A strong but unseen bond existed yesterday between the guest speaker for Sweet Briar College’s 99th commencement and the youngest member of the Class of 2008, pulling at both with gravitational force.

That bond was China.

For speaker Anna Chao Pai, Sweet Briar Class of 1957, the connection was obvious.

Born in Beijing, she is the granddaughter of a Chinese warlord, Marshal Chang Tso Lin, who controlled Manchuria after the Chinese Revolution in 1911 and was assassinated in 1928. Eight years later, Pai’s uncle, Chang Hsueh Liang, took Chiang Kai Shek hostage and forced him to agree to fight with the Chinese Communists against the invading Japanese.

“In return,” Pai told the 141 graduates and their friends and families, “my uncle released Chiang, believing he was the only person who could unite the Chinese. (He) was immediately arrested and kept in captivity by Chiang for the next 50 years. But he had helped to save China for the Chinese.”

Natalie Batman was captured by China in another way.

“I went there on my Junior Year Abroad,” said the Amherst resident, who graduated at age 19, “and studied in Shanghai. It made a big impression on me, and one of my goals is to one day go back.”

A home-schooled student, Batman enrolled at Sweet Briar at 16.

n Darrell Laurant is a reporter for The News & Advance in Lynchburg, Va.

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