The (Hi)story

I was born at the dawn of the People's Republic in Hong Kong, which was then still under British rule. This was not the place in which I passed my formative years. That was to be China, for my parents sent me back to the Mainland in the early 1950s, not much more than a mere toddler, whose first hours of "play"were devoted to participating in the Destroy Four Pests campaign aimed at ridding the country of enemies of the food chain. Initially, the four pests were defined as being rats, sparrows, mosquitoes and flies. Later, it was realized that sparrows ate worms and, therefore, were not a pest. As a consequence, the sparrow was replaced by the flea. The People's Daily reported that on April 19th, 1958, three million Beijing residents had spent the entire day catching 83,249 sparrows. At the time of this national folly, it was suggested that four sparrows would consume sixteen ounces of grain, which was equal to one person's daily food ration. This was a major part of my primary school education. I regularly turned in my homework - matchboxes brimming with mosquitoes and flies that I killed with vigorous diligence, though I only caught a couple of sparrows - but no matter how much effort I expended, the grade I was awarded for "political behavior"was rarely higher than "C". The Destroy Four Pests campaign turned out to be a disguise to turn people's attention away from severe food shortages.

In 1960, as the situation grew worse in the wake of the miserable failure of the Great Leap Forward, my father arranged for me to return to Hong Kong. China was in the throes of a three-year famine (1960-1962) in which 30 million people reportedly died of hunger.

Back in Hong Kong, I studied English and learned local Cantonese dialect and during the summer breaks,my father taught me how to translate Associated Press (AP) and Reuters English wire stories into Chinese. As the foreign editor of international news of Ta Kung Pao, a Beijing supported daily newspaper, he would come home venting his frustrations, such as when Beijing censored the story that the American astronauts had landed on the moon!
Liu Heung Shing • Excerpt from the book 'China. Portrait of a Country'

Liu Heung Shing will be in Macau at Bloom Yellow on this coming Sunday.


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