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.
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.