Letters from China

The unbreakable family ties

I was shocked to see the state of my mother’s ancestral home in China. By today’s modern standard, her ancestral house still looks shabby. However, the house used to be unsafe, dilapidated, and it could not withstand strong wind and rain.

This is the very house that nurtured 4 children, who are now grandparents. These are also my cousins that I have never met.

I gave my mother and sisters a mission when they returned to China last week. I asked them to ask about those letters that we used to send to China from the south of Malaysia and Singapore. These are what my sisters found:

Neat envelopes: Letters to China

Neat envelopes: Letters to China

Only a few envelopes are still well kept. I can recognise my sisters’ handwriting. However, all letters have been lost.

My eldest cousin said that as our letters were precious, his father (my mother’s brother) kept all letters neatly together in a file. Everyday, he would ask his sons to read our letters to him and every time he wept over the words in the letters. My uncle was paralysed for about a decade, and these letters from his only sister carried so much dreams, hope and promises. Unfortunately, since his death, the folder containing these carefully straightened letters have been lost.

My mother often praises the diligence, kindness and filial piety of the younger generation in her Chinese family. The younger children are well-educated and run their small businesses. Many of them are still living in the same province where the ancestral home is. They form a system where all siblings take turns to look after the elderly. My mother’s 96-year-old sister in law is happily surrounded by her many grand and great grandchildren. She lives in the new houses regularly though she still prefers the simple living in the ancestral home which carries her memories.

The younger generation now has bigger houses. Now I know what my mother really meant when she commented, “The young ones in China are very able, and their houses are bigger than yours in England! They have everything in China these days.”

I have some questions as to why the old ancestral home is not refurbished more by the third generation. However, I believe they have done all they could to keep the plot of land, to keep the old house safe, and also to honour their spiritual support – my mother’s deceased brother. The whole neighbourhood is in disrepair, and they have preserved what they could to maintain their traditional way of life – such as wood burning and growing their own vegetables. Many things remain unchanged: their decency, humility, and their graciousness towards their distant relatives scattering around the world. The subtlety of their love is very moving.

The Letters from China series was inspired by Blog Exercises: Before the Blog by Lorelle VanFossen. You can find more Blog Exercises on . This is a year-long challenge to help you flex your blogging muscles.

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11 thoughts on “The unbreakable family ties

  1. Gallivanta

    So many families have been separated because of war or politics etc…so many have clung to the lifeline of letters..it is good to know that there are happy endings, or should that be beginnings? A lovely glimpse of the young generation and their interaction with the older ones.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: An emotional return to ancestral home in China | Janet's Notebook

  3. marshland

    Sorry I’ve not visited your blog for so long, plenty of excuses, none of them plausible though….
    Main one is my gmails were not being automatically forwarded to my default server since iGoogle ended and the setting defaulted to “don’t forward”…..so I changed the settings and hey presto, an email about your blog.
    It’s really nice to read about & see images of the way normal people live in other countries, likewise when we get photos of family in Djakarta.
    My Grandparents bungalow was austere, lino curling up at the edges, cheap MFI wardrobes, carpet threadbare, 4 knives with ivory handles, yellowing spoons, forks and teaspoons, odd plates and bowls etc but it was home to them. I miss them really badly when I write about them, like now, thinking how hard their life was compared to mine and feel guilty. They both came from a poor industrialised area of Sheffield and lived in council housing on rough estates all their lives, but to them to have a little council bungalow all of their own in our tiny village was luxury enough. Further down the line my parents house, although nice, clean and tidy, is an electric socket desert. They don’t feel as if they need a dozen in each room like we have.
    I can only imagine what it is like in China, although my nephew has been twice and says in all the homes he visited (in the Chongzuo area) they have almost everything we have been accustomed to in Europe for 20 years, but a lot of it passes the older generations by.
    I will try to visit your writings more often.
    Mick

    Reply
  4. Behind the Story

    It’s nice to see how the younger generation is prospering. Your mother helped the family through the hard times. Now life is better for them. Do you think you will visit them some day?

    Reply
  5. ShimonZ

    And in the west, there are many who go back to visit the homes of grandparents, and don’t find any remains of what they remember… it’s changed into a parking lot or a drug store or a high rise office building…

    Reply
  6. Bill Hayes

    Very nice post Janet. The worse thing is to go back to the ancetsral home only to find that “others” are living there. So comforting to see they are still holding on.

    Reply

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