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Legacy

Let me tell you a story about my family.

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My great-grandfather was a great business man. My great-grandmother was a great person.

He was short. As short as Napoleon, my mom says, even though she never knew him.

*          *          *

She got these stories from my grandmother, who got them from her mother.

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He wasn’t the most educated person, but he worked hard and took a hold of opportunities.

He was a traditional man. All for the sons.

He and my great-grandmother married when they were young. She was 17, he was probably around the same age.

*          *          *

My great-grandmother’s family was moderately wealthy, so her husband got a pretty good dowry.

My mom thinks that he used this money to start his business selling fresh products in Changchun, Northeast China. Changchun is cold. Short summers, long winters.

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My great-grandfather observed the fruits harvested in his area. They were not of good quality, and so he went to other places to see if their fruits were fresh.

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He bought a bunch of the fresh fruit, Chinese haw berry, in places where they were cheap, plentiful, and of good quality.

It’s a reddish fruit, like a mini pomegranate.

He coated the haw berries with a hardened sugary syrup, which gave the fruit a sweet and sour taste, making it Tang Hulu, or a candied haw berry. Then, he put the candied haw berries into storage to sell for the winter, when haw berry was scarce, at a high price.

*          *          *

He put them on long pieces of hay, turning them into skewers. Since there was not a lot of this fruit of good quality in his region and time, he quickly made a lot of profit off of this business. He did similar things like this with rice, grains, and other fruits. Using the money, he bought large plots of land.

*          *          *

They were very large.

Very large.

My mom says they were the size of a whole county.

Now that’s big.

He rented out this land and the houses on it to other people, but since he was too busy running his businesses, he put my great-grandmother in charge.

*          *          *

My mom says that she was kind. Very kind. Too kind.

She was a traditional woman, and put her sons ahead of her daughters.

She was also strong. She lost six of her children, took care of her remaining three sons and youngest daughter, and also took in two of her nephews.

She treated her own neighbors like family, and was fine with extending the due dates of rents because of family problems.

*          *          *

The family lived happily for quite a while. They had boys to carry on their legacy, and a young, healthy baby girl.

They were happy.

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But not for long.

*          *          *

During that time, the Communists and Nationalists were fighting over China. The Nationalists occupied Changchun. That’s where my grandma and her family were living. The Communists planned a siege, and cut off the city from food. People starved and died, including my grandma’s father.

After the death of her husband, my great-grandmother decided to leave the city. She and her children escaped eventually, and sold her jewelry along the way.

A diamond ring for a bowl of rice. A golden necklace for some potatoes.

*          *          *

And that’s how it went.

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I don’t think that most people outside of China know of the civil war there. It was gruesome. It was horrible.

After the Communists took over China, there was the Chinese Cultural Revolution. People thought that the poorest people, most of them who were lazy and unwilling to work, were the most pure and uncorrupted.

They thought that landowners and landlords were bad people. They stole the people’s money and used that money for their own benefit.

It might’ve been true for some people, but not all. Take my great-grandmother, for example. She was so kind and never liked saying no.

But instead, they beat her.

They beat philosophers and scholars.

Musicians and famous actors.

They beat wicked people, they said.

But they beat good people. People who were kind and compassionate, I say.

My great grandmother was so afraid for herself and the livelihood of her own children, she burnt the ownership papers.

*          *          *

She burnt the evidence of all that she had, all that she and her husband worked for to ensure that her children would not be mocked and scorned, even though she was.

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I can’t believe that even though my family went through all that, I’m still here. Without the struggles they had experienced, I wouldn’t be here. I never knew them, but I feel like I do.

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I carry on my grandmother’s legacy, my great-grandparents’, and my ancestors’ before them.

They’ve been through so much, and still have endured.

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No matter what happens in the future, the past will always be with me, carrying me through the present. I will carry on their legacy, and I will not be knocked down by failures.

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No matter what, you can always work yourself back up, if you try. You can be mocked. Scorned. But in the end, you can still get back up.

Claire Jiang
Claire Jiang, 12
Princeton, NJ

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