Li Hanhun (7 October 1895-30 June 1987) was a Chinese (Kuomintang) general of the Republican era. His name in traditional Chinese is 李漢魂, simplified Chinese李汉魂, his courtesy name Bohao (伯豪), and his assumed name Nanhua (南華). These names are variously used in writings by him, and to or on him.
At age 17 Li joined the Revolutionary Alliance, the Society chiefly instrumental in overthrowing the Manchu Dynasty and establishment of a republican government in China in 1911. He became a career military officer on graduating from the Boading Military Academy in the Academy’s sixth graduating class in 1919. He was a division commander in the famous Fourth Army that helped
eliminate the power of warlords and unify the nation in the late 1920’s.
General Li played significant roles in the defense of China throughout the Sino-Japanese War. As that War was brewing in 1936 and factions within the Kuomingtang were in power struggles verging on civil war, Li gave up his commission with one faction leader, while issuing a universal call-out to all Chinese forces to unite under the leadership of Chiang Kai Shek in resistance
against Japan. In 1938, as commander of the 64th Army, he led the battle of Luowangzhai, which halted the Japanese effort under the notorious general Kenji Doihara to gain control of China’s major railroads; Doihara barely escaped capture, abandoning his sword and medals.
From 1939 to 1945, General Li served as Governor of war-torn and partially occupied Guangdong Province, during which he devoted himself to good governance and war relief efforts. As part of the latter efforts, he collaborated with and supported his wife Wu Chu Fang (吴菊芳) in a range of enterprises to mitigate the problems of war-displaced refugees.
In 1947 after the War had ended, Li was granted permission for two years of medical leave to the United States, and a study tour to the Americas and Europe to observe post war reconstruction accompanied by his wife Wu Chu Fang. Li returned to China in 1947, participated in the national election in which he was elected to the National Assembly, and also served as Minister of Interior
during the brief acting-presidency of Li Zongren. When the Communists took over the mainland at the end of that year, General Li Hanhun emigrated to the United States to rejoin his family there.
Though his career in public life in China had mainly been in military service and War zone governance, General Li Hanhun was self-described as a reluctant warrior in his own writings and in his life-long devotion to Buddhism and Chinese classical learning. He was the principal facilitator in the 1934 restoration, under the abbot Xuyun, of the sixth century Nanhua Temple in
Shaoguang, Guangdong, the largest Buddhist temple in Southwest China. Li’s calligraphy on pillars and doorways of that Temple are still displayed today. At times referred to by his associates and contemporaries as (Confucian) scholar-general (儒將), General Li’s selected writings of essays, poetry, history, diaries and autobiography have now all been published.
In 1968, General Li presented to Dr. Grayson Kirk, president of Columbia University, a collection of 6,000 rare books, “considered one of the most comprehensive collections on Chinese civilization and culture in existence outside of China today” according to the University’s press release. General Li’s books covered “all aspects of Chinese civilization - Confucian classics, history,
philosophy, the fine arts, military science and belles-letters”.
From his return to the States in 1949 onward, General Li and his family lived in the New York City area for the remainder of his life. Together with his wife Wu Chu Fang, they operated a series of three Chinese restaurants, the one in White Plains, the China Garden, being particularly successful and famous in its time. General Li died in New York in 1987 and was buried in the
Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. The family history, against a backdrop of world events, is recounted in the book by his daughter Virginia Cheng Li: From One Root Many Flowers: A Century of Family Life in China and America.
Chu Fang Wu:
Chu Fang Wu (1911-1999) was born into a feudal family at the time of China's transition from Empire to Republic. Being the only child of a father who had little interest in a daughter and a mother who died during her infancy, her life story was one of relentless striving for a place in society for herself and for those she was in a position to help,
especially children and women. As a teenager, she defied the wishes of her father and insisted on getting an education. When Republic of China General Han Hun Li, a commander of the famed Fourth Army, was stationed in Ichang, Hubei where she resided in 1929, he proposed to her, asking her what she would wish as his wife; “obtaining a college education” was her reply. She recorded
her life with him in war-time China, and afterwards in America, in a diary from 1939 to 1987.
As a young army officer's wife, she organized literacy and home economics classes for other officers' wives while her husband was chief civil-military administrator in Shaoguan, Guangdong. With a third child on the way, she entered the Sun Yatsen University College of Agriculture in Guangzhou (Canton) with the inaugural group of eight female students,
receiving her bachelor's degree in 1941.
The Sino-Japanese War exploded in 1937. With her husband recalled to active duty, Chu Fang Wu began organizing the officers' wives to raise funds in Hong Kong for medical supplies and winter wear for the soldiers in the frontline. (His wife's relief activities at the front where Li was fighting was noted in Frieda Utley's book China at War.)
As the wife of the Governor of Guangdong (1939-1945), she led the rescue operation of over 20,000 refugee children from occupied territories and war zones. Seven Children's Homes and Schools were established in succession to accommodate the refugee children, ages 6-18, each nurturing and educating over 1,000 children at any given time. Also founded were a
normal school, vocational high schools, and the Lixin High School for gifted students. Factories were established to accommodate those older than 18 years. The children called her Mother, even decades later when many of them have become professors, journalists, engineers, teachers, military officers, in China, Taiwan, and abroad.
She also founded the Women's Brigade, which accommodated over 1,000 young women who lost their soldier husbands in service of their country. The women learned literacy, farming, and cottage industry skills, and received military training towards civil defense.
Chu-Fang Wu was also an elected member of the first National Assembly of the Republic of China.
After the Communist takeover of China in 1949, General Li and Mrs. Li settled in New York City. Having scarce financial resources to support the four children they brought with them and then a fifth born in America, she resolved to take up one of the few career options open at that time to Chinese immigrants with limited English, that of a restaurateur. She
first learned the mechanics of operating a restaurant in a “chop suey house” type of place, the Good Will, in NYC's Washington Heights, which she went into with several partners experienced in the business. Then in 1955 she opened her own restaurant in White Plains, NY, China Garden, by which she eventually broke new ground in Chinese cuisine in America. By means of innovative
menus and presentations, and by working personally to educate customers to the appreciation of gourmet Chinese dining, she brought this restaurant to great heights of recognition in the New York City area.