He’s born Zhou Junliang (谱名) 骏良. Weizeng’s his assumed name taken at 20. The oldest son of Minghe 明和 (介然; 1900-?). [Minghe’s Xuehui 学辉 (实之; 1882-1971)’s second son]. His wife Sun Lianfang 孙琏方 was 曾孙女 great great granddaughter of Sun Jianai 孙家鼐; they have 5 children: 4 boys and one girl.
A businessman prior he retired as a school teacher, now the Zhou’s de facto patriarch who zealously defends the truth and writes prolifically on the Zhous. He’s my mother’s second cousin, and is particularly close with us than other Zhou branches because Popo grew up in the same house with his father. Jiujiu/Mom/Xiao Yi calls his Dad as 干爸, ganba, nominal (kinship) dad, and addressed him as Older Cousin 大表哥.
There are assortments of people who write about Zhous, some published books and others articles, where gaffes occurred often out of shoddy work. He’s adamant about it. When I started in this project, through Jiujiu’s introduction we began to correspond. Given his seniority in the family and his weakening health (also the fact that the Zhous had bailed Popo out financially few times in the past), I was flattered by his attention.
On my first visit to him in 2003, as the cab sped by the Astor House, I tried to imagine what Uncle Weizeng would look like; once the prince of the city, smart and very wealthy.
He has been living at his red brick house for more than half a century, a modern German style architect in the former German concession. The exterior was taken care by the city government, for beautification propose in the prominent corner in a prime location. But the interior was dilapidated and occupants were no longer family members. They were strangers or tormentors during the Cultural Revolution. The grand entrance hall once graced by the captains of the industry is filled with various tenants’ junks, and an illegal room was carved out underneath of the magnificent dark wood staircases. The shared bathroom and kitchen were just simply too rotten to describe in words. It upsets me to no end.
He is still handsome and carries his bulky frame well, but bit of frail due to his old age. He is allotted a single room since the 60s. As he was vividly recounting the history, I couldn’t help but taking an inventory of his home. The room is (20 sq m) about 400 square feet, with window on two sides. A twin bed, a pile of suitcases stacked up high, a sofa, a refrigerator (he actually chilly some cold water for me, because Chinese still don’t like to drink or eat cold, even in a 90 degree sweltering summer.), an enamel basin, two thermoses, a folding table, few chairs, a block thing against the wall that was covered by a sheet. For a former successful industrial magnet, his living situation is a pit. But from the reality, his home is considered rather roomy. Factor in the wealth redistribution incidents that bound to happen in history, he lives graciously in peace.
Come to think about it, Mao’s government had done far better than Lenin’s, they didn’t confiscate the private business out right. Amid at return the capitals, they paid handsome 15% (or 25%?) small dividends for 10 years. It had stopped in 1966 but resumed after the Culture Revolution for the remaining couple of years, ended in the 70’s. A giant desk is the only adequate furniture in the room. A rosewood beauty with
mother of pearl inlaid, perhaps? zitan, purple sandalwood? But when I looked closer, it was not. Apparently there were not any artifacts left from his former privileged life. The desk was pilled high with books and manuscripts. He is writing memoirs, and corrections on the careless writers who wrote about the Zhous. China is known for its massive cheap products. Frankly its literary shares the same fate. A son at the beginning of the book would wound up as a nephew at the end. The imprudence to the fact or incompetence in classic Chinese had irate some family members that they took to publish the amendments in magazines and books. He is currently finishing up a biography on his aunt, the rebellious CC Chow.
His oldest son who got laid off came to join us for lunch. He’s polite at first, then became increasingly intolerable with our conversation. Uncle Weizeng is a wealth of resources, not just for the Zhous, but in general. I hung on his every words. When the son finally got an opening, he grabbed it firmly and began asking what do I for a living and why would I be so interested in the family history.
“Do you do it for fun or profit?”
Uncle Weizeng’s house on Fujian Lu in TJ in the former German concession.
After all those years, no one had questioned me in such naked term. I suppose this is not at all a money making venture that would yield financial returns, nor a fun journey – flipping burgers would sure give you an guaranteed instant gratification monetarily and a set of tennis or laps at the pool is more stimulating …But it is rewarding and exciting to me in so many ways.
Weizeng works long hours when he could, and published the book on CC Chow in 2004 (he started in 1997, first draft was done in 1999), as if he’s racing with time.
He lived in Beijing for a long time. His house on Wuyiku 武衣库 west to 政协礼堂 CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Committee) assembly hall or auditorium, in Xisi was a san jin 三进 siheyuan. He sold it after 1949 and moved back to Tianjin. The grand house in Beijing was then occupied by three generals: Xiao Ke, Wang Zhen 王震 and Chen Manyuan 陈曼远.
1天津文史, Tianjin, 2004; 周慰曾 专辑