Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Million Drops of Blood: "Outside the Spotlights," by Yiyun Zhou

You have so many interesting stories, you have to write them down,” my friends often say. I always answer them, “No, these stories are too Chinese and not Chinese enough at the same time.”
My answer is not just an excuse for my laziness, which I am.
Due to the fact that (ethnic) Chinese, communists or otherwise, who could write in English and got published were more or less from the same background, these stories have been told so many times: a big family of several generations, whose members are generals, politicians, scholars, revolutionaries, artists, etc. Though play different roles, they endured the same events in the 20th. Century China: the Revolution ending two-thousand-year-old Imperial era in 1911, the “May 4th. Movement” led to individualism and women’s emancipation, the Japanese invasion and the War of Resistance, the Chinese part of WWII from 1937 to 1945, the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. Then it was the establishment of the People’s Republic, The Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and so on and so forth. My family and friends could barely escape all these; they are, though probably not under the spot lights, but after all actors against these backgrounds. There was no need for me to tell such a family saga once more.
Yet my stories are not Chinese enough, to some western readers at least. Neither of my grandmothers, maternal or paternal grandmother had bound-feet, nor was either of them concubine. Both of them had names to be registered, i.e., official identities, instead of “girl no. X” before getting married and “Mrs. so and so” afterwards. Neither of them was old-fashioned enough to marry my grandfather solely by parents’ arrangement, and they were not modern enough to do so by “free love”. Their marriages were arranged by their parents, who could not do it without their consensus. Both my grandmothers could read newspapers and novels and write a little. Against the marital troubles they suffered, they could blame neither the Age nor social conditions but themselves. They were not interested in study to become independent women, so that they had no choice but dependence on their husbands, who were not always loyal. In short, they found themselves in a transition status.
Everything changed in the summer of 2007. I went to Wuhan, a metropolis in mid China, to celebrate my aunt, my father’s sister’s 80th. birthday. My cousin Hong came from Japan to the same purpose. We shared the same hotel room, and she told me many things I never knew, for example, our great grandmother was a concubine, and presumably had bound feet. My aunt was a great story-teller too. I helped her with typing some family stories into the computer, so I got known even more.
Now, let’s begin with the big family of generations.
At the southeast coast of China, there was a small town called Xiamen in Fujian province. This was a transcription of northern pronunciation; in old days this city was known as Amoy, closer to the local dialect. Amoy was a small town, but for centuries it was a place loved by merchants, poets, heroes, monks, and foreigners. Thanks to the pressure from the nomads in the North, the center of Chinese civilization kept moving down to the South. There were at least three major waves of migration to the South (ca. 310, 755, 1126 AD), and Fujian was one of the places favored by them. Jianzhen (687-763), the monk contributed great to the development of Buddhism in Japan, set off from Amoy. Shortly after Islam came to the world, the Persian and Arabian traders arrived at the city, and settled down here. In The Treaty of Wanghia signed on 3 July 1844 between the Qing Empire and the United States, Amoy was one of the five treaty ports with fixed tariffs and permission to erect churches and hospitals.
In 1897, great news arrived at the Zhou family in the city: two brothers successfully passed the imperial examination at the provincial level and became candidates! The Zhous were an old family that came from central China five hundred years ago. They cause of their migration was unclear, probably was to escape from the turmoil caused by war, but obviously not one of the three major waves. Now they grew up into a big family with several generations under the same roof. They were not rich, but they had a small fortune that was just enough for them to keep being “cultivated”. Hearing the happy news, the whole family, from grandparents to grandchildren, from masters and mistress to servants, were in great joy. The local authority sent them a board with horizontal inscription of “Same family, same year” to congratulate them, commending their appropriation of educating children. To some extent this inscription betokened the Zhous’ destiny; many members of this big family were educators, from university professors to middle school teachers, including me.

