Old China time

A neighbor — a very fine artist — invited me along with two Chinese ladies to lunch. One was a 26-year-old Phd candidate at UCBerkeley, the other an older lady who is an architect and who has lived in the United States since 1980. And she was from Shanghai, my hometown.

We started off in high interest on all sides and it seemed we had so much to talk about. The architect, a widow, lived alone but led a lively life in a dance club, where she had met my artist neighbor. Her son lived part of the year in Shanghai where he ran a business. The young lady expected to return to China next month — in Fukien province. Which brought out from me a desire to tell her how I felt about the horrific consumerism in China by billionaires in wildlife ivory and rhino horns.

She did not know about these depredations as I sought to inform her of what was happening. Obviously, she had no influence in that realm of wealth but I hoped she would bring back an awareness to her countrymen.

We talked of many other things; they laughed when I admitted that most of the Shanghai dialect I could remember was swear words. I told them how I used to quarrel with the rickshaw puller and tell him things whose meaning I didn’t understand. It was customary to get pretty hot when bargaining over the fare.

To the Phd student returning to China, I gave a copy of The Year of the Rat, my historical novel covering 1948-1949, the years just before and after the communist takeover and subsequent dealings with the populace. Does she know that 20 million Chinese, many for perceived sins against the regime, were executed? That “capitalists” as defined by the communist manifesto, leaped off tall buildings by the hundreds rather than be imprisoned and tortured? (Rich irony considering that Chinese billionaires are now rampant in their “communist” economy); that schoolchildren were told to turn in their parents if they heard them speak against the regime?

If she didn’t know these things then, she does now, unless she considers me biased. And what do I hope to achieve with the narrative of facts? Very little. What difference would it make to her way of life? Her life will be unchanged as she proceeds to implement her advanced degree in economics in her career.


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