Nostalgia: The Daughter of a Translator

The old lady is from Shanghai. His father is a translator for a Japanese officer invading China. I was too shocked to link her with the gorgeous ladies from Shanghai. His father made a decent living in old Shanghai, and the family could be even classified as middle class. At the beginning of the 1950s, her mother disclosed everything that her father did during the time period ruled by Japanese invaders. His father was arrested, therefore. At the 1960s, he was released from the prison but lost the Hukou* from Shanghai. It was the age of food shortage, so the government tried to move people to the countryside to release the pressure of urban areas. The whole family moved responding to the call.

*Hukou: A household registration record officially identifies a person as a resident of an area

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Nostalgia: Explosion

In 1938, the militia of Shimen Village hid three grenades in an obsolete shack half way up the hill. Hearing the news, several children went uphills and stole the grenades. Since the structure of grenades was simple, the children disassembled them. Feeling excited about the detonator, they decided to ignite it. The bravest boy, who was eight years old, was the one holding it. There was no firework as expected. However, the right hand of the boy was injured; all of the fingers broke. After seventy eight years, this boy now becomes a man washing vegetables at the bank of the stream. He is only able to pick the vegetables with these broken fingers.

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Our Documentary Nostalgia

We finally made some progress on our documentary Nostalgia! Here is my script in it!

He is my dad, an accountant of a foreign-funded corporation.

This is I, Emma, studying in an American high school.

My dad likes photography. Every weekend, he drives into mountains. He used to take pictures of landscape, but he shifts to the people there for the past two years.

The Siming Mountain is the mother mountain surrounding Ningbo.

This is how my dad, with his photos in hands, walks on the mountain roads without a specific destination.

He meets everyone like old friends of his, even though for some of them, it is their first meeting.

In order to make the villagers feeling comfortable telling personal stories to an invader of their houses, dad strives to become friends of them by engaging in their daily lives.

He thought the lives of him and these villagers were two parallel lines whose ends will never meet or overlap until he meets this old lady.

She is a 97-year-old mother, losing the ability to listen or speak.

She comes home from the temple only when her son comes back, as if there is telepath between them.

A son and a mother sit face-to-face, accompanying each other wordlessly.

Zhang is the 75-year-old son of her. Every other month, he comes into the mountain from Ningbo, which is 80 kilometers away, taking the responsibility caring for his mother from the hands of his  younger brother, who comes from Shanghai. They take turn living in the house renovated from a former sty.  Their constant company with their mother has lasted for more than ten years.

Overflowed with joy,  dad is deeply engaged in the process. At this moment, time stands still.

In summer, I go back to Ningbo. Being moved by his works, I become the curator of his photography exhibition. It turns out to be successful. I, with dad, go closer to the lives of these old people. Behind each and every one of them hides a touching story.

These two people are diagnosed with cataract. When dad wants to contact a doctor for them, the old lady rejects.

I am so impressed by them that I ask my dad, “What else can we do for them?”

This is a photography exhibition at a larger scale, and we welcome more people to come.

The exhibition opens with the support from all sectors of the society.

Dad even invites Zhang and his mother to the opening ceremony.

The photography exhibition is successful. All we do is to benefit more people in the Siming Mountain.

One rainy day, I experience his way into deep mountains with Zhang again.

Coming into the mountains is coming back home. As long as his mother is there, deeply inside the Siming Mountain locates their real home.

No matter how tough the trip is, men residing far away from home are unable to let go their initial concern.

Everyone has their own road back home. The soil far away from us lightens and warms our souls.

We live in the same world. We are not separated by a frame, and they are not frozen at the moment of picture. 

They are the epitome of our past generations. They were born at a time of political turmoil and have suffered their entire lives. They are always right there for us until the end of their lives.

Eventually, we have to say goodbye.

However, we are never willing to say goodbye to the land.

They are ourselves.

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Nostalgia: Brotherhood linked by Soft Rush

Four farmers are hired to plant in 200 mu* of soft rush field in Shenjiao Village, Yinzhou. Farmers from Shandong province are hired to do easy tasks such as transplanting in winter and harvesting in the summer which require a large amount of simple labor force in limited time. These four farmers are in charge of farmwork which requires masterful skills in the eight months in between the transplanting and harvesting months. The boss provides them with tools, consumables, fertilizer, pesticides, etc. Their job is to build timber piles, nylon nets, fertilize soft rush, and get rid of bugs, without taking economic risks. Within the eight months, for nearly four months, they are required to do precise and intense work everyday.

After harvesting in the summer, everyone of them gets 25,000 yuan from their boss as their salary. Since they have neither social security nor agricultural insurance, this salary is their income for the whole year. Due to the fact that four of them were nearly seventy years old and that younger people are not willing to work for such a low income, nobody plants soft rushes anymore these years.