My great grandfather
Courtesy to
Zhou Dianxun (1876-1929), one of the two brothers, was one of the forerunners in this “family of educators”, as the authority today puts it. He was a handsome young man distinguished with extremely bright eyes. As a child he was often teased,”you may hold a contest with the lantern to race that who is brighter; and you will surely win, for your eyes are so bright that can blow it out.”
Before reaching twenty, he was pointed a leader in charge of administration at Yuping School in 1885. From 1904 he began to engage in charity works, while teaching at a middle school (since 1908).
13 years after his success with examination at the provincial level, he passed it at the highest level in the Forbidden City. As a first class candidate he was appointed a position of section chief in the Board of Civil Office, one of the Six Boards whose tradition can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD).
Although he was not particularly late-developed, his real success came a bit too late. One year after his appointment, the Emperor was overthrown by the Revolution in 1911. The two-thousand- year history of the Six Boards came to an end; they were, so to speak, reorganized into ministries, and hundreds of thousands revolutionaries were waiting for the positions in them. Although enlightenment minded, he himself was more a classic scholar than modern and he could hardly compete with the students coming back from Europe, America, and Japan. Perhaps he also kept in mind the traditional moral principle that a gentleman does not serve two regimes; when the Emperor was gone, he could not work for the next, no matter the title changed into President, Chairman, or General Commissar. So he quit his position and went back to his hometown Amoy, picked up his career as a teacher, and went on till the end of his day.
At home, there were a wife, two concubines, and four children from three mothers waiting for him. The wife was his second. The first one was from a well-off background and married him with two servant girls as parts of her dowager. One of the servant girls became concubine when turned fifteen. In 1900, she gave birth to a son, my grandfather, Zhou Shouxi (Youmo, 1900-80). In the same year, the wife also gave birth to a daughter, and died shortly afterwards.
As there were more granduncles and grandaunts on their way, I have to give an explanation of the Chinese seniority system. There were two ways of seniority of siblings: the major and the minor, and both numbered boys and girls separately. The minor was closer to the modern way, i.e., to number the children from the same father in success of their birth, though boys and girls were numbered separately. The major would put all the brothers’ children together to number them in success of their birth. The Zhou family used the major. My great grandfather was Nr.5 among his brothers, who already had 9 sons and 7 daughters, so his eldest son and daughter were numbered 10 and 8 respectively.
My great grandmother took care of the wife’s daughter, my Nr.8 grandaunt as her own, and gave birth to a second son in 1906, my Nr.14 granduncle, Zhou Shoukai (Youyan, 1906-70). As a well behaved mother of two sons, she might have a hazy hope deep in her heart: one day she would become the wife. To her great disappointment, my great grandfather married a young lady from nice family, and she was passed off.
She fell seriously ill. On her deathbed, she called my grandfather in, and took a little bag from beneath pillow. There were several hundred copper coins in the bag. She handed the bag to my grandfather, saying, “This is my private saving, and I don’t have much to give you. Take good care of your brother. He is so young and will become motherless.” “Yes, mom,” my grandfather said, with tears in his eyes, “I’ll surely take good care of my little brother.”
The young woman died, left two boys of eight and two, and the copper coins become their funds. She was twenty-seven or twenty-eight. Nobody knew her precise age. She had a name, though. Her name was Xiang, meaning fragrance, my great grandmother.
My great grandfather perhaps made a right decision, after all. He married a lady, instead of raising a former servant girl, my (biological) great grandmother to the status of wife. His second wife was as elegant as her name, Qiongyao, meaning a kind of jade. This way of indicating jade was an allusion from The Book of Songs, the oldest surviving collection of poems, attributed to Confucius’ selection and complement. Qionyao gave birth to a boy who did not survive his infancy, and never had any child ever since. However, she was regarded the Mother of my grandfather and granduncles and grandaunts, the grandmother of my father’s generation, as well as the great grandmother of mine.
From contemporary point of view, it was a violation of mother’s rights from the concubines’ part, but tradition had its balance. The deprivation of mother’s right was made up with equal right of children, regardless their biological mothers’ status. In contrast the European tradition of primogeniture, the Chinese one was that every (male) child was entitled to an equal share of inheritance. This balance derived, in part at least, from the wife’s monopoly of mother’s rights.
Viewing from the up growth of my grandfather and his siblings, the Mother must have been a wise woman. If their beautiful calligraphy, literature cultivation could attributed to their father, their warm kindness, the will to help, and so on, were definitely from their Mother. As the Harvard Professor Tu Wei-ming once said, in classic China, it was the mother, who was in charge of carrying on the moral tradition.
My grandfather was a brilliant student at school, and did every subject well. When he was about to graduate, an American teacher offered him the opportunity to study at the University of Chicago. He hurried home in excitement to tell his father this great news, expecting appreciation. To his disappointment, his father showed no sign of happiness. “I have no money to support such a project,” my great grandfather said.
“There is no need for money,” my grandfather said, still in hope, “my teacher will apply for a scholarship, and everything will be paid when it’s done.”
“True enough,” my great grandfather said, “but in that case you will not be able to make money for several years. You will soon turn twenty, and you have to take responsibility for your younger brothers and sisters.”
Everyone could see this urgency: the family kept growing. Besides my (biological) great grandmother, my great grandfather had two concubines, who gave birth to my granduncles Nr. 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and grandaunts Nr. 11, 12, 13, plus grandaunt Nr. 8 from the first wife, my grandfather (Nr.10) and his brother (Nr. 14), eleven in all!
“Yes, dad,” my grandfather said. He was an obedient young man. The oldest son in China had far more responsibilities, no privilege.
So my grandfather gave up any hope of higher education, and started working after finishing schooling.
Probably because of his earlier experience, my grandfather was somehow reluctant to support his children’s interests outside school. He turned down, in turn, the request of my father for buying radio parts, of my aunt for piano class, and my uncle for singing class. (They later became engineer, economic historian, and biologist respectively.) “I promise you, all of you, to support your university education,” he said, “that’s good enough. Don’t ask for too much.”
To be fair to my grandfather, his sacrifice was not a little one. He was a brilliant student; he could become a distinguished scholar, as several brothers did. Every granduncle or grandaunt I met said to me among first things, “Your grandpa sacrificed himself for us younger brothers and sisters’ sake.” This sacrifice meant more after 1949.
As for his work itself, my grandfather did well. As mentioned above Amoy was an old trade port with a long tradition of migration, both in and out, and people remained at home had countless connections with outside world, mostly southeastern Asia. My grandfather found jobs with ease in Indonesia and the Philippines at banks owned by ethnic Chinese.
My great grandfather’s economic burden was soon released, but not solely thanks to the money made by my grandfather.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

