Monday, October 17, 2011

Tiger Mother - Part I, Mom was born

Chinese mothers are no different from mothers of any other ethnicity. Good mothers do whatever to make their youngsters strong, healthy, and independent so that they are capable of surviving in this world. It's biology!

From now on, I'll write stories about Mom and Dad, so that you would know how we become who we are today. These could become parts of a future book that I am thinking of writing after I'll retire from my current job. I have not decided in which language I would write about my book yet. My Chinese has gotten worse over the years for lack of usage while my English is becoming better. Let's start with the Chiglish version, shall we? 

Mom was born in early 1932 while China was under the control of Guomingdang (Kuomintang) in a small village close to Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province. Mom's Dad, Grandpa was a principal of an elementary school in the village and also a landlord who had inherited the land from his family (Edit: Aunt Jun just told me that her family's richness ran over 09 generations! Wow, that is shockingly successful!) Mom's family thus owned few helpers who grew rice and vegetables to feed the family. Therefore, unlike over 95% of the kids of Mom's age, Mom had food to eat and books to read when she was little. Schooling at Mom's time was a luxury, so although Mom was only in school for about 7 years, her level of education was already better than most of her peers. And that certainly should warrant her to marry into a decent husband's family (婆家), an ultimate goal/fate of every girl of Mom's time.

Grandpa and Grandma had total of 4 children together. But Grandpa had total of 7 children. How that happened? He married again after his first wife died when Mom was only 1 year old. So, Mom had 2 half sisters and 1 half brother. They were/are: 

1st brother – Uncle who died young to rabies 
2nd sister– Aunt Er Meiren (Aunt 二/Er)
3rd sister – Aunt Shan Meiren (Aunt 三/San)
4th girl – Mom herself
5th half sister – Aunt Juneau (Aunt Jun)
6th half sister – Aunt Dairu (Aunt Dai)
7th half brother – Uncle Xianshan (Uncle Shan)

Er () means the second of the family; Meiren (美人) means beauty. San (三) means the third. San in my youngest uncle's name means kind-heated (善). Can you guys keep it up, Chinese is not that difficult! 

As indicated by their names, Aunt Er and Aunt San were well-known beauties in the village. Having a wealthy and well-educated father, they were hot girls for matchmakers. If you have watched movie Mulan, you should get the picture. Grandpa was quite powerful in his time and place and he did not like to marry his daughters to their perspective husbands' home. Instead, Grandpa demanded his future sons-in-laws to marry into his house. This arrangement was against the old Chinese traditions but it was not impossible. Therefore, Grandpa's dowries did not go outside of the family.

Arranged marriages in old China could be made at the day of an infant was born. I am not sure whether this was the case for Aunt Er. What I know for sure is that her marriage was admired by all of her sisters and their girl cousins. I often hear stories about Uncle E (Youming Li), the husband of Aunt Er. I called it Uncle E here since he used to be a railway engineer. That means that he represented technology that was rare at that time. Plus, in order to become an engineer, Uncle E must have gone far to acquire his advanced degree since schools in old China were scarce, especially the ones that could offer engineering degrees (Edit: Aunt Jun told me that he was an graduate of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Wow!) 

Uncle E had gotten his degree and his handsomeness worth by marrying to Aunt Er, the number 1 beauty in town. Therefore, they were considered to be perfect match and a golden couple (Edit: Aunt Jun said that she was married at age of 16 before she even finished high school. No wonder her son is the same age of my youngest uncle, see below). Together, they produced 2 children: Bro Qingding and Sis Qingyun. Bro Qingding, the oldest cousin of mine, is the same age as Uncle Shan, the youngest son of Grandpa. I had the hardest time to comprehence this fact when I was first informed this at age 14. Does this mean stepGrandma was the same age as Aunt Er? - I'll find this out from Aunt Jun this Christmas when we shall be visiting her in NJ. 

After the birth of Uncle Shan, Grandpa was severely ill and soon passed away. Mom's the family lost a major and only income, therefore, continued education for Mom would become less of a priority. Mom and her second sister Aunt Shan were encouraged to stop going to school so that they could help out the family (Edit: Aunt Jun said in fact, Grandpa did not die until 1951 and he died at home. His house was taken away by the government only after his passing. See below.)

So up to now, you should pretty much figure it out that Mom was basically brought up by her oldest sisters Aunt Er and Aunt Shan, because her stepMom was too busy to take care of her 3 youngsters. As oldest children of the family, it's their job to help out (Edit: Aunt Jun corrected me here again. She said that Mom was brought up by Grandpa's sister and Mom even called her Mother, not Aunt. Good to know. Aunt Jun also said that her mother, Mom's stepmother was a very kind woman who did not have much power at home. She was an extremely kind woman who was well-respected by all Mom's older sisters.)

In mid 40s, Aunt San was arranged to marry her second cousin who was also known as a Playboy. No one in the family was fond of this marriage, especially Aunt San who'd rather go back to school. Aunt San was the rare one who enjoyed studying much more than her age-matched siblings and cousins. However, the family needed her sacrifices. To this date, Aunt San was still bitter about this premature "dropout". She was particularly not happy about her stepMomwho semi-forced her and Mom out of school early (Edit: Aunt Jun said this decision was made my Grandpa's sister, not Mom's stepmother).

Mom, on the other hand, was happy to be out of the school. She was a free spirit since young. She thought that reciting old text books, such as poems written by these famous poets, was silly. She even agreed that education would not help Aunt San that much since she was not the smartest one among her peers. The evidence was that her roommates (cousins) had better test scores yet they did not need to study half as hard as Aunt San. What they like to joke about was Aunt San had taught her cousins unknowingly since she was reciting her books so loud in the room that her cousins learned enough just by listening to Aunt San day after day – this explains why we are told to read bedtime stories to our kids could be quite beneficial!

Aunt San was an elementary school teacher in Grandpa's school before she married to Uncle Playboy (?). Together, they had 5 children from 1949 to 1958 with 2 years gaps between each - China encouraged big families in early 50s since Mao believed there would be many wars that would need man powers.

In 1949, China was liberated and the Guomindang's government was taken over by Mao and his Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Soon after that, Grandpa's land was taken away and redistributed to the peasants by the land reform movement-the slogan was Da Tuhao Fen Tiandi (打土豪分田地)-down with the haves, share the have-nots.

That, my friends, ended Mom's family's powerful years.

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