Wang Lili discusses her family’s early life in Guangzhou, as well as her struggles while adapting to life on a Chinese farm during the Cultural Revolution.
Wang Lili returned to China from Malacca in the fifth year of the founding of New China, and received her early education in Guangzhou. Wang’s father, who had left-wing leanings, became a cadre in the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission of Guangdong Province. He was later transferred to working in an overseas Chinese farm in Jiaoling, Meizhou.
A self-professed liberal and romantic person by nature, Wang struggled to adapt to life on the farm. She recalled how her father was constantly bullied by his colleagues because of his integrity. Moreover, coming from a big city like Guangzhou, she found herself ill-fitted to life on the farm. She recalled how while in Guangzhou, she could wear dresses, listen to pop music, read foreign novels and watch movies. On the farm, however, she was subjected to a life of harsh discipline. She was not allowed to wear dresses anymore, and her novels were confiscated. She was required to participate in labor work, accumulating work credits and later learning to grow tea. She was also required to attend classes regularly, when she mainly read newspapers.
Wang recalled that her grandmother, who had come to China from Malaysia during the Cultural Revolution on a sightseeing tour, was shocked by the state of China in the midst of the revolution. She also recounted how another young man in the farm had initially escaped from Taiwan to mainland China. He was exiled to the farm Wang was in because he was suspected for being a secret agent. Although Wang went through many trials and tribulations, she was a relatively optimistic person, and because of her outstanding performance on the farm, she was later elected as a deputy to the National People's Congress.
Interviewer: Chen Yishen
Interviewee: Wang Lili
What does Wang Lili’s experience of fitting into Chinese society as an returning overseas Chinese tell us about the ease in which the overseas Chinese identified themselves alongside native Chinese on the mainland? How did the Cold War influence the ways or extent in which such identification occurred? How would this compare with how other overseas Chinese communities in other parts of the world perceived themselves vis-a-vis the mainland?