This is a memoir written by a woman. I decided to read it because a friend recommended it, saying that the stories recorded in it are very interesting and the writing style is somewhat similar to Shen Fu's "Six Records of a Floating Life".
The author is Gao Songfen and her son Xu Jiazhen. Gao Songfen comes from the Gao family in Hangzhou, a well-known prestigious family in the area, commonly known as "Gao Banqiang", meaning that half of Hangzhou's industries belong to the Gao family.
The interesting aspect of this book lies in the customs and characters of that era. The book features hundreds of characters, spanning multiple periods including the Republic of China, the War of Resistance against Japan, and the turmoil after liberation. With its fluent writing style and intriguing stories, it is a very interesting read. Zhou Tuimi1 once wrote an inscription for this book, saying: "The writing is compelling and truly enjoyable".
Several chapters left a deep impression on me. One is about Gao Songfen's marriage, and the other is about the experience of having her house searched during the Cultural Revolution.
Since the Gao family is a prestigious family in Hangzhou, the marriage process was particularly meticulous. She was engaged at the age of fourteen and married into the Xu family at the age of eighteen. A total of four years were spent in preparation, mainly for the dowry. For example, there were six types of osmanthus sugar required for the wedding, each with different procedures and ingredients. The father of the bride spent the four years preparing for it.
On the day of the wedding, the Gao family brought a total of thirty-six leather trunks as dowry... There was something in the dowry that was not directly recorded on the list, and that was the chamber pot, because it was considered indecent. In order to make it sound more elegant, her father referred to the chamber pot as "Zhongsishi Yanqing", which means "Zhongsishi" is a type of insect found on the stove, and the stove god is one of the deities worshipped. Zhongsishi insects are generally not killed, so they multiply in large numbers. There is a poem in the Book of Songs titled "Zhongsishi": "The wings of Zhongsishi, fluttering and washing, are suitable for your offspring, vigorous and thriving." "Yanqing" means to continue the joyous occasion. Combined, it probably means "a house full of children and grandchildren".
Unfortunately, many things in the dowry were not opened before they were completely confiscated during the Cultural Revolution. It can be said that the unpredictability of life is truly astonishing.
The chapters about the house search vividly depict the absurdity of that era. While reading, I was reminded of the plot in "Furong Town", and they were strikingly similar. There was a dialogue that left a deep impression on me:
Because they confiscated all our savings and cash, I didn't know how we would live in the future, so I asked the leader of the Red Guards if they could leave us some living expenses. After discussing it, they left us five hundred yuan and said, "Don't worry, it will be resolved in three months!" At that time, of course, we didn't understand the true meaning of "it will be resolved in three months": whether our property would be returned to us after three months, or whether it would be officially confiscated after three months. In fact, I think the leader who said this wouldn't even know how reliable his own words were. But no matter what his intention was, I think at that time, no one in the world would believe that the "unprecedented" Cultural Revolution would last not just three months, but a whole ten years before being resolved!
Whether it was the Red Guards or Gao Songfen, everyone thought that this sudden and overwhelming movement would end within a few months. Who could have imagined that this nightmare would last for ten long years? I imagine that when Gao Songfen wrote these words, she must have been filled with countless emotions.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, many people also had similar thoughts at that time ── maybe it will be back to normal in a few months. Now, more than two years have passed, and there is no sign of recovery in the country. Recently, there has been an outbreak of the epidemic in Shanghai, and the news on the internet about residents having no food to eat, pregnant women unable to have smooth check-ups, and elderly people in the community committing suicide by jumping off buildings... The individual sufferings are spread and amplified through social media, making me feel as if I have returned to the initial days of Wuhan... It seems that nothing has changed.
What is despairing is that this situation may continue for who knows how long, ten years? Or how many more years? Like Gao Songfen at that time, I have no concept of it.
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