How My Parents Stayed Together For 50 Years And Found Faith After Labor Camps

How My Parents Stayed Together For 50 Years And Found Faith After Labor Camps

Given what they had to go through in life, it’s remarkable my parents are here today, together, to celebrate this important milestone.
Helen Raleigh
By

My parents recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. It’s an amazing achievement under any normal circumstances. But given what they had to go through in life, it’s remarkable they’re here today, together, to celebrate this important milestone.

Both of my parents were born in China before 1949, and their fate was deeply intertwined with what China had become since. My father is a country boy from Northern China, while my mother is a city girl from Central China. Under Mao’s communist regime, Chinese youth didn’t have any say in where they were to live or for whom they were to work. Government officials and school administrators dictated those decisions through central planning.

So upon their graduation, my parents were told (separately, of course) they needed to relocate to a remote town deep in Southwest China. They wouldn’t dare to say no. Worrying about losing food rations forced many young people like my parents to accept any form of employment anywhere the government assigned them.

Marrying in the Time of the Cultural Revolution

It was at this small town far from home where my parents met. My father first noticed my mother when she was talking to a patient at the front gate of a small clinic. My father told me later that it was my mother’s long, silky black hair that first caught his attention. My parents quickly fell in love and married a year later. Their wedding ceremony consisted of bowing to a portrait of Chairman Mao.

They received a few books by Mao as wedding presents. One of their married friends lent them half of her room for a honeymoon suite. It was only big enough to put a twin bed and two suitcases. My father helped my mother put her bedding right next to his on the small twin bed. They used one of their suitcases as a table and the other as a nightstand. That’s all there was for setting up their first home.

My parents married around the same time that Mao started his notorious Cultural Revolution. The Cultural Revolution brought ordinary people nothing but suffering. There was a shortage of everything: food, cooking oil, cloth, bicycles. All people were classified into various social classes. The good (red) social classes included Communist Party members, soldiers, poor farmers, and factory workers. The bad (black) social classes included landlords, rich peasants, and counter-revolutionaries. Children inherited the class labels of their fathers.

Sent to a Labor Camp

In this time the rule of law was suspended indefinitely. Every organization was given a quota from higher-ups to uncover a certain number of black-class people within. There was no due process, no trial. Initially, my parents thought they would be safe since they had done nothing wrong and both grew up very poor. Yet innocence was not a guarantee of survival. Because my father’s grandfather was classified as a landowner, a category of the “black class,” the party secretary of my father’s work unit announced my dad was a hidden “black class” member. Soon my father was arrested and put into a re-education labor camp.

After my father was arrested, the Communist Party secretary from my dad’s work unit tried to coerce my mother into divorcing my father. She refused because she believed in my father. “My husband is a good and honorable man,” she told the party secretary. He threatened her, advising her to think about it again, because she and her kids would suffer if she remained married to a “black class” member.

My mother was scared, but never lost her faith in my father even after he urged her to divorce him. My father spent three years in the labor camp. He was only allowed to have family visit once every six months. His salary was suspended. My mother, sister, and brother lived on my mother’s salary alone, which was about five dollars per month.

But my mother always made sure my sister and brother put on their best clothes to visit my father. She knew my father didn’t have enough to eat inside the labor camp. Guards often took the food rations meant for the inmates for their own consumption. My mother always tried to save whatever food she could get and bring it to my father.

In the meantime, she never gave up fighting for my father’s release. Her persistence finally paid off, and my father was released in 1973. He was very fortunate. Many people didn’t survive the labor camps—the Chinese gulags—at all. My father gave all the credit to my mother. “If not for her, I would have languished in the labor camp like many others,” he told me later.

From Relief to Another Tragedy

After his release, our family life got back to normal and I became the newest addition. However, life likes to make unexpected twists when one is least prepared. On a hot summer day, I was waiting for my father to pick me up at the kindergarten. He never showed up.

Later, I found out that a truck had made a sudden turn, crashed into his bike, and ran over his right leg. He suffered a great deal of blood loss, and there were so many pieces of fractured bones, the doctor told my mother the only way to save him was to amputate his injured leg. But my mother was determined to find a different way. My father had faith in her reasoning and opted for an alternative treatment plan. My mother found an old Chinese bone-setting doctor who was willing to give it a try. He prescribed a lot of herbal medicines and gave my father numerous acupuncture treatments.

My mother’s strong will held our family together. She gathered us around her and told us to keep our chins up, because daddy would walk tall again. Her faith in my father was proven to be right again. After two long years of an excruciating treatment and rehabilitation process, my father learned to walk on his own once more.

A Life-Changing Visit to the United States

Fast-forward to the present day. I live in the United States now. A couple of years ago, when my parents were visiting me from China, my Chinese neighbor invited them to attend a church service that was performed in Chinese. It was the very first time that my parents were exposed to Christianity because China’s Communist regime is atheist and had long banned all forms of religious teachings and practices for several decades until 1980.

Although there’s increasing tolerance of some forms of religions, the Chinese government still has a tight control on all religious-related matters. Given that my parents have spent most of their lives in such an environment, I thought the novelty of attending church services in the United States would quickly wear off. But I was wrong.

My parents absorbed Christian teachings like sponges, without the slightest reservation. They went to church every Sunday during their visit. A few months later, before they went back to China, they were baptized together. Their testimony at their baptism moved many churchgoers including myself to tears. They explained that before they found God, they hadn’t really lived, but merely survived. Now they found God, they finally saw the light for the first time. They found new meanings in love, marriage, family, this earthly life, and eternity.

For most of their lives, my parents’ love and faith in each other have held their marriage and our family together, no matter what challenges and obstacles life presents. In their golden years, they found the light and put their faith in God. I thank God every day for my parents, for who they are and what they have become. They’re a true inspiration in my life. As they celebrate their 50-year wedding anniversary, all I can say is congratulations, mom and dad! And God bless!

Helen Raleigh is a senior contributor to The Federalist. An immigrant from China, she is the owner of Red Meadow Advisors, LLC, and an immigration policy fellow at the Centennial Institute in Colorado. She is the author of several books, including "Confucius Never Said" and "The Broken Welcome Mat." Follow Helen on Twitter @HRaleighspeaks, or check out her website: helenraleighspeaks.com.

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