The Story of My Father (1) 我的父親 （1）
My father was born into an ordinary peasant family in Chaozhong village, Zhongjiang County, Sichuan Province. It was said that my grandmother had given birth to 12 children, but only 9 survived. My father was the second eldest son in the family. With numerous younger brothers and sisters to look after, he was naturally expected to share the responsibility of supporting the family.
I didn’t have a chance to visit my father’s home village until the 1980’s, when I was already a high school student. Several of my uncles were still living in the shabby, old mud wall houses inherited from our ancestors, with literally no furniture inside, nor electricity. People still relied on dim kerosene lamps in the night.
To me, this kind of family should have fallen into the “absolute poverty” category. However, in 1949, when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) categorized everyone in China into different classes after coming into power, my father’s family was classified as a “small land lessor.”
I learnt the term “small land lessor” in 1973, when I was required to fill in the “personnel archive form” while enrolling into elementary school. One of the items to be filled was the “family class category on your father’s side.”
At that time a “personnel archive” was set up for everyone when you first enrolled into elementary school. All personal information was included in the archive files including all exam scores in the school, all the comments your teacher wrote about you, all your family situations, and all the good and bad things about you.
Everywhere you went, this archive followed. But you were not allowed to view the contents or know what was actually inside. It was only meant for the Party to know everything about everybody.
As a 6-year-old, grade-one student, I already knew that there were a “class of landlords” and a “class of poor and the lower-middle peasants,” but I didn’t understand what a “small land lessor” was. I then asked my mother, who immediately said indignantly, “It was unfair! There were so many brothers and sisters in your father’s family. Overall, they didn’t own much land. If it were calculated based on the average land area per person, your father’s family should have been categorized as ‘middle peasants’ at most. Only because they had hired people to help farming the land, they were categorized as a ‘small land lessor,’ which was unfairly high!”
I didn’t fully understand mother’s explanation. However, I somehow already knew that it was a terrible thing if you were ranked “high” in the “class category.” At that time, the grandfather of a girl in our class was a landlord; and the entire class looked down upon that girl.
Once I went to her home, and unintentionally saw an old man in a black cotton-padded coat sitting in the corner quietly. I realized that this must be her landlord grandfather. Immediately I was struck with fear, as if having seen a monster. I hastily made up an excuse and fled her home as fast as I could.
Fortunately enough, the social class category of my mother’s side was “poor people in the city,” which was part of the “proletariat.” This gratefully evened up my father’s “high category” a little bit.
My mother’s parents got divorced soon after she was born; and she was adopted by another family. Actually, my mother’s foster father was once a “capitalist,” who owned a brewery and a shop in Zhongjiang County. My father actually came to know my mother when he worked in that shop as an apprentice.
Later on, my mother’s foster father became addicted to opium. As a result, he spent all his wealth. When the CCP took power in 1949 and gave everyone a “social class category,” he was therefore classified as “poor people in the city.”
From then on he often boasted in front of my mother and my grandmother, “Do you think it would have been so easy for you to become part of the ‘proletariat’ if it weren’t for me?”
(To be continued 待續)