Chiang Kai-shek’s Bearer

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.

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Chiang Kai-shek’s Bearer

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. It was this bearer who carried Chiang Kai-shek uphill. Obviously, he considers it an honor, and his family takes delight in talking about it. He is 96 years old now and still healthy besides deafness.

*Chiang Kai-shek: Leader of the KuomintangIMG_4784IMG_4785IMG_4786IMG_4787IMG_4788IMG_4789IMG_4790

Nostalgia: Abduction

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.img_4689img_4690

Nostalgia: The Snake Catcher

At his sixties, He is a snake catcher. Besides farming, he often catches snakes in the remote mountains. These areas with few families living remain traditional and natural. Many villagers have the skill of catching snakes, which counts as their part-time job. The nephew lives with the He family. At the age of 7, the boy was left alone since his mother was diagnosed with cancer, while his father died from cerebral hemorrhage. The responsibility to take care of him went to the Hes. Since the nephew is only a teenager, and the family is not rich enough to make a living, the local government offers them 640 yuan every month. Some entrepreneurs in Ninghai help them as well.

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Nostalgia: The Enemies of “The Emperor”

In 1949, the militia of the village killed a member from the Liberation Army. In order to quell the rebellion from Yankeng Village, thousands of soldiers from the Liberation Army gathered at Shanjia Village. The commander lived in the house of Zhang. Though it was a small village with few people, they had 8 guns in total. The villagers with guns all had connection with the leader of the militia. Zhang’s husband identified the eight villagers for the Liberation Army, who confiscated their guns.

At that time, the leader, whose nickname was “the emperor,” had already escaped to the remote mountains. When he heard the news, he threatened Zhang’s husband to send 150 kilogram of rice as apology. Afraid of his local power, they fulfilled his request. Soon, “the emperor” was still arrested what he had done under the pressure of the Liberation Army.

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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: 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.