The Life Pursuit of Professor Yeh Chia-ying

With profound knowledge and cross-culture vision, Prof. Yeh Chia-ying has accomplished remarkable achievements in the study and inheritance of Chinese classical poetry, which has been reported extensively by both national and foreign presses. However, what is unknown to many people is the tribulation she once went through.

In March 1948, Yeh Chia-ying got married with Chao Chung-sun. Her father was the head of the personnel section of Air China and Mr. Chao was a teacher in a naval school. Since they both went to Taiwan, Yeh followed them there in November. She found a job teaching in Zhanghua Girl’s High School and gave birth to her eldest daughter the following year. On Christmas Eve 1949, when Mr. Chao came back from Zuoying during the holidays visiting his wife and daughter, he never expected that the next morning before dawn he would be arrested by a group of soldiers who alleged his “ideological problems” and also searched their house. Yeh with her daughter followed the soldiers to the naval military region in Zuoying only to return to Zhanghua after two days’ waiting without any information about her husband.

In 1950, when Yeh’s daughter was barely one year old, she, along with the principal and several teachers in the high school, was taken to Zhanghua Police Station by another group of officers. They were all accused of “ideological problems” and were forced to make confessions before the police station decided to transfer them to Taipei Gendarmerie. Yeh, carrying her daughter in her arms, pleaded with the police chief for her imprisonment in Zhanghua where she could still contact her colleagues and students in case of emergency, for her husband had already been arrested and she had neither relation nor friend in Taipei, which left her no help if anything unexpected happened. Soon after, she and her daughter were released and became homeless. She went to her sister-in-law for shelter, who lived in Zuoying where Yeh could enquire about her husband while staying. The house was in no sense spacious with only two small bedrooms, one for the sister-in-law and her husband, the other for her mother-in-law and the two grandchildren. In this case, Yeh had to wait for them going to bed before spreading out a rug on the corridor to sleep with her daughter.

In 1969, at the invitation of James Robert Hightower, director of the Department of East Asian Studies in Harvard University, she went to teach at Harvard University, but for various reasons, she ended up teaching at University of British Columbia in Canada. At first, she was required not only to teach doctoral students, but also to teach the elective Chinese Classical Literature course oriented towards all students at the campus, which needed to be taught in English. She had no choice but to bite the bullet and agreed to do so. Despite of 45 year old at that time, she still stayed up till two o’clock in the morning, looking up new words in dictionaries and preparing for classes before giving a lecture to students the next day. Her class was very popular and the number of students taking Chinese Classical Poetry course constantly increased. In March 1970, University of British Columbia granted her tenure.

However, in the spring of 1976, she suffered from another bitter blow. Her eldest daughter Chao Yen-yen and son-in-law Zong Yongting died in a car accident while traveling. She locked herself in the house, shutting herself away from friends, for solicitude and consolation bring her nothing but grief. Poetry became her autotherapy, with ten poems (Ku Nv Shi) written to lament her daughter.

After that, Yeh suddenly realized that the ultimate pursuit should not be based on personal gain or loss and came up with a noble ideal. She decided to return to China to teach poetry, to pass on to the next generation the precious legacy such as the soul and ambition of ancient poets.

Professor Yeh Chia-ying has devoted her life to Chinese classical poetry. Ever since her old house in Chayuan Hutong in Beijing was demolished, Nankai University has become her only home in the motherland. She has mentioned many times that more than 30 years ago, she received warm reception from teachers in Nankai University led by Professor Li Jiye so she always felt kind to Nankai University and this feeling never faded away.

Source: Tonight News Paper

Written by Song Wenbin

Edited by Zheng Tingran and Yan Ruoyan

Nankai University

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