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.

The Lonely Baolaixiang

Historical background:  The reversal of social classes- the end of “private ownership

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Hong Shengheng, born in 1927, is from Xiashao, Beilun. Orphaned at an early age, he, at the age of 10, came to Xiashao from Lianjiang, Fujian on a boat that transported sugarcanes. He came for his uncle who worked at the Baolaixiang candy shop. After he was adopted by his uncle, he also inherited the candy shop. Baolaixiang, being a famous dessert shop, makes candies in autumns and winters  and bakes in spring and summer. After the establishment of PRC, all the private retailers came onto the communist way. Hong and his wife thus turned from shop owner to staffs working in the collective shop. In 1980, Baolaixiang stopped runing, and the shop becomes the house that the couple lives in.

An Ancestral Shrine Watcher

Historical background: The lowest peasant class in the old ages

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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.

A Veteran in the Second Sino-Japanese War

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Zhu Dexing was born in 1922 in Xizhou, Xiangshan. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, he joined the local armed organization. He defended Xizhou from Japanese invasion and killed a Japanese soldier. He became deaf during the war. After the war, he went home and served as a forest ranger. Zhu has been single his entire life. Now he lives in a nursing house, subsided by the Xiangshan government. When talking about the Japanese army, Zhu, who lay on the bed, lifted his arm and made a shooting pose with fierce stare.

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 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 Past Gone with Wind

Gezhu Village used to be part of Shengzhou. Considering Fenghua complex as part of Chiang Kai-shek*, the Kuomintang government classified Gezhu as part of Fenghua. The mottled gate still has a plaque nailed on it from the Republican Period, which seems to bring people’s memories back to those times. Before leaving for Taiwan in 1949, Chiang went to Former Residence of Wang Caiyu* to bid goodbye to his uncles. Several octogenarians who still live here witnessed this sentimental moment in history as teenagers. One of them pointed at the courtyard, where the folks were drying bamboo shoots in the sun, saying that Chiang took a photo with his uncles right there. He, a thirteen-year-old boy, could only watch the event as a bystander. In his eighties now, the scene is still fresh in his mind. Even though this house looks grandiose, prosperity of the family had gone by the generation of Chiang Kai-shek’s mother. Almost all the family members were peasants. (Gezhu Village, Fenghua)

  • Chiang Kai-shek: Leader of the Kuomintang
  • Wang Caiyu: Chiang Kai-shek’s mother60×6060×75

To me, the stories of Chiang Kai-shek only exist in history textbooks. Textbooks spend a number of pages talking about Chiang Kai-shek politically, but they seldom mention him as a living person. I could not imagine that Chiang Kai-shek lived so close to my hometown a century ago, and so many things happened to him in this place. Only these old people could tell the historical figures in real life today.

Nostalgia: The Veterans Living in Remote Mountains

Last year, during the National Day holiday, I went to visit veterans in remote mountains in Xianju with a community service organization. Some of the veterans live in houses half way up the hill without any roads, while others live in the humble nursing home. Although living a poor life, the veterans were simple and honest. Such a short visit moved them to tears.

Nostalgia: Resigning to Fate

Hu is 88 years old this year. Before the establishment of the PRC in 1949, he bought 13.3 mu of field. At that time, some profiteers were informed that the Communist Party was about to gain complete control in China, so they started to sell their lands at cheap prices. Hu is from a peasant family, which relied on 5 mu of field for life and saved some money planting soft rush. Informed that the surrounding lands were being offered at cheap prices, the family bought 13.3 mu of field. Soon, Xixia Village was liberated. Hu had 18.3 mu field, even 0.3 mu more than the local landlord. Fortunately, the large family divided the land up, and according to the average occupancy of land in the family, they were classified as middle peasants* who did not have to turn in their land but were disqualified of getting more. According to him, if he had not bought the land, not only would he have gotten more land from the party, but also he would have gotten a better position at the class identification. (Xixia Village, Yinzhou)

  • 1 mu ≈ 0.1647 acre
  • Middle peasants: Chinese peasants were divided by the government into rich peasants, middle peasants, and poor peasants. In order to establish a communist society, rich peasants were oppressed. Middle peasants, like Hu, did not have to give any land to the government but could not get more land. Poor peasants were given lands by the government.

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The experience of Hu represents countless people’s lives which were flipped by the changes in history. While some people, especially the poor, got a better life because of the establishment of new China, others, like Hu, had to resign to fate because they predicted the flow of history in a wrong way. He is one of the victim whose life was destroyed in that revolution.

Nostalgia: Opening Ceremony Today

Our second exhibition, Nostalgia, is open to public toady. After two weeks of decoration, we finally finished arranging everything. I really appreciate the effort of Ningbo Cultural Plaza for helping us. They provided the site for the exhibition, the T-shaped shelves, and a lot of designing ideas. 

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My dad and I, as photographer and curator, made a short speech during the opening ceremony. The television crews also interviewed a dozen of people there. 

Now, I feel that I have to share this story from our exhibition.

Filial Piety

This old lady has seven children, including four sons and three daughters. Her eldest son decided that the responsibility of caring for their mother would be divided between him and the second brother every other month. The other two sons could not take care of their mother due to health problems. The eldest son left home for a plantation in Zhousudu, Ningbo, which is part of urban Ningbo now, at his early age. Since then, he got married and had children there. Now, he is 74 years old. On the first days of odd months when he takes care of his mother, he sets out from urban Ningbo, takes three buses for total after three and half hours, and stays there until the end of that month. The second son is 70 years old this year, living in Shanghai. He has to come all the way from Shanghai every even month. Due to the limited housing condition, the sons renewed the sty and live there.

There are only nine people in this village. He does not have anyone to talk to, nor does he have a television to kill some time. According to himself, spending time in the village is the same as going to jail, since his mother is also deaf. The old lady is not willing to move to urban Ningbo with him because she wants to be buried in a traditional way. However, people who died in big cities are required to be cremated by their family members.

*Filial Piety: a Confucius idea meaning a virtue of respect for one’s parents

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More importantly, the couple, on the set Filial Piety, came to our opening ceremony today and said a few words. We were all so glad that they were there. When I first saw them this morning, I was so moved because I have only seen them on the photo before. The story is heart-warming, but the fact that this couple saw caring for their mother as an necessary responsibility really moved many people this morning. When we saw them on the photo, we feel that such nice people were far away from us; however, when we talked to them face-to-face this morning, we can feel that they are so close to us.