‘China Could Have Been a Very Different Country.’ A Search for Family Reveals a Lost Moment


Like many others, he was effectively orphaned during the Cultural Revolution, with both of his parents sent to the countryside. Growing up, he had lived at Shih-Chia Hutong with his grandmother—my great-grandmother—until she died in 1972.

“I know you’re excited to meet me, but I have no feeling left toward my family,” he told me. He was married, but his wife lived hundreds of miles away, and they didn’t want children. “When I’m dead, throw my ashes into the ocean,” he said. “There will be no one to visit my tomb.”

He had studied Marxism-Leninism at university—his scores were too low, he said, to choose anything else. He was working as a bureaucrat in the civil aviation administration.

I showed him pictures of the family compound at Shih-Chia Hutong today, painted and renovated by its new owners, but he didn’t recognize it. He hadn’t been back for more than a decade. “For me, it’s a place of pain,” he said. As a child, he was forced to sweep the surrounding streets, punishment for his family’s past.

We sat eating and drinking for several hours, but he couldn’t share much history. My great-grandfather had died before Liang Quan was born, and by the time he lived with my great-grandmother, her spirit seemed broken and she barely spoke.

At last, he brightened. He remembered one story about Shih-Chia Hutong. Long ago, a family of yellow weasels, considered a symbol of luck, had lived at the family compound. They were unusually friendly and used to sun themselves in the courtyard, but his father saw them as a nuisance. One day, his father caught them in a sack, took them to a park miles away and set them loose. From that day on, he said, the family’s misfortunes began. My great-grandfather went blind. My great-grandmother mentally unraveled.

“Ever since then,” he concluded with something like relish, “our family’s misfortunes have followed.”

“I thought the misfortunes followed after the Communists took over,” I said, only partly in jest.

He shook his head. “No,” he said. “It was the yellow weasels.”

Source: ‘China Could Have Been a Very Different Country.’ A Search for Family Reveals a Lost Moment – WSJ