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Cecilia Chiang 江孫芸 1920-2020

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发表于 1-11-2021 15:48:32 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
Jade Chang, Cecilia Chiang; She escaped war in China and landed in an America that was hungry for a new kind of Asian cuisine. New York Times Magazine, Dec 27, 2020 (an issue entirely dedicated to remembrance to people who died in 2020).
https://www.nytimes.com/interact ... a-chiang-death.html

Note:
(a)
(i) Cecilia Chiang  江孫芸 (Sept 18, 1920 - Oct 28, 2020; born SUN Yun 孫芸; married CHIANG Liang 江梁 in Shanghai, had two children, May and Philip 江一帆. Paul Fleming and Philip Chiang are co-founders of the restaurant chain PF Chang's)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cecilia_Chiang
(ii) The name "PF Chang's" is derived from those of Paul Fleming (PF) and Philip Chiang (whose surname was simplified to Chang).  en.wikipedia.org for "PF Chang."
(iii) Boston has a PF Chang by Boston Common, but I was unaware of Cecilia Chiang -- perhaps she was a Bay Area personality.
(b) I was most puzzled by the clause in paragraph 1: "for the kind of well-bred girls born to 52-room palaces in Beijing that once housed Ming dynasty officials." She was no Manchu. How could she be born in palaces; and what palaces, after Manchus were overthrown in 1911?

The en.wikipedia.org page above says she was born in Wushi to father Sun Long Guang 孙龙光 and mother Sun Shueh Yun Hui 孙薛云慧. "At the age of four, her family moved to Peking (Beijing), where she was raised in a 52-room, converted Ming-era mansion [not 'palaces'] that occupied an entire block."
(c) This article was not translated into Chinese, in cn.nytimes.com. But her obituary was found in that website. You need not read it, though.

William Grimes, 半個世紀前,她將地道中餐帶到美國. 纽约时报中文网, Oct 29, 2020.
https://cn.nytimes.com/obits/202 ... hiang-dead/zh-hant/

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To 14-year-old Cecilia Chiang, a bicycle meant freedom. Freedom from being enclosed in a rickshaw, pulled by a servant who was an extension of her mother's watchful eye. Freedom to ride fast, legs pumping, hair flying in the wind. With the resourcefulness that would allow her to reinvent herself repeatedly over the next century, Chiang managed to learn how to ride in secret before asking her parents for a bicycle of her own. After all, they had very specific ideas about what was proper for the kind of well-bred girls born to 52-room palaces in Beijing that once housed Ming dynasty officials. Impressed, her softhearted father agreed, and her mother reluctantly allowed it. China was modernizing, but a wife still followed her husband's lead.

Until that moment, Chiang's days as the seventh of 12 children had centered largely on her prosperous, open-loving family. Her early unfolded with an ordered ease. Everything had its season. Swallows and peonies heralded spring, a time for filled spring pancakes, fresh spring opinions and lavish spring feasts where the adults drank wine and extemporized verses of poetry. The hot days of summer brought crisp, fragrant melons cooled in well water and refreshing pickles made of tiny cucumbers and tinier ears of corn. With fall came sweet crabs, steamed and served with dark rice vinegar and ginger, eaten in the preferred Chinese method: with great abandonment. Chiang was rarely allowed in the kitchen, but the finely honed palate that would later be revered was already undergoing training.

In 1937, invading Japanese troops took over Beijing and commandeered most of the city's food supply. Residents survived on rice husks unless they had a family member like Chiang, who at around 18 began to ride her red Schwinn into the countryside searching for black-market provisions. It was an untenable existence. By 1943, with resources dwindling, Chiang and a sister set out for Chongqing, over 1,000 miles to the south. Disguised as peasants, in plain cotton coats that hid their fur-lined undergarments, they boarded a train loaded with bags that included formal dresses and silk stockings. Within weeks, the train service stopped abruptly, their luggage was stolen by Japanese soldiers and the young women found themselves walking or hitching rides on ox carts, sleeping in barns and once, memorably, voluntarily tied to ropes and dragged across a wide mud pit -- it was the only way to avoid a lengthy detour -- until they stumbled, dearth and lice-ridden, into the first border town that marked Free China.

