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November 20, 1977 - Image 14

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Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1977-11-20
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Page 4-Sunday, November 20, 1977-The Michigan Daily

The Michigan Daily-Sunday, Novembei

Reunion
behind the
Bamboo
Curtain
By Margaret Yao

The author as an
incognito 'comrade'

HE 80-YEAR-OLD man, whose
sight was fast fading, thought he
would never again see his eldest
daughter. She had left her home
in Shanghai, China, to go abroad
as a graduate student in 1949 just three
weeks before Mao Tse-tung's forces won
control the city.
But now, the long-lost daughter, accom-
panied by her husband and her own
daughter, was journeying halfway around
the world back to Shanghai to make this one
impossible dream come true.
Grandfather, unable to walk down steps,
anxiously waited alone in his second story
flat while Grandmother and several aunts
stationed themselves .outside the family's
tenement in anticipation of the reunion one
sunny morning last June..
When at last the travelers, who had star-
ted out 7,000 miles away in Pittsburgh, took
the final steps of the trip into Grandfather's
bedroom, he could only smile and gaze long
and hard at the visitors as tears trickled
down his wrinkled cheeks.
The teary-eyed old man was my grand-
father. That 22-day sojourn with my parents
into the People's Republic of China
materialized only after Sino-American
relations improved in 1972, and we were
able to obtain visas after three-and-a-half
years of "Red" tape.
I felt like Robert Heinlein's stranger in
this very strange land as I stepped into the
lives of my many Shanghainese relatives.
So much about the lives of a generation of
Chinese behind the Bamboo Curtain is
enigmatic, alien and simply unknown to the
rest of the world.
We entered the land at its southern bor-
der, where travelers are required to walk
the several hundred feet of international
territory-a kind of no-man's land-bet-
ween Hong Kong and China. Customs of-
ficials politely but thoroughly questioned us
as they examined our baggage in small
rooms.
A two-day train ride took us through rice
paddies across the mid-section of the coun-
try to Shanghai, where my parents and I
were whisked to a hotel designated for
"overseas Chinese" by a representative of

the China Travel Agency, a "mother hen" of
sorts which guides and oversees all visitors.
As Chinese-Americans, we were a small
minority among the hotel guests, many of
whom came from southeast Asia.
Unable to contact our relatives since they
did not have their own telephone, we im-
mediately hopped into a cab and, in the
Shanghainese dialect, my mother gleefully
announced our destination. But as we boun-
ced through the streets, she found little of

her hometown recognizable.
Bustling Shanghai, a seaport once famed
for its shrewd (and often corrupt)
businessmen and its cosmopolitan,
sophisticated atmosphere, now was charac-
terized by throngs of people in loose-fitting,
pale-colored blouses and dark, bloomer-like
pants that are a sort of national uniform.
Walls of the city of 11 million Chinese were
adorned with political billboards and
slogans, lauding the late Chairman Mao and

his successor, Chairman Hua Kuo-feng.
Though my mother, the eldest of seven
children, had left a large, two-story home 28
years before, we arrived at a modest apar-
tment building that appeared to be typical of
the dwellings in the central city. Facing a
narrow, tree-lined street-of similar struc-
tures, the faded red brick building enclosed
a small cement courtyard and housed about
half a dozen families.
Attracting a mass of curious neighbors,
we were embraced by Grandmother and the
aunts, who then-led us to the family's three-
room apartment. We trekked through a
community kitchen, past open doorways, up
and down stiles until we finally entered
Grandfather's small but surprisingly com-
fortable abode.
The two bedrooms and kitchen were
shared by my grandparents and their
newlywed daughter and son-in-law. Other
facilities, like the bathroom, wee shared
with neighbors. One bedroom served as a
living room and dining room by day. Pat-
terned cotton cloth hid closets and draped
windows. Varnished wood furniture
brightened the rooms.
Following custom, we wiped our faces
with hot washcloths, and drank hot tea
despite the steamy June temperatures.
S WE SAT DOWN to relax over
the tea, my grandfather took
advantage of his first oppor-
tunity to give the "once over"
to my father, who reacted with
more amusement than anxiety after 25
years of marriage. He had met my mother
at the University of Illinois, where they both
were pursuing graduate studies.
My father, born in Amoy in the southern
province of Fukien, China, had emigrated at
a young age with his family to live in the
Philippines. Only very distant relatives
remained in Amoy.
Although Chinese conversation flowed as
freely as the tea during my first encounter
with the Shanghainese, my grandfather
surprised me with his British English,
learned decades before at an English school.
Grandfather told us the family has been
faring well under the Communist system.
"The government has done a lot for the
people," he said in his methodical English.
"Everyone has food, shelter and clothing.
The changes have been dramatic."
China scholars do not dispute such claims,
for the country's history is sordidly etched
with exploitation of the poor by wealthy land-
lords. The overwhelming majority of
'Chinese were poverty-stricken; tens of
thousands either froze to death or died of
starvation each winter before the advent of
communism in the country. -
Under the old system, before the so-called
"liberation" of the country by Mao-led for-
ces in 1949, my grandfather's family had
been professionals and among the affluent.
Now, however, his children are scattered in
diverse occupations. My aunts and uncles
are commune laborers and factory workers
as well as engineers, chemists and
schoolteachers._
Some differences in wealth no doubt
remain, but they are not nearly as pronoun-
ced. Average monthly earnings range bet-
ween $15 and $50 in American currency, and
purchasing power is high. Bus rides cost two
cents; a family of four can eat lunch at a
restaurant for about $2.
Whether at restaurant or market,
however, the Chinese must present coupons.
These are distributed among families so
basic necessities such as meat, wheat and
rice products, as well as certain articles of
clothing, could be shared equally.
But it was hard to imagine that food was
'rationed," for feasts of nearly a dozen
dishes were daily spread before us at my
grandfather's table.
Declining warm Chinese beer, we
celebrated the reunion with orange soda, not
unlike American "pop." Nothing was cold
because refrigerators are foreign to most
Chinese homes. As a result, the days' meals
were dependent on daily trips to the market.

