Catherine was the daughter of a wealthy landowner who lived in the country west of Hangzhou. Her father had attained the xiucai degree, roughly equivalent to a Master’s degree, and had studied in Japan, so his children grew up in a highly educated environment. When she reached the age of sixteen, her father wanted her to marry, but she refused, insisting that she pursue an education instead. She gained entrance to an elite school for girls in Hangzhou.
Her best friend, Xiao Jiang, was from Ningbo, but had an older brother who lived in Hangzhou. She often invited Catherine to join her there to read novels. The young Catherine especially loved western novels in translation, and had read War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina and others many times. One day, they met a man surnamed Hu, whom they nicknamed “Blackie” because of his dark complexion. He was general editor of the Hangzhou Daily and possessed a fine library. He loaned them many books and finally invited them to his house to pick new ones from his well-stocked shelves.
The moment Catherine entered his study, she noticed a large photograph on his desk. Immediately, she was transfixed by the strikingly handsome young military man in the photo. She learned that he was a young and already famous division commander in the army. On this and many subsequent visits she asked countless questions about General Hu, and began to read the newspapers to learn about current events and Hu’s increasingly important role in the army and the nation. He had earned a reputation of being scrupulously honest, good to his troops, fair and kind to civilians, as well as brave and resourceful on the battlefield.
Though she longed desperately to meet this extraordinary man, when she graduated from high school that opportunity had still not come. She moved to Shanghai to study at the university there. Though she met many boys, none of them captured her heart. During the spring of her junior year in college, she was visiting a friend in Hangzhou when she unexpectedly met Hu, now promoted to Army Commander. Even more “radiant” than in the photograph, he immediately overwhelmed young Catherine, who was finally speaking with her hero face-to-face.
“When our eyes met, it was as if an arrow of light pierced my heart and I felt my ears and cheeks turning crimson. My heart pounded uncontrollably, and I sense that somewhere in time I had met this person – but who was he?” (Yeh 1.4. - numbers refer to chapter and page in her autobiography). She quickly realized that this dashing young officer was the man whose photograph had captivated her several years previously. Catherine was very pretty, and Hu fell in love with her at first sight.
During a storybook whirlwind courtship, Hu showed himself to be a gallant, courteous suitor, as well as a man with knowledge both broad and deep. Their conversations revealed that their interests converged at many important points and their hearts beat to the same rhythm. Suddenly, in June 1937, Hu asked the question Catherine had longed to hear, and she nodded her head in happy acceptance of his proposal.
“More often than not, things just don’t go our way. As I waited with a heart brimming with hope and excitement for our wedding day, a shot fired by a bridge in the North was to destroy ten peaceful beautiful years and compel me to study thousands of books” (2.1).
Japan’s brutal invasion of China began in July, 1937. Hu raced back to take command of his troops, which he eventually led in the three-month-long attempt to stem the enemy advance in Shanghai. Hu’s men fought bravely, but were no match for superior firepower. His troops bought valuable time for the Nationalists to make further preparations, however. This was the first of many key battles in which Hu performed brilliantly.
Catherine’s school, Guanghua University, was destroyed but they continued classes in a new location. She also volunteered in Shanghai’s nursing organizations, treating Hu’s wounded soldiers in dance halls and theaters turned into hospitals. She wrote him every two or three days, telling him how much she missed him, but never received a reply. He told her later that her letters brought him great comfort as he read them every night, however. Composing them also helped to calm her spirits. After a while, however, her letters could not reach him.
Like thousands of other students, Catherine followed her school when it moved to Chengdu to escape the dangers of war. On her way, she stopped in Hankou, where she was able to meet Hu again for the first time in six months. He took her to a small room in his residence, where a photograph of his father, who had died two months previously, was set on a table, with incense burning in front of it. Together, they bowed three times to the picture of the one who would have been her father-in-law, effectively announcing their engagement.
As the Japanese advanced on the Wuhan metropolis, Catherine took a boat for Chongqing (Chungking). She had bought a first-class ticket for a private room, but ended up having to share it with thirteen refugees. Huddled in close confinement for three days and nights in extreme discomfort, they bonded together in their distress. She stayed there for a month in the comfortable home of her older sister, but left for Chengdu when she received notice that her school had re-opened there. “My goal was not to escape hardship but to further my studies” (Yeh 2.5).
