During my vacation, I had the pleasure of reading two memoir articles written by my father. It left me deeply moved. As time passes, memories tend to fade away, and the collective memory of society fades even more quickly. The official histories often focus on the nobility and high-ranking officials, leaving behind the tales of common people. Without being recorded, these stories and moments disappear without a trace.

My family name is Jin, and we are of Han ethnicity, not descended from the Korean or Manchu ethnic groups. Our genealogy can be traced back to Linghu, Huzhou during the reign of Qianlong and Jiaqing. Our lineage in Linghu was established by our ancestor who migrated from Huizhou. He had links with the Wang family, and before his resignation from government service, he brought his entire family of over three hundred people to Linghu, passing on the ancestral motto: “One can read books, but cannot serve as an official.”

As it turns out, our family has not produced an official since then. The pursuit of knowledge continued uninterrupted through the years of war and migration.

The wars at the end of the Ming Dynasty and the beginning of the Qing Dynasty caused a sharp decline in the population, leading to the migration of people from Yun-Gui, Hakka, Guangdong, Guangxi, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang to Sichuan. One branch of the Jin family settled and did business in Guang’an City, near Chongqing.

The city is renowned for its two famous figures: Deng Xiaoping and the warlord Yang Sen.

Initially, Yang Sen was considered a patriotic general and had participated in the defense against Yuan Shikai, the rebellion in Wanxian, and the resistance against Japan in the bloody and gruesome Shanghai Songhu and Changsha battles.

The Sichuan Army was known to be poorly equipped but fierce in battle. Among the Yang family generals, Yang Gancai, who later became the commander of the 20th Unit, was the most impressive. His connection with my grandfather led to the subsequent fifty-year long migration of the whole Jin family.

Heroes are often subject to bias in military history, and it is rare to find individuals who know about Yang Gancai, though he is considered one of the most outstanding generals of the Kuomintang army.

His division fought and won against Huaye-1 and Huaye-4, who were triumphant under the command of Zhang Lingfu after “July’s Division of Soldiers.” In the following battle of Queshan, with a much weaker force, he defeated the three brigades led by Chen Gong, Liu Yuzhang(all under the command of Su Yu General), who are the war gods of CCP. Such a miraculous victory is hard to fathom.

Perhaps, in a show of mutual respect between heroes, after Yang was killed in Crossing the Yangtze River Campaign,the CCP army also showed Yang Gancai’s body due reverence and allowed his bodyguards to accompany his coffin to its final resting place.

After graduating from Peking University in 1926, my grandfather returned to his hometown and became involved in education. He served as the principal of Jialing High School (now Nanchong High School) for three years. Yang Sen also emphasized the importance of education in his hometown, and at that time, Guang’an’s overall level of education was considered first-rate within Sichuan.

Later, for reasons unknown to me, my grandfather left the field of education and focused on running a candy shop.

As I read my father’s description of the bustling main street, the center of Guang’an’s prosperity, I began to understand why.

During market days, the streets were adorned with colorful decorations, and people from the city and countryside alike exchanged goods and sat together to enjoy the local cuisine. Year-round, people lived happily and bonded over their shared experiences.

Tianhe Candy Shop was once a prominent establishment in Guang’an, boasting four storefronts and more than ten employees. It was known for its high-quality specialties such as peach slices, dried melon strips, sesame seed cakes, lo han guo (monk fruit) cakes, and mooncakes, which enjoyed a considerable reputation in Guang’an at that time.

My grandfather was ranked seventh among his peers and was known as “Old Seven,” while my great-grandfather was ranked fourth in the family. Our branch of the family resided in the Jin family compound on the main street of Guang’an. Another larger branch (my great-grandfather’s siblings) resided in the Jin family garden in the northern part of the city. This story seems to resemble the rivalry between the Rong and Ning mansions of Dream of the Red Chamber. The Jin family in Guang’an was abundant and populous until the 1970s when the Jin family garden was still extant. But since then, much has changed.

In the 1940s, my grandfather helped Yang Gancai expand his sugar business, which eventually spread to the Yangtze River and Jialing River basins, including Chongqing, Neijiang, and Qu County.

However, after liberation, the candy store became state-owned, and “illegal gains” were required to be returned. Our family was left impoverished, and putting food on the table became our greatest challenge.

My grandfather had ten children, all of my father’s siblings. They faced extreme hardship in our hometown. My eldest sister passed away aged 25 due to illness resulting from poverty.

In Chongqing, a teacher who worked as a doctor provided my grandfather with a medical certificate to seek treatment elsewhere, and he was transported to Chongqing. Later, my grandfather was arranged by friends to teach at a mining school in Xuanhua, Hebei. He passed away shortly after.

The nine siblings, aged ten to twenties, still struggled to put food on the table, and they adopted the method of self-help prescribed in the ancestral rules: reading.

After liberation in 1949, when college education became free, and students received financial aid, they graduated with assigned jobs.

It is not surprising that they, hailing from a family of scholars, one by one escaped hunger through the college entrance examination.

My father was the youngest and was the last to leave Guang’an. He “starved” himself into the college entrance examination at the age of sixteen and was admitted, providing a ticket to a decent life.

My father said that when he was in school, teachers genuinely wielded the cane, and discipline was harsh. When his hands became swollen from the beatings, he dared not tell his family; he applied oil secretly, but it was of no use. Thinking back, these memories remained vivid after seventy years. I could not help but feel that respecting the tradition of teachers punishing students physically might have been sensible in some ways.

After graduating from college and beginning work, Jin family members scattered throughout the country. This was the thousand miles migration mentioned at the beginning of the article, extending from as far as Ningxia and Xinjiang to as near as Hebei, Henan, Beijing, and Tianjin, and they contributed greatly as the first generation of intellectuals fostered after liberation to the nation’s development.

However, none of them returned to settle in their hometown.

The Jin family likely has longevity genes, and despite the hardships they faced due to their poor backgrounds, the siblings who were born before liberation and struggled with hunger lived into their eighties and nineties. It is only regrettable that my father lost his last two brothers last December of COVID attack in China.

In the long march of history, countless people’s stories have been forgotten or rewritten, leaving only a few legends and names. However, it is precisely these forgotten stories that become a valuable window for us to gain insight into history and culture.

Although the mighty flow of the era is merciless, precious words and records still carry our emotions and memories and serve as the link of inheritance.

Time is like fine sand that we cannot grasp. However, no matter how hard we try to hold on, it will still slip through our fingers little by little.

After the tumultuous roar of the era had settled, and the molten lava of time had hardened layer by layer, we were able to perceive the stark countenances of both nature and society.