The Yeye I knew was exuberant. He raised me as if I was his daughter - when my parents were both in grad school, he came to America to take care of his first grandchild. Though he was born in 1935, it never felt like we had 60 years of life separating us. I remember mornings when Yeye would croon folk songs from his province, twirling 4-year-old me around and clapping enthusiastically for my clumsy dance moves. I remember afternoons when Yeye would teach me how to wrap fragrant dumplings with his bear paw hands speckled with liver spots, just so we could surprise my parents when they came back home. I remember evenings when Yeye would teach me how to express myself (and make a mess) with a brush and watercolor paints. My Yeye was exuberant, creative, and hilarious, with a charisma that transcended cultures. That was the Yeye I knew.
The Yeye I didn’t know suffered. A lot. His own childhood was cut short when his family had to go into hiding because the Communist Party started killing the landlord class. In 1957, Chairman Mao announced the Hundred Flowers Campaign, encouraging “flowers” (scholars) to “bloom” (give feedback to the Party). The Yeye I didn’t know was a “flower” who spoke up, criticizing the Party’s gross human rights violations and advocating for education to be prioritized. The Party arrested him and other activists, labeled them “Rightists,” and sent them to the countryside for decades of hard labor. My Yeye barely made it out. In his writing, he refers to that period as “the darkest time of [his] life.” In the following years, my Yeye bore his “Rightist” scarlet letter and was cast to the bottom of society. But status never mattered to him. He was grateful - to be alive, to be with his family. In his free time, he smoked his cigarettes while reading hungrily to make up for the years he wasn’t allowed to have books. When the Party realized its wrongdoings towards the “flowers” (it never issued an apology or reparations), my Yeye was finally set free.
I don’t know why my Yeye hid this part of his life from me. But I know one thing for sure - he did not regret what he did. In our family, naming your first grandchild is a very significant task. My Yeye named me 玫, which means “rose,” a flower known for its resilience. He found beauty in symbols. While his story breaks my heart, I am the proud granddaughter of one of the flowers that bloomed in 1957.