Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chapter 4: Mei-jun Goes Home

Mei-jun could not bear to look at rivers, for each time she did she could not help but exclaim, "How can this one even compare to the river back at our old home..." Ever since I was little, I'd hear her start with, "Ah, the water of Xin'an (新安) River..." followed by some long-winded speech that inevitably ended with "is the clearest!" The river's first layer was fine white sand, its second layer smooth stones shaped like goose eggs, and on top lay the river's verdant green water. If you wanted to catch fish, you could just take off your trousers and stand in the water, tie the legs together, and cast out your make-shift net. Just like that, you'd find your pants full of fish! After saying all that, Mei-jun would always look my way to make sure that I was listening, then let out a sigh of resignation, "[Ai! It's like playing the piano for a cow.] Even if I'm telling you it was true you still won't believe me, you simply don't understand just how clear the water was!"

[Translator's Note: The actual text here goes, "唉!對游彈琴啦” The subsequent paragraph explains the seemingly confusing Chinese, "牛,他總說 【游】,所以【牛奶】,就是【游奶】” The author adds this in to highlight Mei-jun's provincial dialect, however this color is lost in translation.]

She was silent for a while, then added in a low voice, "One day... one day I will bring you back to see for yourself. Then, you will understand." It was as if she was speaking to herself.

I, daughter born in Kaohsiung, could not imagine what the Yellow River and Yangtze River were like, but even as a little girl I was familiar with that Xin'an River -- as to where it was located was another matter entirely, for I had little inkling as to whether Zhejiang was above or below Jiangsu or on the eastern or western front -- but I definitely knew that Xin'an River's water was the cleanest water in the world.

This daughter, now all grown up, brought Mei-jun to see the icy lakes of the Swiss Alps, to see the origin of the Rhine, to see the deep blue scenery of the Danube. Mei-jun was filled with satisfaction and praise, "Europe is truly a beautiful place!" But before taking more than a few steps I heard her quietly let out a sigh. I purposely did not turn around. Wait. Just wait for it... and as expected she supplemented it with, "But this water, cannot even compare to our Xin'an..."

Before she knew it, Mei-jun lived in Taiwan for 60 years, learning the local dialect, growing to love the humid tropical climate. This foreign town became her hometown. As for her ancestral riverside village, a dam constructed in 1959 drowned everything into the depths of Qiandao Lake (千島湖). She finally understood just as dynasties could rise and fall, countries could be established and annihilated, cities too could now be wiped off the map, leaving no trace.

1987 -- After the Taiwanese government finally granted their citizens permission to pay a visit to their ancestral villages, masses of people banded together to return home; perhaps human connections were now long-lost, but their old homes were still their old homes. However, Mei-jun of Chun'an coldly questioned, "Go back? Go back to see what?"

"Even if you can't see your village," I, Mei-jun's daughter said, "you can at the very least see some people?"

70 year old Mei-jun, estranged from her ancestral home for half a century, on September 1995 returned to Chun'an for the first time. No, now it was Qiandao Town - a small fresh town where the trees were recently planted, walls were freshly painted, books were newly printed... all located on a little island.

"Dao? Qiandao? (Note: Dao (島)= island, Qian (千) = thousand)" Mei-jun corrected me indignantly, "It was once all shan (山 = mountains), it's Qianshan, not Qiandao." Of course, after the area was flooded, old cities sunk into the newly-formed lake's watery depths and the tops of the mountains reemerged as islands. Qiandao Lake was once Qianshan Town, and Mei-jun never truly believed that 50 years of "滄海桑田 (lit. blue seas where there was once mulberry fields)" could literally happen.

"This time when I go home, I absolutely need to find my father's grave," Mei-jun asserted. "After the dam was built, his grave must have been washed away... carried to where though? For so many years I've dreamt of him. He climbed out of his grave, his face green just like the color of seaweed. He would say, 'My daughter... I am cold. You must find a way to help and move me...'"

