Chinese Family Plays New Role in Community

In a split-level home in Tierrasanta, which he shares with his wife and daughter, David Hu is serving jasmine tea from a white and blue teapot hand-carried from Kin Men, Taiwan.

Light mist is falling outside and the tops of trees and hills are draped with layers of fog like fine silk. A small gas fire is going in the fireplace. One orange-red rose is in a vase on the piano. Three scrolls of Chineses calligraphy grace the walls and a jade-colored 150-year-old vase and other Chinese artifacts sit on a shelf near the brick hearth. Three paintings by Hu’s father, who was a professor of fine arts in Taiwan and the founder of the Chinese Watercolor Society, hang near the dining table and the couch.

In a short while, Ping Hu comes in after teaching a course at UC San Diego, where she is a lecturer in the Chinese Studies Program in charge of the language program.

The Hus have been in San Diego for 10 years. Both came from Taiwan and met in Michigan when David Hu was working for the Michigan Highway Department and Ping was a communications major at Michigan State University.


“Ping was a TV anchorwoman in Taiwan,” Hu said. “She speaks perfect Mandarin.”

The Hus are in some ways representative of part of the changing scene of the Chinese-American community in San Diego. Professional and well-educated, they blend their ancient culture with modern technology and opportunity.

David Hu first came to Fort Collins, Colo., 23 years ago at age 23 to work on a master’s degree. After working in Michigan, he went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison and received a doctorate in mechanical engineering.

Hu is now an engineering supervisor for San Diego Gas & Electric and teaches part-time at San Diego State University.


He beams when he speaks of teaching. “I love that. I like working with the young people. The Chinese say you learn from your students. And also you show your students by example. What is behind the book is important,” he said.

For several years the Hus’ friends were those they had known in school. “We saw mostly about 10 people who came from our area of Taiwan,” David Hu said. “But then I thought, that’s not good enough. I decided I wanted to do something that had to do with a larger community.”

So in November, 1983, he and three other Chinese professionals founded the San Diego Chinese-American Scientists and Engineers Assn. Hu was the first president. Now he is chairman of the board, and the president is Alex Chung.

“One hundred seventy belong to the organization and 70% are U.S. citizens,” Hu said. “Now we want to attract all professions--human behavior, language, social sciences. The organization also includes a few Caucasian members.


“We try to do something for the community in which we live, to exchange culture between our great countries--to stretch our horizons.

“The Chinese community in San Diego is much different than it was 50 years ago.”

This change he attributes to the influx of Chinese professionals, along with the number of Chinese and Chinese-Vietnamese students at UC San Diego.

As a way to bring the San Diego Chinese community together, Hu coordinated a Chinese New Year celebration in February. Approximately 350 San Diego Chinese-Americans attended, by invitation only, many of them community leaders. “The second- and third-generation Chinese and also newer immigrants attended,” Hu said.


In his speech at the affair, Hu said: “We came here because of the railroad. We’ve come a long way, baby. The old generation and the new immigrants. There is a changing image of the Chinese-American. We’re proud to be Chinese.”

On Feb. 20 the San Diego Historical Society opened its show of artifacts of the early Chinese in San Diego. Hu met Joseph Quin, grandson of Ah Quin, founder of San Diego’s Chinese community.

“He is a very wonderful gentleman,” Hu said. “I do very much appreciate the pioneers of our Chinese ancestry here. These early settlers had different objectives than we have now. They came here to work and save money and to support their families. There was not much choice then. They owned laundries, restaurants, tried to be peaceful and self-content. We respect these people so much. We respect the tradition and the age. Experience is very important.

“Today, Chinese are selecting this country as the best place for technology. People are seeking opportunity and a chance to contribute to society. Any university above the state university level has one to 20 Chinese professors.


“One of the best things about Western culture is that it is open-hearted, and absorbs all cultures. No other place has such opportunities. All systems have their inertia, though. We know that. There is still discrimination, but we don’t want to generate adverse animosity. The Chinese philosophy is to be open-minded, patient and understanding.

“Putting out effort for the community is also very important, I feel,” said Hu. “I feel an obligation to society. Just recently we had a fund-raiser for Dr. March Fong Eu. She is a third generation Chinese-American and an elected official--we appreciate the system which makes this opportunity possible.”

The Hus’ daughter, Grace, 13, attends Muirlands Junior High in La Jolla. This arrangement is possible because Grace has an I.Q. of over 140, according to Hu. She also attends Chinese school on Saturday mornings (her mother began the school at the Chinese Mandarin Church in Clairemont Mesa, one of four Chinese schools in San Diego) and at home, when there is time, she practices her calligraphy.

“The arts of calligraphy, painting and poetry are traditionally practiced by all educated people in China,” Hu said. “But now it is hard to keep up with those old traditions. There are so many other things to learn--math, science, English, computers--Apples, IBM’s.


“The Chinese calligraphy masters live to be very old,” he said in a gentle voice. “I think it is because they concentrate so much when they do the brush work. It gives them a feeling of peace. Many of these old masters hold government positions, too.”

Ping Hu is concerned with Vietnamese students at UCSD. “The children of the Vietnamese refugees are starting at UCSD now,” she said. “Soon I want to have a class meeting to discuss different cultures, because students often don’t understand one another’s traditions and ways of behavior.” (There are 860 Chinese students registered at UCSD and a number of Vietnamese students for whom there are no clear figures.)

“Seventy percent of the UC students who are Chinese study math and science,” said Ping Hu, “but there is a trend toward literature. With science it is easier to get a job. But later, with no language problems, a person can do anything he wants to.”

“Education is very important in the Chinese culture,” David Hu said, “even if the father is a laborer. When I was a student we got up at 3 a.m. to study. It’s not that Chinese students don’t want to play, but we are taught learning is a major process in life. We received this inspiration from grandparents and parents. Parents believe in giving a child an education, rather than money.” And he adds parents are proud to provide this, but that children are given a choice.


“Before leaving Taiwan to study abroad we had to graduate from college, take an exam from the government, and pass English proficiency test from the U.S. Embassy. This is so that we can handle ourselves.

“The idea is to learn (then) to return and contribute. But sometimes because of circumstances you select to stay here. It’s easier to keep up with technology in America.

“I remember being in school here in American during the Vietnam War, and a student burned a flag. I said to him I couldn’t do that. I appreciate this country--the value--not just the material, but the opportunities.

“A democratic country is like a beautiful flower. It’s delicate--and it opens out.”


A difference he notes is that in the Chinese culture spiritual values are stressed and prized above all. “Americans are hard working and enthusiastic--with great open hearts--but we also need spiritual nutrition inside. We feel we want to add to the melting pot spiritually, not just for profit.

“In China, quality is important. The important thing is how to change the quality of your life. The first concern is for peace and love of other people. We learn to go the Golden Mean Road--to take one step further and try our best, but if that is not possible, to go one step backwards. Then to notice that the sky is blue and the ocean is wide. Life is up and down. No one can go up and up.

“I learned much of this from my father and his watercolors,” Hu said. “In Chinese calligraphy, the symbol for patience is a heart with a knife or dagger in front. You have to be very patient, and this, I believe is a very precious thing.”