The Kao family is from a town called Zhangyan in Jinshan District, near Shanghai, China1. As a landlord, the family would have been considered wealthy. Sons of each generation will be well educated in the style of the times. My knowledge of the family tree dates back only to my grandfather.
My grandfather Kao Hsieh2 was also called Kao Ch’ui Wan3. He was a literary figure famous for his beautiful poetry and expressed it in Chinese calligraphy. The combination of poetry and calligraphy is an oriental art form. As a Confucian scholar, he was a book collector and a prominent member of Nan She (Southern Society). Other families were also active in the association. Its purpose during the Yin Metal Pig in 1911 was to help defeat the dominant Qing dynasty. The museum, now built in the town, exhibits his work and also shows the history of political activity in which men participated. He had a liberal tendency.
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His grandfather had four sons and two daughters. His father, Khao Chun Singh, was not the eldest son of his son. The oldest would have stayed in town to take care of family property and things. That is where those obligations have always fallen. He was the third son. These sons grew up as the modern age came to China. After a good education in Shanghai, his father studied abroad at the University of Michigan Law School for a year. Before he left for the United States, a marriage to a petite woman from one of the family members of the social circle was arranged. She was left behind to wait for her adventurous husband to return. The new wife, who came from an equally modern and intellectually skilled family, was well-educated and she was also a poet.
Charles Kao in 1942, his brother and cousins
They were the year that the descendants of a few wealthy middle-class families in China ventured into Paris, London and New York to facilitate their experience and research. When they returned to China, they were welcomed with great enthusiasm.
After returning from the United States, Kao Shunshin, a young man in his mid-twenties at the time, was appointed as a Chinese judge in the International Court of Justice. He shared the bench with established judges from Western countries. With this prestigious appointment, he and his young wife moved to Shanghai, where they joined the social life of Shanghai.
Young Charles Kao and his family
The first child born to the couple was a daughter, followed by a son two years later. Misfortune struck. In the measles epidemic, both children were attacked and both died of complications. The older child was 10 years old and the younger child was 8 years old. The mother had small bones, a delicate and fragile appearance. Birth would not have been easy. In the years following the tragedy, she had a series of miscarriages. Finally, in 1933, a healthy child was born for her parents. His younger brother Timothy joined the family four years later.
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Charles Kao and his younger brother in 1938
My brother and I lived a very spoiled and protected life because our two brothers died early. The nurse maid was always watching. My parents are busy with dinner parties and social events, so we only met them like a daily royal audience. After that, the tutor gave us a lesson. The basic lesson was a reading from Four Books 4, a famous classic that we learned to recite by memory. A second tutor taught English.
Finally, when I was 10, I was sent to school. The driver dropped me off at the school playground and told me to wait. Someone told me where to go. I’ve never seen children run around the crowd so wildly with their eyes rounded.
The bell rang and soon the playground was empty, but for one child. A kind woman appeared and took me to her class. Maybe it was a tutor, or a late start of formal schooling, or an overly cautious and protective upbringing, but in any case I never became a talkative person. As an adult, I’m not always comfortable at small talk parties. He must have inherited his father’s gentle personality.
The elementary school I attended in Shanghai was a very liberal school founded by scholars who returned from French education. Children from a prestigious family were enrolled there, including the son of a famous man believed to be the top gangster in the underworld!
Kao’s Shanghai, old Chinese house
The family now had a house in the French Concession. The Bank for International Settlements was located in an area of the city where various Western countries were in authority. These areas were generally free from rough