At Chengdu, she continued her studies in Political Science. She found that whenever her classmates spoke of the progress of the war, the conversation would inevitably turn to the topic of General Hu, the notable Commander-in-Chief of the Thirty-Fourth Army Corps, as well as the Dean of the Seventh School of the Central Military Academy. It seemed that his men and his students all loved him for his honesty, bravery, skill, and care for them. As the girls wondered aloud why he was still unmarried, Catherine joined in the discussion as if she didn’t know him. Because they could not get married yet, they did not reveal their private engagement to anyone.
Sojourn in the United States
She saw him only twice during that period, the second time right after she had graduated in 1939 with a B.A. in Political Science and Economy and had been accepted into the graduate program of Columbia University in New York. Flying to Hong Kong in July, she sailed from there to San Francisco. After fulfilling a longtime dream to see Yellowstone Park, she took the train to New York, arriving in September in time for the fall semester. She found New York to be “too big, disorderly, and noisy to be a good place to pursue one’s studies,” so she sought the advice of a family friend who worked at the Chinese embassy. The friend recommended that she come to Washington, D.C., and pursue her studies at George Washington University.
She loved the city but found it hard to rent a room because many did not want to welcome a person of color into their home. Finally, she found a room with an elderly couple who treated her kindly. The other boarders were very busy, with no time to make friends with each other. Likewise, her fellow students all seemed preoccupied with their classes. She couldn’t speak English fluently yet and had to spend all her energy preparing for classes and tests. To make matters worse, for more than two months she received no mail from home. She felt terribly lonely and homesick. Her experience in Washington has been repeated countless times by Chinese students in America since then.
When a pack of letters came, assuring her that people in China still loved her and missed her, she was comforted and her heart no longer felt its former emptiness. After she moved into the school dorm, she met two other girls from China, who became fast friends. Many Chinese military men had come to Washington to study, and she received invitations to events at the embassy or local Chinese organizations. Though she participated in the lively discussions about the war and even about General Hu, she never accepted the overtures of the young men who sought her out. No one knew she was engaged, but only thought that she was a diligent student.
After two years, she had completed a second Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. Catherine transferred to the University of Wisconsin in Madison in June, 1941. She sought a quieter environment in a place that had all the advantages of a state capital. Her dormitory room there was extremely pleasant, her instructors treated her well, and she excelled in her courses. She wrote both her master’s and doctor’s theses with the same professor, Dr. John Gaus. She received her master’s degree in political science in 1942 and doctor’s degree in political science in 1944.
The bombing of Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, changed her life for the worse. Mail became even less frequent and reliable, and news from Hu was sparse and spotty. She did learn some things about him from American newspapers, who sometimes referred to this outstanding general in the Northwest of China. She passed her oral dissertation defense with flying colors in the spring of 1944 and immediately made plans to return to China.
“My heart was like an arrow determined to return home.” As her airplane flew out of the clouds and approached the runway at Chongqing, she uttered a prayer: “God, you have been blessing your daughter and caring for her over the years; now I just ask you please to let this war end quickly; let my life burst forth from the clouds and into the clear skies; may I quickly arrive upon the shores of [marital] bliss” (2.13).
Back in War-Torn China
Catherine lived with her sister-in-law when she returned to Chongqing in June 1944. When she saw how pale and thin her infant niece Lily was, and learned that powdered milk was too expensive, she realized just how difficult things had become for people in China. The war had reached a critical point. Hu’s troops were desperately trying to stem the Japanese advance toward Shaanxi.
In mid-July, she learned that Hu had come to Chongqing to see her. They were soon locked in a long embrace. “What a long parting, what a deep yearning, what a hard wait, and a grueling, cruel hope! How could we restrain ourselves when finally we were together?” (3.3). Her hopes for an early wedding were dashed when he told her that the war would last at least another year and recommended that she begin her teaching career. She had received two offers. He approved of her choice to return to Chengdu and join the faculty there.
“Our meeting, though short, was important because it showed us that neither time nor space could alter our feelings towards each other. On the contrary, the longer we were parted, the more intensely we yearned for each other, and the deeper we understood each other” (3.3).
In Chengdu, she was warmly welcomed by her old Guanghua teachers Professor Xue and Professor Xie. The latter invited her home for dinner, where his wife and children received her as if she were family. Her living quarters were rustic and bad, and the food she ate at cafeterias was worse. “Sitting alone at my desk during my first night, my thoughts wandered to both the past and the future. I had left my home at the age of fifteen to embark on my studies; for the next ten years and more, I had traveled to the ends of the earth, returning home only when I was almost thirty: I was still single; my country was suffering; the trials of war seemed never to cease. The future appeared hazy and bleak, the thought of it chilling me to the bones until I found myself swallowing tears” (3.5).
She developed chronic diarrhea and lost twenty pounds. Finally, Mrs. Xie, after her seeing her gaunt appearance one day, insisted that Catherine take her meals in their home. Her health improved soon afterwards.
A shortage of faculty meant that she had to teach four courses, requiring her to spend most of her time preparing for lectures. “This period tested my physical stamina and my mental and psychological strength, while a wartime situation that appeared critical added to my worries.” Hu could not leave the battlefield, where he personally led his troops. One day, he sent her “a bouquet of fresh flowers and a pair of fountainpens, with a note tucked in the box that read, “May these express all my sentiments. Hoping that you are well” (3.6).
“I fully understood why he could not fulfill his promise, and was deeply touched by his affection and concern when he was so busy. But my inward melancholy could hardly be dispelled by a bouquet of flowers and a note. I really felt that Destiny placed many obstacles in my path, and although I knew that the taste of love was bittersweet, I somehow felt that a disproportionate amount of bitterness had been allotted to me” (3.6).
Hu did visit her one more time, however.
In early 1945, she received an invitation to teach at Jinling (which later became Nanjing) University. She was hesitant to leave her school, but accepted the post when she learned that most college professors taught at more than one institution to increase their meager salary. Soon she moved into much more comfortable quarters at the temporary campus of Nanking University.
When the Japanese surrendered in the summer of 1945, Catherine naturally thought that Hu would return to marry her. To her horror, she learned that the Communists were exploiting the situation to take Japanese weapons and attack Nationalist troops. In the midst of fierce conflict, Hu could not think of leaving his post. Though buffeted on all sides, he continued to write Catherine, “often composing poems, and sometimes even writing in English” (3.10).
When Nanjing University moved back to its home campus, she chose to relocate to the capital city also (Nanjing had been the capital of the Republic of China almost from the beginning). She moved into a house, where she was eventually joined by her mother, her two younger brothers and their families.
Meanwhile, Hu was leading his troops in a campaign to capture the Communist headquarters in Yan’an (Yenan). During a brief visit to her in Nanjing, he had said, “I promise you that I’ll bring a great victory as my gift to claim my bride!” Four months later, after he had achieved his goal, he sent word for her to “fly immediately to Xi’an.” She left the next morning, arriving at 2:00 PM. Then a car took her “to a place where oaks reached the skies and peonies were in full bloom. I saw that my general was already standing there waiting in a freshly-pressed uniform. The moment the car stopped he came forth to welcome me into the hall.”
“There were only eight guests at the wedding ceremony: six witnesses and the two people who had introduced us. As I stood at his side in front of a table covered with a red cloth, my heart was filled with love and happiness. When the kind old man pronounced us as husband and wife, I sighed softly: those long, hard days had passed, the dark night was over, and the first lights of daybreak were on the horizon” (3.12).
“A pity that good times don’t last” (4.1). After a blissful three-day honeymoon, her new husband stunned Catherine with the sudden announcement that he must return to the front and she must go back to Nanjing. Intense sorrow replaced the joy of their first few days together, but there was nothing she could do to alter the harsh realities of war for her as a general’s wife.
She rented a home for them, but tried to keep their marriage secret. “We didn’t want our personal news to shock our friends and relatives at this time” of fierce struggle (4.2). She did throw a small party for senior faculty and close friends, at which the “Wedding March” was played and their wedding photo circulated, but she asked the guests not to tell others. The news leaked out, however, and the Central Daily printed a story with an old photograph of her. “This column was widely circulated by the press, and some small newspapers even added bits of untrue savory details. I instantly became a media star” (4.2).
