I was born in a remote mountainous village in Jianchuan County, which locates on the half way from Dali to Lijiang in north west Yunnan Province. My father was a policeman of the old society. When I was 14, I went to Kunming to live with my father. On my way I met some American airmen who came to help China to fight against Japanese aggressors. They impressed me quite a lot. I saw how advanced they were and realized it was so difficult to talk or learn something from them. Several years went by. After I graduated from a high school, I made up my mind to learn English and then to become a teacher of English. I wanted to teach our mountainous children English and help them to learn more new and advanced knowledge and techniques from abroad.
I graduated from Kunming Teacher's College in 1953. It is now known as Yunnan Normal University. Unfortunately, in the early fifties, China felt crazy love with the Soviet Union, while the U.S. & U.K. were considered as "Imperialist Enemy", not many schools taught English. So, I was assigned to work in the Provincial Government, not to a school. Soon, I married and then divorced my wife, Guihua. Our marriage had been arranged by our parents when we were young children.
My true love was Qiyan, a teacher of Russian. However, in 1958 I was labeled a rightist and sent to a "reeducation-through-labor farm". I was spirited away by truck on the eve of our marriage. Qiyan continued to have contact with me even though it put her at great personal risk. But the label “Imperialist Enemy” on my head destroyed my true love with Qiyan in the end. I spent years in the labor camp, where I schemed to garner favor from the authorities, who nevertheless shamed me publicly and told me that all my problems "belong to contradictions between the people and the enemy". After my release in 1962, I had no choice but to return to my native village as a peasant.
I waved bye-bye to my mother as a 14-year-old boy and came back as a middle-aged walking skeleton, full of political troubles! I found my mother and one sister died of hunger, my father was shot to death. Our ancestors-hand-down house had been confiscated and the whole family lived in a small wheat-straw-roofed house. Three of my sisters could not find a husband; nobody wanted to marry them. There was no space for me to live! I was kindly picked up by a relative and lived with his family. In 1963, I married Cuilian and lived in her house. Because of the cruel situation, I lived a matriarchial life in a modern society. But anyway, I found a home at last. In order to survive, I tried all kinds of stratagems I could think of, including collecting used bottles, making wooden stools, stealing "nightsoil" from public toilets and extracting peach-pit oil from thousands of peaches. My life was the personification of a peasant's universal struggle to endure during those difficult years!! During these years, one person came back to my life, just like a guardian angel, she took great care to my family, brought us a warm wind in the frozen winter. It was my first wife, Guihua.
China had a basic turn in 1978. Early in 1979, the government came to apologize for their past wrong-doings. I formally became one of our nation's English teachers. My wife sold the fattest pig (the most valuable thing we could sell at that time) to buy me a short-wave radio to review and improve my English. I tried my best to teach my students, but it's too late, I was already 50 years old. I encouraged my elder son, He Lu-jiang to learn English and to be a teacher of English. Fortunately, he understood me and followed my steps. He just chose the same department in the same college as I did in 1949. When I came back from England in September, 1988, I found He Lu-jiang a teacher of English at Dali Medical College, he fulfilling my 40-year-long wish to give younger generations a hand in learning a foreign language, I was satisfied and began to smile!
As for my younger son, He Lu-zhong, he studied hard at high school and in 1992 won a 14-day honorable and free trip to Germany in a competition organized by Beijing's German Embassy. Upon graduation from Yunnan's Institute for Minorities in 1996, he was assigned to work in a government organization in Kunming. In a way, I can say he replaces the position I had worked 40 years ago!! I pray for no more crazy political movement!!!
As for my wife, to live in a city and enjoy a city way of life is not her cup of tea. Even today she still likes to stay at home in the village. Like me, she is getting older and has stopped planting rice and climbing up high mountains. However, she enjoys knitting and always keeps good company with her chickens and several geese. More than ten years ago she often said to me, "You must be very careful with our two sons' education. You are a 'big student', you work in our county school, you are good; Lu-jiang is a 'big student', if he could work in the Dali Prefecture City, that is better; if Lu-zhong became the third 'big student' in our family and worked in the provincial city, that would be the best of all. I enjoy good and dream for better and best." She is very happy now because her life's dream has all come true.
