I am Gayook Wong (nee Liou) and the eldest daughter of Liu Jipiao, known in the U.S. as Kipaul Liou. In 1947, at the age of 3 and 1/2, my parents and I traveled to the United States from China, never to return after the Communist Revolution in 1949
My father told me he was Chief Architect to then President Chiang K’ai Shek of the Republic of China, and being privy to numerous military sites, did not feel it was safe to stay there during the time that the two parties, Kuomingtang and Communist, were fighting for control of the country. And, so leaving my infant sister with my maternal grandparents, he took my mother and me to the United States, thinking that the conflict would blow over and we could return.
When the revolution took place with the change of government, my father did not feel it was safe to return. However, he had not prepared to live in the United States, and all his land, assets, including his artwork, and monies remained in China.
At age 47, after a life of wealth and comfort, his and my mother’s whole world collapsed. And, for the very first time, he had to struggle to survive. In rare moments, I do remember him painting Chinese landscape watercolors. He didn’t go back to his first love, his art, until I was grown, when he began what’s turned out to be a prolific collection of his watercolors, oil paintings, furniture, architectural renderings, and porcelain paintings.
Before my mother died, outliving my father for nearly a decade, she gave my children, Jennifer and Matthew, and me his entire collection. This gift was with the promise that we would someday bring it out into the world.
Fast forward 20 some years later, in 2011, my daughter, Jennifer, decided to organize and digitize his works. At the time, I was spending the year in Bali and Singapore, so when she told me about her project, all I could think of is: “it’s about time!” I had told her when we first took possession of the pieces that I saw her doing this. Obviously, she didn’t listen to her mother!
2012 changed all our lives. I had come home for Christmas holidays in 2011 with the plan to go back to live in Singapore. Upon return, I was diagnosed with cancer, so I stayed with my children who took care of me. Not only am I grateful for their care, but I have the chance to be a part of this family journey, tracing my family roots.
To my amazement, Jenn, through her tireless research, has discovered that my father was an integral part of modernizing China. He is touted as one of the major pioneers in introducing western art/architecture back to China from Paris.
One never knows what will happen in life. For us, what started out as tracing our family heritage has turned into a lesson in modern Chinese history.
This past year has been surreal for me. I am dealing with my second bout with cancer, a disease symbolic with death. At the same time, my father’s art is taking my family and me into a whole new world, a birthing, if you will.
For me, specifically, I am learning about a father I never knew, one who was young , vibrant and full of hope for a better China through art. The one I knew grieved for what was left behind. He was depressed and suicidal, reeling from the hardships he faced in a new culture, new language, and loss of his high personal and professional stature in China. Every time I read about another of his contributions, I feel like I’m reading about someone else.
I wonder when it will really sink in that this is my and my children’s legacy, that our family heritage is also steeped in the building of a country. Perhaps, it will become more real as we travel to Paris in mid-February, where Dr. Jeff Cody from The Getty Museum is presenting my father’s work at an international conference that emphasizes the importance of foreign exchange in the arts. Perhaps, it will become more real as I walk in his footsteps to the places in Paris where it started for him – L’Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts where he studied architecture, the Louvre where he found inspiration in the masterpieces housed there, or Rodin’s Museum where he and his classmates frequented as students on a class trip at 2 a.m., watching the master sculpt.
In some ways, this feels like a pilgrimage to finding my past. Where this will lead, I have no clue! However, I do feel like many doors are opening, and all I need to do is to step inside.
Please, come step inside with me as Jenn, Matthew, and I continue our journey!
Gayook (Liou) Wong