The extended family, sitting in a circle, suddenly fell silent. I surveyed at everyone's expressions... our reticence felt complex. We were all startled to hear Mei-jun's superstitious visions, yet no one wanted to hurt an old woman's feelings.

"The lake's very big, there's one thousand islands," they said hesitantly, "we only have a general idea as to where the grave is, so it may be difficult..."

"We can try." Mei-jun insisted.

One relative suggested, "We could make some long-distance sacrifices so long as we face that direction when we make our offerings. Wouldn't that also work, Big Sister?"

I looked at Mei-jun and found that she was looking right back at me. Ah, I knew that this stalwart woman was up for a fight.

"I've been making distant offerings from Taiwan for 50 years." Mei-jun paused briefly, her face showing unmistakable displeasure. Then suddenly a verbal barrage, "I've already been praying for 50 years, so after trekking a thousand miles to personally come to Chun'an, do you really think I'd settle for more long-distance offerings?" Everyone fell silent once again.

"... After the time a boat caught on fire," a relative painfully tried to explain, "boat rentals have been closely regulated."

"I am a daughter of Chun'an," Mei-jun had determination frozen on her face, "finding my father's grave is heaven's law and earth's principle."

The second day, we finally found a motorized boat and hired a boatman familiar with the waters. The boatman still remembered the lake's old terrain as if he had a hidden navigation system, seeing straight through a watery subterranean, reverting each island to its original mountain state, recognizing where each mountain originally stood next to one another.

The boat shuttled to and fro over an area of 600 square kilometers, flitting from one island to another, leaving a trail of smoke and waves extending into the distance. Qiandao Lake looked pure and clean as if it were untouched in its actual natural state, but the our eyes saw mountains were they were now none, land where there was now water. Those countless desolate islands towering over the water surface were not originally islands and were not originally desolate. They were once mountains that my mother in her younger days once climbed, picnicked on before. Below the water's surface were fields and fields of fruit groves where my mother once accompanied her parents to collect rent. This piece of unadulterated wilderness used to be rich fields of irrigated abundance. Above the water surface was the vestige of land, neglected after the flood. Submerged was once thousands of unbroken years of flourishing culture.

We looked like tourists. But we were not tourists.

The surf splashed and foamed around us, the water droplets that landed on our hands felt moist and cool. There is Monkey Island. It has a lot of monkeys, do you want to check it out? No thanks. There is Snake Island. It has a lot of snakes, do you want to take a peek? No thanks.

We only wanted to see one particular island. We were searching for one island amongst thousands.

The boat coughed and puttered as it decelerated -- the boatman reckoned that we were close. Relatives stood up attentively in twos and threes on the bow of the ship to survey the water. In front of us was a small nondescript island... Mei-jun's cousin furrowed her brow and stared ahead thoughtfully, hesitating for a moment before declaring, "Here," pointing to that little island, "it's right here."

That small island that she pointed to, overrun with weeds with a ring of patchy yellow dirt along its perimeter, was not even bigger than a rooftop. We hopped onto the muddy beach. The same cousin reminisced and recounted, "Back in the day, this is where we buried 小表哥 [small older male cousin]. We thought that we had moved his grave to a high enough point of elevation, but never would we have thought..."

No one in their wildest dreams thought that the flood could actually submerge an entire mountain, leaving only its very tip. Mei-jun turned her attention towards two pieces of broken brick soaked in the water, sitting tangential where the waves lapped over the yellow dirt beach. The wind howled around us with such force that we could barely keep our eyes open. Mei-jun's white hair flew upwards towards the sky as I supported and held her tightly. The wind's roar filled our ears, but there was also Mei-jun's feeble broken voice,"... Father -- I'm here, I knew. You clearly told me that you were very cold..."

The lake's waves trapped tumbling seaweed, softly pounding the bricks that disappeared with every curl. Those bricks were soaked for a very long time, their surface already covered with moss. An incense was lit, its pure white smoke twisting like a soft boneless animal, carrying prayers with the wind to an unknown place between the water and sky.