As for myself, I retired in 1989. I was then invited to train guides and translate for Dali's Prefecture Museum, and later to teach English at Dali Teacher's College. In my spare time I continued to write my life story: Mr. China's Son. Now I would like to say something about how I first got the idea to write it.
In 1984, I got my first book (The Spring Of Butterflies and Other Chinese Folk Tales) published in Britain. The publisher, Neil Philip, asked me to write something about myself, and it turned out that my writing appeared in the book as a "Biographical Notes". The book was sold in English speaking countries, and many readers began to write me, not only because of the tales but mainly of the "Biographical Notes". Many children's parents encouraged me to add some more details and rewrite out the whole story. So early in 1985, I began to rewrite. In 1992 with the help of an English teacher Claire Chik, we found a publisher in New York and signed a contract. However when I read the advance copy, I became angry ---- the New York editor had rewritten (changed) my life history! I wrote back and told them, "I'd rather give up than change my life...It is a true autobiography not a fiction...If you insist on your own imagination of my life I will have to find another publisher who is willing to keep everything true for the future readers..." Later we found another publisher, the Westview Press in Colorado. They would keep it true and only to check the grammatical mistakes. They planned to sell mostly to students of social science. In May 1993, the editor came to visit me in Dali. His purpose was very clear----to be sure everything I had written was truthful! I showed him around the places. After a week, he returned home, satisfied. Three months later, in August 1993, the book Mr. China's Son was coming off the press.
Before long, I began to receive many letters. Readers asked me to answer questions. Some invited me to meet them in Guilin, Chengdu or in Kunming. But most of them wanted to meet me here in Dali. So, almost every month, I would go here or there to meet my reader-friends from all over the world. It seemed that I could not be a part-time teacher anymore. I said good-bye to the Teacher's College and went to stay with Lu-jiang in his college, writing letters and going to meet my friends.
In May 1994, a friend from Australia came to Dali. She suggested that I open a small cafe so as to meet my friends here. It was a great idea! In June 1995, with help and encouragement from some kind-hearted foreign friends, we managed to open a cafe, and we used the title of my book as the name of the cafe: "Mr. China's Son Cultural Exchange Cafe". So, I had become what they call a "Cultural businessman", trying a new life. I considered this cafe a place to meet my reader-friends, making new friends rather than a place to make money. My guests had been walking out of my cafe with satisfied smiling faces for many years, until 2005, I finally closed it because of my old age.
In order to catch up with the time, we bought a new computer in July 1998 and also have an Internet account. It is much easier for me to answer questions and communicate with readers and friends. In October I received a letter from Claire Anne Chik (my co-author), she said that the Westview Press expressed interest in issuing a second edition of our book. She said "What this would involve is adding about two new chapters to the end of our book to bring it up to date". This is a good idea! One of my best friends said, "...The news about a new revised updated edition of your book is very exciting. I guess what is creating the demand for your book is the fact it is being used in colleges as a textbook. It gives a very true, readable picture of what life was like for an ordinary person during the Cultural Revolution. Your book will probably become a valuable historical document for people researching life in China during that period. As more and more schools use the book, more copies will be sold and, hopefully, you will receive more money. I hope someone will make a movie based on your book someday..." The agent of our book, Ms Patricia C. Haskell wrote to me"...our title has had a sudden, pleasant upward spike in sales. I will try to discover what brought it about..."
After 2 years of hard working, we have finally finished the final draft of the updated edition of Mr. China's Son. It tells stories from my retirement in 1989 till end of 1999. It has published by the same publishing house, Westview Press. Almost at the same time, my son and I wrote another book, Under the Red Flag, which is a sequel to Mr. China’s Son.
By the way, the Dutch version of Mr. China's Son (first edition) has been published by a Belgian publisher, Houtekiet. It was translated by one of my good friends, Jean-Marie. I was invited to attend the publication of the Dutch, I had a very exciting trip to Belgium and Holland in April 2000, after my speaking tour in 6 American colleges in March. Other versions of language, such as German, French, Spanish and Italian are in the process translating and seeking for publishers.
Now, I am staying with my son in Xiaguang, the so-called New Dali.
Well, that's all for this brief introduction. Thank you very much for visiting us on the Internet!
Mr. China’s SonHe Li-yi
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