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A politician’s house
2015-07-03
By Michelle Qiao

A gray-walled villa opposite the Wukang Road Food Market once housed a man who had been an influential politician, a farmer and a traditional Chinese medicine promoter over an eventful life that lasted 101 years.

“The upper-class residential area in the western area of the former French concession, including the neighborhood of Wukang Road, was chosen by Kuomintang military and governmental officials as their homes after they took over Shanghai after victory in China’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression in 1945,” says Tongji University professor Qian Zonghao, co-author of the book “Shanghai Wukang Road.”

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According to Qian, 67 Wukang Road was once the home of Kuomintang politician Chen Lifu during the 1940s. His older brother Chen Guofu lived in a villa on the other end of Wukang Road. Military commanders Zhen Dongguo and Li Jianlan, as well as famous marshal Gu Zhutong, all lived in homes along the road.

The Chen brothers were members of one of the four “big families” — Chiang, Soong, Kung and Chen — who dominated the Republic of China. These families had controlled much of the country’s finances and politics.

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Chiang Kai-shek controlled military power but assigned financial matters to T.V. Soong and H. H. Kung, and Kuomintang party affairs to the Chen brothers.

Born in Wuxing, Zhejiang Province, Chen Lifu had dreamed of being an engineer to help the country’s modernization efforts after receiving his master’s degree in mining engineering at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, the United States.

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But at the advice of his older brother, Chen Guofu, who had already worked with Chiang Kai-shek, the young man became Chiang’s secretary in 1926.

According to Chen Lifu’s biography, the brothers’ famous uncle, Chen Qimei, an influential revolutionist, had introduced Chiang to Dr Sun Yat-sen. That’s why the brothers had earned Chiang’s trust in later years. Chen Qimei was murdered in 1916.

In the 1930s, the Chen brothers controlled the Organization Department of the Kuomintang government and Chen Lifu headed the department’s investigation section, a renowned group of special agents. As a result of the Chens’ significant power and influence within the government, they formed a political faction known as the “CC Clique.”

In 1938, Chen Lifu became the minister of education. During World War II, he ordered dozens of China’s best universities to retreat to inner cities to prevent Chinese culture from being ruined by the invading Japanese.

According to Xuhui District Record of Cultural Relics, Chen’s gray villa was built in the 1940s. Covering an area of 663 square meters, it remains a three-story, simple, brick-and-wood villa. The façade is faced with cement. The corner of the ground floor features a protruding hexagonal room. The mini garden fronting the villa at some point was paved with cement.

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Several families now share the villa. The dim, dusty interior gives a feel of history.

“Wukang Road had been a kind of political space just like Kangping Road after 1949. It was closer to politics than to culture,” says Tongji University associate professor Liu Gang, who completed a PhD study on the western area of the former French concession.

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“But compared with the congregation of official mansions in Nanjing, the former capital of the Kuomintang government, these villas, including Chen Lifu’s, have some ‘Shanghainese characteristics,’ which have a freer style and are comparatively vivid,” he adds.

Chen Lifu’s political career ended after the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan after 1949. The Chen brothers and their CC Clique were blamed for Chiang’s failure against the Communist Party of China and were ruled out of the inner core of political power in Taiwan.

The year 1950, when he was 50 years old, was a turning point in Chen’s life.

He left Taiwan for the United States with his family and settled down in New Jersey, running a chicken farm and making a living by selling eggs.

In the autobiography, he wrote: “I had served Chiang and many others, but eventually I was not well understood by them. From now on, I will never serve anybody and will never have this kind of feeling again when looking after the chickens.”

In 2001, Chen’s third son, Chen Zechong, wrote an article about his father for Taiwan’s Central Daily after his dad’s death.

“My father always loved to use his brain to find solutions and help others,” he wrote. “We think he was capable of solving any problem. I was only 11 years old, but my father was already pretty old when we had to carry the chicken feed in New Jersey. Each bag weighed about 100 pounds. He then racked his brain to design and make a wooden machine to transmit and dump the feed. It was widely used by other American farms afterward.”

During his 18 years in the US, Chen also made a living by producing traditional Chinese foods ranging from pickled duck egg yolks, used as a stuffing in mooncakes, zongzi (glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf) and chili sauce. His homemade Chen Lifu Chili Sauce was popular among Chinese Americans.

Owing to his long-term good relationship with Chiang’s son, Chen was invited to return to Taiwan in 1969. He then spent his later years as a “guardian of traditional Chinese cultures.”

