Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Bloodline -- South

I have seven grand parents. My dad's side is from Canton, or Guangzhou.

1. My paternal grand father, Huang Han Chang 黄汉昌, born 1893, lived in Canton most of his life. He went to Peru with his uncles when he was a teenager, worked in mines, and saved some money in a local bank. As family stories go, he went back to China to get married and the war (not sure which war as WWI was not in the Pacific) broke out so he never went back to Peru. It was anyone's guess how much money he lost, but my aunts and uncles always talked about it. My grand father died in 1984 and attending his funeral was one of the biggest events in my childhood. It was my first trip to Canton and first time to see most of my extended family. I fell in love with the place and the people, it was where I belonged. A few months later I made the decision to move back to Canton, alone. I stayed with relatives, friends and lived in school dorms during my years there.

2. My paternal grand mother was my grand father's official wife and gave birth to most of his children. She was very small statued, illiterate as most Chinese women in her generation, talked like a rapid fire machine gun and cooked for three generations. I shared a room with her when I stayed with my uncle's family during my senior year in high school. I don't remember her name as it was rarely used. We simply addressed her various versions of grandma. She's the grand parent that I knew best, which is not saying much. She died soon after I arrived in the US, in her 90s.

3. My real paternal grand mother Luo Jian 罗坚, my father's birth mother, was my grand father's concubine, or "small" wife. She gave birth to two boys and one girl, my dad being the youngest. She stayed with the family for some years, but couldn't stand the conflict with the "big" wife and ran away to marry a Nationalist. In the 1950s she was living in Macaw but decided to go back to Canton to visit her children. Because of her association with the Nationalist (at the time most of them already went to Taiwan and apparently this guy was MIA), she was caught by the Chinese government, paraded on the city streets, and later killed. My dad was very young when his mother left and didn't have much memory of her. He was brought up mostly by his older sisters from both mothers. The older boy from my real grand mother was kicked out of home at 12 years old. He eventually made his way to Hong Kong and became a successful business man. It was not until he got back in touch with the family in the 1980s we saw a picture of my real grand mother. It was a large black and white picture. In the picture she was very pretty, very refined, her hair was rolled back into a bun, and she was wearing a plain top with mandarin collars. We also learned that she graduated from grade school, which back in the days made her well educated. My uncle gave the picture to my family to keep. I had it for a few years and when I left the country I gave it to my dad. Ten years ago my dad moved out of our family home behind the Summer Palace in Beijing, and tossed the picture. All of my paternal grand parents are Hakka people 客家. Hakkanese, guest families, were originated in central China and moved south over the years. We are guests of many lands, and by the name we call ourselves, we are not at home no matter where we live. My grand parents spoke Hakkanese, but my aunts and uncles mostly spoke Cantonese, the local language to them. I understand both but can only speak Mandarin. My grand mother made some of the traditional Hakkanese dishes at holidays, but I learned about the traditional clothing and customs only from movies and books. Supposedly we look different from the majority Han Chinese as well, but my family must be atypical Hakkanese.


Jennifer said...

Wonderful post, Vivian. I love hearing the stories of other people's families. How old were you when you decided to move to Canton? That is a big step for a young person (an for the parents, to let go). It's too bad that picture is gone.

Vivian said...

Thanks Jennifer. I was in middle school when I moved to Canton. My dad was a diplomat living in Columbia and wanted my mom to join him there. Prior to his assignment in Columbia he was in Africa for 5 years by himself because my mom would not leave me behind to join him. My decision helped them to reunite as well as giving me the freedom to fly on my own.

Jennifer said...

I *loved* reading about your family, Vivian. What a childhood you had! I agree with the other jennifer that moving back to Canton on your own was very brave - I know I wouldn't have been able to handle it at that age.

So, how did you end up in here in the States? Have you ever thought you wanted to move back? Have you taken your family there?

Could I be any nosier? :)

Cetta said...

It is fascinating to me (and shameful, really) how little I know about Chinese culture.

Did your father not want to know his mother? Do you know what became of her?

Vivian said...

Jennifer, thanks for the kind words. I ended up here because my mom chose freedom over marriage and I tagged along. My guys haven't been to China tho it's always in the talks. There are many things I want to show them, I'm sure we'll make it some day.

Cetta, I won't guess what my dad thinks. He didn't know his mother and I wasn't very close with him. She was killed while in Chinese police custody.

Sonya said...

Wow, what an interesting family history you have. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Lesley said...

Great post Vivian.... fascinating.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading about your family. That is so sad that your father threw away the only picture of your grandmother. I think many men just don't "get" the importance of family pictures. My mom gave my little brother all his childhood pictures when he moved out on his own...within a year he had lost them all! He gave them to a girlfriend who probably destroyed them after they broke up. Just made me ill to think about those photos being lost...got the same feeling again in the pit of my stomach as I read what your dad had done with the photo you entrusted to him of your grandmother.

What happened to your grandmother is so sad. It reminds me of some stories other friends have shared with me about what happened to their family members during the years of the Cultural Revolution.