After A Heavy Snow

                                                     By Parker Po-Fei Huang

                                                        A bank of whiteness


                                                           Is all I see. Have I

                                                       tossed away the world

                                                         or the world me? Or

                                                           is it just a single

                                                      moment that I stand on

                                                          a sheer precipice

                                                        with clouds passing

                                                               through me?

                                                      Some mists sweep the

                                                       sky. Some stars elicit

                                                         serenity. I feel that

                                                         I am gathering the

                                                      reflections of a flower

                                                     in the water and that of

                                                     the moon in the mirror—

                                                       no scent, no motion,

                                                        yet I sense eternity.

                                                       I stop breathing lest

                                                       I wake myself. From

                                                      where, of what world,

                                                       have I come here? I

                                                      turn my head and see

                                                     there are only footprints

                                                             that follow me.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Comic Strip Clipping

A comic strip clipping found in Parker Huang's wallet.

Janet Huang Chun Memories

Remembering Tenth Uncle

Awakening in the middle of the night,  I looked out the window and saw bright stars over the Maui sky. Immediately my thoughts went to Uncle Parker, realizing that he is now gone…I became sad for several reasons, one of which was that his passing signified the end of an era, one filled with so many difficult pages of China’s struggles during the last century. He, his siblings, and their spouses courageously bridged the gap across the ocean and braved a new culture by sheer determination and hard work. His generation dutifully and steadfastly pursued their aspirations on American soil under difficult circumstances. As we all know, their journeys were, by no means, without major sacrifices. 

Uncle Parker was the tenth of thirteen children. My siblings, Bob, Noeline and I have always addressed him as Tenth Uncle. He was the tallest, the mildest in manner and a dreamer who led a seemingly simple yet highly distinguished life. More than anyone in this scholarly clan, he was the intellectual, the poet, the impossible romantic… the latter attribute being much admired ever since I was a little girl. 

When we returned to our family home in Guangzhou after WWII, I saw him only a few times before he married Auntie Mabel. They soon left for San Francisco. This was around the late forties. Due to the political upheavals in pre-and post-Communist China, there wasn’t much contact between our families after that. He and Auntie Mabel eventually settled in New Haven where he had distinguished himself in the world of academia as a scholar, an educator and a poet, continuing the tradition established by our grandfather, Huang Sung Ling. 

Actually, I didn’t get to know Tenth Uncle until after both my parents have passed away in the late eighties. I started to call on him when I needed counsel. Unlike my Dad who was outgoing but authoritative , or Sixth Uncle who was rigidly intimidating, or Ninth Uncle who was rather reclusive, Uncle Parker was approachable and compassionate. When we talked on the phone,  he was always kind and patient with my 5th grade-level Chinese, he was generous with his time, and he was always engaging and encouraging. He was abreast of everything that was happening in the world, and he was very knowledgeable. 

He had lots of stories to share about our family. He talked about Grandfather whom I knew little about except that he was a super high achiever, formal & severe in his demeanor. Uncle Parker shared much about my parents too. Through him I learned incredible stories about my Dad when he was at the age of my grandchildren today, and of some pretty traumatic experiences during war time in Hong Kong and in China… 

Sometimes he recited his latest poems over the phone, in both English and Chinese, carefully explaining his thoughts behind every word. What I treasure most, however, was his sense of humor which I found refreshing and rare indeed, especially among his contemporaries. Each time after we talked, I would come away feeling lighter and in good spirits; generally a sense of well being would prevail.

I have often thought about the story of the meeting between my father and Uncle Parker when they were reunited in San Francisco after a separation of over 20 years. I was told that when Uncle Parker entered our living room to approach my father, he respectfully knelt in front of his Dai Gor (Eldest Brother) until my father urged him to rise. The remembrance of this encounter never failed to bring tears to my eyes. To think that a full grown man_an accomplished scholar and a highly respected professor_would actually kneel in tribute to his elder sibling in these United States of America, to show his respect… It was a discipline from another world. For better or for worse, this formality will be no more. I salute him for upholding his refine, classic form, for his humility and his meekness which, as Cousin Ben says, was by no means, unmanly in any sense of the word.  

Because of their similarities in temperament, my artist-husband, Douglas would pitch questions to me whenever we found ourselves in a quandary. He would ask, “Now what would Uncle Parker say about this?” Douglas’ admiration for Uncle Parker never failed to move me. We each found his sensitivity endearing, his elegant simplicity inspiring and his integrity honorable. 

