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.
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.
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)
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 mother
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Wu used to be a farmer in suburban Yuyao, where he owned a hardware store for ten years. Several years ago, a local shopping mall held a photography competition. He had just bought a used camera, so he took and submitted a random photo without much consideration. Surprising, he got the Golden Award. Finding it largely incredible, Wu closed his hardware store, devoting his life entirely to photography. As an aspiring photographer, Wu has a dream of taking photos of fishermen casting their nets high up on the sky in vast Siming Lake accompanied by a hanging mist. Unfortunately, fishing is not allowed in the Siming Lake. Therefore, he purchased a boat; after practicing for a long time, Wu mastered the skill of casting a net. However, it brought him another trouble: how can he take a photo of this scene?
Wu and I met at the bank of Siming Lake, and we had a great time talking about photography. When he volunteered to perform casting the net for me, I was extremely delighted. He brought his boat with a pick-up truck right away. Solemnly, he handed his camera to me, adroitly put on his rush raincoat, and rowed the boat away from the bank. He stood at the bow, casting the net toward the windy sky over and over again, proudly. I pressed the shutter continuously, and photos of Wu throwing his net were recorded in his camera, finally. (Liangnong, Yuyao)
Wu’s life is very different from the life people from cities imagine. For many, villages represent out-dated peasant life, and being a farmer means that one has to work all day long in the field but only earns little money. However, this is a misconception. From the experience of Wu, we can tell that lives in villages contain far more amazing activities than planting crops. While Wu likes photography, others have various hobbies at their spare time as well. Therefore, the portrayals of their lives have a positive side, in addition to the stereotypical tiring side. The stories of these old people can truly communicate the happiness in their lives with urban people. Our next exhibition will be held in the Culture Plaza of Ningbo starting from this weekend, and I hope that it can once again correct these misconceptions about rural lives!
Alone, this 93-year-old man Zheng lives in the west side-room, the only remaining part of his ancestral home called “The Yifeng Doorway.” Previous generations of the Zheng family owned numerous Yifeng Grain Stores in Cixi and Yuyao, thus considered one of the local business tycoons able to construct a grandiose mansion. Prosperity of the family was ebbing, however. Zheng’s father, working as a cook, lost all family property by addicting to gambling, while his mother ran away from home and had never been heard from again. For his whole life, this unmarried man raised cattle for others to make a living. In 1949, the local Peasant Association was founded, and by being classified as a poor peasant, he was free of cruel oppression* thanks to his father. (Banpu Village, Ci City)
*The communist Chinese government tried to eliminate landlords and rich peasants because they inhibited the progression of an egalitarian society. The CPC collected the land of the rich and redistributed it to the poor in order to establish a communist society. Therefore, poor peasants were protected, while the rich were oppressed.
The experience of Zheng is sad yet thought-provoking. The Zhengs was not the only family who experienced changes in life in the 1950s. The establishment of PRC shaped countless people’s life. Some poor peasants became richer because of the policies of the government, while others, like Zheng, fell off a cliff. The changes in social and political conditions are largely connected to everyone’s life tightly.
My family was there the whole day on weekends receiving both friends and strangers as our visitors. The power that our exhibition brought really impressed me. The older generation living in urban Ningbo was moved by the photos and the stories of the individuals in the photos. Much of their personal experience resonated with the stories, reminding them of the past. In addition to the old, the younger generation was also attracted. I saw many parents explaining these stories to their children who could barely read. They told the stories, explicitly. Obviously, this photography exhibition was a pretty good chance spreading local culture to the public, especially those who feel far away from them, like myself.
A middle school teacher even brought a number of students here, helping them learn more about local culture and history.
After the interview with my dad and me on Saturday, the article about us was finally published on the local newspaper and its website. I am glad that the newspaper helped us inform more people of this exhibition.
Details about this exhibition were also published by the most popular website recording lives in Ningbo!
The exhibition this time is very successful, and I plan to hold another one in this coming July to further raise such awareness!