The year when I was born,
As telling truth had become unfashionable, people in charge of economy planning were boasting the extraordinary level of agricultural and industrial outputs throughout the country. As a consequence, grains were left in the field to rot as there was no need to harvest them with production so high elsewhere. With the frying pans and woks from individual families being melted for steel, farmers would eat at will in communal canteens, which resulted in unnecessary high grain consumption and wastage. With poor weather and harvests in the successive three years, the country suffered one of the worst famines in modern Chinese history.
In the tungsten mine, the grain rations for miners and their dependents were cut to half of what used to be, with adult miners allowed about 9 kg rice per person per month, women and children considerably less. With other food supplies being negligible, people had to rely on self-grown vegetables, wild plants and roots to supplement their daily energy requirement. Due to insufficient nutrition, I suffered a severe disease with symptoms of a huge, swollen belly and boney legs and arms, which nearly took my life. Similarly, my father also got very ill and had to be carried away many miles for hospital treament.
To save the grain rations for my father and sisters, my mother took me and my elder brother, together with her sewing machine, to Pingxiang, Jiangxi province to earn a living by dressmaking. My mother put me in a bucket on one side of carrying pole, and sewing machine on the other side, with my elder brother walking along. This presented a classical picture of "li xiang bei jing". However, had my mother not done what she did, several from my family might have perished in those short few years. With the agricultural production slowly recovering three years later, the grain rations for miners and their dependents were increased gradually. And my mother, my elder brother and I finally returned to the mine. By the time I was 5 yo, malnutrition among miners there largely disappeared.
While my mother was busy dress-making at home, I generally behaved well by sitting quietly on the front porch myself. I would sing a children’s song “Small Swallow” all day while watching people walking past our house. When I was 6 yo, my father showed me how to use brush to write Chinese characters. With example characters on the side, I would try to copy again and again on used newspapers. I also learned to count 1-100 by that time.