My Dad the U.S. China Marine

My Dad the U.S. China Marine

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Chinese New Year 1946

Happy New Year! Well, not quite yet! The Year of the Horse does not start until January 31, nine days from today.

Today I have been reviewing the blog, redesigning its appearance, checking links and so forth.

This piece focuses on the first postwar Chinese New Year, dated February 2, 1946. My father was stationed in Tianjin at that time. In his album he wrote this as 'Tung Hsien."

He shot some photos of the celebrations. They were held at "Fox & Easy Btry Motor Park."

Here they are:

I also created and recorded a short movie of those celebrations Here is the link to the movie I posted on YouTube. I hope you enjoy it.

Below is the text of those remarks:

Optimism and sincerity filled the air in 1946 as the first post-war Chinese New Year arrived. This was the year of the Red Fire Dog, a year on the Chinese Zodiac that would not arrive again until 2006. A friend who studies Chinese astrology told me, “The Fire Dog is very socially conscious of rights and wrongs, loyal, faithful, unselfish, active and honest.” 

Almost one month before on January 1 Emperor Hirohito renounced his divine status in an unprecedented address to Japan’s people. Ten days later General George Marshall arbitrated a negotiated truce between the Nationalist and Communist Chinese forces, with both agreeing to organize a coalition government, a national army, and assemble a new constitution. 

“Practically all the fighting in China has been brought to a stop and a degree of political unity between Nationalists and Communists has been reached which holds high promise of continued peace and growth,” stated a Star Bulletin editorial on February 2. 

The streets of New York City’s Chinatown rang loudly on February 2 with the bellowing of firecrackers, cymbals and drums as the lunar calendar year 4634 started. Thousands from the Chinese community filled the streets greeted the first peaceful New Year in China in nine years. Chinese Republic and American flags bedecked buildings as colored lanterns and electric lights illuminated the streets. Lion dancers and fifteen-foot long parading dragons led informal parades through the streets. They like so many around the globe had good reason to celebrate. 

According to the Honolulu Advertiser, the “celebrating here is not as elaborate now as during the early years- no colorful fireworks show, no narcissus blossoms being peddled on the sidewalks of Maunakea and Hotel streets on the eve, no imported goods and holiday trinkets from China,” a more subdued holiday celebration due no doubt to disruptions to shipping caused by the war. The Star Bulletin reported for the prior 35 years celebrations were held on January 1, a change instituted by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Chinese Republic. The paper further reported that “old style observances” would be held in homes for family members and friends. 

My father was stationed with the First Marine Division in Tianjin, called Tientsin in those days. The month before Dad braved Siberian winds to visit the Summer Palace. Kunming Lake was frozen over with ice (a favorite for ice skaters such as him), the Empress Dowager’s Marble Boat, Longevity Hill and its various magnificent palaces. When UNESCO added the palace to its World Heritage List it was described as “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value." My father’s fondness for gardens -which he eventually turned into a business- was influenced by this visit, he once told me. 

The Year of the Red Fire Dog had arrived. He along with Allied and Chinese soldiers and citizens gathered together on that cold 1st of February at the Fox and Easy Battery Motor Park in “Tung Hsien” outside Beijing to watch the celebrations. He was part of the Fox Battery Radio Section that patrolled between Tianjing and Beijing. From the pictures Dad took Chinese celebrants walked around on wooden stilts dressed in elaborate costumes. True, it may not have been much by the scale found in large cities. But that was fine. After years of war and combat hope and anticipation of better times was in the air. 

Henry Lieberman of the New York Times reported that Beijing “sounded like a city under siege as its inhabitants observed their first peacetime Chinese New Year with a firecracker cannonade theoretically designed to scare away the devils and to summon friendly spirits and attract prosperity.” The year before Japanese occupation forces allowed traditional ceremonies and feasts –with a strict ban on firecrackers. “The Chinese here made up for it this year with sputtering petards and huge cannon crackers that made sleep virtually impossible,” Lieberman reported. “Most ricksha boys, who work in all weather throughout the year, have taken the day off and only a few can be seen on the streets.” Shopkeepers and householders pasted red paper strips with the symbols of the “Five Happiness’s”: Felicity, Honor, Longevity, Joy and Riches. 

Throughout the world people pause to celebrate the New Year, not unlike those who in early 1946 paused to party, hope and anticipate new beginnings and better times ahead. 

The remainder of the year 1946 following that first Chinese New Year was mixed. The truce arbitrated by Marshall crumbled. China’s civil war resumed in mid-April until yet another provisional ceasefire went into effect between May 12 and June 20. In London the United Nations General Assembly met for the first time. At Nuremberg trial verdicts were handed down. Singer/Actress Liza Minnelli was born, and Irving Berlin’s ‘Annie Get Your Gun’ opened in New York. The Emmy Awards were founded, and the first Cannes Film Festival was held on the French Riviera. Winston Churchill delivered his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech, and in eastern Asia on July 4 American and representatives of the Republic of the Philippines signed a Treaty of General Relations, thus providing for independence. 

In my hometown in Connecticut Rev. George Yancey, pastor of the First Baptist Church said, “Genuine peace will be difficult to capture, because like the spirit of beauty, it is an abstract. But mankind can find it if it really wants to.” 

Kung Hee Fat Choy to all near and far! Xīn Nián Kuài Lè, and Semper Fi!

Jeffrey Bingham Mead is an author, educator, businessman and historian who resides in Greenwich, Connecticut and Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a direct descendant of the town's founders, as was his late-father, Herbert. 

After surviving the Battle of Okinawa, Herbert Bingham Mead served in the U.S. 1st Marine Division in China starting in 1945. One of his final wishes was for his son to research, write and publish a book on those extraordinary days when he was stationed in Tianjin and Beijing. Herbert Bingham Mead passed away on his 86th birthday, February 25, 2010. 

Jeffrey is a former Greenwich Historical Society trustee. He is the founder and president of History Education Hawaii, allied with the National Council for History Education. Mead is also the president of The Pacific Learning Consortium, Inc. 

He is writing an historical book about his father’s service, that of his fellow Marines and the people of China who lived through those times. He can be contacted by e-mail at His blog site is