Exiled to Gansu Province

September 7th, 2012

“What happened to the Canaan Home orphans and their families after New China forced Laura Richards to leave China?” readers of Laura’s Children often ask. This fall Xiaomei Lucas, whose mother grew up in Canaan Home, gives us a glimpse through her essay, “Exiled to Gansu Province”  in That Mad Game: Growing Up in a Warzone, edited by J.L. Powers and published by Cinco Puntos Press (www.cincopuntos.com).

Her memoir begins like this:

I used to get so angry with our children when they wasted food that my husband Barry must have thought This lady has to be crazy!! But when I was growing up in Gansu Province in China, I knew children who were so hungry, they tied a rope around their stomach so they could sleep in spite of their hunger pains.

My family was exiled to the impoverished province of Gansu in 1969 during the early part of the Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution was a power struggle among China’s top leaders. In 1966 Mao Tse Tung began encouraging young Red Guards to attack authority figures. The Red Guards mobbed and ransacked people’s homes, beat and humiliated people in public, and burned everything that represented “The Four Olds”—old ideas, old thoughts, old habits, old customs. Then they started attacking religious believers and intellectuals. As the Revolution spread, people began manipulating mobs to get personal revenge against fellow workers and neighbors or they accused other people out of fear, to distract attention from themselves. Tens of thousands were beaten to death and hundreds of thousands were sent to labor camps for “re-education.”

In those days the government determined people’s job and residence assignments. My mother was working as a nurse for a famous hospital in Beijing. Vice-Chairman Lin Biao wanted to test his power, so he issued a policy that all the big hospitals had to send some of their doctors and nurses to work in the countryside. Mom’s hospital chose to send her. They wouldn’t say why….

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