China's Great Wall of Silence: Beijing, November 2008

Open Magazine of Hong Kong will be publishing the series of articles written under the above heading in its May issue. I thank the editors of Open. The publication is due entirely to the efforts of Youqin Wang, Rongfen Wang, and Bei Su Nei. All three took it upon themselves to translate the articles into Chinese. Youqin and Rongfen successfully lobbied the editors of Open for publication. Bei Su Nei, who I did not know previously, read the articles on duping. net and took it upon herself to aid in the translation.

I have written here previously of Youqin and Rongfen. They are, and have been all of their lives, giants in the struggle for China's history. It is embarrassing to me that such as they have helped me. I think it was Newton who paid tribute to his Youqin and Rongfen by saying that he stood on the shoulders of giants. I cannot think of how to express my gratitude in original terms and so adopt his.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Million Drops of Blood: "Our Days in Red Terror," by Ye Weiyou

My Paternal Grandparents

My paternal grandfather Ye Chong-Zhi (alternative name Ye Wenqiao),with his ancestors in Anhui Province (the mid-south of China),lived in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1908,the last feudal dynasty in China), having experienced two tiles of emperor's reign: Guangxu and Xuantong. Grandpa came from a 4-line of officials, the highest being like a state governor of the U.S.Fearing the terrible persecution (chopping head) even to those who just sympathized with the reformists in imperial court,Grandfather found an excuse and quit his official position:head of the Public Security Bureau of Hebei Province.Soon he started to run industries with a position in his two banks, chairman of the board.

Grandfather married three women. His first parent-arranged bound-foot wife #1 grandmother Cang was of equal socioeconomic status with her hometown in Jinan, the capital of Shangdong Province. While flying a kite, Cang had an abortion and became barren ever since. In feudal society of China a doctrine was among the three unfilial things having no offspring is number one. A young girl Liu came from a poor family in Henan Province. After a severe flood, Liu was sold to a rich family in Tianjin as a maid (Tianjin is a port city near Beijing). The lady in the rich family happened to be my great-grandmother's friend. #1 grandmother Cang often accompanied my great-grandma to the lady's for mahjong(a game of Chinese origin played with tiles resembling dominoes)One day, while playing the game, Great-grandma found Liu there and asked about her background. The adoptive mother told everything true about the girl except her age: she was then 14 but was said 16.Great-grandmother often saw her there and came to like the girl. Then she decided to buy Liu for my grandfather as a concubine to continue the family tree.

