父亲陈迎元於二O一六年十一日一日在西安去世,享年九十。看其家中如同临时出门之景,回忆往昔,发现我对父亲所知甚微。连日从父亲的物品中并在网上得补一二。

童年时其父丧于日军轰炸之中,随兄在上海成长求学。后因上海失陷,学校迁移西南后方,乘船沿长江西下。途遇沉船之险,赖其独特侧身狗刨之势,得以生存。

光华土木毕业后赴东北工作,逢抗美援朝,曾为中国新生或苏俄空军修建兼守护机场。记得见过一张其当年腰缠子弹带,斜挎盒子炮,身裹羊皮袄的照片。若不是一副眼镜和一张书生脸,说是从威虎山上下来的破坏跑道和飞机可能更为贴切。随后参加鞍钢建设。

一九五七年成为西安建筑工程学院建院一分子。今称西安建筑科技大学。其当年带领学生建造的行政楼是今日校园中寥寥无几的生存者。大概是因其育人前数年的实际经验,在校三十年中参与过酒钢(酒泉钢铁)及宝钢(宝山钢铁)建设,为他们解决施工中一些疑难问题。“七二一指示”为一批人提供了弄虚作假的又一机会。父亲则由此使得一些幸运者从只知其然到知其所以然,成为技术骨干。八十年代又仗其独特的技术专长参与对陕西扶风法门寺舍利塔倒塌原因的调查,并主导西安大雁塔倾斜原因及矫正方案的调研。

我印象中的父亲甚为小心谨慎。在那深挖洞的年月,一次为目睹工作时的隧道挖掘机,母亲通过朋友获得批准乘吊篮下到一个正在施工的大型地道。父亲极力反对,后坚持与我们同下。在地下短短几分钟,不停来回走动观察四壁。其面部表情如大战在即,直到我们跨出吊篮,脚踩实地。至今无法想像他,如果知道我们校园里几位小伙伴玩地道战,在校园宿舍楼前错纵的地道里,能在伸手不见五指的暗中如同行在阳光大道之上,将是怎样一个反应。其当年因会浮水得拣一命,但我幼时却不赞同去学游泳。若非母亲坚持,他教研室同事的邻居教授,想必世上多一只旱鸭子。

但其一生中不乏大胆冒险之举。七十年代在学校机工厂建造一大跨度拱型厂房,因天车要覆盖整个厂房,不可有一支柱。最大跨度多少,且拱型屋顶何时拆除支撑架,可参考的数据不多。每次拆架,父亲总是站在脚手架上。直至最后一次砌完最后一块砖马上就拆支撑架,“看着屋顶向下沉”,其兴奋度不亚于那时的孩童盼大年初二走亲戚的劲头。

如果将父亲土木工程之长为作画之技,则琴棋书画,样样俱到,勘称儒家文化一才子。兴许正是文理兼优,对中国古建筑独有钟情,格外珍惜。为大雁塔倾斜一项花了十数年的心血。初期寻求无损伤技术确认塔身材料时,考虑过我提出的用数字信号处理的建议。多种因素未能采纳,失去唯一能与父亲合作的机会。

父亲默默平凡的走完他九十年的历程。物若有情,千百年后依然耸立的大雁塔将永记他当年的一片心血。

。。。

My father, Chen Yingyuan, passed away on November 1st, 2016 in Xian. He was 90 years old. Searching deep down memory lane, while walking around the apartment with things all over the place as if someone still lived there, I realized that I didn’t really know many details about him. A few gaps were filled only after days of going through his belongings and searching on the net.

While in his teens, his father was killed in a Japanese bombing raid during the World War II. He moved to Shanghai to live with an elder brother and continued his studies there. After the fall of Shanghai into the hands of the Japanese, the school was relocated to the southwestern part of China. During his journey to the west, along the Yangtze River, he survived a sunken boat with his unique sideways doggy-paddle.