Soon after, in the rough, bustling city of Chongqing, Nationalist party banners proclaiming "The Final Victory Is Ours!" hung everywhere, mapo tofu burbled in street-vendor stalls and the beautiful sisters soon befriended Gen. Chiang Kai-shek's two sons and nephew. It was a heady, optimistic time. On the advice of a fortuneteller, Chiang discouraged the affections of dishy son No 2 and the good-natured cousin and instead married former-professor-turned businessman. Soon after, her husband was offered a job in Shanghai . a city whose cosmopolitan promise had always enthralled Chiang. The newlyweds enjoyed a decadent few years in the supper clubs and jazz lounges, but fortunes turn quickly in war, and by 1949 they were lucky to book tickets on the last plane out of the city, three weeks before it fell to the Communists.

By 1961, Chiang was in San Francisco. She spent the previous decade in Tokyo, and although she ran a successful restaurant there with friends, living among her country’s former occupiers must have rankled. America was, in all ways, a new world. Most Chinese restaurants at the time were Cantonese, with simple chop-suey menus tailored to supposed Western tastes, but Chiang was determined to present her version of China, with distinct regional preparations from Sichuan, Shanghai and Beijing. And somehow, it worked. Initially, the Mandarin was a small restaurant on Polk Street where Chiang served the San Francisco columnist Herb Caen his first potsticker. Soon she moved the business to Ghirardelli Square, with a million-dollar budget and strict instructions to her designer that there be "no gold, no red, no dragons, no lanterns." The 300-seat Mandarin felt more like an old temple, decorated with antiquities that Chiang carefully bought at auction. The restaurant was her attempt to recreate the world of her childhood, a world that was ripped out of time by conflict and war. In its specificity, it spoke to a new generation of California chefs like Alice Waters, who also cared deeply about food that was local and seasonal.

For most of her early years in America, Chiang was unable to contact her parents. China was closed to the world, its people mired in the emotional and economic destruction of the Cultural Revolution. But then, in 1975, two things happened. First, she opened the Beverly Hills outpost of the Mandarin, which quickly became a celebrity favorite. Paul Newman had a house account; John Lennon and Yoko Ono stopped by every time they were in town. Second, after years of thwarted attempts, Chiang got a visa to China with a little help from a frequent diner — Henry Kissinger.

The homeland she returned to was unrecognizable. So was her father. Forced out of the family house, he subsisted in a single dark room, 97 and toothless. Worse, Chiang found that her mother had died of starvation five years earlier. Over a bottle of cognac that she managed to bring in, Chiang and her father traded stories of the 30 years they spent apart, of the other unknown losses. Chiang told him that his third-eldest son joined the Nationalist Air Force and died in a plane crash two decades before. Her father described the fate of her third-eldest sister, who took her own life after her daughter denounced her to the Communist authorities, a common event in those turbulent days. And then, right before her visa expired — maybe satisfied by finally seeing his daughter again — he died, too.

The China that gave Chiang's family their wealth and privilege was hardly a just or equitable one; if it was, the Communists could never have risen to power. But Chiang spent half her life trying to preserve what she saw as its best parts — a deep appreciation of beauty, a desire to live deliberately and in harmony with the seasons, a love of feasting and family. As much as she treasured her youth, if that world hadn’t been lost, her life would have been much more circumscribed, focused on home and children. Instead, she helped shape America’s understanding of Chinese cuisine, and until her death at 100, she was dining out nightly, staying up late with a whole new generation of young chefs.

At Chiang's 50th birthday party, her children surprised her with a brand-new red Schwinn. They knew how much she had loved that bicycle, what it meant to her. But Chiang didn't really need the anymore — she had freedom, and with it she made a world that was wholly her own.
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