I have so much more to say but sadly, it is time to say Goodbye…I simply want to add to the accolades that he has received: ”Thank you Tenth Uncle, for being who you are. I will miss you and I would hope to carry a small portion of your gentle spirit and your infinite wisdom within the depth of my heart. May your creativity and your artistry continue to soar through eternity.”

From Maui, with deepest feelings and utmost respect, 
Janet Huang Chun
January, 2008

Friday, January 18, 2008

Doris Frank-Liu Memories

Ben, I read the Blog and commend you for writing such a wonderful story and expressing it in a most inspiring and beautiful form.  I have such fond memories of playing card games with your father when I was young that I decided to write a poem about it this morning.  It is a family poem but I think those who read it will enjoy it on the Blog, as it expresses a real light-hearted frivolity that none others had ever experienced.  I hope I will be able to read it at the service as well.  It is in Iambic Pentameter style which I have always written all my poems.  Chris has probably already printed out the program, but I will ask permission to say a few words.

Cousin Doris Frank-Liu   


Here is the poem:



By Doris Frank-Liu


When my sister Ellen and I visited Uncle Parker back then

He was teaching at the Army Language School in Monterey to men


I remember Salinas was cool and foggy and Alan was three

Nighttimes Uncle Parker taught and played fun card games with Ellen and me


There was a real easy game to teach others to play called "The Nose Game"

Uncle Parker told us that the way we were playing was rather tame


Since he recalled that some got so excited they'd punch their nose to bleed

We laughed so hard because he would act it out as he noticed the need


And to this day whenever I teach that simple card game to my friends

They all ask, "Where in the world did you learn this fun game that beats all trends?"


And then I smile and proudly say that it was Uncle Parker who did

Prompting me to act out the players he told of when I was a kid.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hillhouse Avenue

A historic postcard from 1907 of Hillhouse Avenue, the street Parker Huang's office was on. Charles Dickens once called it the most beautiful street in America.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Robert Oxnam Memories



When I heard of Parker Huang’s passing, my immediate response was a tearful smile.  The tears were heartfelt – he was a remarkable man, who made a deep impact on me as he did on all students, and now he is with us no more.  But the smile was just as deep – he was someone who urged me to do more than study and think, he also prompted me to muse about things Chinese, to find real joy in the process.  It certainly was not rote education, nor just cerebral education, it was cultural and emotional education as well.   

Although I only took one course with Parker Huang – a tutorial in intermediate Chinese back in the summer of 1965 – it was a most unusual experience.  Yes, we went through the texts, and it quickly became apparent that I was not a natural linguist.  I really tried hard, too hard in Parker’s mind, because I ended up making translation an exercise in scanning dictionaries and trying to get the details right.  What I remember best was the way in which he tried to loosen me up, to get me outside the characters and the sentences, to try to see the broader shape of the language, to get a sense of what was being conveyed even if I didn’t get every nuance right. 

“Think of it as a journalist,” he said one time, “it’s a story, you don’t get it all, but it’s a puzzle, and it’s fun to figure it out.”  He then leaned back and told me about China back a couple of decades, before the Communists had gained power, back when Chinese journalists were trying to figure things out in a very confusing period. 

I suddenly realized that Parker was so much more than a language teacher; he was really a remarkably-successful thinker and writer displaced from his original profession by the tumultuous course of  20th-century Chinese history.   He told me of his own poetry writing and even showed me some samples on various scraps of paper.  One day, during a break from our reading, he smiled and began chanting some ancient poetry, his voice filled with vigor and vibrancy, his student transfixed with wonderment. 

And so, our tutorial proceeded in most unexpected directions, mixing attention to my unsteady efforts in reading intermediate Chinese with his insights and anecdotes about a China that I had never visited (and in 1965, it seemed quite unlikely that an American student would get there in the foreseeable future).  Curiously, I must have seemed like the super-serious Confucian-style student, learning how get beyond the task at hand from a remarkable gentleman who clearly represented the best of traditional China, but also the best of an urbane, cultured modern China.   

One day, when I was really bogged down in a text,  Parker suddenly stood up with a twinkle in his eyes.  “How about doing something new?  Would you like to learn taiji?”   Stunned, I also stood up, and watched him move, smoothly and gracefully, through the first few segments of a taiji exercise, describing each movement as he did it.  I followed him shakily, listening to his words – “slowly now, it’s about balance, about breath, about being centered, about emptying your mind.  If you can find the spirit of the exercise, it’s more important than getting all the little gestures right.” 

