Cosette Wu: The Last Night: March 11, 1947

A sudden bang made Shih Chen Jiaotong drop the stack of freshly folded laundry she had been carrying to her bedroom on the third floor of the Sifang Hospital. Another bang resonated through the building, where Jiaotong lived with her husband, Shih Jiangnan, and their daughters. It seemed to have come from downstairs. Jiaotong stepped over a few stray shirts and headed toward the stairway, trying to make out the sounds’ origin. 

As she reached the second floor, the hospital ward, muffled shouts joined the cacophony. She felt a light tap on her shoulder and turned around to see her eldest daughter, Shih Lingyu, behind her. “What are those sounds?” Lingyu asked, “It’s already past curfew.” 

Jiaotong glanced at the clock hanging on the wall – 8 p.m. “Let’s go check it out,” she replied as she continued down the stairs to the first floor. Lingyu followed closely behind. 

“Quick! Open the door for us!” 

A group of men stood outside the glass front doors, knocking and yelling repeatedly. Noticing the cotton-padded military uniforms of six of the men, Jiaotong realized that the group belonged to Chiang Kai Shek’s military. Stories of robbery and rape by corrupt KMT soldiers raced through her mind, and a moist layer of sweat gathered on her palms. Her husband, sick in bed with malaria, was definitely in no position to defend the hospital and family. 

Although the sun had already set, light from a nearby lamp reflected off the sharp bayonets at the tip of the men’s rifles and caught Jiaotong’s eye. Turning around, she motioned at her daughter to wait by the stairs, away from the doors. 

“We need to see a doctor,” shouted one of the two men in plainclothes, “Let us in!” The men’s stiff glares penetrated through Jiaotong, and she felt relieved that a set of glass doors stood between her and the soldiers. Although the group claimed they only sought medical treatment, a knot formed in her chest as she watched one of the soldiers adjust his grip on his rifle. His hand had moved closer to the trigger. 

Jiaotong stepped forward, cleared her suddenly dry and scratchy throat, and announced, “The doctor is sick today. He cannot see patients.” The man standing at the front of the group glanced to his left, making eye contact with another soldier. 

Glass shards shot through the air. To protect herself, Jiaotong quickly twisted and brought her arm up to shield her face. The sound of thousands of tiny daggers hitting the ground like a twinkling downpour rang through the first floor of the hospital. The two soldiers had kicked down the doors, smashing the glass that once gave Jiaotong her only sense of safety. Backing up, she moved toward the stairs and put her arm in front of Lingyu, shielding her daughter from the men.

“We don’t have much here. There’s no use in robbing us,” Jiaotong declared, hoping that her acting would convince the soldiers. Her voice wavered. She thought back to earlier in the week, when her husband had come home with money from selling the Shuangcheng Street properties and stored it in his closet upstairs. Trying to swallow the growing lump that seemed to block her throat, Jiaotong stared at the men, who had ignored her and stepped through the doorframe. 

The soldier at the front of the group, who seemed to be the leader, marched toward the stairs, pushing past Jiaotong without a second glance. Realizing that these men had not come to rob the hospital, she asked, “What do you want from us?” 

He turned around and replied, “We just want to ask Dr. Shih Jiangnan some questions,” before continuing up the stairs. Following him, the rest of the men climbed the stairs as well. The sounds of glass shards crunching under their black military boots punctured the otherwise silent night. 

A wave of dread washed over Jiaotong; she knew she should have stopped her husband from becoming too involved in his mission to help overseas Taiwanese soldiers return home. Jiangnan had told her, “You are too afraid of death. If all Taiwanese were as afraid of death as you, then what would we do?” Now, she feared that her nightmares had become reality. Soldiers had come to take her husband. 

Minutes later, Jiaotong and Lingyu arrived outside of Jiangnan’s room on the second floor of Sifang Hospital. Jiaotong noticed that the room, usually empty and spacious, looked much smaller than normal; the six uniformed men stood around Jiangnan’s hospital bed, while the two plainclothes guarded the entrance, blocking Jiangnan from Jiaotong’s view. She tried to push her way in, but the men did not move. 

Behind them, she could see the leader hold up a sign for her husband to see. She leaned left to see past the man at the entrance, but he simply stepped to block her view again. She ran her fingers through her hair and turned around. Jiaotong could see her unease mirrored in Lingyu, who bit her lip and looked back up at her mother with wide eyes. 

Recalling the money hidden in Jiangnan’s closet, she ran up to the third floor and back. Waving the stack of cash in the air, she tried to catch the soldiers’ attention. “Please, take the money and let him go,” she pleaded. After only a brief glance in her direction, the soldiers in the room turned back to face Jiangnan, who had gotten up from his bed. Surrounded by the men, Jiangnan exited his room and slowly headed down the stairs. 

As he slipped into his coat, Jiangnan said only one thing to his wife: “For hospital affairs, ask Mr. Xu Qiang to cover the diagnoses and treatments.” The soldiers took him out of Sifang Hospital.

Although a nighttime breeze flowed through the empty space where the glass doors once stood, Jiaotong felt hot and sweaty. She insisted on going in the car with her husband, but the soldiers refused. Lingyu tried to make her way through the men that surrounded her father, but a soldier pushed her back. “Kid, you have no business here,” he warned in a flat, harsh voice. 

Standing outside of Sifang Hospital’s smashed doors, Jiaotong put her arm around her daughter. Sharing a sinking feeling of disquiet, they watched the soldiers’ car turn and disappear from sight. They would never see Jiangnan again.

Cosette Wu (吳亭樺) is the daughter of two Taiwanese immigrants. Born and raised in Hawaii, she visits Taipei every summer and winter. Cosette is a recent graduate of Punahou School and incoming first-year student at Harvard College. As the great-granddaughter of Dr. Shih Jiangnan, the second Taiwanese to earn a doctorate in medicine and an activist killed in the 228 Massacre, she began writing “The Story of Shih Jiangnan (施江南傳)” as a high school sophomore and published the biography in her senior year.

From Cosette: Based on my great-grandmother’s recollections, this work of creative nonfiction captures the night that my great-grandfather, Dr. Shih Jiangnan (施江南), was taken from his home by KMT soldiers and never seen again.

Editor’s Note: Cosette’s book, “The Story of Shih Jiangnan 施江南傳” is available for purchase here. 


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