Catherine gave birth to their first baby, a son, in August, while Hu was recovering from a severe injury caused by falling from his horse because of extreme fatigue. She thought later that his heart problems may have started at this point.
“1948 was the most heartbreaking year for the Republic of China. During that year there were obstacles in the arenas of economics, domestic politics and foreign affairs, and the communists and their international allies seized the opportunity to expand their military might… On top of that, our strongest ally, the United States, didn’t understand the real situation, drawing its conclusions from those with leftist leanings… The U.S. maintained that communist organizations were mere peasant activities.”
Nationalist troops suffered reversals on almost every front.
As the military situation worsened, Hu became totally absorbed in war, leaving household matters entirely to Catherine, who felt neglected and misunderstood by her husband. Rising prices for household commodities, including food, outpaced both her salary and his, but he scolded her for complaining in her letters. Only when he saw her once in Xian did he realize what a toll the hardships at home were taking on her.
Meanwhile, Communist agitation in Nanjing made life there sorely distressing. One day, two men came from Hu and told her that she must leave the city immediately by airplane before it became impossible to escape. At first she didn’t believe that things were that bad, but others told her that government officers were sending their families away and most students had left the university, so she flew with her one-year-old son the next day to Shanghai, where she moved in with her mother, her younger sisters, and her older brother’s family, who lived in a spacious house in the French Quarter.
Less than three weeks letter, Hu sent a close friend, Tang Enbo, to Shanghai. He had entrusted the care of the family to him. They left for Taiwan on a ferry the next night with Tang and his family. In the thick of battle, however, Hu had completely forgotten to provide an allowance for his family. Realizing that they needed to talk about the future in person, he flew her to Xian in January, 1949 for a five-day visit. Returning to Shanghai, she then took her mother and sister-in-law on a ship to Taiwan. Hu had given her some money for expenses and got a friend to rent a house for them, but he forgot to send any money for their living expenses.
At this hour of extreme need, they were taken care of by her family, an aide of Hu’s who had come to Taiwan, and provincial Governor Cheng Chen (who later became Vice President). Chen and his wife were very kind to Catherine. They eventually found a new house for her and her son in Taipei.
Back in China, Hu’s position was becoming desperate. He had been ordered to fight one last, decisive battle to save Chengdu, but he knew it would be futile and only lead to the destruction of his army. Faced with the imminent loss, he gladly accepted two Bibles that arrived at two different times from two different friends. “One was the New Testament as translated by Dr. Wu Jingxong, which Madame Chiang had asked me to send to him. A soldier’s wife from the Northwest, a devout Christian sent the other one,” containing both Old and New Testaments.
“When Nan [Catherine’s name for Hu] received it, he happened to be feeling an inner emptiness, so he opened it at random and his eyes fell on the words, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want’” (Psalm 23:1). When he came to the close of the psalm, “the eyes that were usually dry filled with tears. He closed them and prayed silently, ‘God, thank you for your instructions. You are the God of my wife; you are also my God!’” (4.12).
Catherine’s biography does not tell us anything about her religious background or when she became a Christian, but it is clear from these words and from the ways in which she had responded to adversity up to this point that she had a strong faith in God.
In January of 1950 President Chiang paid a surprise visit on Catherine’s neighbor and asked her to bring over their little son to meet him. His kindly treatment of the boy touched her deeply and she wrote about it to Hu immediately. We should note that Hu was devotedly loyal to Chiang personally and to the Nationalist cause, as was Catherine. At the end of February, Chiang sent orders for Hu to fly immediately to Taiwan. With great reluctance, he obeyed, though he was loath to leave his men to their fate. He finally returned to Taiwan in April.