Yes, I am tearful that Parker is no longer with us.  But I am smiling as I remember what I learned from him, all that I learned from him.   Our text was in Chinese, but the course was not just about language or even just about China.  It was an education about life and learning, about unleashing the potent force of curiosity.  Parker Po-fei Huang was a man of many parts, but he was, perhaps above all, a great teacher.     

Robert Oxnam

January, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

John M. Stewart Memories

My sincere condolences to Huang Lao-shi's family on their loss.  I was one of the many USAF language students fortunate to have studied under Professor Huang (1956-1957 and 1959-60) at Yale, and even after more than 50 years have passed I still remember him fondly as a quiet, gentle man with a wonderful sense of humor.  We shared many laughs and good times together in class and I consider myself very lucky to have known him.
John M. Stewart
Grand Island, NE

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Yvonne Lau Memories

I first had heard of Uncle Po-Fei through my friendship with Alan.  I remember he would joke and say that if he missed his father, he could go to the Cornell language lab and listen to his tapes!  During my undergraduate years at Cornell, I decided to apply coincidentally for the NDFL fellowship for intensive summer language study in Mandarin at Yale.  I didn't know that I would be privileged to be in Huang Laoshi's class.  Although our class kept a grueling schedule, I always looked forward to Huang Laoshi's section because whatever he covered that day, I knew it would be fun.
I didn't realize then how lucky I was to have such an inspiring teacher. Ironically, now that I am involved with promoting Chinese as a second language programs, collaborating on K-16 pipeline curricula and professional development, I understand that being in Uncle Po-Fei's classroom was a magical experience.  When he recited his poetry - especially in Cantonese - I felt transformed and somewhat hopeful that even at my low proficiency, I could make sense of his readings.
He had a wonderful laugh that infused our classroom with warmth and affection.  We wanted to work hard even during those hot summer days in New Haven where it would have been tempting to relax and take more breaks because we were inspired to match his enthusiasm and prove worthy of his confidence in our abilities. Though the program was not a strict immersion experience, my Chinese improved so much that summer because of his exemplary skills as a teacher.
Later on, after a series of events and suspecting that my mother and Auntie Huang were actually roommates back in China, I brought my parents to visit them and witnessed their reunion.  It provided another special bond to Auntie and Uncle Huang as well as an additional window to experience their family warmth and love.
Although since they retired out in Orange County, I have not seen them too often, I now feel lucky that I did see and hear Uncle Po-Fei in the last few years.  Was it only a couple of summers ago that we were visiting friends in San Diego and heard that Uncle Po-Fei was going to be celebrating the publication of another book of poetry at a special reading.  Fortunately, I was able to arrange with Alan to visit them at their home in Pasadena and accompany them to the event at a community center.  What a joy to see Auntie and Uncle Huang still in relatively good health, greeting me warmly as if it had only been a short time.
When we arrived at the center in El Monte for what I thought would be an intimate gathering of some old friends, it turned into a much larger event with perhaps a crowd of around 75 eager to hear this very special reading.  Again, though my comprehension of literary Chinese was very limited, I enjoyed hearing Uncle Po-Fei and observing his affect on the crowd.  All seemed enthralled by his recitation.  I was in awe of his energy and spirit, and of his passion for the carefully-crafted words and language.
I felt very sad when I heard of his passing today, but I know that Alan, Auntie and Ben will be comforted by how Uncle Po-fei touched the lives of many people around him - students, colleagues, family and friends.  He taught me more than Chinese language and text.  He shared his love for life and communication, generously and happily. Though years and miles separated us, I thought of him at special moments when I thought of certain phrases in Chinese and the special teachers in my life. I miss him now and think how lucky I was to have a mentor like him even for a short period of my life.  Thinking of you, Alan, Ben, and Auntie Huang...

Parker Huang's Last English Poem

This poem was the last English poem written by Parker Huang discovered by his family in one of his notebooks.

Comments by Professor Yuk Yung:

The style of this poem is classical Tang Dynasty; 4 lines, with

rhyming in lines 1, 2 and 4. He has harmonized the Tang with the


The humor is purely American.

Parker and Mabel Huang's Chinese Passports

Jim Koors Memories

Ben, your father was one of my teachers at Yale between I took the Basic/Intermediate/Advanced Chinese courses.  Despite your father's best efforts, I never learned the Cantonese dialect, due to my tin ear or other inability to distinguish tones.