We left Chun'an via a mountain route heading towards Jiande. That year, people with private boats were arrested and inspected for carrying non-government salt cargo. Small vehicles jounced on the stone-paved road, clambering up a steep slope and then spiraling down in tight circles. The cars kicked up clouds of dust, covering the nearby trees with a layer of white grit. However, the light reflected off Qiandao Lake glimmered and sparkled unceasingly. Perhaps she was tired, but Mei-jun said scarcely a word on the way back. I shook her, "Hey look, this is Xin'an River's water, look how clear it is!"

She gazed out the window and leaned her head wearily on the glass, quietly asking, "Is it?"

I reached out my hand and put my arm around her frail thin shoulders.

[Translator's Note: I felt like Mei-jun's last comment was very loaded. "Is it?" What exactly is she referring to? Whether that is in fact the Xin'an River? Whether the water was clear? Or does it simply mean that she's lost her connection to her past? This is one of the reasons why many Chinese read this book and feel deep irreconcilable sorrow. Mei-jun's story here is not unique in that sense.]

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Chapter 3: On the Port

Kaohsiung: a place where no one had ever heard of before, a place where people had dark sun-kissed skin, a place where the Chinese actually sounded like an entirely foreign language. She lost communication with her husband in the turmoil but had two soldiers accompanying her. Cradled in her arms was the one who ate then slept, woke then ate -- Ying Da.

Mei-jun sized up her surroundings... the streets were packed with disoriented refugees, their faces grim and anxious. This day in May was exceptionally hot but the refugees wore their tattered cotton clothes still. Take it off and indecently expose a bare body, keep it on and endure the insufferable humid weather. A spell of heavy rain suddenly caught the refugees off guard, sending them fleeing for shelter in all directions, only to find that there were no roofs to hide under. Resigned, many sat on the floor and let the rain pour down.

With the army disbanded and husband lost, Mei-jun could no longer claim to be a "military dependent"... all at once no one cared about her anymore. Those two soldiers, sons of village farmers, lost their military status as well. Mei-jun actually never fully understood this major historical turning point, but soon grasped its consequences -- from now on, aside from herself, there was no one else to count on.

Mei-jun fished her pockets and scooped out a well-hidden five ounce piece of gold, heading out to find a place called Lingya Market. There, she began her independent life in an eight square foot - or 2.4 x 2.4 meters - vegetable vendor stall. At night, the two young men slept on the floor while Mei-jun tightly embraced her baby on roof of the stand, sharing one thinly covered blanket.

The next morning before it was light outside, Mei-jun instructed the two young men to buy several large watermelons, cut them into thin slices, place them out on a wooden board, and peddle them at the harbor. As fleets of boats flowed towards the port, evacuated military personnel and refugees arrived like water spilling over a levy. Her purpose in selling watermelon on this blisteringly hot day was two-fold: she could scrape some money together, but more importantly she could search for family -- if her husband was even still alive, he would most likely one day appear at that port.

Mei-jun's quickly expanded her little street stand. This daughter of Chun'an coolly observed her surroundings and realized that refugees were rebuilding their lives, starting with houses. They needed bamboo, nails, hammers, string, and other types of building materials. From that, Mei-jun earned a bit of money. She then noticed that the majority refugees were from Shandong, and quickly stocked up her store with sacks and sacks of rice noodles. Southern accents and Northern tones filled the city air, but the refugees knew that not only could find everything that they needed at Mei-jun's shop, but the owner also spoke Mandarin, was generous, warm-hearted, and kind-spirited.

Mei-jun shed her cheongsam and began to only wear loosely-fitted frocks, providing for her child and accepting the burden of hard labor.

However, the lively Mei-jun also embraced periods of quiet solitude. After parking her truck at the entrance of a large warehouse, she rode a bicycle that was reserved to deliver goods and head towards the harbor alone. Military ships slowly docked and slowly departed... waves of people flowed into the port, waves of people dispersed. The sounds of whistles resonated and lingered in the air, curling in the wind.

