than
6 years of study. Apparently, taking lessons only 4 mornings a week with
Polly Storrs had given me an educational level equivalent to 8 years in an
American public school. Actually, I often felt superior to my fellow
students who, for example, ridiculed the strange behavior of knights in
armor as reported in Scott's Ivanhoe -- they found it simply unbelievable.
Having already read Ivanhoe several times with great pleasure, and knowing
from my China experiences that there are very different ways of living, I
could not understand or sympathize with this parochialism.
Actually, the teachers in my Scotia school were kind and understanding -- I recall they
gave me a prize in a competition for best story which I won by an expanded anecdote based
on Dad's experience when, one day, he encountered a weeping abandoned girl in a rice
field and brought her home to recover and find a new home. This incident also persuaded
a rather insecure boy from China, living in a strange American environment, that perhaps
he had some talents as a writer that could some day be put to good use. As for the prize, it
was a $10 gold coin! I have no memories of what ever came of it.
The Kuling American School
Upon returning to China in 1932, I was sent up river to the Kuling American School, as
noted above. There I spent two wonderful years and graduated as valedictorian in a class
of three! I'm not sure I would have done so well if the class were ten times as large!
Nevertheless, I do think I did well and one of my accomplishments involved launching and
editing a weekly school paper we called the "KAS ECHO." The experience persuaded me
that my talents as a writer were real, though limited only to exposition. My first try at
writing a short story was a miserable fiasco and my teacher warned me that I lacked the
imagination to produce believable fiction. However, I deceived myself into thinking I had
the makings of a journalist, hopefully a foreign correspondent, and I read all I could find
about how to write newspaper stories.
I was also active in our Boy Scout troop and almost became an Eagle Scout, lacking only a
couple of merit badges when I graduated in 1934. Among them was a badge for book-binding which included preparing a scrap book in which I mounted many of my earliest
mementos. This badge played a role in my subsequent career development as I shall
explain later. During the following year in Nanking, I became assistant scoutmaster for the
Hilcrest troop, as explained below -- it may have launched my interest in terminological
I recall one experience on the Butterfield and Squire cruiser which carried me between
Nanking and Kiukiang, the embarkation point for overland hikes up to Kuling. Instead of
taking the International class which accommodated most Americans and Europeans, I
chose to travel First Class (Chinese) on a less expensive fare. The food was, of course,
delicious and Chinese: I really enjoyed it far more than the somewhat bland English-style
food offered to the international travelers.
However, a small group of White Russians were to be found among the First Class
passengers and, for some reason, they refused to sit at table for the Chinese fare even
though it would have been free of extra charge. Instead, they gathered in a corner to eat
white bread with modest relishes, canned milk and tea. I felt very sorry for them, knowing
that many had aristocratic origins in Russia but came to China as destitute refugees
without adequate means of support. Cultural pride set them apart from both Europeans
and Chinese as a pitiful unassimilable minority, but perhaps all proud refugees feel the
same sense of cultural isolation and defensiveness..
The University of Nanking
Upon graduation from KAS, I went home to Nanking (a home I had never lived in before)
and registered as a "special student" at the University where my dad taught (1934/5). I
could not qualify as a freshman because my knowledge of Chinese was inadequate. In
retrospect, I grieve because I was not compelled to study Chinese seriously -- I did learn
some Shaowu but that was irrelevant outside of Shaowu, and while in Nanking I had a
good Chinese tutor but he never brought me to satisfactory level. However, I can still
speak Mandarin with a reasonable accent -- but my vocabulary is too limited for
intellectual conversations and I have lost whatever knowledge of the Chinese characters I
once had. Enough courses were taught in English so that I could do well in them, though I
did calculus in Chinese, and that proved a disaster!
Among the English courses was one in comparative literature. It gave me an opportunity to work on my own writing skills. I already knew touch typewriting because my mother, a former stenographer, had given me her manual so that was able to teach myself by lessons taken while still in Shaowu.
I remember one of the English seminars dealt with different conceptions of the devil as
expressed in Dante's Inferno, Goethe's Faust, and Milton's Paradise Lost. I found it
illuminating because I saw the devil as not a single concept, but one that can be
imaginatively transformed in different settings. I became convinced the devil is not
something "out there," but a product of our imaginations and cultural contexts. The
course was also culture-bound because it was, actually, limited to European literatures and
failed to cover either Chinese or American literary works. As I later came to realize, the
Chinese have a rich literary tradition, as do many other non-European societies, including
even the American.