“As for the family, Nan’s return was what we most desired. Since our marriage, I had not spent even a month’s time with him and Guang [their son] had only seen his father twice. Our family reunion must have been arranged by God and I felt deeply grateful” (4.15). After a short vacation in Hualien they returned to Taipei, where they focused their “energies in study and research. Nan made a plan to reread many classical texts while studying current theories and practice of general warfare. He hoped to increase his conversational and written skills in English. I practiced writing and studied the Bible in English, inviting Pastor Dai’s wife join me every Wednesday afternoon” (5.4). “Pastor Dai’s wife” was the wife of James H. Taylor II, the grandson of J. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission. Catherine had begun attending a Bible study group with Madame Chiang in 1950. In April, 1952, she was baptized. After the ceremony, the first one to come and shake her hand was the President. She attended that prayer group and Bible study faithfully for thirty years.
Naturally, she longed for her husband’s conversion, writing to her brother that “in this dark world, only Jesus’s salvation can offer mankind hope” (Hu 5). Overhearing the ladies in their home as they memorized Scripture one day, Hu asked, “Mrs. Dai, is it too late for someone like me to start reading the Bible?” The missionary told him, ‘Of course not! God would never reject someone who wants to seek after the truth.” From then on, he joined their weekly Bible study whenever he was in Taipei (5.4).
Catherine gave birth to another son, De, in March 1951. For a while, the family enjoyed “harmonious and peaceful times” at home, until he had to leave for the Tachen Islands to command Nationalist guerilla soldiers there. When he returned to Taipei, their third child, and a daughter (Meimei) was seven months old. Hu, who “didn’t have a mother and never enjoyed the warmth of a family,” delighted to spend time playing with his children and teaching them. Catherine had to control her tongue to keep from scolding him when he gave the little ones inedible treats he had bought without tasting them. “I would swallow my words because I felt this wasn’t easy for him and I shouldn’t spoil his fun” (5.8). For two years, they also “enjoyed time together as a couple,” going on outings to scenic spots as when they were courting. Their fourth child, also a daughter, was born in 1954. They called her “Weiming,” meaning “light appearing.” Her name symbolized the glory of our country’s future” (5.10).
Hu left Taipei in September, 1955, to take charge of the development and defense of Penghu. He remained without returning home until 1959. As usual, he poured himself completely in the work, which resulted in an amazing transformation of the island. Catherine wrote, “And what about himself? In his busyness, he once again forgot his family and children” (5. 11).
Rumors circulated in early 1959 that President Chiang was about to appoint Hu to high government posts. He consistently downplayed these, even to his wife. “What? You too would like me to assume a high post? I don’t think that’s necessary.” Catherine commented with these telling words: “He remembered only the country’s destiny and the people’s future, not his own. Jesus said, ‘The Son of Man came to serve and not be served.’ Nan followed this principle” (5.14).
After returning to Taiwan from Penghu, Hu first received further training at the Institute of National Defense and then served as the Strategic Advisor to President Chiang. Part of the training included learning maxims for personal improvement. A key document came from President Chiang and included wise advice, much of it echoing principles found in the New Testament, though all, of course, was applied to the cause of national regeneration and recovery of the mainland.
During this happy period of study and reflection, Hu returned home after class every day. A devoted father, he spent the evenings teaching his children and playing with them. He did not indulge them, however, but disciplined them severely when he thought that they had misbehaved. Once, when Catherine thought that he had been too harsh with one of their girls, who had gone outside to play in the street with other children since their house was too small, she felt it was unfair, but “I did not say a word. I just warned the children not to run outside because it was unsafe” (6.3).
On the other hand, she greatly admired his habit of always being neat and well-groomed in front of the children, and especially his self-control. “He was also careful with his speech and never had outbursts of anger or used coarse language… Nan also tried his best to keep his word. He always followed through with promises so in their hearts his words carried tremendous weight” (6.3). He sometimes went to great lengths to fulfill a commitment he had made to them. When little Ming underwent eye surgery, Hu visited her in her room every night, brining her snacks and telling her stories. Once, when urgent business caused him to be late, Ming insisted on staying up, believing he would surely come. When he finally arrived at 10 PM, she said, “Quite certainly, Dad and I are connected heart to heart” (6.4).
Hu found that his English was not good enough to understand all the texts or the foreign lecturers so, though he was over sixty, he spent a year using every possible method to improve his facility in this difficult language. The one Catherine liked most was his new habit of taking her to see English movies, often several times a week. She was the envy of her married friends, who did not know Hu’s motive. After a while, he would participate in the weekly Bible study in English.
