PARENTAL GUIDANCE Other than being born in Hong Kong in 1937, I don't know anything about my early years. But I do know much about my parents: my father, Huang Qixiang, came from a Hakka family in Meixian, in Guangdong province. There, he befriended another native, Ye Jianying, who later became one of the 10 marshals of the People's Liberation Army. The two served together in the Fourth Army, father as commander and Ye as chief of staff, under the Nationalist government, against the warlords in the north.
Mother Guo Xiuyi's family were natives of Zhongshan (in Guangdong). She was born in Shanghai, where she became a great beauty. She was a pioneer in women's rights in China and best known for partnering with Soong May-ling, wife of Chiang Kai-shek, to shelter some 30,000 war orphans.
For the eight years after 1937 - when the full-scale war between China and Japan began - I followed father as a military dependent but was too young to appreciate many of the battles in which he fought and won.
TAKING A STAND After that war was over, father refused to fight in the civil war against the Communists. As a punishment, he was sent far away, to Berlin (in Germany), in a Chinese military delegation . My brother and I were sent to boarding school in England, where we stayed for a year. The English I learned there proved to be handy two decades later. Father did not follow Chiang's Nationalist government to Taiwan. Instead, he joined the People's Republic of China and led the Chinese Farmers' and Workers' Democratic Party, which is one of the eight so-called democratic parties. It advises the ruling Communist Party, which my father had thought was led by nice people like premier Zhou Enlai and his buddy Ye Jianying. He was wrong.
CAUGHT IN A TRAP In 1955, I enrolled in Peking University, majoring in Russian, which was fashionable at the time, during the Sino-Soviet honeymoon period. It did not last. In 1957, I changed my major to French as premier Zhou said graduates in Russian would have problems finding a job.
But father went through a much bigger change. He fell victim to the nationwide anti-rightist campaign for a few critical remarks he had made about the Communist Party, after an initiative of Mao Zedong had invited the people to criticise the party. From a patriotic general to a rightist; it was a bitter pill for my father. But the verdict came from "first emperor" Mao; there was nothing he could do about it. Although he topped the reinstatement list in 1959, the old man remained miserable ever after.
MORE DRAMA In 1962, I graduated after seven years at Peking University. Before I started work at a hydrology college in Beijing, I finished the script of a play in four acts. I called up the People's Art Theatre, the top drama company in the capital, and pitched my play. They thought I was a senior official, because I had access to a telephone, which was my father's and a rare item at the time for common people. But when they realised I was just a young college graduate with a script about the anti-rightist movement, they quickly closed the door on me. That script became the basis of the epic novel I pledged to complete in my lifetime. It kept me going for the next 50 years.
SEEING RED In 1966, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution swept the entire mainland. My parents, despite their contribution to the country and friendship with high officials such as Zhou and Ye, suffered humiliation at the hands of the Red Guards. One scene I still remember vividly. The young rebels stormed into our house and pointed a Japanese blade at the neck of my father. But that was nothing to the commander who had annihilated tens of thousands of enemies in battle. (When they knew their threats were) to no avail, they turned to my mother. But she, too, was a war veteran and showed no fear. They then ransacked the house and set fire to old photographs. My father noticed a small paper bag of photos on the floor and signalled my mother to set her foot on it. That move saved the only picture of my parents posing with Zhou, Ye and Zhu De, all top communist leaders, taken at my father's residence in Nanking during talks on the United Front against the Japanese invasion. This picture (above) is now posted in major museums as a testimony to the joint effort. It also bears witness to my parents' good looks.
A COUNTRYSIDE RETREAT I counted myself lucky to be exiled to Handan, near the border of Hebei and Henan provinces. All academics and teachers were sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. Thanks to the reservoir there, I got a cheap supply of fresh food. There were shrimp, crabs, fish, but the best of all were turtles - oh, what a delicacy, at just 15 cents per catty. I had one every day. It supplied me with the best nutrition during my two years there. I was saved through the little English I had mastered, which got me back to Beijing sooner than most, due to my capacity to edit teaching materials.
My father did not see the end of the Cultural Revolution. My mother made it through and was even given a senior post at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. In 1995, she was honoured as one of the three women among the 100 second world war veterans at the Great Hall of the People. She lived to 96 and passed away in 2006. I am very pleased that the ashes of my parents are together at the Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery, in Beijing. They deserve to be together after all the hardship they went through.
THE WRONG ROAD As for me, I am happy that I returned to my birthplace in 1982 to complete my book. It took the signature of Ye, then chairman of the National People's Congress, to allow me to leave the country.
I decided to recount my 30 years in China fictitiously, as that would allow me more space in the narrative, in much the same way War and Peace did for Leo Tolstoy. My account, I hope, will tell the story of a road that was wrongly taken and how it affected the nation, the race and my life. It should not go unnoticed.
All four volumes of The Road - An Epic Novel by Xiang Ming (aka. Wong Heung-ming) will be featured at the Hong Kong Book Fair, from July 17 to 21, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre, Wan Chai.