Sunday, January 15, 2012

In Search of Ada Lum continued...




A recent e-mail asking for the use of some of my Ada Lum doll photos reminded me that I had never taken the time to go back and share the rest of what I knew about her. So here goes....

On Friday 27 September 1905 Stephen Lum married Matilda Patience Pang youngest daughter of the late Mr. C. Pang, artist. Both were from Adelaide. [The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889-1931) Friday 27 October 1905] According to a 2009 Chinese-Australian Heritage conference article by Paul Jones from the University of Melborne, a son named Gordon Lum Boh Wah was born in Adelaide in 1906.  I could not find any mention of Ada's birth, but she and her brother are included in a sweet obituary notice honoring their grandparents:

Hughes – In loving memory of our darling mother, who was taken August 25, 1922, also dear Dad, died August 25, 1925.
Those who have their parents
Love them while you may,
For they will not always linger-
Too soon they pass away.
-(Inserted by their loving daughter and son-in-law, Tillie and Stephen Lum, also grandchildren Ada and Gordon.)
[The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848-1954) Saturday 28 August 1926]

One article indicated that Stephen Lum's occupation was that of a Melborne merchant [The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848-1954) Monday 28 May 1928]; but Gordon Lum's daughter, Lillian Lum Tsai, relates that her grandparents "migrated Down Under to publish Australia's first Chinese-language newspaper"and that her father was born in Melbourne. (Article: PRO GAME: My Davis Cup Dad, 6/7/99 7:11PM) Ada, herself was known to be a writer as is mentioned in my previous post.

Gordon Lum was an exceptional tennis player and at the encouragement of a friend was lead to move to mainland China. "Such was his skill with racket and ball that he represented China in its challenge for the 1928 Davis Cup, and captained the Chinese team from the following year. Based in Shanghai throughout the 1930s, Lum won every major Chinese tournament and competed in both the singles and doubles at his first appearance at Wimbledon in 1936." (Paul Jones)

Lillian Tsai reflects, "Dad befriended many famous Chinese people when he and his first wife, May, lived in Tientsin (now Tianjin) and Shanghai. He also reportedly played tennis with the last emperor of China, Pu Yi. (It's not as far-fetched as it might seem: In Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, there's a scene in which Pu Yi plays mixed doubles on a red clay court in the Forbidden City.) Tennis saved Dad a lot of suffering, and perhaps even his life, during World War II. His best friend was tortured by the Japanese -- forced to drink gallons of water until he was severely bloated, after which soldiers jumped on his stomach -- but a Japanese general spared my father the same fate because he wanted to learn how to play tennis. Dad later fled penniless to Hong Kong, where May died of cancer, leaving him alone to raise their son, Raymond."

At some point Ada clearly joined her only brother in Shanghai. An immigration document of the Commonwealth of Australia indicates that Stephen, Matilda Patience, and Ada Marion Patience Lum all left for China per the S.S. Taiping on 13 December 1927.

A niece whom I communicated with in the past, messaged the following information about Ada; but unfortunately I no longer have her contact information. I have every reason to believe the information to be correct and so I will include it here with the disclaimer that I can not currently verify it.

Ada "started her shop 'Ada Lum' in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation. It wasn't safe moving around the city so she spent her time, drawing - designing and developing (making/putting together) the Ada Lum Dolls. In her mind the dolls and Chinese features were appealing, in a pleasant way, to the Western World. (All hand-made).

While the dolls/items started as a hobby for personal pleasure friends amongst the cosmopolitan social circles (of Diplomats, Consulate staff within the French and British Concession Territories) got to see the dolls and by word of mouth, everyone wanted one. That's how the 'business' started and only grew at the end of the 2nd World War (1945 and the presence of the U.S. Fleet and military personnel in Shanghai.) During this time, Aunt Ada added play-clothes, baby bibs, etc for children which were popular souvenir gifts. She (also) added costume jewellery, handicrafts, etc.

When the Communists took over China in 1949, she with her parents and brother moved everything they could take on the last passenger boat to HongKong, where the business continued from (their) home. In 1962, she expanded by setting up shop at the Mandarin Hotel.  [Travel books of this period verify that Ada Lum did have a shop at the Mandarin Hotel on Boundary Street.] She died in 1988 in Hong Kong."

Isn't this an amazing woman and family? There is still so much there between the lines of their history that I wish I could fill in. These are my best efforts for now and I offer them as a tribute to Chinese-Australians, to Ada Lum's memory and in gratefulness to her living relatives.

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