He was indeed a great teacher, I mourn his passing, and he will be remembered in my prayers.....Jim Koors

Alice Visel Memories

I  remember that everyone in my family loved watching him do Tai Chi in the driveway often.  I always bragged about my smart neighbors!  I remember that when Marion bought a motorcycle my father thought that if he told her she could not keep it in our yard that she would get rid of it.  But your Dad allowed her to park it in your yard!  And my Dad stayed friends with your Dad!  I remember that my father was always impressed by yours because of his education and connection with Yale.  Yet your Dad made me feel that he was just as impressed by my Dad for being able to fix a car or anything else and the fact that my Dad really enjoyed yard work.  Those were the days!  I loved them and I'm grateful to you and your family for being such a major part of them.  Marion and I took a Tai Chi course a few years ago but I didn't stick with it.  In honor and remembrance of your Dad I'm going to start doing it again.  

Love, Alice  

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Professor Jiang Jia-Jun Memories

Dear Mr. Ben Huang:

     收到你的来信, 得知伯飞老师仙逝,深感悲痛.你兄弟二人一定要节哀, 特别要安慰你们的老母并请转达我对她老人家的慰问.

因为我不熟悉电脑操作, 下面就是我对伯飞老师的回忆,请代我发到回忆伯飞老师的博克上.

     惊悉伯飞老师仙逝,泫然久之.1983年秋我在耶鲁英语系作访问学者时 ,由张充和女士介绍有幸认识了伯飞老师.从此我得以聆听老师教诲,真是三生有幸.老师当时在耶鲁东亚语系任教,他不仅精通中国古典文学,英文修养也特别高.我当时就感到这样博古通 竦睦舷壬倭更难得的是伯飞老师平易近人,为人十分谦逊,对晚辈非常关爱.我不仅常去他家作客,他还常常为我在耶鲁食堂买饭和他一道共进午餐.记得他还亲自驱车带我去欣赏新英格兰的秋山红叶.我当时发现不仅红叶美极了,使我感到惊诧的是那些充满勃勃生机的黄叶,我对老师说,在我家乡四川江津,树叶一到秋天就枯萎,从未见过叶子在秋天还这样美丽, 而且还显现出一派生机.老师告诉我说,一是树木不同,二也许是土壤有别吧. 我还记得他房中有一幅单条,上书"一卷离骚灯影里", 是他的一位朋友送他的,书法极精.当我坐在他的书房里,面对着这位慈祥和蔼面带微笑和你交谈的老人,我真的感觉如坐春风化雨之中.

今后再也无法聆听老师的教诲了,我多想能再次坐在你的书房啊!再听一次你那我熟悉的声音!哪怕只有三分钟!不!一分钟也好!我多想能再握一下你那瘦弱但是温暖的老人之手啊!可是今后再也不可能了!此时此刻, 眼泪已模糊了我的双眼.记得不偿失1984年秋,在我即将告别老师离开耶鲁回国时,黄伯飞老师赠给我不少英美文学方面的书籍,对我后来的教学帮助极大.葆真师母还专门为我到超市去买一些厨房的日常用具,如开罐器之类,我从师母那儿 寤岣惺艿搅司梦サ哪赴你迁居加州之后还赐书给我和内子.伯飞老师,我受赐于你太多了,我知道你是多么热爱祖国的山河大地和伟大的中华传统文化!你的道德文章都是我们所推崇和学习的揩模.

不久我将为西南大学育才学院外语学院三年级的同学作几次英美诗歌系列讲座,我一定要让我的学生知道你是一位伟大的学者,光荣的好老师,让他们也和我一道永远怀念您!永远把您作为我们学习的榜样.伯飞老师, 安息吧!

                        2008.1.10下午 后学江家骏于重庆西南大学外国语学院挥泪成此

黃伯飛病逝 12日辦喪禮

Please click here to view Parker Huang's obituary in the World Journal News (Chinese).

Jack Belkin Memories

I knew Parker only through his son Ben. When we adopted our daughter from China he agreed to write a letter in elegant Chinese to the orphanage director expressing our pleasure at the good care she had received there.

I rarely saw Ben's father out of the company of Ben's mother. They seemed a matched set.
Best wishes to Ben and his whole family.

It is a hard thing to lose a father. I learned that five years ago.

--Jack Belkin

Charles Sheehan Memories

I knew him as both intstructor and colleague at Yale. Both experiences were great.

