Selected Modern Chinese Essays: The Land of My Ancestors

◎ Bing Xin

The River mouth at dawn,

Behind a white haze of mist.

‘Tis southern climes,

Behold, the rain is coming.

I’ve seen the blue sea all along,

Little aware of this green River.

O the land of my ancestors!

—Sparkling Stars, 156

Fuzhou of Fujian Province will always be my old home. Though I was brought up elsewhere, Fuzhou is nonetheless the land of my ancestors!

As yet, I have been back to Fuzhou no more than twice in my lifetime. I made the first trip in the winter of 1911. Returned from the bitter cold North with its drab and dried up vegetation, I was amazed and delighted when greeted by the charming scenery of sapphire mountains and emerald rivers as well as red flowers and green leaves. I felt the sailing boat of my life steering its way into the green River after leaving the blue sea behind. At the Minjiang River, we changed from the big ship to a small boat, which took us to Daqiaotou (Big Bridge), where we were met by Uncle and cousins. They gathered round us and talked warmly with my parents in the local dialect. Thereupon, my 5-year-old younger brother whispered in my ear with a Shandong accent, “How come they can all speak the Fuzhou dialect?” We had both thought that the Fuzhou dialect was indeed most difficult for anyone to learn.

From then on, we lived an urban life for more than a year in Fuzhou. During such festivals as Lunar New Year, Lantern, Dragon Boat and Mid-Autumn, we all celebrated the festivities with plenty of food and fun. Particular mention, however, should be made of the Lantern Festival when Nanhoujie, the street known for its lantern fair and also the street where we lived, became as bright as broad daylight at night with myriads of lanterns and streams of spectators. The splendor and magnificence of the scene is beyond all description.

I made the second visit in 1956, also in winter. As the Yingtan-Xiamen Railway had not yet been built, the NPC delegation, with myself as a member, had to go from Jiangxi Province by car. The highway from Jiangxi to Fuzhou, paved with red soil, was as smooth as a mirror. It was the most level soil-paved highway I had ever seen. This time I visited not only Fuzhou, but also Zhangzhou, Quanzhou, Xiamen and Gulangyu — the southern frontiers of our country. At the Xiamen seaside, I could see clearly through a telescope pedestrians and cows on the Quemoy Islands.

My experiences of this trip, however, are too numerous to be recounted one by one here. Anyway, I deeply love Fuzhou, my ancestral home. Over there we have the typical southern scenery with blue mountains, green waters, limpid brooks…! There in the courtyard we can always see some kind of flower in full bloom throughout the year. Fruits ranging from loquats, lichees, longans to tangerines are in plenty. Is there anything more palatable to a little child than these fruits?

I did not visit all the local attractions in Fuzhou. Everywhere we could find historical relics as well as villages and towns inhabited by relatives of overseas Chinese and returned overseas Chinese. Fujianese expatriates are found all over the world. They have mostly started from scratch by the sweat of their brow. When I met some of them on my visits to Asian, African, European and American countries, they all expressed warm feeling towards me while shaking my hand. As I ate Fuzhou food and sipped jasmine tea in their homes or shops, I felt that being a Fujianese, I could make myself at home wherever I travelled in the world.

My ancestral home is so endearing. Whenever I meet somebody hailing from Fuzhou or a friend who has recently been there, I always inquire of them about the present conditions in Fujian. They all tell me that compared with two decades ago, Fujian has made so much progress that it is now almost beyond recognition. Recently I have learned that people there have gone in for scientific farming and afforestation so that green and luxuriant vegetation has appeared on all mountains and fields. People have been advising me to pay another visit to my old home. Yes, I am more than eager to do so. And so are my numerous fellow townsmen in all corners of the world. I hope that together with all the people in my home town as well as all overseas Chinese from Fujian, I can do my bit to make a still better place of my ancestral home, both materially and culturally.