PERSONAL NOTE: I DECIDED to share my book especially with my friends and students in mainland Chinese because the book is not available in mainland China. So enjoy each chapter and share it with your friends. Steve, USA, December 1, 2018 email@example.com blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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I love China.
The roots are deep, going back to my childhood growing up in a poverty-stricken farming village somewhere in a remote corner in the Malay Peninsula (Malaya). My ancestors were from mainland China. In 1903, grandpa, from Fuqing, Fujian Province, immigrated with his family to Malaya. They were one among the chosen few considered the “poorest of the poor”. At the time the Malayan Government was desperately looking for potential farmers from China to grow rice to feed a growing population in the Malay Peninsula, and also to curtail importation of expensive rice from neighboring Southeast Asian countries. Grandpa and others settled in a remote area on the west coast of the peninsula. The British had experiences in China and knew the Chinese had sterling qualities, indomitable spirit, and diligence. And not just any Chinese this time, the poorest, with no known relatives residing in Malaya. The colonial government invited them for this specific task. Therefore any physical contact with the outside world—especially those Chinese who had settled in major urban areas in Malaya—would seriously undermine their new agricultural endeavors. The birth of a new colony.
There were Chinese in Malaya, those who had settled in Malaya since the 1870s, drawn to urban areas, to lucrative tin mining locations and ever-expanding profitable businesses in cities, those who had abandoned their agricultural roots and pursued non-agricultural occupations. The government wanted to keep the newcomers away from the urban settlers. Therefore segregation from other urban Chinese was the government’s stringent policy and a remote location, in their thinking, would achieve their agricultural pursuit. They wanted to establish a new colony of poor, hardworking Chinese from Fujian Province, China.
The urban dwellers spoke different dialects from the new immigrants—they were from different parts of mainland China—and travels and communication between them would be difficult. Near impossible. And the reason for choosing the poor of the poorest was the Malayan government believed the poor would be willing to abandon their present dire poverty in China, and would eagerly embrace the new opportunity to work hard to improve their livelihood in a new country.
Growing up in a village in Malaya, there would always be a slight family unrest and commotion whenever they received a letter, written on poor quality paper, from my aunt in China, especially during the 10-year Cultural Revolution, (1966-1976). I
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remember the poor quality paper of the letter from aunt, worse than the cheapest paper from China available in our stores in town. Aunt was always begging for money and more money with each new letter. Family members and relatives always wondered whatever happened to the money or anything they sent to China. It was rumored then the communist government took full liberty to open every mail coming from outside the country. This is China. Many people suffered during this turbulent period of Chinese history from 1949 till 1976 under Chairman Mao, especially during the Cultural Revolution, according to my students and books I had read in America.
While living in China, I had the privilege of knowing many parents and grandparents of my students. Some grandparents would avoid talking about their sufferings and starvation under Chairman Mao. They embrace modern China with abundant foods everywhere you turn. Now they have everything to make their lives happy and meaningful. They prefer not to dwell in the recent past when many were near starvation and death most times. Chairman Mao died in 1976. All of us living outside China—those in the diaspora—knew very little of the sufferings, hunger and starvation in mainland China, a faraway mysterious land always shrouded in secrecy behind the thick Iron Curtain. Growing up in a poor village in Malaya, I remember only the very old were allowed entry into mainland China. This was the time when China-watchers could only hope to catch a veiled glimpse of China through telescopes or eavesdropping on China using strong hearing aids from the tallest buildings or highest mountains in Hong Kong.
I grew up aware and curious but never asking why a few young men in our village in Malaya, who graduated from Chinese high schools, would further their Chinese education in Taiwan, and not mainland China. Under the British colonial rule, young people in Malaya could attend Malay, Chinese, Indian or English schools. The Malays were the indigenous people, while the Chinese hailed from mainland China. The Indians were brought over from India by the British to work in British-owned rubber plantations (rubber brought enormous wealth to the British in the world markets). Also to build the best roads and highways in the country, with very little intermingling between the races. Like water and oil, Indians and Chinese and Malays did not or were not encouraged to mix freely. The word “multi-racial” or “multi-lingual” did not exist in our vocabulary then. We were hard-working and safe, multiplied and prospered in our own separate neighborhoods. Only in my English mission school, we studied, ate, played and worked hard together to achieve our dream of a better education for a better future. Outside the school, we grew up without any opportunity to spend time together. We grew up in difficult worlds.