#2 Grandma Liu soon was pregnant but did not show any sign in a month. Soon, on a business trip in Henan Province, Grandpa got to know a pretty Beijing Opera actress Chen who played a male's role in the opera. After hearing about Chen's poor life experience, Grandpa sympathized and fell in love with her. Having made sure that Chen was selling just her singing not body, Grandpa decided to marry Chen as a second concubine but dared not bring her home for the poor social status--actresses, particularly poor ones, were just above prostitutes. Fortunately, a month after living together, hen conceived a child and this made Grandpa very happy and bold enough to write home immediately.

Great-grandma agreed to accept Chen and allowed his son to bring her home at once though by then Liu also proved in a family.#3 Grandma Chen was about two years older than Liu.Interesting enough, the two women's first five kids were born in the same year and of the same sex with their first baby being both female. Thus the two humble-origin women produced for the family 14 offspring in all, each of them had five boys and two girls. The ten boys and four girls were ranked by sex in two groups. Chen was my grandma, #3 grandmother.
#2 Grandmother Liu's first girl was a couple of months older than my grandmother’s first girl. She was adopted by Cang and became the family's treasure. When she died at the age of three, Great-grandmother attempted a suicide by striking her head to the wall! The two concubines’ second child were both boys.#1 uncle was Liu's while #2 uncle was my grandmother Chen's. Her first daughter, my poor #2 Aunt was disdained by great-grandmother as she suspected the girl's blood lineage

As the 2nd boy in Ye ancestors' families tended to live short, when 2# uncle reached the age of 6 or 7,he was rearranged to number 8 after the newly born #7 Uncle. Unfortunately, the reranked boy (#2 uncle) couldn’t avoid an early death either. He died at the age 7---another grief storm in the family...My father, ranked #3,is Chen's second boy, and #6,#7 and #9 (originally ranked 8) were all her sons. My grandma’s first daughter, my poor #2 Aunt died young as a result of being bullied by her husband, a landlord's son. He forced her to watch while making love with a maid. Grandma’s second daughter my #3 aunt died of stroke in 1980.Her husband was not good either: taking opium. All Liu's children died except her youngest girl, my #5 Aunt, 87 years old, in Shanghai. Her kind husband, a famous translator lived to see Mao's death, predicting a great change in China. Concubines' children in a feudal Chinese family had to call their own mother aunt, while call their father's first wife mother. The same unfair rule in my grandfather's family.

With her low position in the family, my grandma was sort of discriminated. Her brother was not allowed to talk with her inside the house but just at the gate, so her father never came. And her children were also treated less well than #2 grandmother Liu's. My grandma tried to tolerate all this but occasionally vented her grievances on Father and asked him to take her out of the family after he graduated from Yanjing University (the predecessor of today's Beijing University, a missionary school run by the last American ambassador before 1950) Father had great pity on his mother and, while tapping her legs to relieve her pain, he once again promised to make her dream come true.

Family Ye was then very famous in Hebei Province, especially in the city of Tianjin, for their achievements in industries and great generosity to their servants, friends and particularly the poor around. At the peak of the family, there were about forty servants in the large house including wet nurses for each grandchild’s birth. Grandpa never demanded any receipt for a loan. Whenever there was a natural disaster, he and his mother/our great-grandma would give out grain and relief fund to the needed. Grandpa died quickly of stroke at the age of 58 as a result of his carriage accident. Then Father was still in Tianjin Nankai High School, one of the very few top missionary schools in China. About a month after Grandpa’s death, my father received admission notice from both Yanjing and Qinghua University(in comparison to Oxford and Cambridge in Britain)Yangjing admitted Father due to recommendation by his high school for his excellence in his studies while Qinghua admitted him after an examination. When Grandpa’s safe was unlocked after his death, instead of a great fortune they supposed to find, there were quite a few receipts since he never pressed for repayment of debts. No wonder Grandpa Ye Wen-qiao was known as philanthropist in Tianjin. Since early childhood all the boys had been imbued by Grandparents with the spirit of self-achievement: never rely on family properties. And Grandpa encouraged them to study natural sciences, thinking only this could save China.

