Everyone has certain memories from childhood that can never be forgotten. When Ms. Mary was explaining the article Local Governments to Enact Rent Control on Residential Property for me, my thought seemed to have stopped when she mentioned the word “landlord.” It evoked a very deep memory from my childhood.
My childhood years coincided with the Cultural Revolution (1966-1977) in China during which family origin was often used as a way to treat people differently. People whose family origin, as determined by the officials, was “landlord” were discriminated against because it implied that you came from a family of greed and exploitation of others. That was the idea of the communist and socialist system in China from 1949 to 1977.
My family origin was tied to my grandfather’s and it was “landlord.” I remember when I was in elementary school, there were about fifty students in my class, led by Ms. Wang. Class management was often the most difficult task for Ms. Wang.
To calm down the chaotic state of the classroom, Ms. Wang had her own way. She would loudly say, “Students whose family origins are the working poor or farming poor, stand up!” Most students stood up except for a few including myself. Ms. Wang would then lecture, “Your parents had no money to go to school in the old society of China, but today under the leadership of the Communist Party, you are able to enter school. There is no reason for you to not follow the rules and listen to your teacher. You should be sorry for your parents.” After those tough words, students quieted down for a while, but it never worked for long because of the large number of and the young ages of the students.
I was very embarrassed whenever Ms. Wang said those words, lowering my head with no courage to look at others. I felt like everyone was watching me and they would find out that I had a “bad” family background. I experienced this scene often during the six years with Ms. Wang in elementary school. The feeling of fear and shame stayed in my heart.
The political policies in China began to change after Mao’s death in 1976. Market economy, introduced to China in the 1980s, completely changed the lives of Chinese people over the last 30-plus years. The meaning of “landlord” has completely changed too, now referring to rich, successful business owners of admirable status. However, the experience of being labeled “landlord” in my childhood is engrained in me forever.