During the last 30 years of his life, he served as director on several committees for reviving traditional Chinese culture and TCM in Taiwan. He published 30 books in this field and proposed a famous idea to culturally unite China’s mainland and Taiwan.

In an article titled “How I lived until 100 years old” in 2000, he attributed his longevity to the ability to fall asleep quickly, a good temper, good memory, a healthy diet with mostly vegetables and drinking only boiled water.

“I never liked politics, which often requires mean methods in the struggle for power and profits. If not for Chiang’s decision, I would have been a mining engineer long ago ... To nurture your heart you need peace and first of all, a clean ideal and simple life,” wrote this 100-year-old man who had so much power in his hands when he lived on Wukang Road.

Ut at the advice of his older brother, Chen Guofu, who had already worked with Chiang Kai-shek, the young man became Chiang’s secretary in 1926.

According to Chen Lifu’s biography, the brothers’ famous uncle, Chen Qimei, an influential revolutionist, had introduced Chiang to Dr Sun Yat-sen. That’s why the brothers had earned Chiang’s trust in later years. Chen Qimei was murdered in 1916.

In the 1930s, the Chen brothers controlled the Organization Department of the Kuomintang government and Chen Lifu headed the department’s investigation section, a renowned group of special agents. As a result of the Chens’ significant power and influence within the government, they formed a political faction known as the “CC Clique.”

In 1938, Chen Lifu became the minister of education. During World War II, he ordered dozens of China’s best universities to retreat to inner cities to prevent Chinese culture from being ruined by the invading Japanese.

According to Xuhui District Record of Cultural Relics, Chen’s gray villa was built in the 1940s. Covering an area of 663 square meters, it remains a three-story, simple, brick-and-wood villa. The façade is faced with cement. The corner of the ground floor features a protruding hexagonal room. The mini garden fronting the villa at some point was paved with cement.

Several families now share the villa. The dim, dusty interior gives a feel of history.

“Wukang Road had been a kind of political space just like Kangping Road after 1949. It was closer to politics than to culture,” says Tongji University associate professor Liu Gang, who completed a PhD study on the western area of the former French concession.

“But compared with the congregation of official mansions in Nanjing, the former capital of the Kuomintang government, these villas, including Chen Lifu’s, have some ‘Shanghainese characteristics,’ which have a freer style and are comparatively vivid,” he adds.

Chen Lifu’s political career ended after the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan after 1949. The Chen brothers and their CC Clique were blamed for Chiang’s failure against the Communist Party of China and were ruled out of the inner core of political power in Taiwan.

The year 1950, when he was 50 years old, was a turning point in Chen’s life.

He left Taiwan for the United States with his family and settled down in New Jersey, running a chicken farm and making a living by selling eggs.

In the autobiography, he wrote: “I had served Chiang and many others, but eventually I was not well understood by them. From now on, I will never serve anybody and will never have this kind of feeling again when looking after the chickens.”

In 2001, Chen’s third son, Chen Zechong, wrote an article about his father for Taiwan’s Central Daily after his dad’s death.

“My father always loved to use his brain to find solutions and help others,” he wrote. “We think he was capable of solving any problem. I was only 11 years old, but my father was already pretty old when we had to carry the chicken feed in New Jersey. Each bag weighed about 100 pounds. He then racked his brain to design and make a wooden machine to transmit and dump the feed. It was widely used by other American farms afterward.”

During his 18 years in the US, Chen also made a living by producing traditional Chinese foods ranging from pickled duck egg yolks, used as a stuffing in mooncakes, zongzi (glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf) and chili sauce. His homemade Chen Lifu Chili Sauce was popular among Chinese Americans.

Owing to his long-term good relationship with Chiang’s son, Chen was invited to return to Taiwan in 1969. He then spent his later years as a “guardian of traditional Chinese cultures.”

During the last 30 years of his life, he served as director on several committees for reviving traditional Chinese culture and TCM in Taiwan. He published 30 books in this field and proposed a famous idea to culturally unite China’s mainland and Taiwan.

In an article titled “How I lived until 100 years old” in 2000, he attributed his longevity to the ability to fall asleep quickly, a good temper, good memory, a healthy diet with mostly vegetables and drinking only boiled water.

“I never liked politics, which often requires mean methods in the struggle for power and profits. If not for Chiang’s decision, I would have been a mining engineer long ago ... To nurture your heart you need peace and first of all, a clean ideal and simple life,” wrote this 100-year-old man who had so much power in his hands when he lived on Wukang Road.

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