Related News

Home » Feature » People

Italian family's China years

FOR almost 40 years until the end of World War II, an ordinary Italian family lived an extraordinary adventure in China, traveling along the dangerous Yangtze River for the postal service and enjoying life in old Shanghai.

Their story, in which they were witness to tumultuous history, is told in "Pechino-Bassano del Grappa" ("From Beijing to Bassano del Grappa") by a granddaughter who went through a thick scrap book, photo albums and diaries.

Bassano del Grappa near Venice was the first place the family stopped on their return to Italy from China.

The author, Marina Giusti del Giardino, came to Shanghai recently to promote her first novel, which is published in Italian, with plans for Chinese and English translations. It contains around 200 old photos.

It was her first visit to China and Giusti del Giardino enthused about it, saying her mother told her the days in Shanghai "were the happiest and most treasured time in her whole life."

"If there's a paradise on this earth, it's this, it's this, it's this," she quotes her mother Matilde Chieri, as saying.

The book is based largely on the diaries of her grandfather, Virginio Chieri, who left home in Tuscany in northern Italy when he was 22 and took a boat to China in 1901. He fell in love with the mysterious Eastern country and after he returned to Italy, he made up his mind to settle in China.

He found a post in the Chinese Post and Customs service and later married his Italian sweetheart who joined him in China. They had four daughters.

In vivid detail, and with around 200 old photos, the book describes 10 years of exhausting and dangerous journeys along the Yangtze River as Chieri helped organize the postal service. The Chieri girls also pent what they called the best time of their lives in Shanghai.

During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45) the Chieri couple spent two years in a Japanese concentration camp in northern China. After the war, they were forced to return to Italy without home or belongings.

Q: What inspired you to write?

A: When my mother passed away, she left me a thick scrap book with diaries and photos. Before that, she kept it to herself. We all knew she had it but she never gave it to us. I figured it was time to write down my family's experiences in China. I hope through this book my children and grandchildren can find out why my grandparents left their own country to live in a totally strange country, why they had adventures here, fell in love with this country and chose to stay for about 40 years, having their own family. I hope the book can carry on the deep friendship between Italy and China.

Q: What did you hear about China?

A: My siblings and I grow up hearing about China and singing Chinese folk songs. My mother always told us the stories of her life. She told us about parties thrown by the upper class and Chinese officials, and told us of well-to-do gentlemen she met at parties. She liked to have coffee in cafes and dance at the Peace Hotel. Every year, she spent summer with parents in Weihaiwei, today's Weihai in Shandong Province, which were the happiest and best experience she has ever had. My grandparents always wanted to come back to China and they loved telling China stories to their Italian friends. Unfortunately, they never made the trip; they died in 1963.

Q: Please tell us about this visit.

A: This is my first time in China. I'm so excited that I can see this city with my own eyes. I tried to find my parents' house on Changle Road in the former French Concession, but I found a 40-story skyscraper. Before I came, I was a little worried that I couldn't find the scenes and feelings my parents and grandparents used to enjoy - the city has changed so rapidly. But when I finally arrived, I found the city's vitality and energy remain just the same and the people here are so adorable and humorous, just like my parents told us. The night views are terrific. It is definitely one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I already have the name for my second book. I'll name it "The China in My Eyes" and describe it from my perspective.

Q: Do you plan English and Chinese translations?

A: Yes. I'll publish both. My mother's scrap book contained more than 600 photos taken by a friend of my father who was a photographer. I publish around 200 of them in the book, so I am thinking of a photo exhibition for them all. If possible, I hope one day this novel can be made into a film and I want a Chinese director to hold the camera.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend