My life story in memory of my father
Dedicates to all teachers who taught me to be a more educated person, and girls who made me a better human being
This is a life story of a Chinese boy
A story of an emotion and ideology struggle between he and his communist father
A story of how he conquers all obstacles trying to fulfill his life dream to be a world-leading violinist
And how a Chinese man becomes a Norwegian citizen and the cultural conflicts between the east and west
This is also a window of vivid, dramatic, extraordinary social change of New China from 1949 up to today
Father Son and Violin
Part one: The Earliest Memories of My Family
Everyone has ones own memory of childhood. My memory of childhood starts from a cobble stone paved road called “Blue Stone Road” (qing shi jie in Chinese) which 50 years ago was and today still is the main road of Xinhua County in Hunan province Southern China. I lived in a house close to the road with my family.
When I say “my family”, it was not a normal nuclear family of parents and their children like most others, but grandparents and aunt plus two uncles and I.
As the only child of the family, it shouldn’t be hard to imagine my status as the center of the family.
There are still things I can clearly remember during my childhood. One of the most deeply impressed events occurred when I was about four years old. One day I found a small white rub tube from a rubbish-place. I picked it up and blew it to be a balloon. I found it amusing, quickly ran back home asking my aunt to tile the balloon up with some rope. Being a high school girl, as soon as my aunt saw the balloon in my hand her face turned red. She looked as if the sky was falling down, immediately called my younger uncle Xi. Uncle Xi came with some used new papers in his hand. He took my treasure away from me by force and quickly ran away towards a toilet. At the same time my aunt avoided my hands but pushed my back towards a water place. Twice uncle and then three times by aunt my hands were washed. To be the “center” of the family, how could that be tolerated? Immediately I played my usual game by gluing my bottom against the ground, now matter how my aunt coaxing, I refused to get up but kept yelling,“ I want my white balloon, I want my white balloon” until uncle Xi running to me with two big colored balloons in his hands.
It must be more than ten years after that event I had always been wondering why my aunt was so terrified by that small white balloon? Until one day I suddenly realized that that white balloon was in no way a child’s toy. It is of great importance when two adults exchange their love, and today an absolute necessity more to prevent disease rather than contraception. So…rry, my poor aunt!
By the year 1960 I became six-Year old. One day after usual nap I went Zijiang River again with my two uncles. I played sand and stones at the riverbank while my uncles were swimming. When the sunglow dyed everything to be red, again I heard my elder uncle Din’s self-good-feeling but out-of-tune singing “the twilight is declining to the western hill…” Then as always with much lower voice volume he changed the lyrics to, “The eastern sun is declining down the western hill.”
When I was about to plug my ears with my fingers I heard my aunt shouting, “Danjiu(my Chinese name)your father is here. Quickly let’s go home.”
That was the first time I heard the title “father” since I was born. But no time allow me to think too much I was taken home and being placed in front of a stranger. He was very thin. Forgive me to overstate a little his hollow cheeks looked like a skeleton covered by a sheet of skin. His side-glanced at me through his glasses made me shivery, quickly I hid my self behind aunt. However, my aunt pulled me out gently and pushed me in front of that man again, in addition she asked me to call him “father”.
Everyone of the family sat round the dining table expect grandpa. Being the symbol of the family authority grandpa’s absence was rather unusual. (I wonder why suddenly grandpa said he felt a little uneasy) My father took grandpa’s place. Deadly silence made the sound of peeling candy cover and chewing extraordinary noisy. Uncle Xi put another into his mouth before he had finished his first. Unclearly he whimpered, “Better than noting.”
“What?” Father responded?
Uncle Xi quickly swallowed what left in his throat and moaned, “No more than a small bag of candy! I thought after so many years my big brother coming home would bring us some rice and meat.”
“What do you think we are? Kids?” Uncle Din was the only one who stood the lure of sweet tasty candy. He got out of control at this stage, “The whole family has had no rice for a long time. Everyday we eat vegetables sometimes even grass, tree leaves and barks.”
Aunt caught the last two candies and handed them to uncle Din, “take them before nothing is left.”
Uncle Din did not accept the lose-of-dignity. The two candies on the table in front of uncle Din captured all the eyes in the room especially the two of Uncle Xi’s.
