Cultural Value: My Grandfather's Story

Before the Chinese Civil War, my grandfather valued family. However, during the Civil War, he was forced to prioritize authority and flee China. He would never be allowed to see his mother again.

Family is a very important value, especially in Chinese culture, and my grandfather is no exception. I know that because he was put in an interrogation facility for attempting to contact his family when contact between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan was forbidden. My mother said that one main reason why my grandfather valued his family so much is that his father died when he was only six. He had to be very protective of the rest of his family, since his mother was a very young widow. When his father died, the inheritance was split between my grandfather’s older half-siblings and himself. My great grandmother was not educated or skilled; she was a stay at home mother, as were most Chinese women at that time. Because my great grandfather was the only source of income, his death marked the end of income. After the inheritance was used up, my grandfather had to make money in order to take care of the family.

During the Chinese Civil War, my grandfather was a loyal sailor for the ROC Navy in China. My grandfather joined the navy at age 18, at the end of World War II when China was ruled by the Kuomintang government. The ROC Navy offered free education and military stipends that would help him support his family. With his gifted mathematical skills, he was quickly selected to be part of a Fleet Survey team, where he performed mathematical calculations for the navy fleet. The ROC navy also gave college degrees to those who studied in the navy. Towards the end of the revolution, when my grandfather was 22, China was slowly falling into the control of the Chinese Communists. Chiang Kai-Shek, his Kuomintang government and ROC military were forced to flee to Taiwan. Chiang’s retreat to Taiwan was initially thought to be temporary. When he first landed in Taiwan, he even bought local souvenirs to bring back to China. Time passed as Chiang Kai-Shek’s military were not able to fight back across the Taiwan Strait. When he finally returned to China 40 years later in 1988, his mother had already been dead for ten years.

The Chinese Civil War was an extremely important event for the people of China; however, the aftermath had the most powerful impact on my grandfather’s life. After my grandfather left for Taiwan, his mother was taken into Dafeng farming camp because my grandfather was in the ROC military. In this farming camp, the PRC attempted to grow agricultural products in a remote town accessible to Shanghai by the ocean. The task was nearly impossible due to the large amount of salt in the soil, which was not suitable for farming. Life at the camp was extremely harsh and miserable, and the hardships that my great grandmother had to endure played a huge role in her premature death. At the time, there was a communication ban between PRC China and ROC in Taiwan. The ROC government was extremely paranoid with communist spies. In an attempt to send letters to his family, my grandfather was caught and jailed in an interrogation facility for three months. He was only released after the staff of the facility were able to confirm that he was not a spy, and that he was only trying to contact his family.

Later, my grandfather thought up a plan that would allow him to find his family without raising suspicion of the ROC government in Taiwan. He did not know his family’s whereabouts as China had experienced the Cultural Revolution at that point, so he needed a way that would guarantee the delivery of the letter. At the time, the PRC was desperate for foreign currency, so by mailing US money with the letter from Japan where he was working, he was tricking the PRC government to help track down his family. He knew no one still lived at the location of his childhood home, but since the family had lived there for several generations, there was a good chance of people knowing where his family might have been at the time. Sure enough, the letter with the US money did reach my great grandmother and my great aunt through the Communist leader at the farm. They were so happy to hear from my grandfather and immediately wrote back to him in Japan and asked for a family photo. My mother remembers that my grandmother rushed her and her little brothers to a picture studio after a phone call from her father. My grandmother had them expedite developing the pictures and sent the pictures to my grandfather in Japan via express mail. When my grandfather received it, he immediately sent it at express speed to his mother in China. My great grandmother was constantly worried about my grandfather and refused to die until she knew that he was alive and living with a healthy family. Sadly, she died almost immediately after she had received the proof of her grandchildren.

Although my grandfather valued family more than anything else, he was forced to put authority first when the Communist Party took over China during the Chinese Civil War.