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The Magical China Trip 2012

Chongqing and Vicinity – October 23-26, 2012

CHINA | Friday, 9 November 2012 | Views [732] | Comments [1]

My gratitude goes to my niece Jody who researched Chongqing and Kunming for me so I would have some background information on my father in those cities.  My father was in Chongqing and Kunming in 1939 and 1940.  He went to there because the Chinese Government moved their headquarters there.  At the time, he was still an employee of the Central Trust Bank of China.


He wrote that he was staying in a hostel in Chongqing.  Every time he left for a trip to inspect the Burma Road, it seems, he came back to a different room.  He describes his latest room in Chongqing to a friend, Mrs. Marion Davidson, in a letter of Nov. 3, 1939:


Aside from having four walls, a floor and a ceiling, it is unworthy of the name [room]. ... It was intended to be a bathroom but they did not have enough fixtures to fit it out so they just decided to use it for an emergency bedroom ... It has a rather nice bed, a dresser, and a washstand-towel rack.  One chair does the needful when one gets folded up enough to be able to sit.  I come into the room with a shoehorn and leave it by means of a bootjack.  Fortunately, I can shave in a bathroom nearby.  Otherwise, I could not swing my arm enough to shave in here.  I did manage to get a small table set in on which to set my typewriter but I have to be careful that the carriage of the typewriter does not knock the plaster off the wall.


He sheltered from the Japanese air raids on Chongqing in the caves in the cliffs and, at one point, my brother visited him there and was thrilled to see those caves.  My father explained that the Japanese bomber pilots followed the Yangtze River to the town so he knew they were safe from bombings when the nights were cloudy and the pilots could not see the river.  Thanks to those caves, many people survived who otherwise might not have.  Due to the bravery, perseverance, and sacrifices made by the local people during World War II, Chongqing became known as the City of Heroes.


The caves are still being used – as businesses, dwelling places, and storage space.  I happened to ask about the caves just as we were travelling past them (coincidence?).  I hadn’t recognized them as caves; they don’t look like caves until one really looks at them.  I expected rough irregular openings in the hills, but they have normal Chinese doors and gates, and, when you look, you can see that they have been hewn out of the cliffs at some time in the distant past.  (Don’t quote me on that semi-geological statement.)  Our driver, who is a native of Chongqing, told us that they go way back into the cliffs like a rabbit warren.  She mentioned that the car wash we had been through the day before was one of them.  At the time, I had thought it was rather a tight fit for the van, including some unusual turns, but I had not connected the dots.  It was cave of granite (?) just big enough to hold the carwash equipment and to have an entrance on one street and an exit on another.  I wish I had taken pictures of it.  However, Daen did take shots as we drove slowly by the other cave entrances.


The bombings on Chongqing were intense, causing great loss of life.  One evening the home of the head of the British, or possibly Canadian, Friends (Quaker) Mission caught fire during an air raid.  My father and others worked through the night to put the fire out, carrying buckets of water repeatedly to the second floor.  At the top of the stairs he kept stepping on what he thought was a wet rug.  It was revealed by daylight to be the back of the woman who lived next door, who had been blown up, over the wall, and into the house by a Japanese bomb.  He also told the story of running to the caves during an air raid when he felt a harsh push from behind.  Turning to see who had shoved him, he saw a dismembered arm lying on the ground behind him.


It seems my father often walked up into the hills across the river from the main part of the city.  One time he saw a man who had lost his feet in a bombing begging beside the road.  The man had preserved his feet and had set them in front of his knees.  Another time he had lunch at a Buddhist temple.  He was told that the meal would be vegetarian and was surprised when he was served shellfish.  He was told by the waiter that since the shellfish did not have eyes they were considered vegetarian.  Those hills today are covered by city buildings – high-rise apartments, banks, stores, and continuing new construction.


Even before he relocated in Kunming, my father took frequent trips from Chongqing to inspect the Burma Road.  On December 3, 1939, he wrote to Mattie (his wife):  "The fall of Nanjing has complicated the transportation problems of China and renders the Yunnan-Burma Highway (Road to Mandalay) all the more important.  I suspect that I shall, sooner or later, find myself concentrating on that road.  Not that I can do a lot to help, I can only suggest things which should be done and hope that they are done.  As I have said many times before, if I have a batting average of 5%, I shall feel that I have accomplished something.”


Of course, that is exactly what he did – concentrate on that road, on identifying what was needed to make it passable for trucks and to set up service stations on it, and then lobbying in Washington, DC, for the US to provide those materials through the Lend-Lease program.


