Su Chu Hsia Chen's Letter from China, 1938

Cry of Anguish Comes From China to T. C. Mother

The Third in a Series on Alumni Who Live Across the Sea

Our home in Shanghai was set on fire by the enemy . . . everything turned to ashes . . . nothing left . . . Everybody urged me to leave . . . but how can I do it only after a few days of the birth of my baby boy . . . "

Such is the cry of anguish which begins the third of a series of articles on Teachers College graduates in foreign lands. The words are taken from a letter written by a Chinese girl, recently fled to the interior of Hunan province, and received by her campus "mother" and her "dearest teacher". Japan's ruthless war machine had rumbled forward, unaware of the resistance it was later to meet in the interior, leaving homes in ashes and women and children to escape bombs and hurtling fragments of steel as best they could. 

When Eugenia Hsia Chen left the peaceful Teachers College campus in 1931 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, little did she realize that a few years later she would find herself in the very vortex of one of the world's war zones. In 1932, still unaware, she was awarded the Master of Arts degree from Columbia University. For several years she lived peacefully with her husband, T. H. Chen, employed by the Electric Light Company, Nanchang, Kiangu.

Then the Japanese armies invaded China.

The following letter, presented in part, was written to Mary E. Haight, director of Bartlett Hall, dormitory for women, and to Allison Aitchison, professor of geography, friends of Mrs. Chen when she was a student in Cedar Falls. The letter tells the story better than will any other account:

A Dispatch From the War

"Dearest Mother Haight and dearest Teacher Miss Aitchison:

"You can not imagine the horrible condition we have in China. Our home in Shanghai was set on fire by the enemy. Everything turned into ashes, nothing left. I and three children of my own and a niece and nephew, which make six of us, fled away as refugees in the most unimaginable, poorest way. Many days and nights without food and water.

"My husband was away for his father's funeral while the new baby was born during his absence. 

"The enemy were drawing near our place and everybody was ready to leave except me because it was only a few days after the birth of the child. I have no energy to do the packing, yet I have to take care of five children.

"No help, no friends, in this newly moved place. But God always takes care of the most weak children. I only packed up a very few absolute necessary things and left for lives. No boat and no train to take us away. The enemies' planes and bombs dropped many times a day.

"I was the most helpless and weakest person in the whole world this time. Tsun Han (my husband) when he left he left no money for any special happening, only a few dollars for daily expense. So I borrowed $250.00 from a friend for travelling expense. Everybody urged me to leave home at once, but how can I do it only after a few day of the birth?

"Next day the enemies approached still nearer. For the sake of my children I had to take chance and risk to travel. So I did. No boat and no train, no matter how much money you pay for the tickets. No order in any organization, only the strong people gets the benefit. I was helpless all the time! I am a woman with five children. Only by God's help I can move on one step. Children were cold and hungry for food and water all the time. They cried for food and for feeding, but where can I get it. They were ill on the train and on the boat. Only God can help me at this time.

"Of all the difficulties I've passed finally we got to my mother-in-law's home. Only a few days after we arrived I got very ill and was carried by a bed to a poor equipped hospital near by. The doctor first thought it was typhoid, then he thought it was influenza. At last he thought it was T. B. because I had P.M. fever. No scientific way and apparatus to diagnose what the sickness was. But by hard prayer to God the fever went down. I spent the most happy day (Christmas day) on bed. 

"It made my heart ache to think how happy you people were in the west, yet I was very ill on bed. I could not afford to pay hospital fee which is only 50 cents a day. So I begged to come home. The doctor thought it was too early for me to come home. Because of this bad condition Tsun Han was out of job for many months and not one cent income for many months. 

"The doctor wants me to go to a bigger hospital to take X-ray but how can I afford to do it. No money for cod liver oil since my children need money for winter clothes. The poor baby boy has no milk because the temperature I had for more than two weeks, and no milk powder to buy, so we got a wet nurse for him since I have no energy to take care of him. The wet nurse does not do the way I want her to do so I wish to dismiss her if I can only secure the milk powder.

"Now, mother dear, I want to say very frankly that I need help at this time, either money or clothing for children...Tsun Han is out of job many months already and we don't know when he can get a job at this time. There are five children, a grandmother, and a wet nurse and Tsun Han and I which make nine of us in the family. It cost nearly $100 a month when we live in the very humble way. I have to pay off $250 of which my friend needs at this time. If you can be very kind enough to mail us one or two cans of klim (dried milk powder), I can feed the baby boy then. I shall dismiss the wet nurse.

"I send this letter out with prayer. I pray God bless this letter may reach you and you may send the answer to me as soon as you can help, because the condition here is very uncertain and we may move on in one or two months. It all depends upon how the condition is. If you keep close to read the paper you may know how Hunan and Hopeh provinces may turn to. These are the provinces in the middle of China.

"I feel quite tired. I am just learning to walk these days. I still feel very weak. Do pray for us whenever you give prayer.

Very lovingly yours,

Eugenia Hsia Chen."

Mrs. Chen's prayers were answered; for friends at Teachers College sent $163.00 as a contribution to her needs. From student primary organizations came $65, and from the College Club, faculty women's organization, $25. The money was sent to Mrs. Chen in Changsha, Hunan province, through "Yale in China," on suggestion of the Chinese counsel in Chicago.

Mrs. Chen's flight with her children from the ashes of her home in Shanghai to Changsha, the home of her mother-in-law, was no Sunday afternoon pleasure trip. It represents, in fact, a journey of nearly 1,000 miles, either on or near the winding Yangtze River to the interior of China. At present the Chinese mother is not too far removed from danger. Not much more than 100 miles to the north lies Hankow, central China metropolis and provisional capital of the national government. Hankow is also the head of navigation on the Yangtze. And the Japanese would like much to capture Hankow. 

At this writing the armies of the Rising Sun are concentrating their drive on the railroad junction of Chengchow, in the province of Honan, some 500 miles north of Changsha. (Honan, Hupeh, and Hunan provinces lie north to south in central China.) The east-west railroad through the junction of Chengchow carries supplies from the west of China, especially from Russia via Chinese Turkestan, to the eastern battle fronts. The north-south line through the junction leads southward to Hankow - and Changsha. 

---Alumnus, July 1938, page 1.

Transcription by Student Assistant Ashley Thronson, March 25, 2015; last updated, March 25, 2015 (GP).