Woo Ho 胡浩 (1915-2014) – In Memoriam
Woo Ho, my wife’s father, my father-in-law, has passed away, at the age of 99. A fiery Cantonese native from Shun Tak (順德 Shunde), graduate of Whampoa Military Academy, commander of the Chinese army, who fought the Japanese and in the Civil War. Crossing the border with Hong Kong on the eventful 1st October 1949 he swore never to return to the mainland and he fulfilled his promise. A survivor, a refugee, a school teacher and calligrapher, he copied and recited the Tang poets every single day of his life.
As a boy my father-in-law attended a Christian school in Guangzhou, but throughout his life he performed the rituals to his ancestors and laughed at the folk superstitions. He was humble at his achievements as calligrapher conceding he could never better his father whom he remembered all the time. His father, my wife’s grandfather, was victim of the struggle sessions inflicted by the communists as soon as they took over Guangdong in October 1949. Labeled as a landlord and an enemy of the people, the mob could spit at him, slap his face, bit and insult him. Old and helpless, he committed suicide before he could be exposed to this ordeal for a third time. Woo Ho also lost his first wife and children in the war. His surviving siblings can tell of the Laogai and the terrors of the Cultural Revolution but they were unyielding.
Woo Ho bore scars visible but also inside. I am told he had been bitter and resentful, but for me he was always cheerful and amiable to the last day. At his home it hangs a scroll painted and presented to him by a comrade exiled in Taiwan. It depicts the wintry scene of a branch of plum blossoms and falling snow. Woo Ho had penned on it a colophon and stamped his own seals. Whenever I entered his home he would point at the painting and would talk about it. Today the painting was covered in sign of mourning.
My father-in-law taught me to use the Chinese brush and how to rubber the ink stick on the inkstone – he lauded proudly the Duan stones from Guangdong. I understood the ink nuances from deep black to lighter washes and the order and grace of the brushstrokes. He also taught me to play Chinese chess though I could never win. It was he who taught me to use the chopsticks more than twenty years ago in my first trip to Hong Kong, my Chinese friends marvel at my dexterity.
We could not understand each other fully and we were helped by the translations of my wife and later my son. But Woo Ho taught me the most eloquent lessons on Chinese history with his own life, and from him I learned about Chinese culture as a living heritage. He opened the pages that set me on a lifelong study of Chinese history, Chinese culture and Chinese art, a book forever open and a never-ending source of joy.
Woo Ho leaves his wife of almost 60 years, one son and one daughter, and three grand-children of good nature and full of promises, heirs to an indomitable clan.
This photograph is the only one left from his time in China.