Today, although generally unknown by westerners, especially tourists, Chongqing is a bustling, growing city, the largest city in the world at 33 million people.  Because it is growing so fast, it still has the feel somewhat of a smaller city (also non-domestic tourism has yet to be developed there).  However, it is not a completely forgotten city.  World industry has come to Chongqing in the form of Ford Motor Corporation, Visteon, TRW, Johnson Controls, LEAR, Delphi, and Cummins from the US; DENSO and Exedy from Japan; and Mahler, Siemens VDO, GKN, and GITI from Europe, among many other firms.  Of course, there are the requisite McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks.


Chongqing is also one of the most important inland ports in China.  My father wrote that the only way from the river into the city proper was a long climb up very steep and slippery stairs.  I’m sure that when my father was there, the river was the only convenient way to access the city and that is why those steep, slippery steps leading up to the heart of the city were so important.  Today, steps from the river to the city are broad and easy to climb.  There is a plaza and sort of a park at the confluence of the Yangzi and Jialing Rivers, where one can access the river to eat on restaurant boats or take a Yangzi River cruise.  Daen and I didn’t go to the actual river wharfs and our guide was not a native of Chongqing, so we didn’t explore other river access points.


Daen and I liked Chongqing.  In spite of its size, it has a good feel to it.  I would like to return to Chongqing and do some more exploring on my own.  There is a small chance that the temple in the hills is still there.  Also, I would like to look at other river access points.


Chongqing Old Town

Our first stop in Chongqing was the “Old Town” where a museum of sorts preserves some of the Qing dynasty culture by way of buildings, landscape, and artful manikins.  It was reminiscent of what most Americans think of as China Town, but better cared for than many other examples of this lifestyle.  These museums are usually government owned and run.  Official guides take the visitors on a tour of the sites.  The young woman who showed us through this museum spoke excellent English and was delightful.


Dazu Grottoes

The Dazu Grottoes are stone carvings in an area several hours by car from Chongqing.  The earliest carvings were begun in 650 AD during the early Tang Dynasty, but the main period of their creation began in the late 9th century, when a Prefect of Changzhou, pioneered the carvings on Mount Beishan.  His example was followed after the collapse of the Tang Dynasty by local and gentry, monks and nuns, and ordinary people.  In the 12th century, during the Song Dynasty, a Buddhist monk named Zhao Zhifeng began work on the elaborate sculptures and carvings on Mount Baoding, dedicating 70 years of his life to the project.


Off limits to visitors for many years, the carvings were opened to Chinese travelers in 1961 and foreign visitors in 1980.  Until 1975 there was only a muddy path between the town of Dazu and the main cluster of carvings.  The isolation helped keep the art unharmed during the Cultural Revolution.


Daen and I visited these two sites.  The size and detail of the carvings are amazing.  For me, the carvings were beautiful, but did not inspire the feeling of reverence that I felt at the Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou.  Daen suggested that this was because the carvings were promoted by businessmen and the gentry instead of monastics.  It was nevertheless awe-inspiring.


Hongyan Revolutionary Memorial Museum, Zhazi Cave, and Stillwell Museum

Because of my interesting in WWII history and Chongqing, we visited the Hongyan Revolutionary Memorial Museum, Zhazi Cave, and Stillwell Museum.  The buildings at Hongyan used to be the base of the Southern Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and the Chongqing office of the Eight Route Army during the period of Anti-Japanese War.  It opened as a memorial museum on May 1st, 1958, and is now considered one of China's most important monuments.  Daen and I were the only westerners among the many Chinese visitors.


The Zhazi Cave was the Nationalist Party prison in the hills of Chongqing.  The prison is not on the normal list of touring sights, especially for westerners, but we went there because of my personal interest in WWII history.  Again, Daen and I were the only westerners.


These two sights were both sad and depressing – Hongyan because of the stark offices, containing bed, table, chairs, and bookcase, and somber energies that pervaded the building; Zhazi because of the harsh living conditions and the lists of names of people whose lives ended in 1949.


The Joseph Warren Stillwell Museum is housed in Stillwell’s Chongqing residence; however, it has not been well cared for.  Many of the pictures and captions were illegible because of dampness and mold.  Stillwell, himself, a controversial figure, was removed from the Asian field in 1944.  Yet, the site conveyed the deep gratitude of the Chinese people, especially in this area, for his assistance and that of the Americans during WWII.


We also visited a museum (not state supported) honoring Claire Lee Chennault, head of the American Volunteer Group, which became the Flying Tigers.


Although my father worked in the same area as these men (China-Burma-India Theater), he was not military; he was working directly for the Chinese the entire time he was in China (1929-1944).

Tags: d. f. myers, myers



What a thorough and fascinating visit you had to Chongqing and vicinity. You two seem to have a knack for finding historically significant sites hidden in plain sight by ongoing life, like those caves.

I am astonished that Stillwell’s Chongqing residence has been preserved at all even if somewhat poorly. Chang Kai-shek demanded his recall. I should reread "Stillwell and the American Experience in China" to see why the Chinese honor him today.

  Jody Howe Nov 9, 2012 1:47 PM

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