In order to keep a family like atmosphere, aunt made her complain in a very soft tone to my father, “though they are noisy, what they said is true. Our family has been suffering from hunger for a couple of years now. Regardless you are the eldest son of the family, you are the only one who works for the government in the capital city of the province. Whichever you ought to do something to help the family.”
Aunt’s words were like oil pouring on uncle Din’s fire, he shouted, “That’s right, that’s right. Not only doing nothing to help the family, but also add your burden (me) for us to carry.”
“My burden?” My father disagreed in a low voice: “Yes, the boy is my son, but he also belongs to the country.” Father voice was getting higher a little by little, “It is our great leader Chairman Mao who called on our nation to have as many children as possible for the use of war. We followed his great order to have four children. That’s why I say they are not only our children but also children of the country. In this sense, everyone in this country has obligation to raise them up.”
“Nonsense, you make children for the use of war? Animal!” Uncle din was turned into fury.
Grandma saw things were getting worse, she stood up trying to make a balance,“ Stop! Stop. That’s enough. It’s not easy for us all to sit together around the same table. Can’t we be more like a family? ” As soon as she finished her saying, grandma naturally took the two-last-left candies, exchanged her eyesight with uncle Din making sure he would in no way eat them. “I’ll put them into a jug so that we all can share some sweet water.”
After everybody kept quiet for a while, my father slowly cut a letter heading paper into eight small pieces, and then he opened an old small iron box, took out a bit of loose tobacco, put it in the middle of a small paper and rolled himself a horn shaped cigarette. He lighted the cigarette and deeply absorbed it for three times. As he couldn’t find good excuse for not helping the family he had to make his voice half official jargon like, “Now our nation is temporarily in difficulty due to the three years continuum nature disaster, plus the Soviet revisionism and other imperial countries neck clothing us. Not only our family, the whole country, includes capital city of the province, even the central government, everybody is short in food. Haven’t you heard, our great leader Chairman Mao also has stopped eating meat after he heard many of our class brothers and sisters lost their lives from the starvation!”
(It is said from 1958 to 1961, 30000000 Chinese lives were disappeared in resulting of starvation or related reasons. Though some intellectual doubt the accuracy of the number.)
“What should we do? Waiting to die?” Uncle Xi’s voice worsened the mood.
Silence again, this time even without the noise of peeling candy cover or chewing.
My father took one last deep inhale of his cigarette until his lips felt burnt. He changed his tone to a more domestic, “Exactly because we know you are also in difficulties, Xiwan (my mother’s name) and I decided to release your burden by taking Danjiu home. I’m afraid this is the only thing we could do to help at this moment.” After a little pose, my father was obviously trying to cheer everybody up by saying: “We must trust our great leader chairman Mao and always-correct communist party. Our country will be better and better from now on.”
As no one seemed to be cheered up, my father’s effort was in van. Uncle Xi moaned again, “If eldest brother had finished his university degree instead of taking part in the communist party’s revolutionary activity before liberation, at least he could now earn some money by giving private lessens, by doing that he should be able to take his share supporting our old parents.”
Captured the gap before my father’s response, uncle Din poured out with grouse, “If revolution can’t bring our family better life but results hunger for the whole nation, what’s the meaning of it? Gas! ”
“Be careful, be careful!” Father raised his voice with authority, “what I have just heard was anti-revolution. It’s dangerous, especially from a non-working-class family.”
Uncle Din was outraged by his brother’s words, he jumped up and shouted: “Remember? Just like most of your party members, you cut all ties with your family a long time ago when you joined the party. Whatever happens to us you got nothing to worry about."
Aunt looked also quite anxious, she clarified: “Our father’s class is self-employed & small-land-renting. It is ‘self-employed’ before ‘small-land-renting’. In addition, after the victory of the revelation, our father was once being elected to be the people’s representative of the county. Therefore our family is in no way anti-revolutionary class. If not, how could enemy represent people? Right!”
Above dialogue must be nonsense to most nations on the earth, but was absolutely of great, the greatest importance to every single Chinese family at that time. It was so vital that could be an edge between “to be or not to be.”
Such important debate was of course not suitable to a child like me. Grandma saw things got out of control she took my hands and dragged me into the kitchen. She made me promise to stay there until being called. Then again, she went back to the battlefield trying to easy the fight.
My sensitive nose led me to a small aluminum lunch-box. Guess what I had discovered? Two boiled eggs and two baked Chinese sweet potatoes. As my mouth was still busy with some candy, I decided to let them be for a little while longer.
