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The Magical China Trip 2012

Back Story

USA | Friday, 21 September 2012 | Views [594]

D. F. Myers Passport Picture

D. F. Myers Passport Picture

I grew up hearing the stories and experiences of my father, D. F. Myers.  He was 60 years old when I was born, the last of his four children who were spread across four decades of his life.  He had been back in the United States for four years at that time.  By the time I had grown old enough to appreciate his unique experience in the history of China, he had forgotten his Chinese language skills and considered himself a total failure because he had not accomplished the one thing for which he went to China in the first place – to promote industrialization in China by developing a truck to be manufactured by the Chinese for the Chinese.

My father was an automotive engineer.  Between 1929 and 1944, he lived in China, working for the Chinese, being there at every turn of Chinese history during that period of time.  He worked tirelessly to contribute to the industrialization of China, beginning in October 1929 in Dongbei, in Mukden, the city now known as Shenyang.

There, at the behest of Zhang Xueliang (张学良), he designed a small truck (½-ton and 1-ton models) that could be built by the Chinese for the Chinese roads (or lack thereof).  On June 19, 1931, the factory celebrated the completion of the first Chinese-built truck.  On September 18, 1931, the factory, which was housed in the Liao Ning Trench Mortar Arsenal along with arms manufacturing, was bombed.  Numerous workers who lived in the factory dormitories were killed.  Those trucks that had been completed were either destroyed or taken by the Japanese.

Between September 1931 and the end of 1932, thanks to the state of neutrality existing between the U.S. and Japan, my father was able to perform various services for the Chinese, including smuggling various jewelries and documents (such as land deeds) out of Dongbei and assisting several Chinese engineers to escape to Beijing.  In March 1933, Marshal Zhang resigned as Commander-in-Chief of the Chinese Northern Armies; and left China for an extended stay in Europe.  Plans to build out the remaining 45 trucks were set aside.

Early in 1933, my father moved his family to Beijing (then known as Peking).  In his spare time he had started to work on the design of a small “cycle car.”  He believed that there was a big market in China for a light, cheap, Chinese-built car, something that the people could afford, that was light enough and small enough to go where imported motor cars could not go.  His intention was to have all of the car parts except the tires made in China.  He was anxious to get the little car running so that it might be seen as an example of what could be done in China.

In March 1934, my father was hired as Technical Advisor to Cathay Motors, Ltd. of Shanghai.  His six-month contract allowed him to continue to spend time working on his small car.  In June that year, he and his family moved to Shanghai.  That November, while still working for Cathay Motors, he was asked by the Republic of China's Minister of Finance, Dr. H. H. Kung, to help inspect some government owned Reo trucks in Nanking.  By December, he had severed his relationship with Cathay Motors and was appointed by Dr. Kung to serve as an advisor to the Trust Department of the Central Bank of China on matters pertaining to motor vehicles, the development of automotive and other industries, and the purchase of motor vehicles and certain goods used in government factories.  The Chinese government approved a plan to establish a new motor truck factory to manufacture motor vehicles for the army and other purposes and my father hoped to be involved in that project.

My father thought that his ultimate lack of success in this endeavor was due to opposition within the Nationalist Chinese Army.  In January 1936, however, he learned that the Army was beginning to show interest and that Dr. S. C. Wang (Wang Shou Chin), a technical advisor to the Army, was to be sent to the United States to find and purchase a plant equipped to manufacture every component of automotive vehicles.  The plant would be imported to China, so that China would be able to produce vehicles entirely with parts made using the equipment of that plant.  My father believed that China actually needed the kind of industrial development that would put her unemployed to work, not a high production plant with automatic machines that would replace her potential skilled workers.  Nevertheless, he arranged for his associates in the US automotive industry to help Dr. Wang in his search.  As it turned out, the Chinese government cancelled Dr. Wang's trip to the United States so that he could attend to other, more pressing matters.

In April 1935, my father addressed a class of automotive engineering students at Chiao Tung University in Shanghai, where the one surviving Model #55 was stored.  During 1936 my father also advised on the purchase of trucks and tanks, on alternative fuels, and on the establishment of courses in automotive maintenance and repair; plus teaching automotive engineering at Chiao Tung University.  He began a new assignment in January 1937:  supervising the Motor Transport Service of the Central Aviation School, Shien Chiao, Hangchow, China.

In early August 1937 my father left Shanghai for the US to escort my oldest sister to her university and to bring himself up to date on the US automotive industry; thus, he was not in Shanghai when the Japanese invaded that city on August 13.  However, his wife and my brother were there (August 13th was my brother’s seventh birthday), and he spent many frantic days trying to determine their fate.  They had been evacuated to the Philippines but were not reunited with him until November when they were able to sail to Los Angeles.  Once he knew they were safe, he continued his advisory work by visiting US automotive plants to learn of the latest developments in the automotive industry.

In January 1938, after settling his family in the US, my father returned to work in China, first in Hong Kong where the Central Bank of China had relocated; and then, in 1939, in Chongqing to  assist with the building of the Burma Road.  At some point his family joined him in Hong Kong where his first wife died in 1940 while my father was “up country” in Kiangsu.  In 1941 he went to Washington, DC, to help the Chinese appeal, through the Chinese Defense Supplies Corporation, to the Lend-Lease Administration, for the road building equipment and trucks needed to maintain the Burma Road.

Although this appeal was successful, few of the goods thus obtained reached China for various reasons, including the Japanese conquest of North Burma in early 1942.  During the summer of 1942, he married my mother who had been a family friend since 1916.  In early 1944, the Chinese Defense Supplies Corporation closed their office in Washington DC.  At that time my father was offered a job with the Chinese Embassy but decided to take a job with the Studebaker Company, instead, and, later, the General Tire and Rubber Company.  He retired in 1955.

Despite the fact that my father considered his work in China a failure, he left a lasting legacy in China and with his family.  He died in 1973 at the age of 84.

Tags: beijing, burma road, china defense supplies, chongqing, d. f. myers, myers, shanghai, shenyang

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