The Life and Times of Sze Tu Mei Sun
I first met Sze Tu Mei Sun in August, 2007, when I was in Macao on a business trip. Sun Enguang, a friend of mine who lives there and is a consultant to China Today, offered to introduce me to a ''legendary figure.'' So it was that I was brought to Mr. Sze Tu Mei Sun's home and learned of his extraordinary life.
At the age of 80, Mr. Sze Tu was still hale and hearty, of sharp mind and quick wit. He didn't hide his emotions on learning that I was with China Today, the magazine founded by Mme. Soong Ching Ling. ''I used to read the English edition of China Reconstructs (former name of China Today) and once accompanied Mme. Soong on a visit to Indonesia in the 50s,'' he recalled with delight. He also remembered Zhang Yan, a former editor-in-chief of the magazine, who attended the Bandung Conference in 1955 with the Chinese delegation as a reporter and translator. At the time Mr. Sze Tu was a secretary to President Bung Sukarno. More than half a century after the event, he recalled in great detail his encounter with Mr. Zhang and the flow of the meeting that shaped the diplomatic policies of the young PRC. Formerly a journalist himself, Mr. Sze Tu engaged me in a long and lively talk, bestowing his biography on me when I departed.
So when the news of Mr. Sze Tu's death came last year, I passed it to our mutual colleague Zhang Yan. While sharing my sadness, Mr. Zhang wrote a eulogy for the man whose eventful life was tightly interwoven with China's tumultuous modern history, his ancestral land, and the Asia beyond our borders – an honorable man who left honorable traces.
Sze Tu Mei Sun was born into a Chinese migrants' family in Sukabuni, Indonesia, in August 1928. Sze Tu's story starts with his father Sze Tu Tjan, who left his hometown in Guangdong Province at age 11 to seek a better life with his uncle in Indonesia. The boy, smart and diligent, later became a revered high school principal, and married Liu Jinrui, graduate of a Singapore normal school. They had five sons and two daughters, and instilled in them from childhood a passion for life and such values as patriotism and devotion to education.
After the July 7 Incident in 1937, China entered the eight-year war of resistance against Japanese invasion. Overseas Chinese volunteers were immediately mobilized to lend their support. The Assisting the Motherland Charity Committee was established in Indonesia, raising funds in Chinese communities. Sze Tu Tjan was elected head of its bureaucracy and his wife deputy chief of the women's group. Sze Tu Mei Sun and his siblings campaigned for funds in their after-school hours. The committee's efforts were lauded by Tan Kah Kee, a prominent Chinese businessman, community leader, and philanthropist in Southeast Asia.
After Japanese troops invaded Indonesia in 1942, Sze Tu Tjan was imprisoned for drafting the Fighting Enemy Declaration. Refusing to be intimidated, his wife and children took over his work in anti-invasion organizations. Now the son came into his own; Sze Tu Mei Sun, 14, was the messenger, traveling alone across the country to deliver military information. Astute and alert, he completed every mission successfully. Unfortunately, the family's deeds were exposed a year later, and Sze Tu Mei Sun and his mother were held by Japanese invaders. During the eight months he spent in a cell the boy played on the sympathy of the warder and the fellow turned a blind eye for this boy of tender years when he smuggled in medicine for sick inmates. Sze Tu Mei Sun was released from prison while still a teenager and before he reached the age for sentencing.
A Young Journalist
When he was in high school Sze Tu Mei Sun started to contribute articles to a local newspaper. The sophistication of his analysis and vision caught the attention of its editor, who later often invited him to write for the publication. One day Sze Tu Mei Sun bumped into the newspaper's president who, aware of his proficiency in both Chinese and Indonesian, offered him the chance to report a KNIP (Central National Committee of Indonesia) meeting. This mission turned out to be a turning point in the young man's life, paving the road for his later career in journalism and bringing him into the sights of Bung Sukarno.
Sze Tu Mei Sun took a train to Malang, site of the meeting. His fellow travelers included the president, his generals and political gurus, and a contingent of democratic activists that included Adam Malik, who later assumed the vice-presidency of Indonesia and sat as president of the 26th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
The youngest of the reporters aboard, the 19-year-old soon got chummy with the president and his entourage. Bung Sukarno even invited the lad to his office after the trip. This experience opened some opportunities for him to get better acquainted with the president, who years later picked Sze Tu Mei Sun as his secretary.
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