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(From the book: The Ancient Chinese Super State of Primary societies: Taoist
Philosophy for the 21st Century
(1) The Life My Mother Lived At the supper table, my Mother suddenly collapsed in her seat and lost consciousness. She died three days later her ninety third birthday, September 26, 2007. Autumn drought occasionally hits this rural area of China which hinders sowing winter wheat. Peasants had been worried that this year seemed to be one of those rare years. Miraculously heavy rain poured down almost the same time my Mother passed away, and it made farm work in the field impossible. The rain lasted several days but again miraculously stopped the day of my Mother's funeral. Sodden farm fields still prevented any entrance by peasants but the interment and its ceremony proved no problem at all as the graveyard was grassland. There was not a single drop of rain though it was gloomy all day. The local custom demands that no matter how urgent the farm work is, peasants
have to stop for a funeral and no matter how horrible the weather is, a funeral has to be carried out on time. Chinese peasants are no longer superstitious, but they couldn't help uttering superstitious remarks on my Mother's funeral. They all said: what a nice lady! Even at the time going to heaven, she did not forget bringing the much wanted rain to her villagers and was reluctant to interrupt anybody's any farm work even for an hour. Those remarks describe well the lives my Mother and grandmother had lived. The popular serenity prayer says: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” I guess, it was the Chinese traditional culture that gave my mother and grandmother the wisdom to accept whatever came in her life with serenity. Neither of them was born a broad minded person, but they never cried. I only occasionally saw them shedding tears silently. They never had any quarrel with anybody, and always yielded happily to other people's needs. But in the end, they lived a life better than the average materialistically and spiritually. When I took English classes many years ago, our American teacher explained the word “sophisticated” to us, saying, “In comparison to the peasants who lived in the same villages one generation after another, you are all sophisticated.” It makes more sense if we replace the word “sophisticated” with “complex”. We all live a more and more complex life. The life has become so complex that our minds have to work continuously. To rest is either buried into a fifty page newspaper or emerged into the images and information of TV or Internet. Only after retirement, we realized that thoughtless awareness or serenity is almost impossible to achieve.
In the last twenty years or so, the life of Chinese peasants improved significantly. Every time I went home, my Mother expressed her satisfaction with life nonstop. But the words were more or less the same: how lucky I am to have such nice later years and not have to worry about how to fill up my stomach and how to clothe my body. In fact, my family never ran out of food or clothes. Even in the famine years, it was easy to get substitute such as tree leaves and grass roots in the countryside. We never threw away any cloth material even after many decades, and it thus was equally easy to keep us warm. What my Mother referred to as worries concerning food and clothes were probably related more to the rough social environment during her first seventy years. The family was quiet and safe with enough supplies, but it was surrounded by an unsafe society in turmoil. There were many wars before the late 1940s but there were many so-called political movements afterwards. The dramatic steps taken by the Chinese leaders shortly after Mao's death in 1976 were critical for the prosperity of the later years, but it was not peaceful for those who went through them. Chinese society was relatively peaceful only for the last twenty years or so. The house I lived in as a child in the 1950s was all gone but remains in my memory. We had a twelve room bungalow, three rooms situated on each side of a rectangular courtyard. There were several secretive places built in for hiding and many features of the house were designed to prevent invaders from getting in. My grandfather joined a local network to co-ordinate efforts to protect the community against bandits and robbers, who were numerous and powerful in those warring years. Grandmother often complained: it was those years building this complex house that tired her into chronic
bronchitis for life. Chinese peasants use the same word for tiredness and chronic lung disorder, since they both make one short of breath. Both my Mother's and father's families were relatively better off than the average but their prosperity was really nothing in comparison to today's rich people. In 1993, I met one of my cousins on the way home. He said, “Wow, nowadays rich people are much larger and richer than the landlords and the capitalists we have confiscated and suppressed.” That's only a few years after the new policy was in place. The rich people my cousin referred to had only twenty or thirty thousand Chinese dollars, equal to some three or four thousands in Canadian dollars. But they are richer than the landlords who might have been executed for their possessions. My village has a fair every five days for peasants to sell and buy their farm produce. When I was in the elementary school, my Mother once suggested to me that I should go to the fair and look for dropped watermelon and sunflower seeds. She said, the children of her parents' home often did so and brought home handfuls of seeds to share with the whole family. I never tried as my Mother suggested. Those poor peasants might be reluctant to pick up one or two seeds, but they will certainly bend over to pick them up if they drop a few. I might have had to fix my eyes on others' heels for days to get a handful of seeds. Both my Mother's and father's families had, however, their property confiscated during the political movement of the Land Reform. The slogan to guide this campaign was: “sweep them out of their houses like rubbish.” One day our courtyard was full of people carrying everything away. As Children had no toys in those years, I remember colourful objects that appealed to a child's eyes being taken away by young peasants. For
days, we had nothing left except the clothes on our bodies. I followed my sister who was a few years older than me to beg for food door by door. We stood under the window, and begging, “Granny, Granny, be kind enough to share with the hunger people a mouthful of solid food.” The solid food we got was nothing but steamed corn pastry, a mouthful a door if we were lucky. My father was in prison. My family, headed by the only two adult women, my Mother and Grandmother, gathered together to share a meal, each picking up a mouthful of solid food we had begged. We all stood in the dark room, since we had no light and no chairs. Grandmother and Mother suddenly had a great idea. They have dragged away everything except a huge jar of pickling turnips that they couldn't move so they sealed it. We stole some out to everybody. The next day Grandmother and Mother asked one of my grown-up cousins, who happened to be poor, to come and have a look at the jar and told him: I accidentally broke the seal while playing around there. So much salt was put in that it tasted exactly like salt itself. Such awful food was out the table of Chinese people some twenty years ago. One characteristic of those political movements led by the Chinese Communist Party was that they always overdid it first and corrected the overdone parts later. The confiscation of my family's property was deemed to be a mistake. They returned most of the seized properties back to us. Years later, I read Mao's article, titled How to Classify Different Classes. It was the guidelines for the Land Reform. According to Mao's criteria, which was based on how much land and how many helping hands one family had, the confiscation of my family's property was indeed a mistake. A few days ago, former president Jimmy Carter said, “Obama should not take Hillary Clinton as his running partner to the presidency, and vice versa.” Thus the social
division into two parts fighting against each other for whatever reason it may be, generates hatred that cannot be conciliated easily. Those Chinese Communist political movements all left such long lasting effects. The many villagers who classified my family as a class enemy returned us the property they took away but kept saying that we were the class enemy. They kept writing such letters to the schools I went to. It caused me serious trouble when I was in junior and senior high school. I had to keep my head low in front of other students. After I went to the University of Beijing, the teachers there had a much clearer mind. They treated such letters as pure nonsense. The mentor of our medical school class, a dashing young man, was so open-minded that he shared some of those letters with me. I am sure that those villagers, if still alive today, hold the same view: our family was indeed part of the enemy class to the country and to the people because of our scanty possessions.
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