In many public buildings in our Chinese community, I would see a huge portrait of
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Sun Yat-sen, a Chinese revolutionary, the first president and founding father of the Republic of China. As a child, I felt his eyes were following us everywhere. Years later as a college student in America, I was lucky to come across an autobiography of Henry Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, who was forced to abdicate following Sun Yat-sen’s republican revolution, thus ending two-hundred and sixty-seven years of Manchu domination in China, and two thousand years of imperial rule.
Pu Yi was enthroned as emperor in 1908 when he was 3 years old after his uncle died, and he reigned under a regency. In October 1911, the dynasty fell to Sun Yat-sen’s republican revolution, and he abdicated four months later. At the age of six, the former emperor was allowed to live in Beijing’s Forbidden City. A provisional government was established in his place. He was forced into exile in 1924. He lived in Japanese-occupied Tianjin, and in 1932, Japan created the puppet state of Manchukuo in Manchuria under his rule, and in 1934, he was enthroned as emperor of Manchukuo. And he was captured by the Soviet troops in 1945.
He remained titular emperor all through the Second World War, but he was never more than a Japanese puppet. He testified before the Tokyo war crimes tribunal in 1946, that he had been an unwilling tool of the Japanese. In 1950, he was handed over by the Soviets to the Chinese communist government, and Pu Yi was sure he would be executed, but the Chinese communist government put him in a management center for war criminals, along with some of his family and ex-Manchukuo officials and army officers. He was Prisoner No. 981 and worked in the prison vegetable garden. As part of his re-education, he voluntarily gave up the priceless imperial seal that he had always carried with him.
After several years of rehabilitation, the government found him a genuine convert to communism, and a loyal Chinese citizen, and in 1959, Chairman Mao Zedong, the new leader of communist China, granted him amnesty. After his formal pardon, he was assigned to work as a gardener at the Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Botany. In 1962, he married a nurse from a small Beijing hospital. He was a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) from 1964 until his death in 1967. He died of kidney cancer at the age of 61 in 1967.
Imperial China became alive to me when I was a college student in America with all its glory and splendor after watching the 1987 Academy Award winning movie The Last Emperor by Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, telling the dramatic history of Henry Pu Yi, the last emperor of China. I wonder what Marco Polo must have felt when he first entered the imperial court of Kublai Khan in China in the 13th century, and walking down the streets and seeing for himself, a civilization and culture which
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were way ahead of Europe at the time. The civilization and culture I have the privilege of knowing, learning and enjoying during my years in China, remind me so much of America. In some cases more advanced technologically than what I see, surveying the American technological and cultural landscape. The Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, with its distinctive Dragon Dance and firecrackers, and the spectacular colorful CCTV Spring Gala show, are seen by countless people around the world, with some suggesting to make it into an annual universal celebration. The 2008 Beijing Olympics took the world by surprise, an act and event—sui generis—that is difficult to emulate by any nation in today’s world, with England immediately proclaiming, as the Olympic flag was passed on to UK, that “we will do it our way.” And they did, the English way, in 2012.
The more reason why I want to return to China, is to watch China on its ascendancy on the world stage in helping to create a more prosperous and harmonious planet. This is the core of President Xi’s China Dream, the creation of a nation that involves the elevation of everyone in the country, that the good life is for everyone, and no one should be left behind as the country continues to march forward. And now President Xi wants to share this same optimism with the rest of the world, in his 2013 Belt and Road Initiative, a win-win strategy for anyone and everyone, who is willing to participate in its inclusive approach, in working together to achieve peace, harmony and prosperity for all its members and participants—through building of infrastructures, trade and betterment of lives for everyone.
This is China.