During this period, he also continued to investigate Christianity, not only attending Mrs. Taylor’s Bible study, but also reading Christian books that friends had given him, including a daily devotional book sent regularly by Madame Chiang. He had his limits, however: “Nan stayed at the stage of investigation and self-discovery and did not commit himself entirely. The main obstacle involved going to church.” Despite her repeated invitations, he would not accompany her to the services at Shihlin Church, the home church of President Chiang and his family.
Finally, on Christmas Eve 1960, Hu consented to accompany his wife and children at the Christmas Eve service, where President and Madame Chiang would give special packages of gifts to the children. All her Christian friends were delighted to see him, of course. Shortly after that, Hu asked Catherine to request that Mary Chen come to their home and teach the Bible to them. Mary Chen was the sister of Yu Guang Chen, former president of Nanjing University. She had resigned her position on the faculty and gone to the United States to study theology. Returning to Taiwan, she became a popular Bible teacher.
“From that time on, ever other Monday Mary Chen came to our home and studied the bible with Nan… Nan’s pursuit of knowledge was admirable, but his pursuit of the truth was astonishing… Mary said that she had never met such a fervent, earnest seeking heart” (6.8). Within six months he had familiarized himself with the Bible’s contents. “Not only did he believe in his heart, he would candidly discuss Bible principles with friends and advise them to study them as well” (6.8). After a while Mary, Catherine, and others “felt sure that he had secured salvation” (6.8).
Hu’s health gradually deteriorated, becoming much worse in late 1961. As he lay in critical condition, President Chiang paid his old general a visit, expressing affection for him and urging his wife and doctors to give him the best care. Catherine writes:
“Poor Nan. He had lost his mother as a child and he had lived a hard, solitary life. It was only after his entrance to the Whampoa Military academy that his talents were gradually realized under the mentorship and guidance of the President. For the past four decades this old gentleman had been not only his military commander and teacher, but also his respected elder and the object upon whom Nan placed all his devoted affections. When Nan engaged in hundreds of life or death battles, he always adopted the Generalissimo’s will as his will, and the Generalissimo’s vision as his vision. Not once did he think of selfish gain or personal interest… This visit from the President encouraged Nan immensely” (7.9).
Hu died in February 1962. After his death, Catherine’s friends offered to send her to the United States with her children, but she chose to remain in Taiwan to serve her country as an educator. At first, she supported herself and her family partly through writing, publishing essays under a pseudonym, Yeh Ping. Eventually, several collections of these articles appeared in print.
Catherine co-founded the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan in 1961. From 1962 she taught Home Economics. Over the years, she served as Professor, Director, Dean, Dean of Students (of the Department of Home Economics and Graduate School) and Vice-President.
Catherine became president of the Provincial Taipei Normal College, which later became the National Taipei University of Education in 1967. In 1969 she spent time at the University of Hawaii studying special education, which had become her specialty and passion. Upon her return to Taiwan in 1970, she established a children’s special education training course at her university. In 1974 she attended an international conference on special education in Portugal. She also published a textbook on special education.
Unlike many professors, she never scolded her students. Instead, she used persuasion and encouragement to motivate them to be diligent. She often invited them to her house for home-cooked meals. The students responded by calling her Yeh Mama (Mama Yeh) or Yeh Aiyi (Auntie Yeh) rather than by her formal titles of professor or president. When she was the Dean of Graduate Students at Chinese Culture University, the students even called her “Hu Mama” (Mother Hu). She was described as patient, kind and gentle. Occasionally, she would provide financial assistance for students from poor families.
Even when she was dying of cancer, instead of obeying her doctors’ orders to rest, she conducted oral examinations and gave feedback on the theses of her graduate students.
In 2014, a weeklong conference celebrating the 100th anniversary of her birth was held by the National Taipei University of Education. At that time, “her resilience, sense of optimism and her spirit of generosity towards all became evident in the outpourings of affection from her family, friends, and associates” (Hu 3).
