My first impression about my family name is the many complex strokes it takes to write the Chinese character '蒋', often pronounced like Chang in English. My father first taught me hand-in-hand how to draw it on paper.
When I attended school, other kids nick-named me '蒋光头' after '蒋介石' (Chang Kai-shek), former president of Republic of China, out of contempt and belittlement against this man. It was a popular public attitude towards Chang Kai-shek under the propaganda influence of the CCP government back in the days. I was once agitated and asked my father, "Who is Chang Kai-shek"? He said nothing but simply said, "be calm and ignore what the kids said".
My Dad told me I have two names, '蒋嘉之' and '蒋友勇', the former is on my birth certificate and passport, the latter on the family-tree book only circulated in hometown village. Dad reasoned, "I feared that your publicly bearing the middle name '友' may bring bad luck to you as we live in mainland China. Chang Kai-shek's descendants have same middle name series. God knows when it'll be another Culture Revolution, during which I was denied access to college and many other citizen rights."
After I turned 30, I realized that my family has been routinely worshipping ancestors' tombs dated back to the late Qing Dynasty. A wooden plate looks like the one below hang on top of my family's old house's front-gate. One of my ancestors made it to a high ranking academia title by studying hard and passing the Imperial Examination by the Qing Dynasty monarchy:
This is interesting and it encouraged me to dig a little deeper on ancestor stories. Most of them are businessmen or craftsmen such as watchmaker. Then I found an interesting person, 叶琪/Kee Yeh. Kee Yeh's elder sister married my grand-father's grand-father as his 3rd wife and she raised the kids to grown-ups. When I dig a little deeper, I found him quite a figure in China contemporary history. My Dad said Yeh fought in the China Xinhai Revolution that over-threw the Qing Dynasty. His regiment was the first army raided Peking (Beijing) city killing soldiers of the late Qing Dynasty. Then later he became colleague of Li Zongren/李宗仁 and Bai Chongxi/白崇禧, whose military regime has been ruling south China under Chang Kai-shek's Republic of China until 1949. Yeh died of a horse fell-off accident, as stated in history book. Dad said he was assassinated, after he finished a lobbying trip trying to align interests from 4 south China provinces' war lords, in an attempt to wipe out BOTH Chang Kai-shek's army and the CCP Red Army from mainland China.
My Chinese literacy is first taught by Ms. Chen Yanji/陈燕姬 in primary school. She is my most memorable teacher for her kindness, Chinese language mastery and her general knowledge. She is daughter-in-law of Jiang Bolun/蒋伯伦, a Republic China Army officer in charge of weaponry under General Bai Chongxi/白崇禧. Jiang Bolun/蒋伯伦, as my Dad told me, was referred and enlisted to the army by my great grant-father via his in-law, General Kee Yeh/叶琪. They are among the major China armed forces who defeated the Japanese invasion.
Like learning everything else, the fun part is always being able to connect the dots and make sense of them. This practice of finding out what's in my name gradually helps me form a historical sense of being. I'll die one day and join my ancestors into the dust and dirts.
What's my story and legacy that I would leave behind and show my descendants?