Ten years ago, my family and I gathered in a small church in San Francisco, California, to honor my father, who died in the same manner in which he had lived his life: with dignity and with grace.
Now a decade later, I have brought my father's ashes back for burial in China, fulfilling his wish to be laid to rest in his native soil. On Friday, my family and I will gather once again to honor him, this time in Yiyang, Hunan Province, the place of his birth 106 years ago.
For the final homecoming of my father, Dr Feng Shan Ho, the Chinese diplomat popularly known as "China's Schindler", the city of Yiyang will commemorate its most famous native son at his gravesite on beautiful Hui- longshan Park, on the 10th anniversary of his death.
Although the intervening decade seems to have passed in the blink of an eye, so much has happened that it feels like a lifetime. Much like the cycle of nature's endings and beginnings, my father's death has brought forth a new life, not of this physical or material plane, but one symbolizing the spirit of humanity and righteousness.
It has taken me 10 years of research and documentation to piece together the history of my father's humanitarian efforts. During his lifetime, he neither sought nor received recognition for his deeds. In fact, he rarely spoke of his tenure as the Chinese Consul General in Vienna from 1938 to 1940. It was only by chance, after his death in 1997, that his helping thousands of Austrian Jews escape the Holocaust came to light. But, having to piece together this puzzle nearly 70 years later means that we may never know the full extent of my father's humanitarian efforts.
During my 10-year pursuit of a history that has been buried for more than half a century, I was often asked why a Chinese diplomat would save Jews in Austria when others would not. My response has been: "If you knew my father, you wouldn't have to ask." That is usually followed by: "But weren't you surprised to discover this facet of your father?" No, I was not surprised because what my father did was completely in character.
My father's greatest legacy was to be who he was. He was a scholar and a gentleman, a product of his culture and of the times in which he lived, the likes of which we will never see again. But more importantly, he was a person who was never false, whose honor and integrity, whose strength of will, whose faith and optimism always shone through - and that was part of his charisma. He was loved and respected not just for what he was, but for who he was as a human being.
My father always felt that he had received a full measure of gifts. He was brilliant, fearless, charming and dynamic. He was also incorruptible, straightforward and conscientious. He possessed a hot temper - which I always attributed to his love for the hot peppers of Hunan. Among his most admirable traits was his capacity for love and for compassion. Most importantly, my father believed that these gifts were not bestowed upon him solely for his personal benefit, but for that of his fellow men.
Although he spent most of his adult years abroad, my father's love of his native land was fierce and unwavering. He taught my brother and me about our precious Chinese heritage and to take pride in being Chinese. He named us after two principles from the Analects of Confucius: , or Virtue, for my brother, and , or Propriety of Conduct, for me.
My father also came from a generation of Chinese who felt that China had been humiliated and persecuted by 100 years of foreign imperialism. His generation was determined not to allow that humiliation to continue. In that sense, my father was very sensitive to persecution and to the bullying of any peoples. His reason for helping Jewish refugees was simply this. He said: "I thought it only natural to feel compassion and to want to help. From the standpoint of humanity, that is the way it should be."
I believe this also answers the second question I am most often asked: "Why did he not talk about his deeds?" If helping those in distress was natural to a human being, why would it warrant particular praise or mention?
The ancient Chinese said: ""- "A good deed performed for others to see is not truly a good deed."
It has been an honor for me to be the daughter of Feng Shan Ho. I had the privilege of taking daily care of my father during the last years of his life, as he did for me during the first years of mine. Thanks to the people of his beloved Yiyang, I have now brought him home to rest in eternity. We have reached completion.
(China Daily 09/26/2007 page11)