We never did figure out the fate of the
leftovers.
On our first night, we were told that one of
the dutiful sons-in-law had donned an apron
n the kitchen to fry his conception of
kmerican pork chops to make us feel at
home. Despite the distinctly Chinese flavor
(and my difficulty eating them with chop-
sticks) they were quite good.
Towards the end of our stay, someone
brought a squawking rooster past the dinner
table and into the kitchen. "We will have
fresh-killed chicken for the last dinner,"
Grandfather explained proudly.
We had arrived at their doorstep with arm-
loads of gifts, purchased from the "Friend-
ship Store"-where foreigners could buy
Chinese-made products without presenting
coupons. Our bounty ranged from a set of
false teeth for my grandfather to watches,
bicycles, sewing machines and pounds of
American candy. But of all the gifts, they
enjoyed the television sets most, for they
had never owned a TV.
If ever there were any television addicts,
we met them in that second story flat in
Shanghai. No sooner did we adjust the pic-
ture on two Chinese-made, nine-inch
screens than my relatives riveted their eyes'
on them, oblivious to all else.
In one room, the uncles oohed and ahhed
at a televised ping-pong match while the
aunts watched TV in another room, entran-
ced by a Chinese opera, unaware as we
Americans chuckled softly to ourselves.
The two channels they received only
broadcast between 6 and 10 p.m. and offered
educational programs, sports, operas and
movies as the main fare.
For leisure, our relatives told us they
listen to the radio or catch a movie at the
local theater. They also receive the national:
newspaper, the People's Daily, and a four-

NURSERY SCHOOL TODDLERS, aged four to six, line the entranceway as visitors from
America pay a call to the commune on wnich the school is located. The youngsters greet
their guests warmly, clapping their hands and chanting, "Welcome Aunties and Uncles."

page metropolitan newspaper. One page of
the latter is devoted to international news.
FROM LETTER-WRITING and
F ~the Chinese media orela-
tives already had some conception
of America, but we were surprised
that they did not show more in-
terest in our lifestyles and government.
Politics in general seemed to be avoided,
although our hosts told us they liked former
President Richard Nixon and knew that
Jimmy Carter had been a peanut farmer.
When I expressed hopes they could
someday visit us in the United States, they
smiled but shook their heads, saying in-
stead, "No. You come back."
Our curiosity about their lifestyle was
pretty sated by visits to a pair of schools, a
hospital, a Commune, an industrial
exhibition and an acrobatic show.
In one city grade school, the children
demonstrated their mathematical prowess
on the abacus and their political training in
a short, stage-like performance. At this
school, each visitor had a guide-mine was
an adorable 10-year-old boy.
As young Nan Po grasped my hand and let
me from room to room, I found myself more
intrigued with the child than the actual
classroom activities.I
He was apparently a model fifth-grade
student, for he sported a red kerchief as a
testimony to achievement and answered my
questions with careful thought.
His favorite class was physical education
and he had two brothers, he volunteered.
Though he answered me with the utmost
politeness, poor Nan Po was probably
secretly appalled at my inability to speakk.
fluent Mandarin.

He left my side for a few minutes to join
classmates in a political training class. The
students presented a short play about Mao's
achievements in improving the Chinese way
of life. Dramatic and forceful, the children's
performance was precise and impressive.
When I told him I had a brother his age in
the U.S., Nan Po was silent for a few
minutes, perhaps pondering what his life
would be like in America. Then again, I
wondered if such thoughts even entered his
head.
The children attend school until they
graduate from the Chinese counterpart of
the American high school. Afterwards, they
are usually sent to communes or factories
for work. Those exhibiting loyalty, ability
and diligence may be sent on to universities
or trade schools.
the outskirts of Shanghai,
where 22,990 persons worked
in light industry, in the fields
or in any of the other jobs
necessary to make a community self-suffi-
cient.
At the communal nursery school, toddlers
acted out a play about the changes wrought
in the country by Mao-a persistent theme
in Chinese education.
Disdainful attitudes toward the "Gang of
Four," a group of alleged conspirators
against the Chinese people, were also popular
at the time of our visit. In one classroom,
four-year-olds shot dart guns at caricatures
of the deposed figures pinned on the walls.
The commune was also equipped with its
own hospital, where doctors told us they
were trying to blend the Western world's

Photo by MA
modern science wi
medicine.
One of the most
Chinese medicine i
cture-needles used
dings-instead of ane
We saw a patien
operation while com
we were told he cou
talk to the doctors or
Another fascinat
acupuncture's won
teeth. .
Merely anesthesiz
each hand and one a
patient hardly wince
one, then two front
minute.
Though not doctor
my relatives were
acupuncture needle
ailments. Grinning
with the process, t
points and, with the
father, allowed me
needles in his wrist.
They said acupun
least alleviate, head
and sore muscles.
"Does this hurt?"
gingerly proceeded
cushion. "Yes!" can
Y AU
plair
sore,
aunti
a "ba
titioner who treats c
only a year's training
In fact, women do
See CHINA

Daily Managing Editor Margaret Yao v
started digging when she was a mere A COMMUNE Ww wPhoto by MARGARET YAO
kAndersUEWORKER opens wide, but not wide enough to disturb the acupuncture needle
kindergartener. Last summer she hit in his upper lip. Here a dentist wisks out the patient's two front teeth in less than a minute
~Chitta_ }.. <, f£ j. ndthhry a Whinper isiuheard;°t T .-

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