The voice fighting of the adults was getting higher and higher. Curiosity forced me put me face against the kitchen door. Through the door gap I saw my father stood up, saying to grandma: “Where is Danjiu? We got to go at once. Otherwise we will be late for the train.”
“Don’t you have something to eat before...” grandma hinted father to go to the kitchen.
“Eat? Eat what?” Uncle din cut in: “He brought nothing home, what have we got for him to eat?”
The kitchen door again was opened. My father quickly walked towards me. He grasped my hand dragging me out. My instinct was to bit him. Fortunately he avoided my teeth in time. I got away from him and quickly hid myself behind aunt. To my big surprise, a 1000, 1000 million surprises, she pushed me away. My aunt, the woman who had always kept her arms open to me, in any case at any time had always been my protector, but this time, first time in my memory, pushed me away from her. The unbelievable action of hers turned my surprising into anger. I decided to make her pay for what she had done to me by going away with this stranger. “Without me, she must be sad to death.” I imagined with a bit of satisfaction.
The next thing I remember was on a train. I leant against the window, anxiously expecting aunt to take me back. But when I saw her with the lunch-box in her hand running along the train back and forth searching for me window-by-window, again I felt like a game-play. Therefore every time when aunt passed by my window, I lowed my head down so that I couldn’t be seen. Until the train started to move, I stretched my head and waved my hand to aunt. When aunt saw me she quickly handed up the lunch-box and yelled “Danjiu, Danjiu, take it, take it.” But that was too late. The train ran more and more quickly. The form of aunt’s body was getting smaller and smaller, and faded away. When I realized it was no longer a game but for real my aunt and I were apart, I “Wa…” burst out into tears, “I want sweet potato, I want sweet potato.” I clamored. My father showed no response to my crying, only changed the seats with me. Now he replaced me sitting by the window.
After I gave up the hope that my aunt would appear again, I turned my eyes to my father. But he avoided my eyesight by turning his face to the window and dazed. My crying was getting lower and lower and gradually becoming like a little monk chanting Buddhist scriptures.
When I felt a little tired and sleepy, noodle salesman passed by with a trailer. My father searched all his pockets looking for every single coin he could find, put all the coins together in the middle of his left hand and counted twice by the first finger of his right hand. Totally he had thirty-six Fen RMB(about 10 us cents. I could be wrong. I was after all no more than six years old) His face suddenly turned to be a little pleasantly excited, called the noodle salesman with a rather positive voice. Father counted the coins again in front of the salesman and carefully handed them to him. As soon he took a bowl of noodle from the salesman he had some soup soundly. I guess he did so partly because of being afraid that I would pour the soup out if it were too full. And then he pasted the bowl to me very carefully.
I nipped the noodle one by one by means of chopsticks and fed them into my mouth. My father again turned his face against the window. I looked at him and felt the blue veins on his neck somewhat like blasted tree roots. I tried to observe his facial expression by looking at the window reflection. My father seemed to have noticed my intention; purposely he blew some hot air on the window glass. Instantly my father’s face became illegible. I squeezed the noodle and chewed them very slowly making as much noise as I could in order to draw his attention. In fact I was more chewing my father’s thoughts rather than the taste of noodle. Nevertheless, from the beginning to the end my father responded nothing. Finally I felt rather dull. Though I was full I quickly ate what my chopsticks could catch in the bowl and handed it over to my father. This time he responded right away. He took the bowl and poured what’s left in it into his mouth at once.
When we arrived Changsha (the capital of Hunan province) and got home, (When I say “home” was actually one of father’s office rooms) the first person and also the only person I met was a boy looked only a little bigger than me. Father said something to the boy I could not understand. Then he turned to me telling me that that boy was my elder brother. Our father left us alone soon after that brief introduction and went to work. The next time I saw father again was quite some months later.
My elder brother Danjin is only a year and half older than me. However, at that time his status seemed to be a generation higher to me, especially every time I saw the room key hanging around his neck. You see, being a 7 years old boy, he was literally the key-man of our home.
What about other members of the family, my mother, my other brothers?
Only a few minutes after I had been home, my elder brother Danjin told me that it was the time to go see our mother and younger brother at a hospital.
