Silk Screen; 103; China, Land of My Father
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. . . Welcome to silk screen. Programs about the lives and experiences of Asian Americans. I'm Robert Edo. In 1978, after over 30 years of Cold War diplomacy, the United States normalized its relations with the People's Republic of China. Since then, the number of U.S. visitors to China has increased dramatically. Among the most eager to visit the country are Chinese Americans. For the first time, they have an opportunity to see and experience for themselves the land of their origins.
Many have relatives there, uncles, aunts, cousins and grandparents whom they have never met. The following film is by Felicia Lowe, a young Chinese American who made the journey to China in search of her family roots. . In the spring of 1938, Lowe's son, a young man of 20, packed his bags and said goodbye to his family and home in the sherry district of Junsan County in the southern province of Guangdong, China. He was headed for America where he hoped to build a better life. Revolution in China was underway. It was a tumultuous period, culminating in the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1st, 1949. Like many Chinese immigrants, Lowe's son came under an assumed name. His fear of discovery and possible deportation kept him from talking about his past.
. I'm Felicia Lowe. I was born in America. Lowe's son was my father. When he died, I realized how very little I knew about his life in China, about China itself. And it became clear to me that if I wanted my son Benjamin to learn of his heritage, I needed to go to China to see the land of my father. Now I need to do it. Okay, this is your gonggong. That's your grandpa. Who says, oh, grandpa, that's your grandma. And Mommy's going to go see your gonggong's mommy. That's another paw, a different one. That's your grandfather's mother. That's a pawpaw in China. My father's mother is 85 years old. I'd never met any of my grandparents. They died before I was born. But I was determined to meet my pawpaw before she passed on. I was also anxious to meet my two uncles and aunt who live in the very same house my father grew up in.
I'll undo that. When the opportunity came for me to join a tour to China of working journalists, I jumped at the chance. Even though I was not sure if I could visit my family, it was worth the chance that it might happen. The flight from California to Hong Kong takes about 14 hours. We lose a day with the time change in air travel. So we stay in Hong Kong overnight to recuperate from the long flight. The Chinese border is not far away. It takes only three hours to get to Guangzhou by express train. These first images of the Chinese countryside are surprisingly familiar. The lush green fields remind me of California's Sacramento Delta. And the many summers I'd spent there as a child. I understand for the first time why so many Chinese settled in the Sacramento Valley. It was just like home.
We're met in Guangzhou by our host from Xinhua News Agency. I tell them how much I would like to see my family. They say it might be possible, but not yet. Mrs. Wang, the news correspondent from the local office, comes from the same district as my family. And she even offers to make the necessary travel arrangements. Since she accompanies us to our next stop, I have an opportunity to get to know her. Wei Lin is considered the most scenic spot in all of China. I wonder if any of my family has seen the unusual limestone mountains that rise out of the green plain. For thousands of years, Chinese poets and artists have memorialized the city. We take a leisurely journey down the winding Li River. I'm truly staggered by the spectacular beauty that surrounds me.
I know my father would have liked this place. China's official language is Puthonghua, or the common language. It's a derivative of Mandarin. The majority of the population speaks Puthonghua, but each region has its own dialect, making most Chinese bilingual. My problem is that I speak a limited Cantonese, and I can't understand a word of Puthonghua. The dialect sound entirely different to my ears. My Chinese name in Cantonese is pronounced low-wing Surong. But in Puthonghua, it has the more romantic pronunciation of Liu Yangchang. Oh, girl, I know what girl. It's okay, it's okay. Our group travels north 1100 miles. Here everyone speaks Puthonghua. I try to learn some simple phrases, and it seems no matter how badly it comes out, the people appreciate the effort.
Do you have any children? I do. I have a baby. I have a baby. I love you, boy. She said that. Some say. It sure did help to have an interpreter. It seems the people were as curious about me as I was of them. When they see me, all these people, do they see an American or do they see a Chinese? He asked you, how long have you been in America? I was born in America. My father and my mother were born in China, and when they were 20 years old, they came to America. There's a warmth here.
A genuine interest in me that I've never experienced before. Perhaps some of them had relatives who left China as my father did, and talking to me makes them feel closer to Chinese Americans. But more than that, I feel their friendliness reflects their sense of unity among all Chinese people. China is opening its doors to foreigners for the first time in 30 years. This is straining the country's transportation and hotel facilities. It's clear that the country is not yet ready for tourism, but is gearing up for it. Tourism is expected to help the economy. Our next stop is Beijing, the nation's capital. By now, the group has traveled over 1,500 miles by planes and trains. The train rides are a welcome change to the fast pace at which we've been moving. It gives my traveling companions and myself a moment to breathe and take in the scenery of this vast country. Well, she was the first place we got to stay a few more days. Right, and even though we weren't in the center of the city, we got to go out and walk around town a few times.