A policeman in uniform patroled by the entrance of a large warehouse, glimpsed upon the delicate silhouette of a young mainland woman, and could not resist to take one more peek.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Chapter 2: Hiding From the Rain

[Translator's Note: Wow. Just wow. I always knew that translation was not going to be easy, but I'm finding it extremely difficult to find words in the English language that can even somewhat match the breadth of feeling that is the Chinese language. English is obviously my first language, but this exercise was completely eye-opening. I cannot say that I'm confident in my work below, but hey, it's a start. Also, you will notice that there's a lot of commas going on here. The Chinese love their long sentences but they become run-ons only when you convert it into English. I had to chop some of these behemoth sentences up to my own discretion. There's also a bit of slight added improv to make the translated sentences make sense in English. Now, I present to you my first Frankenstein.]

The migration from Chun'an was a difficult and arduous one, hopping from train station to train station, passing through rivers, through lakes, over mountains. After a year and a half, it was impossible to understand how things came to be. Mei-jun was confused to find herself standing at this chaotic port on Hainan Island. Here, waves of migrants surged towards docked vessels, looking for a way to salvage their lives, having already lost communication with their husbands stranded on the wrong side of the shore.

Hainan Island was the official point of retreat. It was May of 1950 and the People's Republic of China had already been officially established for half a year, but not for Hainan Island and parts of the southwest. Here was war. Battalions of Nationalist soldiers under orders to provide cover for this official retreat fulfilled their responsibility as they were hotly pursued under gunfire from the Liberation Army, only to reach the port and find themselves standing helpless by the shore, abandoned by their very own warships. As cannon rounds hit the warships' bulwarks, those now safely on the ships fought back heavy tears as they witnessed their saviors, these soldiers who had protected them from incoming assault, left behind and completely forsaken. Injured soldiers stranded at the port and now devoid of hope, crumpled to the ground and sobbed. Those yet uninjured stood at the shore as if they had reached the edge of the world -- behind them were their homes cut off by ten thousand li of war front, before them was the cruel rejection of the vast sea.

The soldiers that made it onto the vessels were stunned senseless at the turn of events. Virtually wiped out at The Battle of Xu-Bang, the remaining survivors from the 64th Corp made it onto the emergency boat evacuation. Out of the 7,000 officers and men, over 1,000 were young prisoners captured en route.

The boats were to depart for Taiwan, but where was Taiwan? The captain of the ship didn't know either.

After the vessel pulled away from cannons' range of fire, the Navy navigators took out their map and searched for Taiwan.

A soldier asked his superior, "When will we reach this place?"

The officer said, "I'm not sure, but we'll know when we get there. We've never been to this 'Taiwan', but I heard it's not a bad place."

Even as Officer Jian Bu-Cheng from the 64th Corp comforted his men, he too was filled with profound dread and anxiety. He himself hadn't the slightest clue as to where Taiwan was or what it was like. Like faithful and courageous Su Wu in his shepherding days, Officer Jian had endured and survived battles from snow-covered lands all the way to Hainan Island, his body and spirit now completely depleted and consumed. After consoling his soldiers, he turned to comfort himself. "Life is hard and the journey is long. We can take a short break and hide from the rain at this place called 'Taiwan'."

Never in his wildest dreams did he think that while waiting out this period of "rain" it would soon be 1964.

Pale faced Mei-jun warmly held an infant sound asleep in her arms, welcoming the baby to the world just a few days after her birth, but make no mistake, this was another child. Mei-jun's other child that she had brought with her from Chun'an was just dispatched to his grandmother in Hunan, but this particular infant was born on Hainan Island. She was given the name "Ying Da" (應達). The reasoning behind this was to bestow hope amidst insurmountable obstacles so she could reach (達到) her goals. This was a good name, an appropriate name.

Countless small boats jammed and bumped against each other as they ferried soldiers and their families onto the large ships that could not dock at port. Once the boats were positioned, hysterical passengers crawled like spiders up a web of rope ladders draped against the bulwarks. Many did not have the strength to climb, many could not hold on, and so many fell into the sea.

