Divided Family Reflects On China's Past, Future The birth of Communist China on Oct. 1, 1949, divided the family of Irene Jay Liu for more than four decades. One uncle was left behind when the family fled to Taiwan with the Nationalists. But in the early 1990s, the family was reunited. Irene, now a reporter in Albany, N.Y., talks with her father and her uncle about their quality of life.

Divided Family Reflects On China's Past, Future

Divided Family Reflects On China's Past, Future

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The birth of Communist China on Oct. 1, 1949, divided the family of Irene Jay Liu for more than four decades. One uncle was left behind when the family fled to Taiwan with the Nationalists. But in the early 1990s, the family was reunited. Irene, now a reporter in Albany, N.Y., talks with her father and her uncle about their quality of life.

GUY RAZ, host:

Now, Thursday's anniversary was a festive day in China. For two brothers there, though, it was a chance to reflect on decades of separation. One of them, conceived in China and born in Taiwan, found a life of opportunity in America. The other was left behind as a toddler, only to survive years of hardship and political turmoil. Years later, they reunited.

And Irene Jay Liu, a reporter who works in Albany, New York, traveled back to China to hear their reflections.

Ms. IRENE JAY LIU (Reporter, Albany Times Union): My father is one of the two brothers in this story. He turned 60 this year. And through a combination of flawed birth records and confusion over the lunar and western calendars, we only recently discovered that he was born on October 1, 1949; the same day that Mao Zedong stood at the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Tiananmen Square and declared the People's Republic of China.

Mr. MAO ZEDONG (Founder, The People's Republic of China): (Chinese language spoken)

Ms. LIU: China's turbulent history tore apart and reconciled my family within the span of one lifetime: my father's lifetime. It was 1949 and the nationalists were losing the civil war against the communists.

Unidentified Man: But for China, the bitter internal strife went on, with communist armies gaining (unintelligible) strength in their rise to the top.

Ms. LIU: Both of my grandfathers were in the Nationalist Air Force under General Chiang Kai-shek, and they fled to Taiwan as the communists took over the mainland. My father was born soon after their escape to Taiwan. His brother, my eldest uncle, Liuzin(ph), was only 3 when he was left behind. Our hometown of Xiunging(ph) was a strategic site that fell to the communists before my grandfather could retrieve him.

My uncle lived a difficult life growing up in Communist China. But as he recounted those years to me recently - over two abundant meals, cups of tea and roasted chestnuts - he downplayed his own suffering.

Mr. LIUZIN LIU: (Chinese language spoken)

Ms. LIU: Life was hard for everyone then, my uncle said.

Mr. L. LIU: (Chinese language spoken)

Ms. LIU: If anything, his family got off easier than others, he said, because they were not very good targets for persecution. The only ones left behind were my uncle who was only a toddler, a deaf relative, and his widowed grandmother who was physically limited by her bound feet.

My uncle was a good student but only finished middle school because he was too poor to continue his education; and at 15, became a government cook to support the family. Denied any real opportunity, he subsisted through the Great Leap Forward when millions died of starvation, and watched as family members were persecuted in the streets during the Cultural Revolution.

Mr. L. LIU: (Chinese language spoken)

Ms. LIU: The world was upside down during those years, my uncle said. Black was white, white was black; right was wrong, wrong was right.

As my uncle suffered through those turbulent years in China, his brother, my father, Paul, had a poor but stable childhood in Taiwan.

Mr. PAUL LIU: Even my childhood is not rich in material, but we never really went through the starvation or the hard life like my brother had. You know, when compared to my brother, you know, I had very smooth sailing life.

Ms. LIU: My father went to the United States for graduate school and ultimately settled in St. Louis. In the early '90s, Monsanto Chemicals sent him to negotiate the company's first joint venture in China. And a few years later, we moved to Shanghai, just two hours away from my uncle.

The two brothers' lives are still very disparate. My uncle lives in a modest house outside of Xiunging with his wife and his son's family. In the 1980s, he took advantage of China's opening economy to build up a scrap metal recycling business. During my visit, he proudly showed me the construction site of his new factory.

Meanwhile, my father works out of a skyscraper in downtown Shanghai and lives with my mother in an expatriate complex on the outskirts of the city.

Mr. P. LIU: When compared to my brother, the quality of life is much, much better than his. But he has no resentment and he's just as happy of his own life. Because he look at how he grew up, how he struggled through the difficult life and what he has today, actually he's quite proud of himself.

Ms. LIU: Looking ahead, both my father and my uncle are very optimistic about China's future and their place in it.

Mr. P. LIU: This is my roots and my family history, so I went to a full circle in 60 years, you know, back to where I was supposed to be to celebrate China's 60 years together with my own personal 60 years birthday. It's quite special day.

Reporting in Shanghai for NPR News, I'm Irene Jay Liu.

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