Parker was a regular contributor to the Sunday Times poetry section. He was also in my circle of friends in New Haven back in the 60s that included Walter Tevis (The Hustler and The Man who Fell to Earth), Mike O'Malley (Small Town Blues and Every Day By Storm), and a number of poets and artists who were there at the time.

Parker was both friend and teacher to me and I am sad to hear of his passing.

I guess we are all at that stage in life that reminds us of our own mortality, but it also reminds us of those who have touched our lives in positive ways, subtle ways, that have given us direction and guidance down paths we would have otherwised missed along the journey.

Charles Chick Sheehan
USAF 1955-1956
IFEL Staff 1961-1963

Friday, January 11, 2008

Roger Des Forges Memories

I just received the news of Parker's passing from his son and want to share my thoughts with his family and friends.  
I was fortunate to study Chinese with Huang laoshi back in the late 1960s, and I still remember very well those individual sessions on Hillhouse Avenue.  I would come to class with a text and Parker would explain the parts I could not make out, writing characters on pieces of paper that seemed to have many doors leading in different directions, only a few of which lodged in my mind.  The gap between the beginning or even intermediate student of classical Chinese (wenyan) and an accomplished literatus and poet such as Parker was so great that I often thought that it could never be closed.  Of course I was right, it could not, but Parker was never fazed, he just kept on sharing his insights, often moral and natural as well as technical and academic. I remember one session in which we read and discussed an article on all of the many names that have been given over the ages to the polity we call, all so simply, "China," and the impact of that article has shaped my entire intellectual life in the field of Chinese history.  

In a recent session with six Chinese colleagues from many disciplines here at the University at Buffalo on the question of "what does it mean to be Chinese," I began my short presentation with some of the terms that had figured in that article.  After I completed my dissertation on a late Qing official and turned my attention to a late Ming literatus (whose historicity turned out to be highly problematic) I remember sharing one of my articles with Parker and his delight at some of the resonances with earlier history I thought I had discovered in the late Ming materials.  

I remember joining James Lee, one of Parker's prize students and one of my own, and visiting Parker and Mrs. Huang in California some years ago and finding the same quiet and amiable humaneness that I had remembered in the more formal classroom of decades earlier.  I remember the Huangs' more recent visit to Buffalo when they were visiting old friends but remembered that i was here and their calling me and having me to dinner (when my wife Alison was on one of her many trips looking after human rights in Africa).  

In short, I have many vivid memories of my relations with Parker, all of them pleasant and uplifting.  I will never forget him and will continue to try to live up to the pedagogical legacy he left behind.  Another true junzi has left this world in body but he will live on forever in spirit among his family, friends, and students.  

With great respect and affection, 
Roger Des Forges

Eulogy for Parker Po-fei Huang 1914-2008

By Ben Huang 

My father was a man with many names.  His wife and relatives addressed him by his Chinese given name—Bak fei.  Others addressed him with more formal titles:

Huang Jiao-shou, Professor Huang; or Huang Laushi, Master Huang.  Neighbors and colleagues addressed him by his English name, Parker, or by the romanization of his Chinese name, Po-fei.  And my brother and I addressed him simply as Da.

I begin with my father's names because he loved words and devoted most of his life to them.  As a poet, a teacher, a scholar, a lexicographer, a press officer and an editor, he used words as a way to bring cultures and countries together, a way to explore the infinite variety of his experience, and a way to express his inner feelings.  In some ways this was a paradox, because he was a quiet, gentle man, not given to argument or self-assertion.  Yet he knew the power of words—their power to move people, their power to give meaning to the past, their power to affirm both the beauty and mystery of the universe and the yearnings of the soul.  

Some of my earliest memories of him are of him writing.  Every Saturday morning, he secluded himself in his study to write.  The study had an old wooden desk, bookshelves lined with thesauruses, dictionaries, tomes in both English and Chinese on literature, philosophy, religion, and a framed portrait of his father, a Qing dynasty scholar.  There was also an old Royal typewriter, which I would hear clacking away while my mother was vacuuming the living room.

It wasn't just Saturday morning, either.  My father wrote everywhere, at any time, on everything.  I remember poems written on paper napkins, poems written on the backs of magazines, poems written on bookjackets.  There were poems written in train stations, on airplanes, in doctors' offices.  His little spiral notebooks and his pens (his favorite being, of course, Parker ballpoints) were ubiquitous.  He once told my cousin's daughter Genevieve that after his retirement from Yale in 1982, he diligently wrote at least one poem a day.