Upon graduating from Guanghua University, a spin-off of St. Josh’s University Shanghai, with a major in civil engineering, he served in the municipal government of Fushun in Northeast China. During the Korea War, he participated in the construction of a military air base for the newly established Chinese or really USSR air force. As a second duty, he also guarded the base. I recall seeing a photo of him taken at that time, with a bandoleer full of ammunition around his waist and a Mauser military pistol hanging on the side, wearing a sheep-skin jacket. If not for the pair of glasses and youthful face of a student, he looked more like a bandit than an engineer.

In 1957, he joined the faculty of a newly founded college in Xi’an, now Xi’an University of Architecture and Technology. Today the administration building, built by students under his supervision, is one of a handful surviving buildings from the founding era. Perhaps because of a near-decade-long experience in real construction projects, he was assigned or asked to assist during the construction of Jiuquan Steel in Gansu Province in the 1950’s and 60’s, and Bao Steel near Shanghai in the 1970’s and 80’s. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong decreed that colleges needed to be established on site and the time required to graduate had to be shortened, known as the “721 Instruction”. That provided a golden opportunity for many to commit fraud. Father, on the other hand, made best of the situation and truly trained a few lucky ones who had him as a teacher. When the stupa in Famen Temple in Fufeng, Shaanxi Province, collapsed without warning after a rain storm in the 80’s, the temple requested assistance from his school to find the root cause. He was assigned to lead the investigation because of his experience and expertise. That led to a pursuit, more than a decade long, to understand why the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, built in 652 C.E., started tilting and more importantly, to find a solution to stop it and better yet correct it.

The father in my memory, while growing up, was extraordinarily cautious. Right after the armed border skirmish with the Russians in the 1960’s, the country was in a frenzy, building bomb shelters, some designed to withstand nuclear bombs. Once to satisfy my curiosity to see a tunnel boring machine in action, my mother helped to get permission to access one of the shelters being constructed. My father was, upon learning it, vehemently against the plan. Failing to convince us, he insisted going down with us. While we were watching the machine grinding earth, he paced the tunnel in circuits, watching the walls so intensely that his facial expression was like a soldier at the dawn of a big battle, until we were out and on solid ground again. I still have a hard time imagining how he would have reacted, had he known that a few friends and I played so many times in the jigsaw-like shelter on campus that we could walk in pitch-black as if we were in broad daylight. Despite his own experience on Yangtze, he was against my learning to swim. He only gave in after the insistence of my mother and an offer from a neighbor, who was a faculty member in the same department, to teach me.

However, there were occasions of risk-taking as well. In the 70’s, the school workshop was in need of an arched, all-brick facility with a bridge crane built in. How big could the span be with the materials in hand and how soon could the support beams be removed after bricks were laid? There was not much reliable data to refer at the time. The wait time was shortened gradually with each section. He was on the scaffold every time the support beams were disasembled. “The roof was visibly sinking!” was how he described the disasembling with zero wait time. The excitement in his voice was no less than that of a kid receiving a dreamed toy on Christmas day.

Confucian culture considers music, game of Go, calligraphy and painting to be the four essential factors of a scholar. He would be one if painting were replaced by his expertise on civil engineering. Perhaps the unique combination of a strong liberal arts and engineering education, he fell deeply in love with ancient Chinese pagodas. He spent all his energy into the investigation of the root cause for the Big Wild Goose Pagoda project and continued well into his retirement. Now the pagoda has not only stopped tilting but also is self-correcting towards the medial axis at a pace of one millimeter per year. In the early days of the project, I proposed a digital signal processing approach when he was searching for a solution to determine the inner structures of the walls without drilling a hole. Due to various reasons it was not adopted. It would have been awesome to have cooperated with him.

Father lived an ordinary and plain life. His greatness is, to me, what he didn’t get to maintain his integrity. He could have become super rich by being a consultant in name for the countless construction firms which had knocked on his door in the past three decades of booming constructions. Is there a better memorial than a standing Big Wild Goose Pagoda a thousand years from now?

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