Thru Revolutions and World War: HONG Hock How (1900 - 1979) & CHU Tui Goon (1909 - 2005)

My grandfather HONG Hock How 曾學厚 was born on 23rd day of the 6th month of the 26th Year of the Emperor Guang Xu (July 19, 1900),  in the waning days of the Qing Dynasty in Dong An Village, Taishan County, Guangdong Province 廣東省台山縣東安村. He spent his boyhood years in the village, entering school at age 7 where he spent his first four years memorizing books and learning how to write.

The Chinese Revolution of 1911

In 1911, the Chinese Revolution overthrew the Qing Dynasty, and the Republic of China was established on January 1, 1912. The revolution signaled the end of 2,000 years of dynastic rule in China and the start of China's early republican period. The revolution accelerated the modernization of daily life in China, and for Hock How, it meant his school was re-organized and divided into different classes. He continued to study there until he was 15 years old.

Hock How, 1915

In February 1913, Hock How’s father, Hong Chew Yook, returned to their village from America. At Hock How's grandmother's insistence, he married NG Chau Hai, “a very pretty girl", in April 1915. Hock How returned to America with his father on October 27, 1915. He was detained on Angel Island while his citizenship status was investigated. After the initial interrogation, Hock How's application was reject, and he faced deportation. Chew Yook hired a lawyer who petitioned the Labor Department in Washington DC. Eventually, his petition was granted, and on February 23, 1916, Hock How was admitted to the U.S. as the son of a native-born citizen.

Once in Palo Alto, Hock How spent a month teaching himself to read English with the help of friends and was eventually placed in 4th grade at the Lytton Primary School. In 1918, his wife, NG Chau Hai, had a heart attack and died while traveling to her younger brother’s wedding. According to Hock How “that news knocked me off my feet, but thereafter I determined to put all my energy into study.” He continued his studies at Palo Alto Union High School and went on to qualify for admissions to Stanford University’s School of Engineering.

From the time he started Primary School, Hock How worked for families as a house boy, doing odd jobs in the house including cooking and cleaning. This work earned him “a room in the back barn, breakfast, and evening meal, and $20 per month.” He first worked for Mr. Nagle, then Professor Fish, and finally Mrs. J. F. Newsom at 1129 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, eventually earning $40 a month.

Palo Alto Union High School, Chemistry Class, 1921
Hock How Row 2 Far Rt, Henry Cheu Row 3 Far Lf
Courtesy of Brian Cheu

Palo Alto High School Newspaper Clipping, 1922
Courtesy of Brian Cheu

Hock How, 1924

In 1924, he took a camping trip through the Northwestern U.S. and Canada. Then in January 1926, “having no mind to study,” Hock How returned to China. Traveling from Shanghai to Canton, Hock How barely missed taking a steamer that was robbed en route. He unsuccessfully courted two girls in Canton, then returned to the village where he married my grandmother CHU Tui Goon 趙翠娟 on May 1, 1926, when he was 26 years old and she 18. Tui Goon's family was from the nearby market town of Doushan 斗山鎮. They stayed together in the village for two years and had their first son, Larry, in 1928.

That same year, Hock How returned to school the Palo Alto.

The Great Depression and The Chinese Civil War (1929 - 1937)

At Stanford, where he was known as John Hock How, he to continue his studies, completing his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1930 and a graduate Degree of Engineer from the Electrical Engineering department in 1932. Hock How was listed in the 1930 US Census as living at the Chinese Student’s Club House at 528 Salvatierra Street, Stanford, CA, where he was the club president.

Due to his school workload, Hock How did not work during his two years of post-graduate studies. Even with his savings and help from his father he could not cover the $320 per quarter tuition. Hock How signed a $2,000 promissory note with Stanford University.

Stanford Chinese Students' Club, June 1924, Club President, Hock How, back row on left
Back Row: J. H. How, Y. F. Tsi, H. D. Cheu, C. S. Huang,
T. H. Tsui, C. C. Wu, H. C. Wong
Third Row: P. T. Sah, L. H. Bain, S. P. Tsao, S. L. Tan, Y. T. Hao,
T. H. Cheng, K. C. Shen, S. K. Wang
Second Row: W. K. Taam, E. Shen, R. C. Fang, N. Y. Yue, C. H. Chi,
K. C. Yang, C. K. Teng, L. K. Yang
Front Row: F Y. Chuck, E. C. Ping, Y. D. Hahn, D. K. Chang, T. K. Chuan
Absent: K. L. Chi, H. P. Huang

Two years into the Great Depression, there were few job opportunities for Chinese, let alone college-educated ones, in America. So, Hock How returned to Canton where he slowly worked his way up from teaching mathematics at Pui Ying Middle School to being a full Professor of Electrical Engineering at National Sun Yat Sen University. Hock How’s second son, Jack, was born in 1933.

The family moved to Canton in early 1934 when Larry was five and Jack was six months old. During what Tui Goon called the "armed revolution of Chin Tai Han," the family went to Hong Kong for several months. (I have not found any other references to this revolution, but the timing coincides with the Nationalists' fifth encirclement campaign against the Communists' Jiangxi Soviet and the CCP's retreat through Guangdong in what would eventually become the Long March.) After returning to Canton, Paul and Lily were born. In 1936, Hock How published two academic papers titled "200 volt Flash" 二百伏特閃動 and "Molybdenum as a Talking Plate" 鉬,能言之金屬.

The Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1941)

In 1938, war with Japan spread south from Manchuria and the University moved to Ching Kong in Yunnan Province. In June 1938, when Lily was just six months old, Hock How again moved the family to Hong Kong

Hock How then went by himself to Rangoon, Burma, where he had been appointed Head of the Works Department of the Rangoon Truck Assembly Plant by the Chinese government. At the plant, Hock How's team assemble 2,000 Dodge trucks then 500 Ford trucks which were built from complete knocked-down condition. After the truck chasses and wooden bodies were assembled, they were loaded with war materials and driven over the famous Yunnan-Burma Road to Chongqing, China. The plant completed both jobs within 16 months.

1945 US Army Photo of Burma Road (US National Archives)

After living in Hong Kong for two years, Tui Goon and their children made their way to Rangoon in 1940 traveling by boat for a month long journey via Thailand and Singapore. Hock How and his partner Mr. Y. H. Kwong then tried to form a trading company, known as Jing Hong Trading Corporation, which sold International Harvester Trucks and farm equipment.

World War II (1941-1945)

On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan launched simultaneous aerial attacks against Pearl Harbor, Guam, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Shanghai, Singapore and Wake Island, and land invasions of Thailand and British Malaya. As Hong Kong and Singapore fell in quick succession, and Burma was threatened, Hock How decided to evacuate his family to Kunming. They escaped on the Burma Road driving an “Austin 12” 12 HP passenger car with a hired driver following in a truck loaded with family and company goods. According to Tui Goon they also traveled with "a 3-ton truck loaded with steel bars for Chiang Kai Shek."

Austin Heavy 12 coupe (c1928 model), Buckinghamshire, England
via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 3.0

They left one week before the Japanese conquered Rangoon on March 7, 1942. Tui Goon wrote, "The invading Japanese Army were close behind us, but we were lucky and arrived in [Kunming] safely, although the trip took over a month on the Burma Road."

US Army Photo of the Hui Tong Suspension Bridge (US National Archives)

“The Yunnan-Burma Road was the backdoor to China. The Chinese Government depended on this road for supplies during the years of 1939 to 1942. The road distance from the Burma border to Kunming is only about 600 miles but a portion of the road is narrow, dangerous, and goes over the Wai Tung Mountains [Hui Tong Shan 惠通山], 12,000 ft. above sea level. It usually takes six days for the journey over this distance....

“...Some people, who were slow and were unlucky and did not get over the Wai Tung Suspension Bridge [Hui Tong Qiao 惠通橋] soon enough, were caught by the Japanese either as prisoners or had to run away and walk over the Wai Tung Mountains.”

-- Hock How from his 1979 Autobiography

In Kunming, the boys went to school learning the Yunnan dialect, and Mary was born. Hock How wrote that he did not do much during the war years, but somehow made enough from “various deals on commissions” to live comfortably.

Family in Kunming, Yunnan, c. 1944
Front L-R: Lily, Tui Goon w/ Mary, Hock How, Jack & Paul
Back: Larry and Tui Goon's Nephew

Tui Goon recorded that in Kunming the family "lived on the Second (上二) street. Hock How had a jewelry store. Larry went to Wu Wha Middle School."

In 1945 when it seemed that the war was about to end, Hock How took Larry to the United States, flying over the “Hump” to Calcutta. They stayed for four months before they arranged to travel by freighter to Port Angels, Maine, where they arrived in December. Hock How then enrolled Larry at the Hackley School in upstate Tarrytown, New York.

Return to Burma

Meanwhile Hock How and his old business partner, Mr. Kwong, opened an office on Wall Street for Jing Hong & Co. Over the next year, the company obtained the agency rights in Burma for International Harvester, Packard Motor Company, Cummins Diesel Engines, and Austin cars for British Motors. Hock How also returned to Stanford University to pay off his interest free promissory note from 1932. In December 1946, Hock How flew on a cargo plane to Shanghai then caught another airplane to Bhamo in northern Burma and a train to Rangoon. There he opened an office and showroom for Jing Hong Trading Corporation.

In 1947, Tui Goon returned to Rangoon by the Yunnan-Burma Road with the rest of the family and their belongings. In 1949, their son Jack recalled that they traveled in the back of a canvas covered truck driven by a man named Mr. Yee. They brought no furniture, only personal belongings, suitcases, and clothing, and took 11-12 days to drive to Rangoon stopping over at different places for the night. 