The cannon blasts exploded overhead, triggering a stampede and causing many of the small transport boats to flip over. Some of the boats were almost within reach of escape but could not make it in time, their passengers left blinking in a stupor. Distressed pleas for help from the port filled the air as the ships sailed off, falling on deaf ears. A heavy curtain of fear fell.

The sea that day was a scene from a silent picture film, with head tops bobbing, sinking, floating, struggling as far as an eye could see across the horizon. Whenever a head popped above water, you could discern a pair of eyes filled with dread, a mouth wide open gasping for air... but no sound. We cannot hear words projected from the bottom of the heart. We cannot hear their mind's dying shout. History is always silent.

Suitcases, countless suitcases that now blanketed the water, bobbed up and down amongst the oil-stained ocean.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chapter 1: Mei-jun Leaves Home

[Translator's Note: I translated Chapter 1 after already completing 2-4... not exactly sure why I skipped this chapter in the first place, perhaps because it wasn't all that dramatic compared to the others, although now looking back it would have helped since it sets up the story. I manually dated this entry November 7th although I published this entry retroactively on December 28th, 2009 so that readers can enjoy a certain order.]

Mei-jun left the old city of Chun'an on January 1949, shortly after the cross-strait steamship Taiping (太平輪) sank.

She was a 24 year old woman with short hair permed to the latest fashion, wearing flats that were easy to walk in and carrying a chubby infant bundled on her back. Two soldiers accompanied mother and son to Changzhou (常州市) in Jiangsu province, where Mei-jun's husband served as chief of military police.

It was already a time of chaos and turmoil when Mei-jun was pressed to take flight. Her words of departure to her mother were nothing out of the ordinary: "I'll be back soon." Although she knew that her thin frail mother, a woman with bound feet, stood by the doorway watching her leave, Mei-jun did not turn around to look back at her even once.

Mei-jun never looked back at Chun'an.

From Mei-jun's point of view, the deep yawning courtyard, the sound of horse hooves on the cobblestone lane, and the crystal clear Xin'an river than ran behind her old home were all as immutable as the moon and stars. A simple fact of life, for who would consider to say goodbye to the moon and stars even in a state of unrest? People die. Families scatter. Dynasties fall. But who would believe that an entire city, especially a city with over a thousand years of history like Chun'an, could possibly disappear? Mei-jun was never overly sentimental. She was smart, decisive, and resolute. All the townspeople knew that daughter of the Ying Family was a formidable woman, one who at the age of 17 could travel alone down the river to Hangzhou (杭州) and peddle off an entire boat's cargo by herself.

One time after selling all her goods at Hangzhou, Mei-jun caught a ride back with a family also heading to Chun'an, their boat full with salt. Halfway home they were stopped by soldiers looking to seize any illegal cargo. The people on the boat, their faces grey with worry, were so panic-stricken that they looked like they were going to jump ship. It dawned upon Mei-jun that the salt on this boat was mostly civilian and thus unauthorized by the government.

Mei-jun observed the panic-stricken elders, appraised the circumstance, and took ahold of the situation. She waved at everyone to listen and said, "Slow the boat down."

She ordered the workers to first quickly bring the two sacks of government salt to the front of the boat, then fetch a young buxom woman to sit at the entrance of where they stored the civilian salt. She asked the woman to take off her top, only leaving her undergarments. Like a movie director, Mei-jun instructed the woman where to sit, how to sit, and then appraised the scene, adding, "Loosen your hairpin and let down your hair."

They heaved to a stop, letting the inspection boat come closer. One by one the gun-toting soldiers leaped onto the boat. Mei-jun invited the soldiers to first examine the two sacks of salt in the front of the boat, where they checked the labels, then grabbed a few handfuls to rub and sniff for closer verification. Satisfied with the first batch, the soldiers turned towards the back of the boat, where they suddenly found themselves facing an attractive southern Jiangsu woman sitting at the doorway, seeming to be putting her clothes back on. Her torso was milky white, her back smooth and exposed. The soldiers were completely startled, and Mei-jun quickly stepped in to excuse the young woman, "We're very sorry! My sister-in-law just finished breastfeeding her baby..."