However, I did gain some access to the Chinese cultural tradition through a marvelous
course in Comparative Religion. It had a focus on Buddhism, but included also Islam,
Judaism, Hinduism and Christianity. The experience stays in my mind because we made
field trips to temples, mosques and churches which flourished in Nanking under a
religiously tolerant regime. Many years later, while visiting Shanghai, I was taken to a
Buddhist temple where delicious vegetarian food was served. Our guide was a Chinese
official who told me that he was responsible for funding restoration works in temples and
churches that had been wrecked by the iconoclasts of the Cultural Revolution. When I
asked what religion if any he personally favored, he replied with some heat that, as a
faithful Communist Party member, he was an atheist and could not believe in any of these
superstitions. The restoration work was simply an act of political empathy based on
respect for popular beliefs and support for aesthetic achievements, both secular and sacred
Another memorable course at the University of Nanking was about Logic, taught by
Joshua Liao, a scholar from Taiwan who later became a leader in the Formosan
Independence Movement against the Kuomintang regime in Taipei. There were two or
three Americans in the class and after opening the course in Chinese, he switched to
English. He said that was because his American students could not understand Chinese
but later I discovered there was another reason: his Taiwanese accent was so strong that
his students could understand him better when he spoke in English! As for Logic, his
instruction helped me grasp relationships that later proved important for me, especially in
my work on concepts and terms. I later re-encountered Joshua though his writings on
Formosan nationalism which helped me compile a work published by the Institute of
Pacific Relations as Formosa under Chinese Nationalist Rule (1952)
During my year in Nanking I served as assistant scoutmaster for the troop at the Hillcrest
School. This school was run by the American community for pupils through the 8th grade.
I mention this because it gave me my first experience of coining a neologism, something I
often did later in my life as discussed in Chapter 4. The scouts decided they wanted to hold
something like a county fair at which we would have exhibits and items for sale, using our
own script produced on a mimeograph machine. We decided to call it a scounty fair, as
indicated on the face of our play money. I don't recall exactly how the money was handled,
but I seem to recall that everyone paid an admission fee and received a given quantity of
play money in exchange. The fair was a great success, with fun for all. It was a good
money-raiser for the troop and it drew many compliments. No one objected to the
Peking and America-bound
During the summer of 1935, our family visited Peking where we greatly enjoyed its many
cultural treasures. The walled Forbidden City, home of Chinese emperors and their
entourages and now a favorite public museum, provides a vivid image of how traditional
cities were structured as a reverse image of modern cities: visualize a concentric circle with
the most valuable and valued persons and things at the center, surrounded by nobles,
artisans, traders and other leading supporters of the regime -- peasants, serfs, laborers
and other lowly beings lived outside the city walls. The walls protected those living inside
and they were the most privileged -- those outside had to fend for themselves. I remember
watching camels squeeze themselves through narrow gates, reminding me of the Biblical
text which claims that it is harder for a rich man to go to heaven than for a camel to
squeeze through the eye of a needle. I always thought that was a rather preposterous
notion until I learned that the "Needle" in question was a small gate in the wall of ancient
After returning to America, I learned that in modern cities the center is often a slum ,
surrounded by suburbs and even exurbs where the middle and upper classes live. This
contrast has remained vividly in my mind as a basis for many later-life discoveries,
including the dynamics of industrial estates in poor countries where the managers of multi-national corporations ensconce themselves within the walls, while keeping their
impoverished workers outside as commuters -- see Chapter 7.
At summer's end, my father escorted me to Tientsin where I boarded a ship for Kobe, where I transshipped to an ocean liner that brought me "back" to America and my life in college -- but that opens a new stage in my life, reported in Chapter 2. From my childhood in China I entered a new world. Living by myself in an American college town was a terrific change, not to say a cultural shock.
See linked pages:  INTELLECTUAL
ODYSSEY || Panel on Riggs || Personal Information 
Thoughts on Kuling by John Espy -- on Ed Clark's page || Near to Heaven about Edward Selby Little and family || Pearl Buck biography
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