Combining Fact and Fiction in The Garners of Shanghai

Like Lowell and Vera Garner, my grandparents, Frank and Edith White,
arrived in Shanghai as newlyweds in September, 1901, and experienced
many of the same adventures.
Actually, the basic events of the Garner book are culled from both of
the White’s letters, two different autobiographies and a short history
of the University of Shanghai written by Grandfather, from their guest
book and a short autobiography my mother wrote when she was 17 and 18.
I claimed these as part of my inheritance. Several of the stories in
the book I was told as well.
The details of arriving in China by ship come from Isabella Bird’s
account in The Yangtze and Beyond of sailing into Shanghai in the late
1890’s. The Whites were met at the dock by Miss Helen Corbin of
Ningpo. The dog in the alley they did not see, but abandoning baby
girls was a dying custom then of the poorer Chinese, their form of
birth control. Early on the Whites described their means of traveling;
later they did not, so I invented much of that.
Like the Garners, the Whites went on to Ningpo to live with the
Crawfords (really, Dr. and Mrs. Josiah Goddard). Mo Sin Sang was their
Chinese teacher, they visited their first village where Grandmother
was accosted like Vera Garner is and had their first child while
there. That my grandmother cried when she discovered her first
pregnancy my mother was told later by their friend, Helen Elgie, who
traveled to China with the Whites and in the book is called Lucille
Elgin.
Grandfather’s first meeting with Dr. Proctor, (Dr. Shephard in the
book) who had the idea for the college, was not recorded, but of
course Grandfather’s advanced degree, his enthusiasm, his intelligence
and his dedication, were appreciated.
I’m not sure Grandmother was involved in the Shoahsing Industrial
Mission, other than buying or selling its products. I was reminded of
the mission by Mildred Proctor’s autobiography. She worked there in
the 1930’s. The real Frank and Nellie Crawford (Dr. Frank and Mrs.
Helen Goddard) of Shoahsing only got engaged to marry after the
White’s moved to Shanghai in their home there. I have them married
several years earlier and gave them a third child. I have a children’s
book, a present ‘from Auntie Helen and Uncle Frank,’ noting that my
mother once lived on Silk and Satin Lane in Shoahsing.
Grandfather did go to Mt. Taishan but later, during the years
grandmother was in the United States. She was away from China on two
different occasions attempting to regain her health. His letters of
those times express, repeatedly, how much he missed her.
The White’s children were, in order, Frances, my mother, Roberta, my
aunt, Gilbert and Philip, my uncles. Both Mother and her sister were
almost abducted when the purse was lost at the train depot in Kansas
City. My father was the handsome ‘Italian’ suitor; my aunt married a
man who smoked and liked his wine with dinner; my younger uncle
married a woman he met in a bar, and whose parents were divorced. Two
of the White’s offspring did not attend church in their adult years
and none of the grandchildren went into mission fields. Such
disappointments children can be.
When I first asked, Mother was not willing to talk about her childhood
experiences. When I was older she told me about the sermon against the
virgin birth, how unpleasant it was when Chinese would point at her on
the street, and about the young man dying in the aftermath of his
welcoming home dinner. My aunt Helen White confirmed that Grandfather
did not believe in the virgin birth. He also considered himself a
socialist, but not a ‘godless Bolshevic.’
The young Chinese man slated to become president of the college, who
died tragically, came from Shoahsing, not a village outside of Ningpo.
Mr. and Mrs. Fender are made up from accounts showing that not all
missionaries handled the cultural differences between China and
America well. New missionaries like them were always staying with the
Whites. Mother compared their campus home to a hotel. The Misses
Kinney and Watts are inventions of mine from Sunday School teachers
recalled.
John Espy, in his short, autobiographical stories, writes about his
mother’s unsuccessful attempt to convince a former suitor not to marry
a Chinese woman. The president of St. Johns, however, did so and was
considered someone to apologize for (and not to socialize with?).
The summer I stayed with grandfather and grandmother in Upland, I met
Dolly and Pat in their home in San Gabriel. That Dolly once lived with
the Whites I learned from notes of an interview Mother gave for a
project the Minnesota Historical Society did on the missionary
movement, the actual tape never found for my research. I think the
time for the interview was changed which probably confused things.
Dr. Brown of Fuchow, a woman only mentioned in the book, I met as a
student at UC Berkeley. She was working at Cowell Memorial Hospital
where I had my appendix removed. The Laceys, who also worked in Fuchow
and who hired Grandmother’s friend, were members of the Whittier
Methodist Church and, as missionaries, sponsored by the church. Mrs.
Lacey was a Sunday school teacher of mine and my sister remembers
having tea with her.
The original for Mr. Bannister, JB Powell (My 25 years in China),
signed the White’s guest book. Grandfather was not involved in the
kidnapping Powell wrote about, but I wanted an adventure for the
ending of my book so I borrowed it. Right after he transferred the
presidency of the college to a Chinese, Grandfather sailed for Europe
with Grandmother and their younger son. They traveled mostly in
England, sailed again for New York and were in Chicago in time for
Grandfather to perform my parents wedding in August of 1928. Then they
sailed back to China again. My aunt Roberta and her husband were
married in the White’s garden at the University.
