The Letter My GongGong Wants Me to Pass on to my Children

Thanks to geographic and language barriers, and to be frank, my total lack of effort – I know absolutely nothing about my family’s history. However, after visiting my Grandpa on a recent trip to China, he left me with this letter he wrote to his old high school to celebrate the school’s 65th anniversary, as a message to young people in his hometown. When I left, he told me that even if I tell my children nothing else about him, to at least share this letter with them. 

I was bluntly confronted by the role that he played within world history. I learned that he was raised by a single mother after the Japanese invasion of his hometown and was part of the first generation of homegrown and educated Chinese engineers and academics. His tumultuous childhood was a marker of a time of huge change both in China and the world, but he always made a point of shaping both his, and his country’s future on his own terms. Whether big or small, he played a role in World War II and the Cultural Revolution — and I have the balls to complain about the effort it takes to cook and do my homework. 

History has its eyes on you and only time will tell whether it erases us, remembers us, forgives us, or makes a lesson out of us. 


My Grandpa and Grandma, circa. 1970


Two years ago, I received an invitation from my old high school to write a summary of my professional accomplishments as part of the Schools’s 65th anniversary. I was asked to speak about my accomplishments and accolades. Upon returning to my hometown and seeing friends and family, I shared this report with everyone for three purposes:

  1. To report what I experienced in 1953 after being one of the first people to explore the world outside of this town. 
  2. To thank my entire family, from a young age until now, I have always received my family’s support regardless of economic and financial difficulties. 
  3. I am not satisfied with the work I have done, but time has passed and I now pass on the torch to the youth in my hometown and around the world. Know that life is difficult, and will always be difficult. There will be injustice, but remember to keep fighting. To not work for prestige or glory, but value the meaning behind what you’re doing – be resilient and determined to achieve greatness on your own terms. 

I was a part of the first generation of homegrown and educated academics of the People’s Republic of China, which is why I was able to participate in such big projects and help lay the foundation for the country to become the Global Superpower that it is today. I saw it as my duty to rebuild the country after 20 years of instability and 4 years of civil war. 

I was born in 1934. In 1953, during the end of the Korean war, I graduated from JiangSu Danyan Highschool and was amongst the first to be accepted to TianJin University for Mechanical Engineering. After graduation, I stayed to teach and eventually joined the Chinese Communist Party. From 1981 to 1982 I was one of the first Chinese academics to research abroad and was sent to Wuppertal University in Germany and the Freiburg Research Institute in Photoelastic Mechanics.

In 1985, I became Tianjin University’s first professor with a PhD and became the Vice-President of the Chinese Mechanics Research Institution. This was the first time that China had the ability to raise and educate its academics on home soil. I was also Chairman Mao’s technical consultant and was an engineer on Chairman Mao’s memorial hall and China’s first oil plant. 

Under my guidance, I guided 10 people through their PhD’s and Masters theses, including my son in law. They now work in education in the States, Canada, the UK, Singapore, and China. They are all accomplished in their careers. In fact, the last one to graduate is already a professor at Tianjin University and has published over 50 research papers.

– Song JinLiang, born June, 1934



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