Story of a century

Updated: 2015-05-20 07:54

By Liu Zhihua(China Daily USA)

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Juliana Young Koo, 110, talks about her life in China and abroad in a just-released autobiography. Liu Zhihua reports.

Juliana Young Koo was born in 1905 in Tianjin, China, and now lives in New York City. The 110-year-old woman's autobiography, which was recently published in China, is based on stories about her life that she started to tell one of her daughters a few years ago. It is titled One Hundred and Nine Springs: My Story.

Koo was among the first female students to attend Shanghai-based Fudan University, which was established in her birth year. She later spent 10 years working at the United Nations in New York.

Her late husband, Wellington Koo, was a prominent diplomat and was one of China's representatives to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and a judge on the International Court of Justice in The Hague from 1957 to 1967. Her first husband was Clarence Kuangson Young, who was also a Chinese diplomat. He was killed while serving in Manila during World War II.

The autobiography in Chinese gives a vivid account of the ups and downs in her life and offers glimpses of how China and the wider world has changed throughout the last century. It also discusses the lives of overseas Chinese. Many photos in the book have never been seen by the Chinese public.

Story of a century

Wang Junxiao, president of New World Press, an affiliate of China Foreign Languages Publishing Administration, says the autobiography is quite outstanding for the time span it covers.

His office published the book.

The publishing house released the book at a function at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Sunday. Critics, including Chinese Writers Association vice-chairman He Jianming, praised the autobiography.

"The book reveals how an ordinary woman becomes extraordinary," He said at the launch. "People often complain about misfortune or setbacks in life and want to be free from worry. I think we all should learn from Mrs Koo's optimism."

The book seems to suggest the same. No matter if she was happy or sad, under all circumstances Koo remained optimistic and tried to help people around her.

Born into a famous and wealthy family, the beautiful Koo's younger days were spent being a socialite in Shanghai. She was better known as "Miss 84", after her car's license plate number, rather than by her Chinese name Yan Youyun.

Her two marriages gave her the opportunity to travel to many countries.

In 1938, when Young became consul general of the Kuomintang administration in the Philippines, she helped him raise funds for China to fight Japanese forces.

In early 1942, as Japanese troops invaded, Young was arrested. The family was driven from their home and took up residence in an old villa in Manila.

Over time, Young's colleagues came to his wife to seek shelter for themselves and their families, and she became the matriarch who helped more than 26 women and children survive in the three-bedroom house.

They raised poultry and pigs, planted vegetables in the garden and made all sorts of sauce by themselves, while bombs were going off in the streets in the town.

"I felt I must act calm because the children were already panicked at the sharp changes in their lives," Koo says in the book.

In 1945, the US troops took over Manila from Japan, and she was told Young had been killed by the Japanese military soon after he was taken prisoner because he refused to betray his country.

Koo decided to move to the United States because she felt there would be better education and opportunities for her children in that country, and because Shanghai was still under Japanese control.

To make a living for the family, Koo became one of the first staff members at the UN protocol and liaison department in New York.

Her colleagues were either from aristocratic or wealthy families, and the book records - in a light vein - how she worked for political leaders on the international stage.

The book also talks about her new married life and how she helped Chinese immigrants in the US.

Shirley Young, her second daughter, says her mother is so kind and caring to people around her that even now she manages to keep the Koo family of more than 200 people together.

Zhou Mingwei, head of China Foreign Languages Publishing Administration, says he feels the book will be a great influence on young readers.

"Of all the photos I saw her in, in seven she was dancing, even though she's older than 100," Zhou says.

"She is not a legendary career woman, but her biography shows her greatness. She loves life and is optimistic whatever happens, and always thinks of others."

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 Story of a century

Juliana Young Koo celebrated her 109th birthday with her family in New York in 2014. Her autobiography, recently published in China, gives a vivid account of Koo's legendary life over the past century. Photos Provided To China Daily

 Story of a century

Juliana Young Koo (center) was one of the first staff members at the UN protocol and liaison department in New York.

(China Daily USA 05/20/2015 page8)