During the Japanese occupation, we lived in the English concession in Shanghai. Since the English and Japanese were not yet at war, all was peaceful. However, after the Taiping incident things got violent and we became fearful. It was a stressful situation in any case.
Describing that time is hard because since my experience of the Cultural Revolution—from about 1970 and after—my brain hasn’t functioned so well; the doctor said it has suffered too much stress and pressure. (This interviewee has suffered from frequent migraines since the CR). I have a jiefu, Lixuqian—he said to go to America to see cousin Tientso, as he’s a neurologist. (his son interjects, it’s the Cultural Revolution, a lot of people went to the country). A lot of teachers went, lived together, I went one year to the countryside and then returned. (His son says, “It wasn’t a healthy situation as there was almost nothing to eat. You could just eat zhaliang—chengfen stuffed with youtiao (noodles stuffed with oil crullers)—which was okay once in while for your intestines, but on a long term basis it negatively affects digestion.
On top of this the weather was cold, and my father fears cold, even in Guangdong.) We went to Guangdong and Hunan zhajian, Jingjiling, this mountain, already now a tourist destaintion – the head of the chicken in Hunan and the tail is in Guangdong—I lived near the tail of the mountain. There is snow there in winter. Suddenly. Then it would be hot, and ice would form, and fall. It was bitter there. Living there, I was already over 30 years old.
The Japanese invasion said it was so frightening. The war was so sudden—there was no time to prepare. In the middle of the night we heard—boong!, pao!, there were planes in the sky. Paopao! (Gestures) Planes in the sky, flew so low, we had no idea what was happening. My cousin Tianmei and I got up and left to go to school, but everyone chastised us and said there was no school. We went outside our gated house anyway, and saw that all the doors of every store and residence were shut, and it was nine in the morning. So we didn’t go out. Everyone in our neighborhood were standing in front of their doors looking. Soldiers, tanks were coming in every one or two hours, and they were there to witness it. Now you can only see this in the movies. Children were all curious. Then the Japanese made Shanghai theirs. There was an American group of soldiers, they were ashamed, and there were English soldiers too. We saw them all on the street, raising their hands, giving their guns up to the Japanese, and I have no idea what happened to them after. They were surrendering. All of us old people —we’ve been through war: you, at your age, none.
Eventually, Tianmei and I were able to go to school, slowly. But the workbook, which used to be Zhongguo guoming zhengfu, was completely changed to Wangjingwei keben. The change wasn’t really big, but then we had a currency change too—Wangjingwei’s bank notes instead of what we had before. If you didn’t have it then you couldn’t buy anything. The road we went to school on—there was a Japanese headquarters office—silingbu司令部—where they collected guns. There was a kid who passed there, you can’t put your hands in your pockets when you passed it otherwise they’d nail you for carrying a gun, sometimes we forgot and they would yell at us. But we were kids and didn’t understand, adults were a lot more stressed than we were.
I was in Yuebei—northern Guandong that is now Chaoguan—when the genocide happened, because there were no Japanese there. I was separated from my dad who was working there. We went from Shanghai to Guangzhou. We had to bow our heads and pretend we were Japanese to get through the borders.
In Shanghai we didn’t know the genocide was such a disaster. We went to Yuebei – but eventually the Japanese went there too. It was a mountainous area and there were some small cities there. Up until 1945, Japanese went from Dongbei to Guangzhou, and Datong (Anhui). They built bridges and before their final encounter with the Americans, they formally were occupying these regions. For me, there was school, but we were just afraid every day that the Japanese would come. They didn’t in the end, maybe because our area wasn’t strategic geographically for them. In that time, it didn’t matter what your background or means were, you could go inland. Lots of Hong Kong people went there. But a lot of people died of starvation. At that time, Yuebei was a pretty lively kind of place because there was a large population. There were lots of famous schools, Peizheng and Lingnan for example, and my brothers and sisters went there.