Rattled, the head inspector hastily stuttered, "We won't bother you any longer, you can go."

When the elders of Chun'an retold this story to me, Mei-jun just sat there chuckling to the side.

Mei-jun told me that the last time she left Chun'an she did something out of the ordinary - she actually turned around to look at the two stone lions flanking the city gate for many many dynasties. The day she left, the lions crouched there so reassuredly, leaving her no reason to doubt or wonder that they would continue to stay there until the end of time.

Chun'an was established by the great General He Qi for Kingdom of Wu during the period of the Three Kingdoms. At that time, Chun'an was a simple agricultural society called Shan Yue (山越), eventually developing into a small sophisticated town in the Kingdom of Wu. The famous upright official Hai Rui once served as Chun'an's county magistrate, and to honor him the people of Chun'an built a temple (海公祠) in his name. As a little girl, Mei-jun passed by this temple everyday.

Mei-jun would describe to me the furnishings in her old home: a cypress dining table that seated eight, the wood releasing wafts of fragrance that assailed your nostrils; her mother's bed, the headboard completely detailed with delicately carved flowers; the courtyard's black ceramic water urns, each all filled with tall and proud pink lotus flowers; the portraits of three generations of ancestors hung in the middle of the lobby, which despite the fact that Mei-jun could not discern who was who, she still proudly explained, "Somebody in the very last row of ancestors wearing Qing Dynasty government official robes is Great-great grandfather. He passed the triennial provincial civil-service examination and served as a liushou (留守) in Qu Zhou (衢州). He was a high government official!"

I asked her, "What does a liushou do?" She tilted her head to the side and thought for a bit, finally saying, "I'm not sure, it's probably... hm, chief of police?"

[Translator's Note: "Liushou (留守)" is historically defined as the person who runs the capital city in the emperor's absence or someone who is in charge of a provisional capital. It seems like Mei-jun's great great grandfather was indeed someone very important! I thought it was amusing that Mei-jun thought that Great-great grandfather was perhaps the chief of police, which is what her husband is. :)]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Ready, Get Set, Go!

Just to prevent any confusion, this project will be translating only the first few chapters to pique interest in Big River Big Sea - Untold Stories of 1949 (大江大海一九四九). Just from feedback from my American-born Chinese friends and some general scouring on the internet, there seems to be substantial interest from English readers in the content of this book despite the obvious language barrier.

The titles of the entries will list which chapter in case someone decides to purchase the actual book and use this as a reference. Of course, I am not a professional translator, so this is my disclaimer for any shortcomings. :)

In addition, I would like to encourage readers to submit any family stories related to this subject. All Chinese have been affected by the events of 1949 and onward, but each tale is unique and worth sharing with the world. If you feel inspired to, please let your story be heard and share it with this blog.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NY Times Coverage on Big River Big Sea

October 6, 2009

HONG KONG — When Ying Meijun bade farewell to her 1-year-old son at the train station in September 1949, little did she know that it would be 38 years before she saw him again.

The baby was crying so much that she decided not to take him onto the overcrowded train, so she left him in the care of his grandmother.

Thinking they were only leaving China temporarily, she promised: “We’ll be back soon.”

By the time she saw her first-born child again in 1987, he was a 40-year-old man wearied by years of hard labor on a mainland Chinese farm. Fighting back tears, he told his elderly parents how, as a young child, he used to chase trains that went pass their front door, shouting, “Mother! Mother!”, thinking that she would be on them.

Ms. Ying and her husband, Lung Huaisheng, who was an officer in the military police under Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang government, fled with his family to Taiwan a few months after the Communist Party declared itself the new ruler of China on Oct. 1, 1949.

Even in his old age, Lung Huaisheng often wept as he took out the shoe soles that his mother knitted and gave him when they saw each other for the last time at the train station.