Four of them were fertilizing in the field when I visited. They had to move back and forth countless times all on their own to finish fertilizing. The most painful task is to kill bugs, however. The sharp leaves with pesticide will penetrate their skin, resulting in ulcers. (Shenjiao Village, Yinzhou)

* 1 mu ≈ 0.1647 acre

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Nostalgia: An Orphan Accountant

He is Li, 81 years old. At the age of seven, his parents died, and his uncle sent him to an orphanage in Fenghua. The orphanage, which actually was a school, was sponsored by Chiang Kai-shek* for raising orphans in Fenghua, Xiangshan, and Xinchang. At the age of 14, the orphanage was shut down when the Kuomintang lost control in mainland China. Li was sent to a peasant family, but he suffered from discrimination. For example, when eating salted vegetables, Li was only allowed to eat leaves. However, others were eating stems even with lard in order for more flavor. He rebelled a year later, and under the mediation, the peasant family allowed him to leave and even gave him a house according to the local tradition. He was the only intellectual in the village who had gained an education in the orphanage. For most of his life, he worked as the accountant of the village until his retirement. (Baifenbi Village, Fenghua)

*Chiang Kai-shek: Leader of the Kuomintang

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Nostalgia: The Snake Doctor

He is Mao, 80 years old. For decades, people from Ninghai, Xiangshan, Fenghua, and Xinchang who were snake bite victims tramped over hill and dale to find this snake doctor. Mao was not from a family of snake doctors; surprisingly, his grandfather was the leader of the beggar’s gang. His father begged for his entire life, while he also begged for 15 years with his father. At the age of 18, he went to City God Temple of Shanghai, learning how to treat patients bitten by snakes. Before, there could be as many as 50 patients. In order to collect herb-medicine for them, he had to look for herbs all over the mountain. In recent decades, patient number decreased as the local ecosystem deteriorated. Both the local Department of Health and his son, who hid his phone, prevented him from practicing, so he did not have any choice but to quit his career. (Feitianwugong Village, Xinchang)60×75.jpg

Nostalgia: The Vicissitudes of Life

The couple is 87-year-old Lu and his 81-year-old wife. In 1948, he went to Shanghai to learn his trade, apprenticing in a coal dust ball stove company. 10 years later, an incident happened in China that changed countless people’s fates. In May 1961, the government initiated the Down to the Countryside Movement, in which Mao sent privileged urban youth to poor mountainous areas to work as farmers. Lu volunteered to serve in Ninghai. Farming in Ninghai was not an easy task. He did not even know anything about agriculture. Due to the numerous mountains in Sangzhou, he had to carry manure buckets uphill on his shoulder. When he was too tired to labor, the rural production team did not care and deducted his work points ruthlessly, leading to food shortages in his family. At the hardest times, his wife chose to eat husk so that her husband and children would not starve. (Sangzhou, Ninghai)

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The Down to the Countryside Movement was initiated to even out the gap in the urban and rural area as well as reducing the amount of young people fighting for limited job opportunities in the urban areas. Lu’s vicissitudes were resulted from the Down to the Countryside Movement alone; should he not have come to the coutryside, he could have gotten a decent job in the city, and his family would less likely have experienced these hardship. Lu was not the perfect person for farming because he had never tried to before. Although it was designated to bring benefits to the newly founded nation by maximizing the amount of people with jobs, it also brought hardships to people like the Lu family. The movement forced people to the places doing jobs that were so unsuitable to them that they could barely survive.

Nostalgia: The Peasant Secretary

This 94-year-old man named Hu used to be a tenant farmer, an occupation passed down within his family. Their low social status made them oppressed for the most of the time. At one night in 1949, three People’s Liberation Army soldiers came to visit his house. He was so scared that he tried to escape. The soldiers stopped him, telling him amiably that Ningbo was liberated and that they would like to invite poor peasants like him to join the local Peasant Association in Banpu Village. Soon, attending its first meeting, Hu began to work as an honorable grass-roots cadre. The house that he lived in belonged to a landlord previously, and it was given to him and another peasant after confiscation by the government. Hu later became the secretary of Banpu Village. Now, with his wife, he spends the rest of his life in Banpu enjoying a serene lifestyle and an abundant pension. (Banpu Village, Ci City)

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Again, the story of Hu shows the theme of how people’s life would be dramatically affected by history. While some people moved downward along with the liberation, Hu moved up. History consists of tons of people’s life moving either upward and downward; Hu is just a small portion of it. He is the lucky one among them. It is fascinating comparing the stories of different individuals living in the same time period.

Nostalgia: The Orphan

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there was a lonely old lady in the village who had no children of her own. This kind lady adopted a beggar from another village as her son and another one twenty years later as her grandson. The son she adopted became the secretary of the village, and the grandson is the old man in the photo, named Ye. Ye always talked about his amiable grandma and competent father even though the whole family was not genetically related. Forming such a family was only a helpless choice caused by the social and historical background. Ye’s wife died twenty years ago from diabetes, and her treatment cost all money saved by the family. Ye’s son is 34 years old now, working in Shangtian Village alone. Ye plants in 5 mu of field, with a cow as his only helper. When I met him, he was smoking after collecting two buckets of forage feed for his cow. (Sanxi Village, Fenghua)

* 1 mu ≈ 0.1647 acre

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Nostalgia: The Honorable Veteran

It was a summer morning last year when an old man in his 80’s named Ye was reading under the roof beside the village trail at Fangjiahetou Village. On his left was a steelyard, while on his right was a basket of spiral shells, which he collected in the morning. At the beginning of 1950s, his sharp instincts allowed him to find the spies in the army, destroying a secret service of more than a hundred people. Thus, he was awarded Individual Second Class Merit. Later, when the transmitter-receiver that the Kuomintang hid in Zhoushan did not work anymore, Ye found six people from Taiwan trying to fix it secretly at night. He reported what he found to the army and caught them easily. He received Individual Second Class Merit again and caught the eye of Mao Zedong, who sent him to study in Nanjing Military School. After retiring from active military service, Ye served as a secretary of the town. (Fangjiahetou Village, Cixi)

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This is one of my favorite images in the photography exhibition in the past summer. I am amused by the attractive life story of this veteran. I could not even imagine that there would be a veteran respected with such a big honor in the village in Ningbo before. From the second picture of him telling his stories, the viewers could truly feel how proud he is when talking about his life.