Dong Guochang was born in 1934 in Fenghua. At the age of sixty, he builded a huge grave for himself in addition to two pavilions for future generations to rest when they visit him. The township head discouraged him from taking so much land for his grave that even the mother of Chiang Kai-shek did not own such a huge one. Dong, with rulers in his hand, went three times to compare two graves. Finally, he agreed to dissemble the two pavilions. Now, he becomes a famous painter in the village.
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.
Historical background: The lowest peasant class in the old ages
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.
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.
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 Kuomintang
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.
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
He is Li, 81 years old. At the age of seven, his parents died, and his uncle sent him to an orphanage in Fenghua. The orphanage, which actually was a school, was sponsored by Chiang Kai-shek* for raising orphans in Fenghua, Xiangshan, and Xinchang. At the age of 14, the orphanage was shut down when the Kuomintang lost control in mainland China. Li was sent to a peasant family, but he suffered from discrimination. For example, when eating salted vegetables, Li was only allowed to eat leaves. However, others were eating stems even with lard in order for more flavor. He rebelled a year later, and under the mediation, the peasant family allowed him to leave and even gave him a house according to the local tradition. He was the only intellectual in the village who had gained an education in the orphanage. For most of his life, he worked as the accountant of the village until his retirement. (Baifenbi Village, Fenghua)
*Chiang Kai-shek: Leader of the Kuomintang
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)
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)
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.