Two notes about Nien Cheng
From Kevin Chambers. of West Peavine, Oklahoma, on the death of Nien Cheng:
"I was sorry to hear about her passing. Four years ago, after reading her book, I wrote to her and she invited me over to her apartment near the Washington Cathedral. I was just finishing up Chinese language training in DC and was about to be posted to Shanghai. I was surprised by how lively and sharp she was. She was 90 but appeared to be 70. She was very well informed about life in Shanghai even though she had been gone for decades. When I asked her if she would ever return she said she had been invited by the Chinese government but she would never return to be used for propaganda purposes. Besides, she said, it would be too painful. She loved Washington.
"After living in Shanghai a couple of years I wrote to her and shared with her my view that Shanghai was a relentlessly materialistic city. She replied that she had been told by her friends that it had become a city without a soul. I offered to send her photos of the places she described in her book but she asked me not to. She didn't want to look back."
From another reader, in response to my comment that over the years I had recognized Nien Cheng several times on the street in northwest DC but had never felt as I should interrupt her to say hello and say that I had been moved by her book:
"I did have the pleasure of meeting Nien Cheng and having a pleasant chat with her in her apartment in Washington. She sent several Christmas cards to me over the years. And yes, she was an elegant lady. You've got that right. It will have to be one of those things you always regret (and we all have them) because I can assure you, she would have appreciated your comment about how much you liked her book. She would not have minded at all. She would have been deeply touched by you telling her so. She exhibited surprise that anyone still remembered her book after so many years when I told her that very thing. But being a person of faith, myself, I would like to tell you that I sincerely believe she is in a place where she knows how you feel. She was a Christian of strong faith. So hold your memories of seeing her dear to your heart. I only got to see her once."