At the close of the meeting, a concert was given for Catherine by a famous female vocalist. It seems that as a student, this singer had been a member of an elite choir sponsored by the KMT. University policy forbade scholarship students from participating in any extra-curricular activities, so her stipend was in danger of being cut off. Since the girl was from a poor rural family, she would have been forced to drop out of school, bringing great hardship and shame to her parents. When classmates told Catherine about the young woman’s plight, she replied that a little thing like this shouldn’t be allowed to impose a financial burden on a worthy person. As a result of that remark, the scholarship continued and the girl stayed in school. At the concert, she said that Catherine’s willingness to bend the rules for her had influenced the rest of her life and her entire career as singer.
The volume of essays published as a Festschrift by colleagues and those who knew her contained many references to Catherine’s strong faith in Christ.
Catherine retired from the National Taipei University of Education in 1980 and returned to the Culture University as Dean of the Department of Home Economics and Dean of Graduate Students.
Catherine was not just the wife of one of Chiang Kai-shek’s most trusted generals, but a highly educated political scientist. As she had been from her university days, she remained very interested in politics and the affairs of state. Her knowledge, insight, and connections to ranking members of the government led to her election to the Nationalist Party Central Committee in 1969 and again in 1976 and 1981.
Catherine Yeh’s autobiography, written in a style that is elegant and poetic even in English translation, shows her to be a woman of superior intelligence, unusual diligence, courage in the face of adversity, loyalty to her family, dedication to her students, and love for her country. Though she frankly describes her repeated disappointments, she records also how she forced herself to be brave and to bear up under adversity.
Her autobiography focuses on Catherine’s relationship with Hu, whose career and character she describes in great detail. Clearly, she identified with the Nationalist cause in the wars against Japan and the Communists.
Catherine “did not grow up in a Christian family; her conversion to the Christian faith was a gradual process that involved studying the Scriptures and the lives of Christians around her.” The Vice President of Guanghua University, Rong Qi Chao, “was a devout Christian whom she admired as a scholar, teacher, and patriot” (Hu 4). When she was alone and lonely in Washington, she was welcomed into an American Christian family’s home for Christmas. She remembered with fondness the singing, the food, and the prayer on that day.
Madame Chiang’s weekly prayer meeting, as well as the Bible study in her home, gradually brought her to faith in Christ, as we have seen. From a story she wrote about a friend, we see that she believed in a God who not only transforms lives but “also a God who listened to prayer. Indeed, in her personal life, prayer provided…both strength and solace” (6). Her son Wei-Shan remembers how, when he suffered from a kidney stone, she knelt by his bed and interceded for him with tears. God evidently heard her, for he was healed.
After her husband’s sudden death, she was plunged into a period of grief. During that time, the hymn ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus” became her favorite, and remained so in the long lonely years when she had to bring up her children wile providing for them as well. She taught them to appreciate the words of the Bible, including God’s promises to take care of his people’s material needs. The essays she wrote display her Christian faith in elegant language with practical application to daily life.
At some point, she joined the Taipei Bread of Life Church (Ling Liang Tang). In1969 she was made a deacon.
Her generous hospitality to foreign students and others flowed from her profound trust in God to supply all that she and her family needed. Catherine’s love for God manifested itself in her self-denying care for her children and her students.
We should not be surprised, therefore, to learn that four thousand people, including dozens of dignitaries, attended her funeral in August, 1981. Throughout her life, Catherine Hsia-Ti Yeh displayed the same courage, devotion, and self-denying service to others that her beloved General Hu had shown on the battlefield. They were a rare couple, worthy of each other and of the admiration in which multitudes held them, in life and in death.
Yeh, Catherine Hsia-Ti. Heaven and Earth (Tian Di You You), unpublished English translation by Esther T. Hu, Ph.D., 1965. The Chinese version was reprinted six times in 1965 and was reissued in 1989 and again in 2006.
Hu, Esther T. “Reflections on Grandmother Yeh Hsia-Ti’s Life of Faith.” In President Hsia-Ti Yeh’s Centenary Festschrift [Jiao Ze Liu Fang: Yeh Xiao Zhang Hsia-Ti Bo Shi Bai Sui Dan Chen Ji Nian Wen Ji]. (Chinese Culture University and the National Taipei University of Education, 2014), pp. 194-209.
Information gathered from the Internet.