When It Comes to Race, Little Things Matter | Haiyun Lu | 6 Min Read

Sept. 26, 2021

One night, during the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in China, my father made the fateful decision to save the local mayor from being beaten to death by the Red Guard. He was in the midst of being shamed and “re-educated” for his previous status, and would soon succumb to his injuries and neglect. After dark, my father snuck into the shed where the mayor was imprisoned, freed him, carried him on his back, walking 11 kilometers on zigzagging mountain trails, and hid him in a cave.  Nobody saw him do it, but the Red Guard suspected his involvement.  Even after a month-long interrogation, my father kept his jaws clenched and refused to admit anything. As a result, my parents and 10-month-old sister were kicked out of their ancestral home and stripped of everything they were allowed to own. They moved into a dirt cave that was dug into the side of a mountain.  My two brothers and I were born in that cave.  That’s how I grew up: in extreme poverty, surrounded by ridicule, rejection, and discrimination from other villagers and their children.  At the same time, I was protected by the unconditional, fierce love of my family. 

It was a dark period. I developed a calcium deficiency, due to malnutrition, and had many serious health problems as a result.  At that time, I was never strong enough to run down the mountain slopes or catch dragonflies with others.  As a young child, from the big rock where I often sat, I watched with envy as others played, dreaming of joining them. I also dreamt of owning a dog, a friend who could accompany me wherever I went. But my parents struggled to put food on the table for us, let alone feed a dog.  Slowly, that desire became dormant.

After a very difficult early childhood, things began to change dramatically for the better. After the cultural revolution failed and many of the restrictions were lifted, my father was able to start a small business that changed our lives completely.

Fast forward until two or three years ago. I began the conversation about owning a dog with my family.  At first, the idea seemed out of reach for many reasons. First, my husband and young son were not immediately in love with the idea. My husband’s and my traveling schedules made things difficult as well.…

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Haiyun Lu

Haiyun Lu, a Chinese language teacher at the University School of Milwaukee (WI), is also a writer, blogger, trainer, curriculum designer, meditator, and Co-Founder at Ignite Chinese.