At a young age, I realized that my parents had an eventful past. It was typical
for them to refer to the 1960 famine, the Four Cleanups, the Great Leap Forward,
the Cultural Revolution, etc., in conversations and when they doled out daily
parental guidance. The famine was regularly employed to teach frugality and
man-made tragedies were cited in disciplining impudence. They had had painful
lessons and were eager to pass on that knowledge to their only son.
To me, however, those were boring historical fictions exaggerated for effects.
A few years after I was born in the early 1970s, Mao died and ended with him, it
seemed, the political turmoils. When I reached school age, collective peasants
started to till their own plots and the country was opening up to the West.
Initially, we were still wanting in food and clothes, but things were looking up
year after year. All the bad things seemed to have run their course. I had a
bright future and no reason to be interested in the painful past. Just like
that, decades passed in oblivion.
History rhymes, I've heard, and my wondering bark has caught on the out-going
tide which has bestowed a different set of ups and downs. Like my parents, I
have strived all my life. Like them, I have triumphed and failed, gained and
lost. Gradually, youthful cravings have been whittling away and pain and
ugliness have stopped fazing me.
Recent headlines made by the Chinese Covid policies and practices (likened to a
quixotic exercise to kill all sparrows in the early days of the PRC), especially
in Shanghai, piqued my interest in that city and its tumultuous past. Through
reading, I realized the uniqueness of my generation of immigrants and wondered
in general about the experience of the Chinese elites in recent history. I finally
felt like to know the major events that shaped my parents' lives. It seemed
ironic that after both died, I started to ponder over what they went through.
Early June, Nien Cheng's book, Life and Death in Shanghai, was mentioned in an
interview with two Chinese American authors (Vanessa Hua and Maylee Chai) on
public radio and I requested it right away from the local library. She was born
in 1915 and it was about her years in the Cultural Revolution. Here were the
major events covered in the work
1949 Chose to Stay in Shanghai
1957 Husband Died of Cancer
1966 Locked up at the No. 1 Detention Center
1967 Daughter Murdered
1980 America, Washington DC
1987 The Book
(To be cont'd)