Mr. He is almost 70 years old. He is from Zhubu Village, Ninghai, and his skill to catch snakes is inherited from past generations. Besides planting, he often goes into mountains to catch snakes at night. Zhubu village is located in the remote mountain area, and many villagers have the skill to catch snakes because it is a great part time job for them. However, selling the snakes is not easy. Mr. He has had the snake for half a month for now, but he is still unable to make a good amount of money. His nephew lives with him and his wife. When the nephew was 7 years old, his mother got cancer, while his father got cerebral hemorrhage. The responsibility of caring for him comes to this old couple.
Wang Cunguo was born in 1952 in Shiqiaotou, Fenghua. His mule has been with him for ten years. He keeps it at the foot of the hill behind his house every day. Every time when it hears Wang’s motorcycle heading home, it shouts happily and goes around in circles. Wang often goes behind his house to play with it, which would laugh and act like a child. Over the course of ten years, Wang and his mule have been carrying masonry and cement within mountainous areas in Fenghua, Shaoxin, Yuyao, and Xinchang. Usually after ten years with mules, owners would sell them. Wang’s mule is turning that age soon, and his wife always wants him to sell it as soon as possible. Now, his mule costs 5,000 yuan, but if he procrastinates, the money would keep dropping. Wang knows that once his mule is sold, it would be killed for food. He is not ready. His mule is a member of his family now.
Historical background: The lowest peasant class in the old ages
Xu Shiyue, born in 1931, is from Xiashao, Beilun. He does not know where his ancestors come from; the only thing he knows is that the Xu family has been watching the ancestor shrine of the Shao family for five generations. They belonged to the lowest social class in the society, depending entirely on the family shrine of the Shaos.
Since the Ming Dynasty, they were banned from going to school, being government officials, or marrying other social classes. They were only allowed to held degrading jobs, like taking care of ancestral shrines or being barbers and butchers. Such discrimination was eliminated by Yongzheng Emperor and gradually faded since the Republic of China period.
Historical background: Chiang Kai-shek resigned from the political arena for a short period during the Republic of China
Jiang Xiaochang (in the middle) was born in 1921 in Xikou Fenghua. He is from the same clan as Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi). In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek lived in Xikou for half a year, visiting Xuedou Temple and Miaogaotai often. The Siming Mountain is steep; a sedan chair was the best means going up the winding roads. He was the bearer who carried Chiang Kai-shek uphill. Chiang was a very nice man, as he recals. He also considers it an honor, and his family takes delight in talking about it. He is 96 years old now and still healthy besides deafness.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War, gangs were active in the Siming Mountain. He was once abducted by a gang, and his parents borrow money for four days in order to save him. According to him, during the four days, although he had to be tied at night, the meals were not bad at all.
In Feitianwugong Village lives Yu at the age of 89. On July 30th in 1934 in lunar calendar, his father went to work in the cornfield with him before it was too dark. When they just arrived at the cornfield, a gang came up to them. Yu’s father was shot, and Yu was abducted. The gang requested 300 yuan from Yu’s mother. In order to save her son, she sold everything she could and even borrowed money from others. After half a year, Yu was released. Maybe because of such experience, he does not like to talk.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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
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)
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.
The only barber shop at Fangjiahetou Village is owned by a disabled man named Wang. Spending only 7 yuan, villagers can enjoy full service, including shaving and cleaning of the ears and nose. Wang had polio in his childhood, but he was determined to support himself without help from others. At the age of ten, he learned the skill from an old barber from the village and bought an old house as his own barber shop. Till now, he has worked for more than thirty years. There are not many young people living in the village, so he does not need to cater his service to younger generations. A simple furnace is used to boil water; since he is reluctant to use coal, shredded wood scatters in the room. Wang never leaves the village because he has trouble walking freely. The shop, with a barber chair inherited from the old barber, contains everything he needs. The small room is often full of people. Even if they do not need a shaving, the old like to gather there chatting. I passed his shop that day, and noticing me with a camera, he asked me whether I could take a one-inch photo for his disability certificate. When I gave him the photo the following week, he was surprised, generously offering me a spoken voucher for free service. (Fangjiahetou Village, Cixi)
The story of this disabled barber is very inspiring to me. I actually visited him with my dad over the summer. From him, it was really hard for us not to be affected by his optimism. For him, as long as he has a skill to make a living, he is satisfied with everything in his life. He offers help to everyone whenever he can. Although commuting to another village is not convenient for him, he is still willing to go there, helping those people in the same condition as him. His attitude towards life reminds me of the Paralympic Games in this year. Like him, those athletes are not giving up on their life even though they are not able to participate in the Olympics. They still competed with those who are like them and broke tons of records this year. Their spirits towards life mattered most in terms of living.