We went out. He had an aluminium lunch-box in his left hand and me in his right hand. Being a country boy first time in a big city, I grasped his hand tight enough to cause pain. Endlessly we walked and walked. I couldn’t remember I had ever walked so long distance. Danjin was constantly changing hands to take the lunch-box and me. I wasn’t aware it was I made his hands painful, but thought it was the lunch-box too heavy. I suggested that I could help him with the lunch-box from time to time. Be honestly, I offered my help was not because I felt sorry for him, but felt the lunch-bow somehow symbolizing a sort of privilege, and also partly I thought to take the lunch-bow might be a kind of fun.
After he refused me, I tightened my hand even harder to force him change hand. I caught a chance trying to seize the lunch-box by force. Undoubtedly he tried to avoid me. Back and forth couple of times resulted the lunch-box dropping off from his hand. Noodles were pouring out from the lunch-box to the ground. No time for him to show his anger to me, he quickly crouched down over to the ground trying to get the noodles back to the lunch-box.
At exactly that moment, a beggar dashed to the spot, and soon a group of beggars were down to the ground like dogs. Soon the spot of the ground was licked up once, twice and more times.
That scene chocked my vexatious brother and made him burst into crying. It was that crying shortened the distance between my brother and I, and made me realize that my brother was just like me, also no more than a boy.
He picked up the empty lunch-box and ran away with despair. I did not believe he would really leave me along in the middle of nowhere; at least I did not want to believe. Therefore instead of following him I stood still. Until the view of his back disappeared in distance I stared to get worried. I hastily chased up. When I saw him in a corner waiting for me, I felt relaxed. I pretended I did not see him and walked my unnatural slow steps like a Beijing Opera actor as if nothing had happened.
When we finally arrived at the hospital, my brother’s face was jammed again with mew snivels and tears. My mother, a pretty woman with a golden color flamed glasses on her nose looked quite elegant. When my brother narrated the lunch-bow adventure I hid myself behind him. My mother appeared not paying much attention to my existence (but I knew she anxiously wanted to see how I look), but put all her attention to a pile of bones, bones that wrapped by a sheet of human skin in her arms. That thing was my youngest brother.
The only reason I could think that mother showed little affection to me was I destroyed her lunch-box. There might be some other reasons, being caught with chaff of the party’s call to have four children for instance? Anyway, if there WERE other reasons, must be reasons beyond comprehension of a 6 years old boy.
I remember I could understand my mother’s language. She did not ask me to call her “mam” instead did push me to call Danjin “Gege” (elder brother). Being ashamed perhaps I refused. Danjin took out a small toy frog from his pocket, saying he would only let me play with it if I call him “Gege”. But my position was playing with the lovely toy frog without calling him “Gege”. Just like all other international affairs, when negotiation gets nowhere, the war begins. That was the first of many fights between Danjin and me. After we pushed each other back and forth couple of times I felt I was likely going to loose, I turned my eyes to mother hoping to get some kind of support. But mother was busy with my little brother ’s diaper and acted as if we boys did not exist. Finally I lost the battle (So did all other battles later). I shamed into anger, “Fuck your mother!” I called Chinese national names.
I wondered why it was so funny that I said “Fuck your mother” to my brother, every one, regardless doctors nurses or patients, all burst into laughter. That hit my mother at last. She immediately showed her attention to me by hitting my face, both sides. That action of hers did not correspond with her urbanely golden color flamed glasses at all. And yet to me, I finally caught her attention, which was a kind of victory.
My face revealed a little smile with tears. But that facial expression lost only a very short moment, because I instantly decided to use my usual game, I “wa,,,” hit my bottom to the ground, and as loudly as I could shouted “aunt, aunt”. Until my bottom felt ice cold, my hundreds miles away aunt, certainly did not show up. Going through that experience I began to be aware that unlike my other family with my grandparents, in this family, I was by no mean the center of this family.
Fortunately Danjin was after all good hearted. He threw the toy frog in front of me, which gave me a perfect excuse to get my bottom away from that ice-cold ground. Compare with that, to play with the toy frog became less important.
To hit both sides of my face was the present my mother gave to me for the first time we met after being apart for 4 years. But to think twice, what else could she give me, a bar of milk chocolate, after I jeopardized her lunch, called dirty names that embarrassed her in front of many?
