Rocky Passes, Icy Fords

A Chinese woman’s story

of love, war and resistance

in China (1916-1945)


By Hsiao Li Lindsay


Summary of my story (1916-1945)

Although I was born (1916) into a rich landlord family in northern China, my father was a rebel. Without him, I would not have been educated nor ever permitted to marry a “foreign devil”. In 1912 in support of Sun Yat Sen’s Republican Movement, my father cut off his queue and walked away from the family estate. People thought him mad when he joined the army of a regional warlord. They believed the Qing Dynasty would be restored and my father would be executed. My father did well in his military post, but later resigned his commission saying he could not stomach fighting and killing. His anti-war attitude was almost incomprehensible in China at that time.


My father insisted on the best education for all his children, female as well as male, which was also unconventional. He sent me to study at the best girls school in Taiyuan, the provincial capital of Shansi Province. I had to flee to Beijing to escape arrest after my anti-Japanese activities at my school branded me as a troublemaker and a communist.


After completing high school, I was admitted to Yenching University in Beijing where Michael Lindsay, the future Lord Lindsay of Birker, was one of my teachers. Yenching University was founded by the American missionary and educator Dr Leighton Stuart, (later US ambassador to China). I learned that Michael was using his status as a foreign teacher at Yenching to secretly obtain supplies for the Communist army. He considered the Communists to be the only effective fighting force against the Japanese


I spent long hours helping Michael in this dangerous, clandestine anti- Japanese work. While working together so closely and in secret, I fell in love with Michael. We were married in June, 1941, with my family’s approval. A few short months later upon hearing on a short wave radio about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, we grabbed a few belongings and fled the Yenching University campus. As we escaped through one gate, the Japanese secret police came through another gate to arrest us.


Michael and I spent the next two years constantly on the move in rural China with the Chinese Communist guerrilla army. Local peasants were shocked to see a Chinese woman married to a foreigner. Because Michael was tall and obviously not Chinese, local people had to take extra precautions to hide us from the Japanese. On several occasions we narrowly avoided capture. Some of our escapes were just good luck.


While we were still moving around behind Japanese lines, I became pregnant. I was sent to the regional hospital for the birth. However, a Japanese offensive forced all of the hospital staff to flee. Instead I delivered baby Erica in a hut high in the mountains, with no running water or electricity.


After two years in the guerrilla region, we made a hazardous 500 mile, zigzag journey on foot to the Communist headquarters at Yenan in northwest China. This journey involved crossing Japanese blockades and would not have been possible without the courage of the local peasants. They risked torture or death from the Japanese if they were caught helping us.


In Yenan I taught English and looked after my two young children. Michael worked in the Radio Department and later in the New China News Agency. Our work brought us into daily contact with many of the most senior leadership of the Chinese Communist party.


Wartime Yenan was an unusual place. In some ways life was comparatively normal, with social events and the usual gossip concerning the private lives of senior party members. In other ways it was very different. I saw the suffering of hospital patients and the frustration of doctors because the Kuomintang effectively blocked the supply of lifesaving medicines. Mao Zedong and other Communist leaders told us that they wanted better relations with the Americans, but the Americans never responded to these overtures.


After the defeat of the Japanese, leaders of the Communist Party wanted us to stay in China. We decided that we would be more useful explaining what was happening in China to Western audiences. Furthermore, it had been twelve years since Michael had seen his family in England. They had never met me or our two young children. Mao Zedong and his wife gave us a private farewell dinner upon our departure from Yenan at the end of 1945.



Chapter Headings


Part One Early Years in Rural China 1916-1934


Chap 1. Growing up as family fortunes decline


Chap 2. High school leadership and anti Japanese activity


Chap 3. Fleeing to Beijing to escape arrest by the Japanese


Part Two Beijing: Education, Marriage and Escape 1935-1941


Chap 4. School life in Japanese-occupied Beijing.


Chap 5. Falling in love with a foreigner


Chap 6. Covert activities: Helping the Chinese guerrillas


Chap 7. Our escape from the Japanese


Part Three: Our Life in the Guerrilla Areas 1942-1943


Chap 8. Dodging the Japanese in the Beijing Hills


Chap 9. Semblance of stability: daily life in a guerrilla area


Chap 10. Giving birth in a remote mountain village.


Chap 11. Harvesting pumpkins during a Japanese offensive


Chap 12. Luck and a tragic misunderstanding


Chap 13. Staying one step ahead of the Japanese


Chap 14. Offensive over, back to work


Chap 15. A long trek to Yenan


Chap 16. Outsmarting the Japanese occupation Army


Part Four: Yenan: Living at the Communist Headquarters 1944-1945


Chap 17. Our own cave in Yenan


Chap 18. Frustrations at the radio department


Chap 19. Social life in Yenan


Chap 20. The Americans arrive


Chap 21. A plague tragedy


Chap 22. What's wrong with Yenan? A critique of excessive bureaucracy


Chap 23. Mao Zedong gives us a farewell dinner


Afterword: My life after leaving China in 1945


Michael and I returned to England in November 1945. In 1951 we emigrated to Australia where Michael took up a position at the Australian National University. In 1959 Michael was appointed the Chairman of the Far Eastern program at American University and we moved to Washington DC. We remained in Washington DC after Michael's retirement in 1975.


In my 49 years of living abroad, I never stopped thinking about China and returning there to live. We visited China in 1949 and 1954. Our visas for a planned visit in 1958 were cancelled after some critical remarks by Michael about the Communist leadership. It was not until the late 1970's that we were able to return to China. We made a number of extensive visits and renewed old friendships from our Yenan days. Some of our friends from the Yenan days now held very senior positions in the Chinese government.


Six weeks after Michael's death in 1994, I returned to Beijing. I now live in an apartment in Beijing given to us by the Chinese government in gratitude for our work during the war against the Japanese occupation.