A Blind Lady

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Ms. Ge was born in 1949 in Huangshakeng, Fenghua. She was sick and lost her vision at the age of five. One incredible fact about her is that she is better at housework than any other women in the village. Her home is always organized in a clean way. She is able to catch chickens and ducks walking in her yard based on her intuition and even to thread a needle for her aging neighbors. She walks without a walking stick. Resting between housework, she would step out of her home, walk along the trail near the stream, confidently arrive at the central square of the village, and chat with others in order to hear about important issues in the village. After the conversation, she would return home in the exact same route. She is gentle, nice, and optimistic, smiling all the time. No one refers to her as “the blind one” in a condescending tone. Many people even believe that her vision is actually better than the majority in the village. Her 48-year-old son lives in Xikou, who had a grandchild last year. In other words, this 68-year-old lady has already been a great grandmother.

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Almost Dead

Historical background: Socialist Construction

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Li was born in 1937 in Tongjiao, Yinzhou. On the evening of 4/4/1970, he, as a member of the Communist Party, was helping build the house of the last family near the Jiaokou reservoir. The house suddenly collapsed, and he was buried alive. When the villagers saved him from the ruin. He became paralyzed because his waist was struck by a beam. A tractor carried him to Ningbo, and the hospital saved his life. He was even able to walk after the surgery. However, twenty years after the surgery, his right foot started to fester. Till now, his right heel is almost gone, and the entire foot has lost senses. He thought it was about that accident twenty years ago, but his doctor said his disease was osteomyelitis, which had nothing to the accident. Without walking stick, he is unable to move.

Adoption

Wang is a 91 years old man living with his nephew. He is a little deaf and does not like to talk. When he was 31, his wife died when giving birth. Thereafter, he decided not to marry but adopted his nephew. The sad story has never been mentioned in front of Wang by the nephew and his wife. Besides helping with cooking, Wang spends most of the days sitting outside, ignoring other’s chat.  The shabby house was inherited from his great-grandfather a hundred years ago. The mottled address card on it was from the Republic of China era.

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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 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: 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: Our First Photography Exhibition

*A link to the trailer (with English subtitle): http://v.qq.com/page/b/5/m/b03054fgr5m.html 

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Starting from today, my dad’s photographs depicting local old people’s lives are displayed for four days. Even though today was the first day and a Friday, when people had to work, I was glad seeing many people coming in to support this exhibition. As the chief curator, I spent two weeks planning how to make it perfect in finest detail. Finally, today, I got everything set up and ready receiving visitors.

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Both today and yesterday, my dad and I got an interview from local newspapers. We talked about our ideas about doing such an exhibition, which contains 45 photos, in 17 sets of stories. My dad has been visiting the villages around Siming Mountain, the mother mountain of Ningbo, on weekends for two years. No matter how bad the weather is, he goes to the villages as long as he is in Ningbo. Every weekend, he does not even know to which village he is heading prior to his departure. When he reaches the road where he has to decide, he randomly picks the place that he would like to go. In the villages, he takes pictures of an old person, has a conversation with him or her, and moves on to another. These conversations are usually short because most old people do not like to share their personal stories with strangers because they regard such experience as a scar that they would not like to touch these days. After going home, my dad prints these photos out and puts them in his bag. His bag contains all the photos that he has taken in all the villages because he does not know where he is going until the last minute. Carrying his heavy photo bag, he looks for the people in the photo with the help of the villagers. When he finally brings the photos to the people there, they are moved so that they are willing to talk about their lives like an old friend. He collects stories in this way.

For me as a high school students, I feel the necessity to spread these stories to the public. The old generation is unique to Chinese history because they have gone through all the happenings both before and after the establishment of the PRC. Such history has left unique imprints on them that the younger generation living in urban Ningbo could not even imagine. Even though I have read much from history books and novels, but the happenings in books seem far away. Reading the stories my dad wrote was the first time when I realized that history was so close to our lives. Unfortunately, most people born in 1990s, 1980s, and even 1970s are not aware this fact. In order to raise awareness, I feel the urgency to do such an exhibition, telling urban Ningbo dwellers, as well as foreigners, the stories of the ordinary that they have never heard of. Hopefully, these stories will change their mind to a certain extent.

We will do more exhibition in Ningbo this summer break at different locations. I will continue translating them and keep posting them in this WordPress blog. Next year, we are definitely going to publish a book telling these ordinary yet breathtaking stories along with photographs.

Yay! So excited!