My grandmother, Ko Po Yung was born in 1898 in what is now known as the Sheki (Shiqi) district of Zhongshan, China. Her father's surname was Ko (Gao) and her mother's surname was Leung (Liang) . I remember the stories my Grandmother told me of how she was raised in the family of a wealthy government official who had several wives. Her mother was the third wife. Initially my grandmother's feet were bound but luckily as her parents became more progressive in their thinking the binding was removed and she was able to walk well later in life. My mom remembers my grandmother showing her the evidence of what the binding had done to her feet and how she needed special shoes. It was a time of revolution in China against the ruling Qing dynasty and my grandmother rememberd secret political meetings in her father's house where revolutionaries would meet in a hidden basement of their house with a trap door to avoid becoming known to the Qing soldiers. My grandmother says during this time her father converted to Christianity.
Here is a portrait of Ko Po Yung's mother Madame Ko . My grandmother kept this picture framed on her wall in her house .
Here is Madame Ko's photograph later in life.
My grandmother was educated in missionary schools starting at a young age. In her application for admission to the United States she says she began her education as a child of age 6 in Shek Ki and then continued her education in Heung Shan (later known as Chung San and now known as Zhongshan), and finally completed her education in Kwantung (Guandong, or Canton ) in the years 1904 to 1917. Southern China at this time was a hot bed of western missionary work with missionary churches and schools being set up throughout the region. The schools had western and chinese teachers and taught students both Chinese and English and included religious teaching .
It was in a Christian church that she met my grandfather Wai Shing Kwok.
Wai Shing Kwok was born in Heung Shan ( later known as Chung San and then Zhongshan ) in 1892, so essentially in the same city as my grandmother. His father's surname was Kwok and his mother's surname was Jong. My grandfather was from a family of farmers who were not as well off as my grandmother's family but Wai Shing like herself was a Christian, had been educated in missionary schools and was studying to be a teacher at Chung San college. Both sets of parents consented to their marriage and in 1917 they were married at the Presbyterian Church in Skek Ki . Attached is their beautiful marriage certificate which in the missionary church style of the times is written in both Chinese and English. There has been some confusion in our family as to my grandmother's madien name as she always wrote her name in English as Ko Po Yung Kwok ( Is her madien surname Ko or Yung ?), whereas my grandfather always wrote his name in English as Wai Shing Kwok with the surname last. The marriage certificate is clear in that the names are written in Chinese characters with the surname first. For my grandfather it was Kwok Wai Shing, and for my grandmother it is Ko Po Yung with the surnames of Kwok and Ko and the given names of Wai Shing and Po Yung.
Although we do not have a picture of their actual wedding we do have a later picture that we think is of the marriage of one of my grandfather's brothers. In the foreground seated are Mr. and Mrs Kwok, Wai Shing Kwok's parents.
Here is another picture of my great grandfather Kwok later in life.
My grandmother told me the story that on their wedding night bandits broke through the roof of their room and stole the dowery chest which contained many valuables given to her and Wai Shing by her parents. She was very sad about that.
In 1917 after their marriage and completing their education in Kwantung, my grandparents moved to Shanghai to take up teaching positions. My grandfather was 25 at the time and my grandmother 19. In Shanghai, they had their first child Johnny.
After spending 2 1/2 years in Shanghai they decide to leave for America In 1920 . In 1920 Chinese were specifically prohibited from immigrating to the United States unless they were in certain protected classes such as diplomats, teachers, and merchants. Entry into the United States required that the immigrants apply and attest to their membership in one of the protected classes. Attached is my grandmother's immigration application as a teacher. When my grandparents left China it was in the grip of unrest and armed skirmishes after the establishment of the Chinese Republic and it was a good time for the young family to leave for America. Their immigration was aided by the Fat Ming Company in San Francisco that was a respected bookseller and helped to attest to my grandparents status as teachers.