Now, allow me to give a very brief introduction of my parents. My mother was born in 1922, the same year as the establishment of the Chinese communist party. She was from a poor family and lost both parents at very young age. Nevertheless, she had her very strong well to be an educated woman and somehow managed to reach high school (That was rather rare at that time in China). Influenced by communist ideology during the high school years she took part in some underground revolutionary activities.
My father on the other hand was totally another story. His father (my grandpa) was a medical doctor. After had his education in Japan grandpa came back to his hometown and established his own private hospital. In addition he inherited some land from the family he should be well off enough. Being the first son, my father was naturally a childe. He had considerably good education from private school up to University. It was during the second year of his university life when his head was filled of Shakespeare (he took English Literature studies at university) by chance he met my mother at a school party. That changed his life. I have always been wondering if it was really my mother’s revolutionary enthusiasm, or her ardors as a pretty girl aroused him? Whatever! Unbelievably he gave up his university education, cut all the ties with his family and followed his girl friend (later became my mother) to join the communist revolution.
After the liberation (“revolution” in the west) my parents, as intelligentsia class, became a small portion of the new government. They both worked for the Hunan provincial government. Since the day they walked into their office they have always been classified to those “could be used but never be trusted by the party”. My father soon became a communist party member. While my mother had never managed to get herself into the party, I think mainly due to her too-straight-forward personality and bad temper.
To respond the party’s call on “to have as many children as possible for the use of war”, they got married and produced four sons: my elder brother Danijin, me Danjiu (later adopted to Daniel) my younger brother Danpin and the youngest brother Danfen. (Danfen was the one treated in the hospital as I wrote above) I was sent to my father’s hometown before I reached 2, and my younger brother Danpin was sent to my mother’s hometown not long after he was born. (For some difficult-to-exclaim reasons, this book avoids to talk about my younger brother Danpin)
1960 was the worst year of China’s so-called “three year nature disaster”. People gone from hunger or hunger related reasons became part of everyday life. We were the lucky ones as our parents working for the government; regularly we received carrots white potatoes and sweet potatoes etc. Therefore the biggest problem of our family was not life and death like many other families, But my youngest brother’s health issues. He suffered from bad dysentery a few months after he was born. Several times mother was informed by the hospital that the little boy had very little chance. All other kids in the same sickroom suffering from the same killer didn’t make it. But my mother did not give up. Every day she held the pile of bones constantly hoping for miracle. Miracle did happen! One day, my brother Danfen smiled. That deserved the hospital a big celebration. Combing with a letter of congratulation, my mother received a very expensive bill of 300 Renminbu (May be 100 USD at that time), as monthly salary in China was around 30 Renminbu, to pay back the 300 Renminbu debt had been a heavy burden pressed on our family quite some years to come.
My first days in Changsha were among the loneliest days in my life.
As I mentioned before, after father took me back from his hometown, he disappeared from us for several months. My father, as one of the “could be used but never be trusted” party members, was constantly sent to countryside from one place to another to carry out party’s endless political movements.
Neither mother was ever at home since she had to be in the hospital 24hours full time nursing my sick brother. That results my 7 years old brother Danjin to be totally in charge at home.
But even Danjin was not able to look after me as he got his own school to go.
At the very first days, Danijn locked me up alone at home during his school hours. Perhaps I stole too much food to eat, he had to lock me out. When I got out free, all what I did was using my fingers to dig the ground where used to grow sweet potato together with other hungry kids. The best sweet potato roots we could possibly gain ware those as thick as small fingers.
One day I had to quit digging as I felt an extreme pain in my stomach. What I really needed was to lie down on a bed, yet I had to sit outside of our home for hours waiting for Danjin to open the door.
When Danjin came back from school and saw my mouth was full of mud, again he changed his policy on me by taking me to the school during his school hours. I played on the school sports ground while Danjin had his classes. I must have made quite hell of noise, some troubled teachers suggested to enroll me to be a pupil though I was under age. The awkward thing was when Danjin took me to the enrollment office, neither of us knew how to write our father’s name. After all Danjin managed to get me into the school.
Being six and half I became an elementary pupil.
Above are my earliest memories of my family.
To end this opening chapter, I would like to mention my feeling towards Danjin. Though his existence to me was almost the paterfamilias, and also in spite of we were getting closer and closer, I was still not totally willing to admit he was older than me, at least not on the surface. Until later “cigarette ends incident” happened, things started to get changing.