Elizabeth Adda Robinson Ratcliffe
Welcome to an electronic archive of Elizabeth Ratcliffe’s journey.
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Elizabeth Ratcliffe in Long Beach, CA before going to China, 1925 Elizabeth Robinson, Senior Year Newton High School, 1941 Elizabeth Ratcliffe, Talent, Oregon, 1971 Elizabeth Ratcliffe at her home in North Berkeley, 1990s Elizabeth Ratcliffe in the Bolinas Museum, 24 Apr 2015

Known by three names, Elizabeth was born in Barre, Vermont on November 1, 1923. The youngest of three children, she grew up in China and beginning at age six, took on the name of Lepai (the ‘p’ is pronounced as ‘b’). In her middle years and beyond she was known to many as Liz. As she describes this:

I like my brothers, had several names. The Chinese name I was given shared the first word with that of both brothers: “Kui”, meaning great, or important. The second part “Jen” might be translated as “precious” or “pearl”. A special vegetable name given my brothers by our cook, never was gifted me; I was simply known to him as “Kui Jen” Within the family my pet name was “Little Bit” which I carried until the Hunter family moved into our compound. Jean, just my age, became my inseparable playmate. When our brothers wanted us for some reason or other, they combined our two names into a much used Chinese phrase: “Lepai gee?”, meaning “what day of the week is it?” (in those days most Chinese needed to know what day it was more than what hour it was). When Jean and her family left our compound, I simply acquired the name of “Lepai”. It was so deeply imprinted, that when I went off to college in the U.S., I had to decide whether I would say my name was Elizabeth (which I hadn’t been called all through boarding highschool), or “Lepai”, by which I had been known ever since Jean Hunter came into my life around age 6. I choose to be “Lepai” and to this day I am still known by my oldest friends and family by this unusual Chinese name, which by the way is also the name of a famous Tang Dynasty 8th Century poet.

The above is excerpted from her autobiographical essay, “First Memories.”

Celebrating the Centenial of Lepai’s Birth
Adventures in Growing Up

My Bio written February 18, 2014 – I am now 90.

I was born November 1, 1923, in Warren, VT, my father’s hometown on my missionary parent’s first furlough from China. I was the third child – two older brothers, Harold and James – named Elizabeth Adda Robinson – Adda being my maternal grandmother’s name. The little family returned to China in 1925.

We lived in Paotingfu, Hopei (in a walled compound outside the walled Chinese city). Inside the compound run by the Congregational Board, were a boys school and a girls school for Chinese students, and three two-storied grey brick missionary houses, and a tennis court! Later, in 1938, we moved to Tehchow, Shantung province where my parents had been reassigned by the Congregational Board. Their last assignment was in Tungchow, fourteen miles outside of Peiking, as principal, teacher and dorm parents at North China American School. My mother had home-schooled me till then (Calvert School Method), and settled in Tungchow, I became a sixth and seventh grader in NCAS.

I returned to the U.S. with mother (my dad was serving as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army), when China was occupied by the Japanese, by 1940. I graduated from Newton High School in 1941, and, on work-study scholarship, Wellesley College in 1945, majoring in Art History (not useful for “career,” but contributed to my connection to my future life as involved in graduate work, in teaching, and simple pleasure). Eventually I earned a MA in Byzantine-Medieval Art History (totally useless except adding more pleasure and appreciation of art and history, as they dovetail in civilization)!

In reality, I have always loved learning, rather than be glued to the practical path (pleasure over reality?). Over my long life, somehow, I have hopefully cobbled them together in better relationship. Being on my own after divorce in 1965 helped. In sum, I’ve had an interesting, exciting, and satisfying life of relationships, learning, and adventure. I feel now I may be a “mature” person.

How I Got The Name “Lepai”

I really don’t know how I got this name but it is Lepai (lee-bye) and in Chinese this word means day of the week. I lived in Paotingfu in the missionary compound. Besides the Robinsons family (my family) at one time there were the Hubbard family and another time the Hunter family. In the Hunter family was a boy just the age of my brother Jim and a girl my age. Jean and I were always playing together. One of our pastimes was going into the goat pen to enjoy a lick on the hunk of hard molasses that was there for the goats to lick. When our older brothers Jim and Bob wanted to find us they would yell out a familiar Chinese expression “lebye gee”, meaning what day of the week is it? Their reason for wanting to find us was usually to tease us, their little sisters. And we would usually fall into their game. The concept of a seven day week was unheard of then in China because every day was a work day. And Jim and Bob were using that phrase because each word sounded something like Jean and my names.