My father wrote short, lyric poems in both English and modern Chinese.  He also wrote poems using classical Chinese.  His poems express his day to day thoughts and impressions.  Together they form a kind of poetic diary.  There are poems about winter solstices, poems about maple trees, poems about retirement parties, poems about tears.

Many of the poems are about nature.  My father loved Nature in all its beauty and splendour—the buds on willow branches, the morning fog in the mountains, the crescent of the moon hanging over the smooth surface of a pond.   He loved collecting things—in our dining room in our house in Connecticut, he kept a display of seashells and stones and pieces of driftwood and a menagerie of tiny glass and wooden animals.   He had field guides on everything from birds to lizards to butterflies, was a devout reader of the National Geographic and owned just about every Time-Life book on Nature ever published.  He loved to visit state and national parks and explore meadows and lakes and waterfalls.

Here's a poem entitled "After a Heavy Snow."


After a Heavy Snow


A bank of whiteness

Is all I see.  Have I

tossed away the world

or the world me?  Or

is it just a single

moment that I stand on

a sheer precipice

with clouds passing

through me.


Some mists sweep the

sky.  Some stars elicit

serenity.  I feel that

I am gathering the

reflections of a flower

in the water and that of

the moon in the mirror—

no scent, no motion,

yet I sense eternity.


I stop breathing lest

I wake myself.  From

where, of what world,

have I come here?  I

turn my head and see

there are only footprints

that follow me.

Others of the poems concern his feelings about exile and his desire to unify different cultures.  Several poems written during his sabbatical in Hong Kong in 1963 are examples of this, as are some of his Connecticut poems.  There's a poem entitled "On the Border," in which the speaker gazes longingly at the bridge crossing the river to the mainland.  There's another entitled "Hong Kong Airport in the Morning" in which the speaker wonders whether airline passengers might be able "to build a bridge" and "bring each other within reach" (p.57).  Another poem, "Naive Anxiety," describes a scene after a light snowfall in the spring.  The speaker personifies the buds on the boughs of the trees, and has them ask: "What/ distance / did the swallows cover on their return flight?"


Here is "On the Border"


On the Border


There is too much,

too little, and

nothing to say.

After trying so many ways,

trying stops.


Crossing a river

There is still a bridge.

Is there none within

Our heart?


Standing on the bank

I watch the sluggish flow.

How deep and heavy, it

has carried my sorrow.


 Still others have to do with family.  There's a poem called "Father's Day" in which the speaker reprimands himself for being impatient with his infant son.  Here's the first stanza:

Please let me have some quiet!

I think—

This is a small right that still belongs to fathers.

But the baby rolls his sparkling eyes and seems to say:

"Hey, I didn't complain about your snoring in the night, and

Just what are you grumbling about?  I merely exercised my lungs in the broad daylight.

You mean you really didn't know?

This, this is a free world!


Although poetry was always his first love, he embraced all the arts.  He loved music.  He owned dozens of LPs—Mozart and Brahms,  Broadway musicals, and Big Band music.  Under my and my brother's influence, he even developed a taste for Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan and James Taylor.  And he taught himself to play the piano and the folk guitar.

He also loved watching movies.  Shortly after the outbreak of the War, he spent half his salary to bring my mother to see Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone With the Wind.  He must have seen every classic picture from the 30s and 40s.  After retirement, one of his favorite recreations was to sit in front of the television after dinner with Mom and me to watch the latest film I'd ordered from Blockbuster.  He loved watching everything from Modern Times to Bridge Over the River Kwai to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

If my father's deep love of poetry and his other artistic interests were one dimension of his life, his work as a journalist, a press officer and an educator, and his roles as a husband and father, were the others.  The three elided into each other—he was a parent to his students, a teacher to his sons, a poet in his marriage.

His work as a journalist and as a press officer for the British Consulate involved him in the defining experience of his generation—the Second World War.  He witnessed some of the major events and figures of that era—the Marco Polo Bridge incident, the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, the Chinese civil war.   He once met Chiang Kai-Shek in Nanking at a special press conference, and caught a glimpse of Ho Chi Minh in Guilin.  In his newspaper work, he even coined Chinese expressions for the new terms "jet airplane" and "atomic bomb."

His second, American career as an educator allowed him to have a more subtle and lasting impact on the world.  He spent the middle three decades of his life dedicated to developing Chinese language teaching and nurturing the work of young scholars.  He was amply equipped for this because his own father had been a classical Confucian scholar, and had made sure that my father was well-grounded in all the Chinese classics.  

