The site words of a man’s mouth records a great find:

In December of 2005 this autograph book was found at a used knicknack store in Hong Kong’s central district and purchased for 380 Hong Kong dollars. The identity of the book’s original owner is a mystery. The stories the book reveals are hidden in plain sight. Aside from a few quotations in English, the bulk of the entries are in Chinese. Tiny pictures of men dot the pages of the book. The Chinese characters start in earnest on the seventh page… You are invited to browse the pages, comment on the imagery, and if you are able, translate the Chinese characters into English. Perhaps together we can discover (or perhaps imagine) the story behind the owner of this almost lost journal.

It turns out to be a “farewell book” in which classmates wrote quotes or their own thoughts for a fellow student; this is dated 1942 (the year 31 in the Nationalist calendar), and the classmates attended Jiao Da (Shanghai Jiao Tong University). Many of the inscriptions have been translated by commenters, and some of the students have been identified (“Cai Zhu-Hong, the person who signed this page, might be responsible for designing a new steam engine at East Shanghai Shipyard in 1958”; “Xu Shao-Gao, Senior Engineer… Graduated in 1942 from Jiao-Tong University, Department of Mechanical Engineering… Has various positions in the government as well as the Chinese Association of Mechanical Engineering”). A great use of the internet, and it’s very interesting to see what young people write in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. (It’s not clear whether the original owner of the book was Xi Yao or Xi Rao; different translators render it different ways.)

Thanks for the link, Paul!


  1. I translated several pages of the book at the start of this year – discovering this small, intimate part of history so close to home feels nice indeed… evidently there are still many old things of value lying around in hk stores.

  2. I think his name was Xi-Yao. When the character for ‘yao’ is paired with several other set ‘side’ characters (like side dishes) the resulting character is often pronounced ‘rao’. But alone, I’m pretty sure it’s Yao.

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