Read Journey Across the Four Seas Online

Authors: Veronica Li

Tags: #Biographies & Memoirs, #Ethnic & National, #Chinese, #Historical, #Asia, #China, #History, #Women in History

Journey Across the Four Seas

BOOK: Journey Across the Four Seas
6.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Praise for
Journey Across the



"I love this book. It is the true story of one unusual woman who faces all of life’s adversities and overcomes them through sheer determination, grit and a bit of luck. While it is the story of one woman, it is also a story that millions of people will identify with. It has the makings of a bestseller."

—Frank Ching
, senior columnist,
The South China Morning Post


"Lovingly interpreted by a devoted daughter, Flora Li’s story is a unique piece of oral history, a family saga of fluctuating fortunes told against the backdrop of British-held Hong Kong and wartime
. It also takes us to
, destinations of recent Chinese diasporas. Fast-paced and absorbing, Flora’s journey through turbulent times is at one level an intensely personal tale of loss, disappointment, and a fraught marriage that ends with a new beginning in 1960s California. At another, her story mirrors the experience of an entire generation of migrating Chinese like Flora—resourceful, resilient, and engaged in a determined ‘search for home,’ a sure place where the family might survive and thrive."

—Paula Harrell
, Visiting Professor,
; author of
Sowing the Seeds of Change: Chinese Students, Japanese Teachers, 1895-1905


"A gutsy Chinese woman remembers with unsparing wit and candor growing up poor in British-ruled Hong Kong, surviving the perils and privations of Japanese-occupied
and the joys and pains of raising a family with a Kuomintang official’s privileged son she married. This is history as biography that can bring nostalgia attacks to old
hands. It’s also an odyssey through life in the Chinese diaspora peopled with funny and outrageous real-life personalities Amy Tan couldn’t have imagined."

—Eduardo Lachica
, independent analyst of Southeast Asian security and military affairs; former reporter of
The Wall Street Journal
and Washington bureau chief of
The Asian Wall Street Journal


"This book is an amazing read. When I finished it, I felt as if I understood
Hong Kong
, the heroine Flora, and myself better. It’s the Asian
Grapes of Wrath.

—Adair Lara
, award-winning columnist,
The San Francisco Chronicle
; author of five books including
Hold Me Close, Let Me Go,
Hanging Out the


"Aside from being well done and written this book should also be very helpful in dispelling notions that some Americans might have about the role of women in
Hong Kong
in the early and mid-twentieth century. This is an incredible story about a remarkable Chinese woman; once started it is virtually impossible to put down for long. To me the principal message was the importance of initiative and hard work regardless of the adversity. Networking was important (extensive Swatow relations,
Hong Kong
alumni, connection with the Nationalist Finance Minister, and so on) but only up to a point. Then initiative and hard work was required to carry her through."

—Morris Morkre
, Economist, the Federal Trade Commission; former Senior Lecturer in Economics,
Hong Kong


"This book contributes to broadening the record of women’s experiences, much of which is being lost because individually we keep inadequate notes, and as a group we often do not collect and share our records. Many younger women are uninformed about how their improved status came about…. For many who grew up in the West there is a lot to learn from this book. It is a story about hardships, survival strategies, networks, and above all, family."

—Gloria Scott
, advisor on Women in Development, World Bank, 1977-86.


"This story of one extraordinary woman, caught up in the wars and conflicts of
East Asia
, is part family, part adventure story. As daughter of the Chinese diaspora, as refugee, as heiress to rising and falling family fortunes, Flora cultivates in herself the strength and wisdom to constantly reconstruct life for her family. Her life exemplifies the pioneering spirit of millions of refugees and émigrés strewn across the four seas in the past and present century. You won’t be able to put the
by Li down, and its lessons will stay with you."

Vilma Seeberg
scholar; Associate Professor,


"This compelling story is vivid testimony to the recent turbulent Chinese history and the prevalence of traditional values seen through the eyes of a remarkable Chinese woman, Flora, and written by her daughter, Veronica Li. It provides a rare window into the inner world of a woman of that era."

—Marie Luise Wagner
, Visiting Assistant Professor, Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service,


"This story brings out a centerpiece of Chinese culture—education of the young. To attain that end, a Chinese woman would sacrifice anything and overcome any adversity. Like the mother of Mencius, she is willing to uproot herself in search of the best education for her children."

, Had of Scholarly Services, Asian Division, Library of Congress


"Veronica Li has captured vividly the image of a woman who has lived through the turmoil of war and political upheavals in Hong Kong and
from the 1920s to the 1960s. In a particularly authentic way, she has given us many snapshots of life in those decades, in the language of a chronicler rich in colorful expressions coined from the Chinese social fabric—"chasing the dragon," "bitter squash," and "tear bag." Her mother’s epic is at once unique yet universal…. It is amazing how many Chinese women of that era share her experiences. These stories, embodying her life-long memories across the four seas, will, as Veronica says in her Epilogue, take on a life of their own."

—Diana Yue
Honorary Associate Professor,
Hong Kong
; translator of literature

Journey across the

A Chinese Woman’s Search for Home




Veronica Li
New Jersey




Copyright © 2007 by Veronica Li

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior permission from the publisher.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Li, Veronica, 1951-

Journey across the four seas : a Chinese woman’s search for home / Veronica Li. — 1st American ed.

p. cm.

ISBN-13: 978-1-931907-43-9 (pbk.)

ISBN-10: 1-931907-43-9 (pbk.)

1. Li, Flora. 2. Chinese Americans—Biography. 3. Immigrants—
United States
—Biography. 4.
—Biography. I. Title. E184.C5L57 2006





Homa & Sekey Books

3rd Floor,


140 E. Ridgewood Ave.



Tel: 800-870-HOMA, 201-261-8810

Fax: 201-261-8890, 201-384-6055

Email: [email protected]



Edited by Larry Matthews


Printed in


1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2




For my mother, who has dedicated her life to the family,

For my father, who has lived his life to the best of his ability, and

For Sverrir, who has made it possible for me to write and take care of my parents.




Author’s Note and Acknowledgements



1. Eating Bitter Squash

2. Dreaming in the Red Chamber

3. Shooting an Arrow at the Sun

4. Burning in the Theater

5. Making a Bad Peace

6. Going Home

7. Still Searching for Home

8. Living in a Prison

9. Laying Foundation for the Future

10. Journeying across the



Glossary of Chinese Names and Places



Author’s Note and Acknowledgements


My mother told me her stories in Cantonese, her native dialect. In the book, I have therefore used Cantonese, not Mandarin, as the basis for romanizing Chinese language characters. For the names of major Chinese cities, however, I have used the Wade-Giles romanization system, which was prevalent in my mother’s time. To her, the capital of
is Peking, not the current
spelling of
is the Chinese government’s official phonetic alphabet. The glossary in the back of the book shows the
equivalent of the places mentioned in my mother’s tales.

All the individuals in the book are real. I have disguised one name to avoid hurting the person’s feelings.

I would like to thank Shawn Ye, editor of Homa and Sekey Books, for his insightful guidance. My gratitude also goes to my faithful friends and readers, Anne, Paula, and Young for their valuable feedback and encouragement. Without them, this journey would have been much more difficult to complete.




My mother loves to tell stories, and they’re all stories from the same book. This book has no title, nor can it be found in any library or bookstore. The pages are invisible, existing only in her head. Yet they’re as indelible as ink, for every time she reads from her book, the rendition is delivered verbatim. This book is her life, the great epic she’s been writing for eighty years.

BOOK: Journey Across the Four Seas
6.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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