I loved that. I loved it when we went in that electrical show. Oh, yeah. And the chemistry show. It felt like we were really in a country city being an isolated country. Yes, I know what you're thinking today. I mean, that's me as a, you know, it's not looking at the gardening tools from ancient times. I think in Xi'an, it was one of the first temples that was very impressive. I mean, in terms of just not looking like a replica, but seeing the real thing and the tree there was a 3,000-year-old tree there or something. And there was just a real nice feeling about touching it. You know, seeing a continual growth of that tree, it was still alive. China is one of the oldest continuous civilizations on earth. And nowhere do I feel it more than here. It's really incredible.
The first sections of the wall were built in the 5th century BC. As I stand here looking at the wall, snaking 3,000 miles across the tops of the mountains, I think about the richness of China's past. And I'm filled with pride that this is a part of my heritage. China today is quite different from the China My Father knew as a boy. There's an air of excitement, optimism for the future. People seem sincere in their commitment to see new China realize its goal of modernization. This commitment requires that everyone who is not too old or too sick works. And this has led to a highly developed childcare system. The childcare facilities are usually provided by one's place of work, be it a commune in the countryside or a factory in the city. Nurseries take infants from two months of age since mothers in China are expected to return to work at that time. As I see these children, I think of my son.
After he was born, I personally had a hard time deciding when I should go back to work and an even harder time finding adequate childcare. I wonder if working mothers in China feel as I do. I'm certain I can get these answers from a contemporary, someone who will talk honestly about the realities of a woman's life in China. By luck, I find her at the Institute of Journalism in Beijing. Our group held a discussion with the students who are training to be foreign correspondents. When sung may you ask, how do you women combine family and career? I knew I had found my soulmate. How long have you been married? Like me, sung is married as one child and is in her 30s. I ask her how she felt leaving her son Sensen in childcare. I remember when the first time I brought my son to the kindergarten and left him there. I cried and just can't tell myself away from there. So my husband dried me away.
They said, oh, I think you were broken in this day, he said. And after several weeks I got used to it and I had to do that. Because no one can take care of him except to send him to the kindergarten. And how did your son adjust to all of that? Oh, my son cried and cried. And one night I went there to see him through the window. He cried and cried instead. I want my mama, I want my mama, I owe my, I can't hold my tears. Now that he's adjusted to the school system and to the kindergarten, are you satisfied with the education that he's getting? In general speaking, I'm satisfied because I have no time to teach my son. But I think if I have more leisure time, I'll teach it myself.
I'll teach him myself and I'll teach him a lot of things. Is it difficult for women in China to combine both careers and families? Is this the case now? So it's very hard and difficult for women. Because when they returned home, they had to do a lot of housework, cooking, washing, and the child care. But now this man helps a lot. For example, when I am away, my husband does all kinds of housework, cooking, washing, and the take care of the child. I miss you. I miss you. Home is one room with kitchen and bath shared by two other families. They pay about $3 a month for this space. This includes the cost of electricity and running water, which are conveniences not yet found in every Chinese home. The television is a luxury.
I'm told only one out of 35 families own one, but it's likely that this luxury may find its way into homes sooner than other modern conveniences. The food budget works out to about $10 per person per month and child care costs a little more than $10 a month. Their combined income is at up to $90 a month. The fact that they have only one child gives them more of a financial cushion than many families. Still, life is not easy for a woman combining family and career. Can you tell me in the society today what the priorities are in your life? Perhaps I think what look for the country. We want our country to be strong, to help and to build our country. I think it's I think so. And where does the family fit in? Because we think if the country becomes strong and the family's life will be better.
So does that put the family in a secondary position? But I don't think it means the family is the second position. Because I think family is very important forward. My husband and my son are the dearest ones to me. So I have my sorrows, I have my joys, I want to show with them. So in fact, there's not one thing over the other that's more important. Don't I just think it's parallel perhaps for working with it parallel? Finally, what is it that you hope for your son's future? My son wants to be a policeman, he said, but I want him to be a doctor like my father. But finally, the time has arrived for me to try to see my family in Junsang County.
And true to her word, Mrs. Wong has made the arrangements for the visit. Junsang is only 50 miles south of Guangzhou, but it takes time to cross all the waterways by ferry. I'm sure my father crossed the same rivers and tributaries 40 years earlier when he left the area. I'm more taken by this scenery than any place I've seen so far. We'd stopped in many cities, but the majority of the population lives in the countryside. So it seems more like the real China to see people actually working in the fields. Their faces look hauntingly familiar, they look like the Chinese people in America, but wearing different clothing. The reason is simple, I learn more than 90% of the early immigrants come from the southern province. As we near Xi, Mrs. Wong suggests we stop by our hotel first, but I want to press on to my grandmother's. Mrs. Wong insists we stop.
What she knew and hadn't told me was that my uncles and aunts were waiting for us there. The picture I'd brought of my uncle Oi's son is at least 10 years old, but I recognized his smile right away. He was the youngest of the four children, then came my uncle Dong Sun and my aunt Su Yi. My father was the eldest and the only one who left the country. They ask right away about their brother, Wing Sun. He's fine, I say. This is not the moment to tell them of his death.
