1718nonfictionhearts and spades kristina

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Gu Qi: dignity, morality, and integrity
By Jenny Chen
My father came from an impoverished village in Guangdong province. My mother was a city girl – uptown and stylish. My paternal grandparents were farmers who worked day and night on the rice fields and sold their harvests for a living. My maternal grandparents were a doctor and a teacher with stable salaries. Considering my parents’ family backgrounds, they were not a good match. Even so, true love brought them together in the end, despite my grandmother's strong protest - “who is he to marry my precious daughter!” Once, when she was a high school junior, my mother fainted on her way home from school because of a strike of lightning that hit half a meter away from her; as a result, my grandmother forbade her to return. Thus, once my mother recovered, she opened up a small store near the train station, and my father became a frequent visitor. They had been dating for almost a year the day when a thief stabbed him in the chest with a tencentimeter pocketknife, barely missing his heart, as my father chased after him in the market. Blood soaked his clothes and hands. That day was gan ji (literally means to “rush and gather”). Vendors and consumers who came from various towns and villages congregated at the market to buy and sell products; resembling the crowded scene of western families at a summer carnival. The market was congested with a few hundred people. But nobody helped my father. My aunt took my father to the hospital on her motorcycle and immediately rushed to my mother's workplace to tell her the bad news. “It felt like I was the one being stabbed. My heart ached so much as I saw him in a coma, with tubes

The greatest gift of all. Gu Qi: dignity, morality, and integrity

stuck in his nose and machines all around him,” said my mother. She stayed there with him for two days and two nights until he woke up. My mother accompanied him throughout his one-month stay. At the end of his stay, he was still too weak to move, but he could not wait anymore. He took off his bloodstained ring and proposed, “Marry me. Please don't leave me.” This extraordinary occasion brought the two lovers to immeasurable love, and it only felt right to get married six months later. My father desperately wanted to show his new in-laws that he could become successful and offer an extravagant lifestyle for my mother. In the Chinese tradition, families always wish to marry their daughters off to wealthy and respectable families. That was still the case even in the late 1980s. Unfortunately, my father’s first business failed and he went bankrupt. “People started avoiding us because we were poor. We had nothing left but a shabby house. One day, your mother came back with food and I wondered where she got the money. Then, my heart thumped when I saw the wedding ring missing from her finger. From that moment on,” said my father, “all I wanted was to earn enough money to buy her a big diamond ring. Both of us worked hard every day, even if we had to do the most menial jobs – transporting goods, stocking up groceries, being a waiter. We literally lived on that mere 5 kuai each day.” One day, my maternal grandfather showed up at their doorstep and gave my father ten thousand yuan to start a new business. He said, “You have learned your lesson. You stood strong and did not let failure defeat you. I am glad you are part of my family now.” With the money, my parents worked day and night - skipping

meals frequently. Finally, their hard work and sharp business instincts paid off when they worked for a Japanese electronics company and earned handsome salaries by selling portable CD players, amplifiers and other electronics. My maternal grandfather praised my father for his gu qi (literally translated to be “bone” and “air”). A man can live without anything, but he cannot live without his gu qi– dignity, morality, and integrity. Even when he faced the direst situations, my father never gave up; he moved on with life – working step by step to reach his dream – and earned the wealth to buy my mother the diamond ring he promised. My grandfather has his own incredible story where he lived up to his gu qi. During the Cultural Revolution, Red Guards at my grandparents’ village worked for either of the two parties: Zong and Qi, which threw each other in pandemonium and bloodbaths using guns and sharp spears. The Red Guards’ infamous motto – “hit, destroy, and steal” – allowed them to raid homes, destroy furniture, embezzle jewelry, and commandeer grains. To avoid trouble, my grandfather, a doctor, affiliated himself with neither of the parties. After a few months of combat between the Zong and the Qi, my grandfather was the only one left working at the HeYan Hospital, all the other doctors and nurses having joined the Cultural Revolution as revolutionists as they traveled to Beijing. “His job was to be a punctual, responsible and good doctor, and that was all he wanted to be,” said my grandmother. “Everyone respected and welcomed him because they needed his help when people were wounded. One time, many Red Guards on the Zong Party were wounded, so the Party leader brought

Photo by Mikhail Plata

your grandfather to the Zong headquarters on a clandestine boat. They were all very careful, for fear of getting shot. He was there to take care of the wounded Guards by boiling herbal medicine and applying them on their injured arms and legs.” At the time, anybody who was suspected of having foreign connections was labeled “traitorous”, and they were arrested and tortured. Since my grandfather’s family migrated from Hong Kong, he was immediately a suspect. Under strict Communist influence, everybody avoided any contact with my grandfather and his family. When my mother rode her bicycle down the alley, she was bruised by pebbles children threw at her – partly out of jealousy, for they would never own a bike, and partly because of the scorn they had for her family. Local authorities also kept a close eye on the family. One night, when the lights were out in the entire neighborhood, a group of men sneaked into my grandparents’ house and tied my grandfather up, covered his head with a sandbag and dragged him out of the house to an official’s office. At first they beat him with a heavy wooden stick to get him to confess his “crime”: trading secret Communist information with foreigners for

money. My grandfather really had nothing to confess, but the officers did not believe him. The men thrashed him with long rubber whips. My grandfather fainted after every beating. Afterwards, the group of men placed my grandfather’s legs between two iron poles. Two men stepped onto either ends of one of the poles rolled them along my grandfather’s legs. Excruciating pain. “They made darn sure that his bones cracked before letting him off for the day,” said my grandmother. “They called your grandfather the Commander-in-Chief of the Counterrepublic Old-preserving Army. What nonsense! All he did was his duty as a doctor. He never attended any meetings or joined any parties pertinent to the Cultural Revolution. He tried so hard to stay away from the chaos, and yet he was convicted of such an absurd crime.” The frequent beating ended only when the Cultural Revolution was over. My grandfather suffered numerous ailments from the beating in his latter days: rheumatism, chronic kidney and heart disease. “After he was released from prison four months later, the local government visited our home and apologized. An official gave us 300 kuai – deemed ‘nutrition money’ – as compensation for the ‘false crime’ my

grandfather committed. How can they possibly think they could compensate the brutal physical and psychological pain he suffered with money?” said my grandmother. “I told them to leave immediately. We did not accept their apology.” Some officials even told my grandmother to divorce my grandfather immediately so she would not become involved. She did not. She knew her husband was innocent: her love for him never lessened and it was her duty to keep the family together. My father’s successful journey from being unable to buy food to purchasing diamonds and Rolexes and my grandfather’s relentless care for the wounded Red Guards who later turned against him and called him a counter-revolutionist are all signs of their survival. They preserved the most important quality of Chinese men – gu qi. My father did not simply give up when he was poor; he approached his dream gradually until he was wealthy enough to buy the diamond ring. My grandfather could have said anybody’s name to stop from being tortured any further, but he knew he had to be truthful to himself. He never accepted the “nutrition money” of the government. But the greatest gifts they recieved were their wives, who remained true in the direst situations.

They preserved the most important quality in Chinese men – G


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