PERSONAL NOTE: I decided to share my book with many friends and students in mainland China because the book is not available in mainland China and it costs too much to order it from USA. Read it and enjoy and share it. Steve, usa, december 19, 2018 firstname.lastname@example.org blog – https://getting2knowyou-china.com
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Grandpa and his growing family and the “poorest of the poor” left China around 1903. From family members, it was very clear to me, the whole group that was recruited by the Malayan government, were ordinary poor Chinese from Fuqing. They were invited to plant rice in Malaya. But somehow the British did not keep their end of the deal. Instead the whole colony started planting rubber trees, and rubber made many of them very rich. And with his wealth, grandpa was able to build a huge two-story building for his family. I also found out, after some time in Malaya, grandpa would visit mainland China often to see friends and relatives, and one daughter who had stayed in China. By the time he died in China, he had built some wealth in Malaya, and left the ancestral house he had built in Malaya to my uncle and father. That might explain the huge tomb they had built for him in Fuqing.
In December of 2008, during my first winter break in China, I decided to pay my respect to my grandpa’s grave in Fuqing. That was possible because of a note I had received from my niece in Australia. Her father, my brother, in Malaysia, had visited our relatives in Fuqing a few times. I knew that note worked because I had used the information on it to call and introduce myself once to my cousin brother in Fuqing. I was then living and working in America, and I had made that long distant call from USA. I told him my brother in Malaysia had visited him a few times. That my name is Yongfa. That I was adopted by the family when I was a child. That I am now an American citizen. We “met” through the long-distant telephone call from USA to China. With the address scribbled on a piece of paper, I was able to plan my first visit to Fuqing during my first winter holiday to pay my respect to grandpa’s grave, and also to visit his grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The only thing I knew was Xiamen is not far from Fuqing, and so one day I asked in class for a student volunteer to take me to Fuqing. I was new in China, and I knew nothing about how to travel from one place to another, whether by bus or speed train. There was a student in class, David Zeng, and I was attracted to his bright colorful sneakers, with bloody red shoestrings he would wear to class. There was very positive energy coming from him. He showed enthusiasm as a student, someone eager to be there, and open to Western ideas. He always wore that happy-days-are-here smiles on his face, and was always writing something in class. Most students would leave once the class was over. Not David. He would always linger for a few minutes to finish writing something. He raised his hand and volunteered to take me to Fuqing, giving us a chance to know each other. I was teaching freshmen journalism English at the time.
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I wanted David to take me to Fuzhou, the capital city of Fujian Province, which is located next to Fuqing. I had informed Arthur Liu who was working for the Fuzhou government that I was seriously planning to visit my relatives in Fuqing, and he had graciously arranged for a driver and a translator to take David and me to see my relatives in a remote village near the city of Fuqing. Arthur Liu had been sent by the Fuzhou city government in 2008 as a trade representative to Washington State where I live, and we met. Little did I know then, that same year I would be invited to teach at XMU in Xiamen City, not far from Fuzhou. That was my first time invited to live and teach in China, and I felt an obligation—like a filial son—to pay my respect to the tomb of my grandpa, somewhere in Fuqing. When I told Arthur about this, he did not hesitate to make the necessary arrangement for me to visit my relatives in Fuqing.
Among the Chinese in diaspora, a few would choose to die in their country of birth if they could afford the journey. Or the money. Like many Muslims around the world, working hard and saving enough money to make that once-in-a-lifetime journey to Mecca, the annual hajj pilgrimage, to the birth place of Islam. Few Christians would make the journey to Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born; the Buddhists to India, the Taoists to China, and the orthodox Jews to Israel. Some immigrants across the globe would do this, back to the roots, they would say.
