[Family drama] Traded for freedom
by Guest Beanie
My grandmother’s story takes place at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China and my great-grandfather worked as an accountant for a Kuomintang government office. The details are not entirely clear, but when the Communist Party rose to power, every person who had any association with the Kuomintang was imprisoned, if not immediately killed.
My great-grandfather’s connection with the Republic was not very strong, but he was still thrown into prison indefinitely. He was the only provider for his family as my great-grandmother stayed home and took care of their baby son and two daughters, including my grandmother, which was the standard for women of the time. With my great-grandfather in prison, my great-grandmother became desperate. Fearful of falling into poverty during a period of violent political turmoil and losing everything, she searched for a way to get her husband out of prison. She was willing to give anything.
Coincidentally, their neighbor had connections with the prison my great-grandfather was being held in. At that time, the justice system was virtually nonexistent, and often a personal connections with prison authorities was the only hope for families. However, releasing a prisoner was still very risky for everyone involved. But my great-grandmother was determined. She began pleading with this neighbor, offering money and valuable items.
Ultimately, the neighbor requested something of my great-grandmother: one of her children. The neighbor and his wife did not have any kids and were very lonely. They were envious that my great-grandmother had given birth to three.
Initially, my great-grandmother refused, but the neighbor grew more adamant over time. At this point, my great-grandfather had been in prison for several months and my great-grandmother was truly running out of options. She and her children were starving and her baby son had fallen ill.
One night, on the brink of being forced onto the streets, my great-grandmother looked upon her sleeping children. Her eldest daughter was already seven years old and doing well in school. My great-grandmother realized giving her away would cause too much emotional damage. And she couldn’t possibly give away her only son, her son was her treasure, her gift from the heavens. Her gaze slowly landed on my grandmother, who was only three years old at the time. She was the middle child and often overlooked in the family. She was also the second daughter, a child who my great-grandmother had hoped would be a son. My great-grandmother made her decision.
The next day, my great-grandmother took my grandmother’s hand and brought her to their neighbor. I don’t know the emotional details of this trade-off, but shortly after, my great-grandfather was finally released and returned home. Their neighbor and his wife, however, had already taken off to another city with my grandmother. For some reason, my great-grandparents never went to go look for my grandmother. Maybe they were too busy to travel so far or maybe they were just cold-hearted. I don’t believe my grandmother was ever officially adopted, but China was so chaotic at the time, that probably did not matter much. My grandmother never saw her birth family again.
And this is where the story, as told by my grandmother, ends. She never related how her adoptive parents treated her and they passed away before my mother had the chance to meet them.
I can only hope that her childhood was a relatively peaceful one – as peaceful as it could be in the midst of the Communist era. My grandmother’s story was all too common during this time. When families became desperate, daughters were often treated as property. I am grateful that my grandmother was “adopted” before she could be sold off. Times have drastically changed since then, especially for me as an only child of immigrants in America. My parents came here to give us a better life and I have all the opportunities to learn and experience that I could ever hope for. I still video call my grandmother every Sunday. She’s a best friend to me and I am eternally grateful to her for persevering so that I could live a life of freedom.
Tags: Theme of the Month