He loved teaching—the give-and-take of the classroom, the intellectual discipline of writing, the human interaction between students, teachers and colleagues.  His work had a significant impact on Chinese language teaching and on the field of Chinese Studies in general.  A list of his former students reads like a Who's Who in Sinology: Sue Naquin at Princeton; Joanna Waley-Cohen at NYU, Sherman Cochran at Cornell.  And not just academics: Bob Oxnam, the former director of the Asia Society, studied with my father, as did Bob Kapp, the current head of the US-China Business Association; Mike Chenault of CNN; and even John Withers, our current ambassador to Albania.  When I contacted some of his former students about his passing, news spread instantaneously around the globe, and tributes to my father's dedication and excellence as a teacher have been pouring in.

But it was his role as a husband and a father that he considered most important.  Whether it was Fate or Luck or Divine Intervention, he had the incredible good fortune to marry my mother, Mabel Pao-chen, whom he had known since his teens.  They were planning to celebrate their sixtieth wedding anniversary this summer.  Everyone who knew them as a couple knew that they complemented each other like yin and yang.  While my father was the poet and dreamer, my mother was the pragmatist.  While my father was the Taoist philosopher who practised wu-wei, my mother was the doer who made things work, who kept the bills paid and the car working and the household running.  Whatever my father accomplished in his life was based on the foundation of his marriage.  For over six decades, she was his closest companion, his confidante, his lover and his best friend.

And she always stood by him.  Toward the end, when he was too weak to care for himself, she took complete care of him, feeding him, taking him to the doctors', making sure that he felt both physically and emotionally secure.  I remember waking up one morning and hearing my mother washing him in the bathtub, and I thought, maybe this is what love is, to have someone bathe you when you are a tiny infant and someone to bathe you when you are a fragile old man.

They came to this country, fleeing a war-torn land, with two suitcases, two hope chests, and three hundred dollars.  Like many immigrants, their lives were improvisational.  While Da was studying at Stanford, he worked full-time for a Chinatown newspaper, and Ma taught at a Chinese school. Ma got pregnant and had Alan.  They bought and ran a grocery store near Golden Gate Park.  Da found a job teaching Chinese at the Monterey Army Language institute.  And so on.  Their lives really didn't stabilize until they moved to New Haven in 1954. 

Together they raised my brother and me in a culture which was radically different than their own.  They gave us, in some ways, a typical American experience, with pizzas, drive-in movies, high school science fairs and camping in national parks.  At the same time, though, our family was different, and different in ways that, to a child's eyes, often seemed absurd.  Whereas other boys' fathers watched the World Series, mine practised t'ai-chi and read the Tao Te Ching.  While other dads ate steak and eggs, mine had a taste for yogurt and wheat germ.  While other dads built bookshelves, mine wrote poems.  Although I didn't realize it then, my father had a holistic, spiritual, wellness approach to life which had yet to enter the American mainstream.  What I had thought was an embarassing resistance to adapt was really a foreshadowing of the Asianing of America.  It wasn't that Da was uncool, it was that his adopted country still hadn't caught up with him.

Unconsciously, and with much resistance, I absorbed from him the values of a tradition which I was initially embarrassed by, but came eventually to reclaim.  The books on my father's shelf—the Book of Odes, Mencius, the I Ching, and the Chinese myths and legends he recited to me at bedtime, were seeds planted in my psyche which lay dormant for many years.  As was my father's way, he never forced me to study this tradition, but found a way of cultivating an affinity for it which eventually was to bear fruit.

He was, in fact, a paradox, a Confucian scholar in New England, a Chinese Transcendentalist, a Mandarin and a new American.  And these contradictions were not easy to negotiate.  In retrospect, I realize that his gentleness, modesty and lack of guile made life difficult for him in a society which valued money over poetry, and status over sensitivity.  And Yale, in spite of its humanistic pretensions, was a hard place for people who didn't have the right background or pedigree.  Yet my father didn't let himself become bitter.  He never thought his career was more important than his family, always believing that his career was for his family.  Although his position at Yale was meager in salary and never secure, he still gave himself fully to his work because he felt his first responsibility was to us.