Like many Chinese families in non-urban areas in China, it is not common for them to tear down or demolish the old family homes, but to build a whole new multi-story addition to the original one-story building. Across modern China, especially in places far away from mega-cities, single-family multi-story dwellings are everywhere, like births of newborns every spring. When I asked my students about why the big houses, when most families have only one child because of the one-child policy, they told me in most farming communities in China, away from the prying eyes of government officials, farmers would require more hands to work in the farms, and so the government would allow many families to have more than one child. Matter of fact, the government does not have the manpower to check on the families living hidden way out in the rural areas. This is true if they live in remote farming villages in China. Or if you are a member of one of the fifty-five ethnic minority groups in China. As of 2010, the Han Chinese is the largest ethnic group in China. Some 91.51 % of the population is Han Chinese. If you belong to one of the ethnic minority groups, you are entitled to as many children as you want, according to law. This is China.
So why do the farmers live in big houses? Many parents expect their children to live with them. If not now, then one day in the future. And why here and there, many incomplete buildings seem empty and abandoned in certain neighborhoods? You would see these half-finished or incomplete buildings if you are traveling by bus. I
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saw many of these buildings when I visited some of my students in small towns or villages along the way. You might catch a glimpse of them through the windows of very high speed trains. The truth is many have left the villages to earn money for themselves and their children. Some of the migrant workers will return home every year with more money to add more to the building, students told me. Also, according to what I heard, the government would compensate the homeowners financially according to the structure of a building. That means the more rooms to a building, the more money you would receive from the government. And this is especially true if the government has the intention to develop this particular area or region where you live…increasing the value of your piece of land and your house that sits on it. This is China. To many foreigners incomplete structures are baffling to them, but not in China. Occupants will, in the process of time, try to finish each room or each floor in the months and years to come with available income. We are not talking about the cities. We are talking about people living far away from cities, the people who are granted certain amount of land for farming purposes. City folks do not receive any land for crops or cultivation. Only those living in rural areas in China would receive parcels of land, originally so you could use the land to support your livelihood. Land reform is a complicated issue in China since 1949, the beginning of the communist state.
China continues with land reforms since the death of Chairman Mao because under Mao’s communist rule, all private lands were surrendered to the government. This happened between 1950 until the spring of 1953, the time of the abolishment of landownership by the wealthy landlord class, and the introduction of peasant landownership. Agricultural reforms were carried out with more force in some places, resulting in terrible mistreatment of former landlords. About one million landlords were executed. For many peasant households, this was the first time they held the deed for their piece of land, allotted to them by the generous communist government.
Theoretically, all lands in China belong to the Chinese government, and you are building or living on land that is on lease from the government—anywhere between 40 to 70 years, depending on the use of the land. What happens when the lease is up? At the moment, China is going through a very difficult process of who should benefit, national or local government, with the sale of the land, much of which is in the hands of the old collectives of peasants or farmers (a remnant of Mao’s China) because of the government increasing drive for urbanization throughout China. Many senior citizens prefer to live where they are, but the government is pushing them to move to urban high risers. The real dilemma is how to achieve a balance between farmland preservation, and rapid urban spatial expansion. Whatever the current situation, still for many Chinese, urban or non-urban dwellers, a big house or a big apartment, is a
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symbol of wealth and prosperity, like trumpeting that visible display from the rooftops to the neighbors and the world: “I have made it”. Where I come from, part of the American Dream is to have your own house with a white picket fence around it.
When Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew started to rule Singapore, his top priority was to make sure every Singaporean, Chinese, Indian or Malay, would own and live in their own flats or houses, a legacy Singaporeans will not forget. I was told by many residents living in those government flats that if you should fail to maintain the orderliness and cleanliness of your flat, or that particular block of building of flats, the government has the right to evict you for good. In America, residents of government housing projects, especially in big city like Chicago, would often complain of gang activities, smell of urine and feces everywhere, and many elevators, full of graffiti, not working most times. Not so in Singapore…a world-class city known for its cleanliness and beauty.
Singapore is a small county and so the government could afford to build many flats for its citizens. China cannot afford to do what Singapore does, to provide all their citizens a decent housing flats to live in. And this is very unfortunate for many young men who want to get married in China, because most parents would like a future son-in-law to have at least an apartment, a car and a good job. Most apartments in many cities in China now are beyond the reach of an average young man, unless he is lucky to have his parents buy him an apartment. And many parents are trying to do that. This is China.