In the fall of 2000, one day before the first anniversary of the Sept. 21, 1999 earthquake, more than 20 elderly ladies climbed a mountain to more than 2,000m above sea level to visit the Jen-ai Junior High School (仁愛國中) in Nantou County, which had been seriously damaged by the quake and by typhoons. The 11-hour trip was fraught with danger and there were worries about rockfalls. The old ladies told the students: "You must maintain hope for the future no matter what."
They were all alumnae from the Taipei Third Girls' Senior High School during the Japanese era. The school is known today as the Taipei Municipal Chung Shan Girls' Senior High School. Eighty-seven-year-old Koo Yen Pi-hsia (辜顏碧霞), who had just been discharged from the hospital and whose legs were still swollen, insisted on going up the mountain to see the children. She made the return journey, however, in a wheelchair. After returning to Taipei, she passed away peacefully early on Dec. 3, holding the hands of her son Jeffrey Koo (辜濂松) and eldest grandson Koo Chung-liang (辜仲諒).
When asked about his mother, whom everyone respectfully called "Angel Grandma," the eyes of Jeffrey Koo, chairman of Chinatrust Commercial Bank (中國信託商業銀行), turn red.
"One day people from the State Secrets Protection Bureau suddenly came and took my mother away," he said. "We were driven out of our house. I was only holding an alarm clock and my sister Li-ching (麗卿) did not bring anything except the clothes she was wearing."
That happened in 1950, when Koo Yen Pi-hsia was 37 and Jeffrey Koo was only a 17-year-old student at the Chien Kuo Senior High School (
Widowed at 23
Koo Yen Pi-hsia was from Sanhsia (三峽) in Taipei. Her father, Yen Chao-pin (顏朝斌), was once a teacher and also served as the leader of the Chengfu (成福) district in Sanhsia. She was born in 1914 and married into the prominent Koo family of Lukang in 1932. Her husband was Koo Yueh-fu (辜岳甫), a son born to the first wife of Koo Hsien-jung (辜顯榮). Over the next three years, she gave birth to eldest son Jeffrey and two daughters, Koo Li-ching and Koo Li-fen (辜麗芬). In 1936, Koo Yueh-fu died. His wife was only 23 at the time.
In 1937 Koo Hsien-jung also died and the Koo family split its family property. Though Koo Yen Pi-hsia was a widow of the Koo family, the extended family let her decide whether to remarry. In fact, they even thought a young beautiful woman like her should remarry and, at a family meeting, decided to have some members of the family adopt her son and two daughters. But she did not want this.
Jeffrey Koo said, "At that time, she knelt down before my father's altar and promised never to remarry, so she won back the right to take care of her children."
After moving to a new place, Koo Yen Pi-hsia became the first female president of the Kaosha Iron Foundry Company (
The "Literary Salon"
Because Koo Yueh-fu was frequently in touch with arts and cultural circles before his death, Koo Yen Pi-hsia also devoted herself to the arts and promoted a "Literary Salon." Lu Ho-juo (
Lu was known as a talented person. Apart from being a reporter and magazine editor, he wrote literary works that were famous in Japan. He also wrote theater scripts and participated in performances, and was Taipei's top tenor singer. Later generations remember his spectacular concert at the Chung Shan Hall, where women screamed for him throughout the show.