The family lived on the first floor of a house at 101 Leeds Road in Rangoon. Jack described that house as follows:

"It is a two story high wooden structure, Burmese style house. The house is built behind the sidewalks on both Happing Road and Leeds Road leaving a front yard along these streets and a lawn is enclosed by hedges. The entrance to the house faces Happing Road and enters the parlor of the house. As one is standing in the parlor looking outside, the right side of the parlor is a dining room and the left side is the main bedroom and behind the dining room is a small bedroom used by the servants. Behind the servants room is the kitchen. Then bathroom is located behind the large bedroom towards Leeds Street and the small storage room is located behind the large bedroom but towards the parlor. Right behind the parlor is an empty space used as a hallway to go from the storage room to the kitchen and servants quarters."

Jack and Paul slept in the rear of the parlor while Lily and Mary slept in the bedroom with their parents. They had a pet Chow dog named Ahbo. The second floor of the house was occupied by three native Burmese women, Daw May May and her daughter who owned the house, and their servant. The kids addressed the daughter as Mama.

In front of their former home at 101 Leeds Road, in 2007.
(L-R) Jack, Mary, Paul, and Lily

The Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949

In 1949, as the Communist Revolution was sweeping over China, Hock How brought Jack and Paul to San Francisco where Larry rejoined them. In January 1954, Tui Goon followed with Lily, Mary, and Larry’s wife Marie. They bought the house at 124 23rd Avenue in the Richmond district of San Francisco. At some point during this time, Hock How started long-term relationship that would last until his death and resulted in at least one son, Chester. Hock How moved to Hong Kong in 1960 running his businesses in Burma from there.

The 1962 Burmese Coup d'état

In 1962, the Burmese Government was overturned in a coup d'état that began 26 years of one-party rule and political dominance by the army. The coup leaders established a revolutionary council which promoted the Burmese Way to Socialism. The new council nationalized all banks and private businesses, and the family’s business was wiped out. At a time when Hock How should have been looking forward to retirement, he now had to start all over.

Hock How branched out to other SE Asia countries, and by 1967, his company, The China Engineers (Thailand) Ltd, represented American exporters, such as John Deere Industrial tractors, Ingersoll-Rand air compressors, American Hoist Co., Universal Engineering Co. However, the competition was keen, and the company did not turn a profit until 1968.

Sunset Years

That same year, Hock How returned to live in Hong Kong full-time, and in 1969, he joined the import-export firm, Deacon & Co. Ltd, as manager of their Import Department.  He wrote that “[my work] is much easier than my work in Bangkok where my responsibility was much greater with company financial worries. Here my work consists of writing a few letters a day, calculating a few figures, costs of goods and pepping up the salesmen with encouraging remarks, etc.”

Hong Hock How, Chu Tui Goon, and Family, Foster City, CA, December 1973

Hock How maintained a vigorous lifestyle, waking at 6am and walking to the park every day. “That gives me a lot of pep for the day,” he once wrote. In his mid-seventies, he commented that he felt younger every day and that many people said he looked like 55. He often wrote fondly about taking the three-hour steamer ride to Macau to spend a quiet week or weekend. He resided in a flat on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, across from Kowloon Park and walking distance to the Star Ferry.

Hock How continued to work and live in Hong Kong until his death on June 24, 1979. He was buried in Hong Kong.

Chu Tui Goon, March 21, 1987

CHU Tui Goon meanwhile stayed in San Francisco with her children and grandchildren. She enjoyed taking the long bus ride from her home in the Richmond District to San Francisco’s Chinatown to shop and meet up with friends. She also spent much time babysitting her grandchildren, hosting or attending weekly family gatherings, and traveling. She passed away on April 25, 2005, at the age of 95 and is buried at Skylawn Cemetery in San Mateo, California.

HONG Hock How 曾學厚 (July 19, 1900 - June 24, 1979)
- Married Name: Hew Choon, Xiǎo Chuán 曉傳
- Also known as: John Hock How
Married April 1915: NG Chau Hai (Wu) (d.1918)
Married May 1, 1926: CHU Tui Goon 趙翠娟 (Zhao) (December 9, 1909 - April 25, 2005)

Hock How and Tui Goon had five children:
Sons: 1. Larry Lan Fee (Lian Hui)
2. Jack Lan (Lian Zhuo)
3. Paul Lan (Lian Bo)
Daughters: 4. Lily (Hui Li)
5. Mary (Mei Li)
Hock How's other Son: 6. Chester


HONG, Chu Tui Goon, Autobiography, August 1980.

HONG, Hock How. Autobiography, 7 Feb. 1979.

HONG, Steven. Conversation about Larry Hong's school in New York, 12 Jul. 2023.

US National Archives: Arrival and Departure Documents, Interview Transcripts, and Affidavits

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