Out of Many One People — the national motto every Jamaican embraces. We are Taino, we are Maroons, we are Irish, we are German, we are African, we are British, we are Indian, we are Chinese. We are a people touched by these ethnicities, through blood, through marriage, through circumstance. Xavier Murphy knows this all too well.
Murphy, founder of Jamaicans.com, knew he had a Chinese uncle in his family tree (mother’s side the Reid’s) and was determined to find him. And, like most Jamaicans, inquisitive and determined, his digging finally led him to Hermede Shim Kong (Chinese name: Shen Yingqiang), his uncle from the maternal side of his family.
Thanksgiving Day will always be special, for it was on this day 2020 that Murphy finally met his Uncle Hermede. The Zoom virtual event opened on screen, and there they were, two families, thousands of miles apart, meeting for the first time.
Seeing his uncle and his cousins for the first time, a visibly emotional Murphy remarked:
“For years I heard about you. I heard that my grandmother had a first child, and I tried to find you. I went to the Chinese Benevolent Association in Jamaica and tried there, but didn’t get anywhere. Then I tried Facebook, but didn’t get anywhere. I then found this company, My China Roots, and they were able to find you. We are so happy to find you and we hope one day that we can come and visit, and meet you.”
With formal introductions to the Reid clan, most present on screen, including Shim Kong’s 4 sisters and 3 brothers, Uncle Hermede beamed, then presented his 3 daughters and 1 son in the traditional Chinese way, by age in descending order.
Through a translator, Shim Kong remarked after meeting his long lost brothers and sisters and their children: “I am very happy to finally meet my sisters. I knew I had a brother, but did not know I also had sisters. And my daughters are happy they have finally found their aunts.”
Dressed in a sky-blue suit and striped tie, with the Chinese and Jamaican flags draped behind him, Shim Kong’s erect posture, focused glance, and smooth skin belied his advanced age. He turned 94 years old on 5 December 2020 and lives in the city of Shenzhen, in Guangdong province, China, with his wife, also 94. But, he is also Jamaican by birth.
Born in Jamaica in 1926 to a Chinese father who hailed from Shenzhen, and a Jamaican mother (Ruth Deeble-Reid), Shim Kong was taken to China at the age of 3.
Said Shim Kong in a Chinese language article, “When I was very young I was brought back to China by my father. My father returned to Jamaica, leaving me in China where I lived with my adoptive mother in Shuikuxin Village. I spent my childhood grazing cattle and farming with other local children.”
His life would take many turns, eventually leading him into battle. A proud war hero today, Shim Kong fought in the Second Sino-Japanese war which took place between 1937-1945. In 1944 at the tender age of 16, he was forced to live in a Japan-occupied Shenzhen. But, it wouldn’t be long before he, and some of his peers, joined the Guerrilla forces to fight against the Japanese. His bravery and natural talent was quickly recognized taking him up through the ranks from Guerrilla fighter to Naval Lieutenant. Since retiring in 1985, Shim Kong, determined to leave a positive mark on society, volunteered his time as a teacher and postman. He has not left his beloved China, but Jamaica has never left his heart.
Many years ago Shim Kong wrote a letter to the president of a Chinese organization in Jamaica at a Portmore, St. Catherine address inquiring about the Jamaican side of his family, but to no avail. The letter was returned. Even more remarkable is the fact that Murphy and his family lived on the very street to which the letter was addressed.
“Oh my God, we were this close to finding each other back then,” Murphy exclaimed.
Incredulously, the letter was addressed to a Mr. San Lyn Shim, a close family friend of Murphy’s wife Karen who is of Jamaican-Chinese descent. Indeed, both sides of the family have been searching for the other for years, making this reunion ever more meaningful. Talk about ships passing in the night!
In fact, one of Murphy’s cousins, Julian, visited China a few years ago. And, demonstrating the love and strength of family, he too desired to find his Uncle. So much so that he tattooed ‘Hermede Shim Kong’ on his arm.
Hearing this, Shim Kong remarked “We are so touched by this. We are so grateful and so glad that we can finally meet. Thank God for that.”
The Reid clan ended the call singing Happy Birthday to Uncle Hermede for his upcoming 94th birthday.
“Keep safe and healthy,” said Shim Kong.
“Yes, said Murphy, “ I have to stay safe because I have to come back to China to see you Uncle Hermede.”