While at Yale, my father became a Christian.  He was baptized quite late—in his forties, by the University Chaplain, Sidney Lovett.  Later he served as one of the deacons of Battell Chapel under William Sloane Coffin.  Once converted, he never wavered in his faith.  He attended church every Sunday as long as he could, and studied the Bible every day.  His book of Daily Inspirations, which is still sitting on our coffee table, is plastered with post-its and annotations.  And one of my final memories is hearing him in the early hours of the morning during Christmas reciting psalms and prayers.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says "Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the earth."  In the days since my father's passing, this Beatitude has been echoing in my mind constantly.  For my father was meek—not in the sense of being unmanly, but in the sense of understanding that violence must never be answered with violence, that the blessings of Nature far outweigh the superficial rewards of society, and that Love is the foundation upon which we must build our lives.

The long poem that was my father's life is now complete.  As any poem must have its final line, so every life must have its final day.  Yet, like any poem, the silence at the end is part of its music and meaning.  As saddened as we are by losing him, we should remember that for my father, the purpose of poetry, and of life, was that it should be celebrated and shared.  He saw life as an occasion for reflection and renewal, rather than for resignation and despair.  Every moment for him had its special meaning, and the quest to catch that meaning was what gave his life richness and depth. 

For my father, the end of one poem also always stirred the impulse to write another.  And so as we regard his legacy, we should remember how all his words and actions ripple through our lives like concentric circles in a pond.  His individual life has ended, yet in the lives of his family, his friends, his colleagues, and his students, his heart and spirit live on.

Da, we are grateful for all you gave us, and want you to know that as you stand on the precipice with God, with the clouds passing through you, gathering the reflections of a flower and the moon in the mirror, we are your footprints.  And we will love you forever and always, and pray for your eternal peace.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

About Parker Po-Fei Huang

Parker Po-Fei Huang was a distinguished Chinese-American professor and poet at Yale who developed the leading method of teaching Cantonese to non-native speakers and authored numerous Mandarin language textbooks used widely on college campuses. His long and varied life aptly reflects the Asian-American immigrant experience in the twentieth century.

Born in 1914 in the city of Guangzhou, Huang Po-Fei was the son of the Qing Dynasty scholar Huang Sung-Ling and his wife, Zhu Xi. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Peking Catholic University in 1937 and spent the war years in Hong Kong, Guilin and Chongqing, serving as editor-in-chief of the Chinese Evening News (Zhongguo Man Bo) and as an editor for the British Consulate in Guilin and Chongqing.

After marrying Chen Baozhen in April 1947, Huang and his new wife immigrated to the United States, settling in San Francisco. He worked for Young China Newspaper while at the same time studying journalism at Stanford University. From 1950-51 he taught Chinese at the Army Language School at Monterey, California. In 1952, during the Korean War, he began an association with Yale University which lasted until his retirement in 1985. Huang helped to pioneer modern Chinese language study in the United States, authoring several textbooks for Mandarin and the first Cantonese textbook and dictionary. He designed and taught the undergraduate Chinese program, supervised graduate student dissertations and directed the Summer Chinese Language Institute. He was an active member of the Yale community, serving as both a fellow in Davenport College and as a deacon at the United Church of Christ at Yale.

In addition to his academic writing, Huang was an accomplished poet, writing primarily in Chinese but also translating ancient and modern Chinese poems into English.
One of his early English poems, Heavenly Mountain, was first published on New Year’s Day in 1958 and was included in the New York Times’ Book of Verse, 1970, and anthology of the Poetry published by the Times in the past fifty years. He also published poetry collections titled “Wind and Sand”, “Heavenly Mountain”, “Dawn”, “Prayers”, “Sincerely”, “Selected Lyric Poems in English and Chinese”, etc. Huang gave many public readings in venues such as the 92nd Street YMCA, the Library of Congress, and West Point. He also gained recognition as a chanter of Classical Cantonese poems, performing in several theatre productions in New Haven and New York City.

Huang is remembered at Yale through the Parker Huang Fellowships, which are awarded each year to students who wish to study language and culture in China and elsewhere around the world. They are given “not because of American successes abroad, but because of our failures and because the international failures of the most powerful country on earth are costly for those who are most powerless.”

Among his other accomplishments and honors, Huang served on the national board of the Chinese Language Teachers’ Association and was a member of Phi Tau Phi, an honors society for Chinese academics. He also was the first director of the Chinese Language Center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Huang passed away peacefully in his own bed on January 5, 2008 at the age of 94 in Pasadena, California as the result of natural causes. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Mabel Pao-Chen Chan Huang, and his two sons, Ben and Alan.