These family memories are just some of the heart-wrenching stories told by their daughter, Lung Yingtai, a Taiwan-born author and University of Hong Kong professor, in her latest book “Da Jiang Da Hai 1949” (“Big River, Big Sea — Untold Stories of 1949”). The book is published by Taiwan’s CommonWealth Magazine and Hong Kong’s Cosmos Books.

Ms. Lung, who was born two years after the family moved to Taiwan, is a leading cultural critic, well-known for her sharp and candid writing. Her book of social-political criticism, “The Wild Fire,” published in 1985 when Taiwan was still under Kuomintang’s one-party rule, was seen as influential in the democratization of the island.

Her new book is a tribute to the tens of millions of people “who were trampled on, humiliated and hurt by the era.” It tells the story of the many Chinese families that were broken up by the civil war that ended in the Kuomintang’s defeat in 1949, with some two million escaping to Taiwan. Many, like her own parents, hastily said goodbye to loved ones in mainland China and would never see them again.

Apart from the stories of her own family and other Chinese people born in that era — including President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan — there are tales of elderly people who as young men fought for the Kuomintang, the Communist Party, or both, and even Japan (which ruled Taiwan from 1895 until 1945).

Many have not openly talked about their experiences. One 89-year-old man who was held by the Japanese as a prisoner of war told Ms. Lung he waited all his life to tell his story.

Ms. Lung’s book has become an instant best seller — more than 100,000 copies have been sold in Taiwan and 10,000 in Hong Kong since its publication in early September. Ms. Lung, who will be giving a talk at the Frankfurt Book Fair on Oct. 15, said the book did not have an English-language publisher yet. Although Ms. Lung had expressed a wish to publish it in mainland China, it seems almost impossible now, as the government has banned all Internet articles and discussions on the book.

Ms. Lung hopes to break down her readers’ preconceptions about events around 1949. Under Communist rule, many mainlanders regard Taiwan as a renegade province that should be taken back by force if necessary.

“I want to give them a different perspective,” she said.

As the Taiwan-born offspring of mainland refugees herself, she wants mainland readers, particularly political leaders like President Hu Jintao of China, to learn about the pain and sufferings of the people of Taiwan.

“When will there be no war? It’s when you can see your enemy’s wounds, then you won’t be able to pick up your gun,” she said.

She hopes the book will make people in China and Taiwan abandon long-held suspicions and prejudices regarding each other.

“If all that the leaders can think about are political negotiations” and economic interests “and there is no genuine understanding of emotions, then the foundation of peace would not be solid enough,” she said.

While researching her book, Ms. Lung discovered that residents of Changchun in the northeastern province of Jilin had not heard of the People’s Liberation Army’s five-month siege of that city in 1948, which resulted in between 150,000 and 650,000 people dying of starvation.

Instead, what they learn about in mainland Chinese history textbooks is the P.L.A.’s “great victory” when it “liberated” that city.

Mainland China is not the only side to edit its version of history.

The Kuomintang, which lost 470,000 troops in the northeastern battles and later fled to Taiwan, did not mention its defeat in the textbooks of Taiwan, either.

Ms. Lung wanted to tell this history through the tales or ordinary people.

She claims to make no political or moral judgment in her book. There is no “right side” or “wrong side” in the stories, she says. The Kuomintang troops, the People’s Liberation Army and the Taiwanese soldiers fighting for their Japanese colonial masters are given an equal hearing. To her, those individuals were just young people caught up in history.

“In this book I don’t care about who is on the right side, the victorious or the defeated side. I just want to show you that when you dismantle the apparatus of state, what’s inside are these individuals.”

Parts of Ms. Lung’s book also detail the stories of families amid wars and conflicts in the West, including the loving letters written by her German mother-in-law’s first husband before he died in a Soviet prisoner of war camp during World War II.

Ms. Lung said she included these because she wanted her Chinese readers to see their own history in perspective.

“Chinese people on both sides of the straits tend to see history from their own national scope,” she said. “But actually who is righteous or unrighteous? It’s a very complicated matter.”

“If we continue to be the unthinking cogs in a machine,” she said, “then how do you know whether these tragic misfortunes would not be repeated?”

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