I have always had a special attachment to the past: the sweet memories of my childhood, the past of my family, the stories that made up the history… I believe the importance of my grandparents in my childhood and all the stories my grandma has been telling me from the old time are the reasons why I have a sensitive nostalgia to even the smallest piece in the past. I understand that a person is like dust in the wind to the development of human history, but I still believe that everyone’s story is worth telling. An insight into a family’s past could be nothing important to history, but every old person’s life is interesting as long as we listen and explore.
I want to write about the story of my grandmother’s family simply because of my love of my family and my wish to share their story with those who are interested. I believe that a story of a Chinese family of the past generations is indeed a reflection of the some parts of the history.
The story starts from my great grandpa who passed away when I was eight. He never told me about anything of his past and I am glad that later my grandma fulfilled my curiosity. My great grandpa was a businessman who started with porcelain trades at an early age. Despite the fact that his father was a well-known doctor in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, he still gave up the career path designed for him and chose to do something different and challenging. He managed his own business and was quite successful with the support of his wealthy family. However, the Japanese invasion broke his peaceful life, like many other Chinese people experienced, and he had to escape to Suzhou with his wife and daughters. My grandma was not born at that time but she told me that her father still found ways to deal with the difficult time by starting a new business of silk trading which was popular in Jiangnan region.
The establishment of the Republic of China did not change the self-sufficient life of my grandma’s family until the Three Anti Campaign and Five Anti Campaign in the 1950s. These two campaigns were launched by Mao to rid China of corruptions and the enemies of the state, the “capitalists”. My great grandpa lost his business because of the target of eliminating capitalistic bureaucratic class during the two campaigns. As a result, my grandma’s elder sister had to give up her education to find alternatives to support the family. She found a place at the theatrical company of Kun Opera in Suzhou and began her performing life at the age of eighteen. I really admire her for this brave decision because being an actress was not very respected by the society at that time, but she did so any ways for the family and her younger siblings. My grandma often followed her sister to the opera trainings in the theatre and that was how she started to be interested in traditional operas. I finally understand why my grandma has a special feeling to Chinese operas till nowadays. My grandma also told me that the acts performed were altered into Communism relatable themes and traditional acts were discouraged for negative influences at that time.
The drastic change of life and the comedown of a family did not defeat my grandma’s family. Like other Chinese families, they had those limited tickets to gain food supplies monthly which were far from enough. My grandma helped her mother do needlework to support her family while my grandpa was sent to a “study camp” for those targeted people in the anti-campaigns. Life was really tough but my grandma still misses it for the genuine simplicity and optimism of all the family members. She smiled when she told me an afternoon ice skating which costed five cents can make her happy for a week at that time.
The movement of “Down to the Countryside” which regulated educated urban youth to work in the countryside and mountains in the 1960s forced my grandma to stop attending high school. She was faced with two choices: either go to the fabric factory to replace her mother or go to the countryside like many others. My great-grandparents wanted to protect their youngest daughter from the unpredictable future so the family eventually made the decision of her going to work after grade 11.
The Cultural Revolution rolled over China and my grandma expressed the fear she had during the unsettled period. Everyone was frightened for being titled as a revisionist or counterrevolutionary. Apparently my grandma did not want to talk more about it when I kept on asking but I could feel her sadness for the people who suffered.
I asked her whether or not if she felt unfortunate to experience such an unstable period of China at her early age. She shook her head and said, “I appreciate all of which I have been through because they are just part of my life experiences, you know sometimes you just have to accept and look to the bright side of it.” It sounds like a commonplace thought all the elders talk about to the young generation. However, I know it is never an easy thing to do when it comes to reality. From my grandparents’ generations, I often discover an incredible optimism towards life. After learning all the facts of China’s turbulent past in last century, I admire and respect the positivity and strengths of the old generations more.
China’s economy is developing in an unbelievable pace. However, I found that grandma never asks much for material needs even though the quality of life is much better than the past. She finds her true enjoyment in talks to her plants, performances of traditional operas, time with her grandchildren, reading in the warm sun … She brought opera to me as a child and she teaches me how to embrace life no matter whether it is sunny or blustery outside.
The stories of my family in the past could have vanished with time like many others, but they didn’t because I will keep them with me and leave them for the future. None of my family members did anything heroic that can be seen as something historical, but I cherish them because their past stories are the connections I have with the older generations and the entire family.