While paying great attention to his sons' education, Grandpa didn't let his daughters go to school as he believed in another feudal doctrine: having little talent and learning is a female's virtue. So except #5 Aunt, the youngest girl in the family, all the other four girls had little literacy as Grandpa just let the half-illiterate sewing women servants teach them. In Grandpa's eyes, it was good enough for a woman to be able to write a simple letter reporting her safety to her husband when she got married. A female in a feudal eastern society was always dependent: obeying her father before marriage, then her husband and finally her oldest son after her husband died. When living with my #3 Aunt in the same Chinese house (a compound with houses around a courtyard), my mother often taught her Chinese characters.

After Grandfather's sudden death in 1920s, with limited wealth, the family began to decline, which made Father, his full brothers and two half brothers, #1 and #5 uncles, work even harder at school with a determination to have a good future for themselves and for their disaster-ridden nation. Number Three Aunt, my Grandma Chen's second daughter, fell ill with TB, which was almost incurable in those years. One day, when combing hair for that favorite girl, Grandma prayed to deity with the words to a crow in a tree Oh, god, let me catch the disease and save my daughter. If you hear me, please make the crow cry three times. At this, she heard the crow wa,wa,wa. Coincidentally, Grandma soon caught TB and got worse and worse while my #3 Aunt fully recovered. In the momentary recovery of consciousness just before death, Grandma struggled
to kneel on her bed and asked the supreme lady Cang what she was allowed to wear after death. Number One
Grandma Cang, with some mercy, said that she could wear red skirt since she made some contribution to the family by having produced and brought up both girls and boys. Red skirt in the old days of feudal China was a symbol of a first wife, not a concubine. Hearing this, Grandmother was touched to tears and said with a faint smile: Thank you, Madame and left the world sort of satisfied.

My father grieved so much over his mother's death that he, in order to invite her soul return,
according to a superstitious saying, fasted three days with his eyes closed and his mind deeply meditating. But nothing happened. That painful trying in vain may have reinforced his atheism. My poor grandmother didn't live to see Father's graduation and failed to wait for the day: being taken out of the house of humiliation and staying with her favorite son in another place.#1 Grandmother Cang died second of I don't know what disease.#2 Grandmother Liu was shocked to death in 1966,the start of the Cultural Revolution, by the Red Guards who rooted her apartment and forced her to kneel in front of the household building, shouting with angry and insulting words...Except #2 Uncle who died too young, none of our grandmother Chen's other four sons,Father,#6,#7 and #9 uncles, failed to live up to her expectations--winning honour for her when they grew up. All of them, though having suffered in different way with the nation's lot, have done pretty well either in social or in natural sciences, and all have a long and respected life. My father and #6 Uncle died in 2004 and 2005 after several years of hemiplegia.#7 & #9 Uncles are still alive today though the latter,#9 Uncle also caught the disease of hemiplegia two years ago, in 2006.

A Million Drops of Blood; Individual Chinese Histories Under Mao : Poem by Ye Weiyou


Maoist China produced an ocean of blood. That ocean is comprised of a million drops of blood, each with a name and a face. If Maoist China and its successor regimes have their way that ocean will remain anonymous. But there are those, like Youqin Wang, Xu Weixin, and Hu Jie, who will give name to each of those million drops of blood.

This series presents the stories of some of those million drops, of those who are gone, and those who survived to tell their own stories.



( I )

Is it a nightmare?
Far from a nightmare.
Brother is still swimming there
In the big lake he loves
Having no fatigue and fear.
He's swimming in every style
Without any danger.

Is it a nightmare?
By no means a nightmare.
Brother is flying high over there.
The righteous man is saved by the Lord
Having been baptized in the lake water.
He is staying with kind angels
Under God's care.

Is it a nightmare?
Not in the least a nightmare.
Brother is speaking to me in the air:
“Please stop grieving and smile,
For I am so happy in Paradise here.
You'll come and join me someday
In the near future"

( II )

It is like a dream,but not a dream,
Down my cheeks warm tears stream.
The good grief is sure to pass clean,
On Brother's salvation I will beam.

For my nation and my faith I'll fight,
By working hard from morning till night.
When I have some time to relax,
Reminiscing Brotherly love brings me delight.