One family, three different perspectives

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 October, 2009, 12:00am

Huo Yuling, 68, still remembers in vivid detail his first National Day parade 59 years ago, when his mother woke him at 4am to join the grand march celebrating the first anniversary of the founding of the new republic.

'We did not celebrate further afterwards - we went home immediately to sleep,' he recalled. 'But it was good fun. It was good to be able to see the nation's leaders in person.'

As the Huo family gathered around the television yesterday to watch celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic, he could not help recalling the past again. The Huo family bore witness to some of the biggest turning points in the new China, from the brutal treatment handed out during the Cultural Revolution to losing their home to an unstoppable tide of urban development. But for each generation of the family, China and National Day have different connotations.

Proud of themselves as being the real 'old Beijingers', the family has made the city its home for five generations since the great grandfather moved there from Shandong with his father in 1911 and made his name as a successful antiques dealer.

The family owned 14 courtyard houses just to the west of Tiananmen Square. However, it lost all but one of them during the Cultural Revolution. Huo Yuling's father served as a police officer for the Kuomintang government before the communists swept to power. That, and the family's wealth, made them 'class enemies' in the eyes of the new rulers.

They had to hand over all their valuables to the Red Guards. Huo Yuling, top of his class since primary school, lost the chance to go to university because of this.

His mother, Chen Wenxing, now 85, recalled how they lost their remaining home one night in August 1966, when she and her husband returned from watching an anti-capitalist gathering only to be told by Red Guards in their courtyard that the house was no longer theirs.

'They told us our home had been confiscated, simply because we belonged to the Black Fives [class enemy],' Chen recalled. 'We were repatriated to my hometown of Shanghai the next week.'

Huo, in the meantime, tried to do odd jobs - from moving bricks and digging holes for trees to being a lifeguard at swimming pools. Finally, at the end of the turmoil, the authorities returned the ransacked courtyard house to the family.

Huo worked as an electrician until retiring 10 years ago. Many who were poorer than the Huo family when he was young are now richer; others moved to other countries and urged him to join them.

But as Huo watched yesterday's celebrations, he harboured no resentment. 'There is no point being upset over the past. On the whole, the country is moving forward, and most people's lives have improved. The progress of a country is, after all, about making lives better for the majority of the people.'

Looking at the 'community model family' certificate hanging on a wall in their modest flat in southern Beijing, Huo said he had come to accept there were more important things than wealth and housing.

'The biggest fortune is keeping a family together and staying healthy,' he said. 'For that, I'm content.'

But across the dining table, his 26-year old son, Huo Liang, an IT manager working for an advertising firm, expressed different sentiments.

'The National Day celebrations feel very distant to me,' he said. 'It's just something the government organises to show off. It is not celebrations initiated by the people.'

In 1999, he joined the rest of his school in rehearsing for the People's Parade, but was glad his grade was eventually exempted as they were sitting junior high graduation exams that year. Yesterday, he was merely pleased to be off from work - he only got up at noon, after the parades.

'I don't think I'm patriotic, in the sense that I don't think talking about [the country], or being anti-Japanese or anti-Korean helps make the country a better place,' he said. 'Why should we spend so much money celebrating National Day when we could use the money to help the needy?'