by Eleanor McCallie Cooper & William Liu
An unfinished memoir. Inchoate tape recordings. Articles written inside China in the 1950-60s. It seemed impossible to put the pieces together, but when a box of saved letters was found—from the first letter after arriving in China to the last one the family received—everything came together.
I first heard about Grace Divine Liu when I was 21 and on my way to Japan to teach English. My Aunt Mary informed me that her cousin had married “a Chinaman” in the 1930s and had gone to China and never returned. For all she knew, Grace was either still living there or had died, Aunt Mary assumed, at the hands of the Communists. This was shocking news to me in 1968. Despite the fact that China was under Communist rule and closed at the time, I decided that someday I’d find Grace and write her story.
As it turned out—Grace found me. In 1974 after Nixon opened the doors, she returned with her son William. I met them as soon as I could, bringing along my hand-held cassette tape recorder. How laughable to think I’d get the whole story in one sitting. But what happened, instead, was something much more profound—I met someone who changed my life—a woman who had followed her heart, survived war and revolution, was arrested by the Red Guards, accused of being a counter-revolutionary, and returned to tell her story.
I lived with Grace and William in Berkeley the last year of Grace’s life as she battled cancer. Her two daughters, Nini and Ellen, came from China to help with her care. After Grace died, William and I put together her story, for the most part, in her own voice.
Grace in China was first published in 1999. Soho Press brought it out in 2003 as Grace: An American Woman in China, 1934-74. The Chinese translation was published in 2006.