In 1954, my mother was born the youngest in a family of four, from a small village in Taishan, Guangdong. Her mother worked at a factory knitting sweaters and her father worked as a pediatrician in a nearby city. Having two employed parents, my mother's family was considered above average in her impoverished community, earning around a thousand yuan (around $140) per month. Regardless of her above average situation-compared to others- she still had to fetch water, share a communal toilet and bike to school like the rest of the village. When my mother was a grade-schooler she learned Chinese, science, and basic math. After School she spent her time completing homework, chores and feeding animals. When she attended high school, she spent more time on a farm than actual schooling. However, she was still able to study some English and some advanced math. Due to certain circumstances, she did not attend college after high school, so she joined the labor force. She was introduced to a job at the farm, where she tilled the soil and planted oranges and mandarins. The farm turned to a commune and she moved to work at a textile factory. Poor conditions and low wages eventually drove her to immigrate to America.
During her early childhood, Mao Zedong- China's communist leader- launched the Cultural Revolution, a way to return to communist ideologies and remove capitalistic elements from the society. The Cultural Revolution was initiated by Mao Zedong to recover from his catastrophic strategy to change the economy through industrialization and collectivism, also known as the Great Leap Forward. Mao wanted to reassert his authority, wanted people to adhere to his beliefs through the Cultural Revolution. Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse Tung (aka the little red book) was widely distributed across China to share his thoughts and beliefs. The Cultural Revolution led to millions of deaths, economic instability and the removal of traditional Chinese culture. Even though my mom lived in a pretty remote village, she, directly and indirectly, experienced social, political and economic problems spawned by the Cultural Revolution.
At age 15, my mother transitioned to high school at the “Chong Long High School,” where she took part in a leadership program. During the interview, she explained, “Mao Zedong's leadership program was a “program” where everyone in her school were coerced to participate in. For 2-3 days during a school week, instead of learning, she had to plant sugarcane and do other laborious farming related activities.” Instead of schoolwork, Mao Zedong wanted the youth to become more focused on agriculture. In the People's Daily- a newspaper group in China- Mao proclaimed, “We have two hands, let's not laze about in the city.” Mao Zedong wanted to recover from his failures during the Great Leap Forward- where 55 million people died to famine- by sending 16 million children to camps/ rural areas to be “re-educated”. They were known as the Sent Down Youths and Mao wanted them to “participate in agricultural production labor.” Besides from being preoccupied by these activities, my mother also wasn't able to learn much due to the destruction caused by the Red Guards. The Red Guards were a Mao Zedong bolstered socialist group of young adults/ teenagers who were following the ideas of Maoism. They attacked intellectuals and prevented advancements and scientific progress, “Students beating up their teachers was a shocking reversal in the Confucian society, where educators were once held in the highest esteem” (NPR, 2014). Intellectuals were also rusticated, persecuted and killed. One of my mother's distant relative was a teacher and he was humiliated by the Red Guards in a Chinese version of “tar and feather, “he was also tortured and forced to confess to crimes he didn't commit, which later drove him to suicide. The Red Guard's ultimate agenda was to eradicate the Four Olds which includes: old customs, old cultures, old habits and old ideas. Historical relics, old historical books and cultural sites were destroyed, burned and removed from existence. In the article, Education in China Since Mao, William Saywell states, “It (Mao's directive on education) emphasized the need for students to engage in productive labor before entering university. To combine study and labor… and place a greater emphasis on class background and ideological purity as criteria for admission.” Mao wanted to reshape and completely change the social structure of the entire country, which “dumbed it down,” through education. Mao's educational policies, his leadership program and the Red Guards' eradication of educational resources prevented my mother from being able to achieve a higher education. The lack of educators and educational resources left China in a state of ignorance and my mother without the ability to succeed educationally. Only after Mao's death resulting to the end of the Cultural Revolution, university entrance exams were reinstated.
At age 16, my mother left high school and entered the labor force. She worked at the farm full time. It was very difficult to keep a steady source of income and to keep a stable job, due to the impact the Cultural Revolution had on the economy. People struggled to obtain jobs and the government took over everything. “By the early 1960s…local governments took over commerce, and private traders, shops, and markets were replaced by supply and marketing cooperatives and the commercial bureaus of local government. In the cities, large industries were nationalized, and craft enterprises were organized into large-scale cooperatives that became branches of local government. Many small shops and restaurants were closed down, and those that remained were under municipal management.”(Country studies, 2015) All types of private businesses were taken over by the government. This decelerated economic growth and decline economic activity. My mother's father faced this firsthand. He was forced to give up his clinic to the government. Everything he owned was controlled by the government. He was too old to do anything rigorous so he retired. The new regulations made it impossible to find work and increased adversity. The economic status of China crumbled during the Cultural Revolution.
At age 21, my mother was able to find work at a textile factory. She spent most of her day there, sewing clothes. She only earned a few dollars a day and could just afford enough food to survive. Many of her relatives moved to America in hopes of finding better and more stable income and a better life. She decided she too needed to immigrate to America. However, she needed to wait 10 years to acquire her chance at citizenship. My mother's whole generation worked in labor-intensive jobs in factory and farms, because of Mao's Sent-Down Youth and the closing of universities. Therefore, China lacked intellectuals. This limited China's ability to technologically advance and they needed help from others. After the Cultural Revolution ended, China required aid from foreign economies to revitalize their own economy. “Chinese intellectuals and leaders, facing a ruined economy at the end of the Cultural Revolution, sought the help of foreign economists to rebuild. Between 1976 and 1993, in a series of exchanges, conferences, and collaborations, Western intellectuals sought not to change China but to help it change itself, and they made indispensable contributions to China's rise as a global economic power.” The Cultural Revolution dealt a lot of damage to China's economy to the point where they realized that being completely communist was unsustainable.
At the age of 30, my mother was one year away from moving to America. She couldn't stand living in China any longer. She wasn't earning enough, and she didn't feel her living situation was good enough for her. She said, “China was a complete mess after the Cultural Revolution, people did whatever they wanted, the government couldn't do anything, and chaos ensued.” The political system of China was in complete disorder. The end of the Cultural Revolution resulted in various obstacles for Chinese officials. For example, “nearly three million Chinese Communist Party members and other citizens awaited reinstatement after having been wrongfully purged” (Dull,2018). Officials who were expected to solve these problems had issues of their own. Officials didn't want to induce change because that would go against the policy they implemented before. “The Cultural Revolution destroyed the party's credibility and authority. Its corruption during the reform era has destroyed its legitimacy. The cult of Mao during the Cultural Revolution inevitably produced a reaction in the post-Mao era: no more maximum leaders. That was a major reason for the removal of Bo Xilai . The cult of Mao's thought also brought about a reaction so that ideology is no longer of any weight in China.” (Long Shadow of the Cultural Revolution,2016) Without a strong political system, the Chinese communist party went back to their traditional methods.
· Kuhn, A. (2014, February 04). Chinese Red Guards Apologize, Reopening A Dark Chapter. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/01/23/265228870/chinese-red-guards-apologize-reopening-a-dark-chapter
· (n.d.).Retrieved from http://countrystudies.us/china/43.html
· Saywell, W. G. (1980). Education In China Since Mao. X-1.
· Lieberthal, K. G., & Dull, J. L. (2018, November 13). China. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/China/Consequences-of-the-Cultural-Revolution
· The long shadow of the Cultural Revolution. (2016, May 14). Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1076451/long-shadow-cultural-revolution
...(download the rest of the essay above)