I was told about the cook who took a second wife when I was the
receptionist for a Southern California mortuary. My informant told me
his missionary Mother-in-law wrote and published a novel about it. I
never found the book. The White’s only mention of the incident was in
a letter where Grandmother said she wished she never had to see or
speak to ‘that man’ again. The specific reference was to a Chinese
name that I could not put onto any specific person.
From the letters I am uncertain whether Grandmother caused Grandfather
such consternation by buying the large lot in Upland, or the smaller
one next door. They did get the original property for the view of Mt.
Baldy (Mt. San Antonio) and situated their kitchen window and its sink
directly on that mountain. I remember, as a child, being held up so I
could see that this was so.
The family car race actually took place, but not between my uncles and
much later. My father was driving the car that won and my grandfather
the other car. As I recall, the Chittums and the Whites had just had
Christmas in Upland and were returning to Whittier to continue our
Christmas there. Grandfather drove the car that lost; Mother and I
were passengers in it; Grandmother instigated a good old college cheer
on the Chittums’ front lawn; and Grandfather scolded her.
Grandfather built a Moon Gate beside the house in Upland and my
siblings and I had our pictures taken beside it several times. That’s
it on the cover of the Garner book. The White’s home is now crowded in
by other homes on Drake Avenue, except for the three lots that were
the Whites’ garden and orchard and are now barren. The Moon Gate is
still there. As soon as Grandmother died, Grandfather sold it all and
came to live with us in Whittier.
I found no information about students rioting at the University of
Shanghai, but overall there was student unrest because of Japanese
troublemaking for years. Grandfather mentions that his vice president
asked for refuge from the Kuomintang when they were shooting
Communists in Shanghai. Shanghai University is mentioned in Gate of
Heavenly Peace, by Jonathan Spence, as a Communist school. This
confused me until research by my cousin, Tim White, unearthed the fact
that Grandfather’s school was The University of Shanghai and there was
a Shanghai University founded by Communists as well. Grandfather and a
handful of professors did spend the night at the college gate to
defend the campus against a Kuomintang army that never came.
The only vision I know for sure that Grandfather had was the one when
he was twenty and called to be a minister, although in Whittier he did
dream about Grandmother, that she was in Heaven and said she was
waiting for him. That really pleased him a lot.
Horace and Jennie Smith were real people that we all knew and called
uncle and aunt. I played with their grandchildren. Grandfather and
Grandmother are buried near them and their daughter, Iva Rasch, who
was named after Grandmother, all in Bellevue Cemetery in Ontario.
Most crucial of all, I don’t know why Grandmother printed the
big-lettered note that popped out of one of their letters, saying:
“Why do I never get what I want?” Considering the times historically,
wanting and not getting a paid position at the college because of
being married seemed a logical reason for that.
In the book the Garners leave Shanghai in 1927. The Whites, following
Grandmother’s second return to China, after recovering from illness a
second time in America, stayed on. Grandfather had his strangulated
hernia just after Christmas, 1934 and they left for Sierra Madre in
March of 1935, this time not to return. By leaving then they were
spared the internment that a great many missionaries endured until
exchanged and shipped back to the United States on the Kara Maru that
met the USS Grisholm in India (1943).
During Japanese occupation in WWII, only the business department of
the University of Shanghai joined other universities in west, or free,
China. The rest of the school continued to give classes at their
property in the city, calling themselves the Shanghai Institute. The
Japanese army had taken over the University of Shanghai campus. By the
end of WWII the facilities were nearly demolished.
I met the daughter of one of the two first graduates of the college in
Palo Alto. She said she, too, had graduated from Shanghai University,
during the war. She meant that Institute.
Sometime after the war—perhaps 1947—at our home in Whittier, a Dr. Bao
visited Grandfather. He was a tall man with a booming voice.
Grandfather’s voice got louder as he talked with Dr. Bao and, for two
or three days, our suburban Whittier neighborhood resounded with the
Chinese language. Grandfather was advising Dr. Bao, a member of the
University of Shanghai board, about the school.
The Chinese alumni raised all the needed funds for refurbishing the
buildings, furnishings and equipment of the campus. The work involved
such an enormous crew that it took only one month and sixteen days to
complete. The university continued as its own school until 1952 when
the Communist regime took it over to combine it with all the other
schools of its level in Shanghai. It exists today as Shanghai
University for Science and Engineering.
Casual tourists are not allowed on the campus now. In 1990 my cousin,
Claire Taylor, her husband, Charles G. Schultz, her brother, Gordon T.
C. Taylor and their father, George E. Taylor—who, in the 1930’s, lived
on the campus—did visit the university. They were told that the
chapel, sporting its dedication to our grandfather, was still there,
although for security reasons they were not allowed to see it. There
was a meeting going on.
They saw and photographed a large statue of Chairman Mao standing in
the central courtyard surrounded by buildings. Visitors with no
connection to the University should be able to view the campus if they
take a Huangpu River boat tour.

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