Adversity Makes a Woman Forward – A profile of my mother

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My mother, Yu Xiaorong is the one on the left. She was 18.
My mother, Yu Xiaorong, the one on the left, was 18 when the photo was taken.

With 30-kilo bags on her shoulders, my mother, Yu Xiaorong, was staggering to a countryside dam. She needed to put the harvested rice to the granary. She was 18 years old then, just graduated from high school at that time.

Why a city girl was doing this? It should be traced back to the old days.

Cultural Revolution

My grandparents were married in 1950, just after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, when President Mao appealed to people to have more children. Born in a cold winter night in 1955, mom has four sisters and a brother.

In the early 1960s, Grandma left her job as response to national calls, because job opportunities were not enough and should be left to the intelligent. Grandpa, worked as the head of local railways bureau, fed his whole family on his own.

However, happy days were flash in the pan: Cultural Revolution struck the family in 1968, started with Grandpa persecuted. The Revolution was launched when President Mao alleged that “revisionists” in Communist party aimed to restore capitalism, and later Red Guard groups were organized by China’s youth adhering to Mao’s appeal.

Grandpa suffered a wide range of abuses from public humiliation, arbitrary imprisonment, torture to sustained harassment. “First he was ‘forced to stand on a stage’ where people exposed his ‘crime’”, mom said. What’s worse, violence was used to fight against the “revisionists” in 1969. Having been suspected to be a”revisionist“, Grandpa was not only locked in a cowshed, but also beaten and humiliated by Red Guards in front of the bureau where he used to work, showing people how bad a “revisionist “was.

Mom said, “We saw him standing there. Red Guards hit him hard, saying he betrayed the party and the country. We could not just stand there and watch. All my family ran to stop them. A Red Guard used iron rod hit my brother’s head. When father saw this, he shouted, ’Go back! Hurry! You kids don’t come here! Go back home and don’t worry about me’.  All this happened under the eyes of his former colleagues.”

Mom learned to cook when she was 11, trying her best to help her family. Grandma had no jobs and job opportunities hardly would be given to one related to a “revisionist”. Finally, she found the job of carrying cement. Every morning she got up before 4 a.m., walked more than three hours to the working place, and carried 25-kilo bags of cement like man. Mom helped her carry the same heavy bags every weekend and holiday.

A guy locked in cowshed next to Grandpa told Red Guard, “Yu is dying, he may die here” soon after he saw Grandpa spat blood. Mom saw her father again but he could not come back home – he was in hospital and doctors said he was severely wounded.

Two months after his return, on Dec. 4, 1969, a date mom never forgets, Grandpa passed away. He was born in 1929 and died when he was only 40 years old, leaving his youngest daughter, five years old, and my mom, 13.

I have never seen my Grandpa, but mom remembers him and the days they had gone through.

Down to the Countryside Movement

President Mao essentially used the “up to the mountains and down to the villages” to quell unrest and remove the embarrassment of the early Cultural Revolution from sight. In the cold winter wind of Dec 10, 1973, mom was sitting in an old trunk with her brother and schoolmates on her way to Shilan Village. Though the farm work made her tired, she liked to stand on the mountain and when looking at the snow-white bloomy camellia with bees flying around, she was still able to feel joy fulfilled her heart.

Mom said, “I learn rice transplanting, using sewing machine and how to grow different vegetables there. I even planted some trees near where I lived and we can use the nuts to produce oil. Two years later, I was recommended to go back to city.” Then she worked in a textile factory and also kept studying by herself.

In 1977, the government finally admitted the mistakes they made during Cultural Revolution, and claimed to clear the reputation of those suffered in the movement. Yu’s family gained its reputation back but Grandpa had gone forever. Since then, mom’s burden had been decreased.

She got married with my father at the age of 24 and my family moved back to my father’s hometown in 1993 . In 2002, she obtained master degree in economics and now she has an apartment, a car, a decent job as an office director, and a happy family.

She proved that adversity could never defeat her and it was only whetstone of success.


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