I'm relieved that my Chinese is understood. I think they are a little surprised that I speak Chinese at all. They tell me grandma, Popo and Chinese, is waiting for me. The house is only five minutes away. It was built by my grandfather 60 years ago. My dad grew up here. He played in the streets. He walked up these very same stairs. It was a strange and wonderful feeling to be retracing his steps. Hello. Hello. Hello. Hello.
Hello. Hello. I cannot describe what those first few moments were like, words sometimes get in the way of human emotions. We look intensely at each other, thinking about the person who connects us, my father, her son. Do I look like my father, I ask? She says yes. There are pictures on the walls. For the first time, I see a photograph of my grandfather. I'm told he lived in America 14 years, and there are pictures of my great-grandparents. But what shocks me the most is seeing pictures of myself on the wall. Photographs of me for my infancy to college graduation, my father had been sending all these years.
So that's what it means to have a grandmother. I never knew. I had no idea she cared for me, or was interested in my childhood, or wondered what kind of person I would turn out to be. Up to that moment, she had been just the picture of a little old lady who lived 10,000 miles away, and it felt great. I'd brought photographs of my own to give to the family. These visual links to my life in America spark a lot of questions, mostly about the welfare of relatives in the states. But always they are asking about my father, and I find myself talking about him as if he were still alive. I just don't know when to tell them he's dead. You're so funny. I know, I know, I know, I know, I know, I know. Grandma is in good condition for her age. She suffers from arthritis and has a herring loss, but she is sharp. She knows exactly what is going on. We talk about my father when he was a young boy growing up here. I ask her if she remembers this piece of Jade. She'd given it to my father for good luck when he left China.
He passed it on to me. She does remember. There is so much for us to say to one another, yet the words don't always come easily. Still, I feel something special is happening between us in spite of this. By now, the kitchen is a flurry of activity. The rest of the family is preparing a feast and celebration of our reunion. My uncle always sun is head chef. When I ask if he always cooks, he tells me that cooking is left for the first person who comes home from work. I feel as at home with my family as they do with me. The emotions are the kind shared by people belonging to one and the same family. I think it's something inborn and indestructible. So that night, as things quiet down, I finally tell an uncle and aunt about my father. They say it'd be better for Grandma not to know.
I respect their judgment. Three is the county seat of Jiangsan County with a population of 100,000. The next day, my aunt and my cousin Ling give me a tour of the town. The major industries here are machine manufacturing and food. Most homes do not have refrigerators, so every day is market day. The streets are full of action, lots of buying and selling. As money is exchanged, I notice ration coupons accompany the purchase of certain staples, such as grains, oil and sugar. This is the government's way of ensuring no one consumes too much, and no one goes without. I'm pleased to see that my family lives relatively well. They are healthy and have a decent home. Since they live together, my uncles, their wives, my five cousins and my grandmother,
they are able to pool their resources, knowing that they're doing okay makes me feel better about saying goodbye. I'm grateful I have the chance to laugh and talk and touch my family, and tell them that we who live in America are also alright. I think that gives my grandmother a great deal of comfort. But as I start to say goodbye, my grandmother hands me a packet. Inside was another piece of jade, and she said, I've waited a long time to give this to you. As we look at each other, these last few moments, we both understand it may be for the last time. I tell her how glad I am to see her in good health and ask her not to cry. So what do you think our family is doing? Begin learning to come.
Hello for the goodness of you all. This is the class session. In a brief span of time, people have changed my life. I am new because I have experienced something new. The confidence of knowing about my past, of a people and of a country that used to seem strange and far away. This folk song says it so well. If there should be a stranger who asks me what place
this is, I will tell him with pride that this is my home. Recent immigration figures also show a sharp rise in the number of immigrants coming to the United States from the People's Republic of China. Parents and children, brothers
and sisters are once again being reunited after decades without contact. We hope you
- Silk Screen
- Episode Number
- China, Land of My Father
- Contributing Organization
- Center for Asian American Media (San Francisco, California)
- AAPB ID
- Episode Description
- Documentary that follows Chinese American Journalist Felicia Lowe on her journey to discover her Chinese roots. Lowe interviews women about their lives, cost of living, careers and childcare. Lowe reconnects with relatives where her Father had grown up.
- Episode Description
- This item is part of the Chinese Americans section of the AAPI special collection.
- Broadcast Date
- KQED 1979
- Media type
- Moving Image
Producer: Lowe, Felicia
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Center for Asian American Media
Identifier: 00060 (CAAM)
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- Chicago: “Silk Screen; 103; China, Land of My Father,” 1983-03-08, Center for Asian American Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed November 28, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-520-0p0wp9tx99.
- MLA: “Silk Screen; 103; China, Land of My Father.” 1983-03-08. Center for Asian American Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. November 28, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-520-0p0wp9tx99>.
- APA: Silk Screen; 103; China, Land of My Father. Boston, MA: Center for Asian American Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-520-0p0wp9tx99