A tribute to resilience and resistance on Mother’s Day

My mother passed away in November 2020 at the age of 77 in Colorado. Her life in China was so tragic, and it took me time to write about her life and death because I had to confront the complex feelings and meaning of her legacy.

I loved my mother for her kind and gentle soul. She was meek, although often in ways I did not understand: bulliable, submissive, and conflict-averse. Her interactions with Chinese Communist Party officials were characterized by obedience and tolerance of their inhumane treatment of people like herself. I am haunted by a childhood memory of when she got on her knees and begged a CCP official for a raise at her factory job. She sacrificed her dignity only to be cruelly denied.

My mother’s legacy is one of defiance. It began with a cry that defied death, lived through compassion that defied pain, and endures in me.

I used to assume I was entirely my father’s child. He was a fighter whose strength was like the factory steel he helped produce: firm, resilient, and tough. I spent my life assuming that my defiant nature was the product of my father. Now I am not so sure.

In an unremarkable village in Penshan County, Sichuan Province, China, a sickly child cursed by fate was born prematurely. Her mother believed her too weak to survive and left her to die in peace, yet the child refused. Fighting through labored breathing, she produced a cry so loud and enduring that her mother could no longer ignore it. She fed that night and would live to see the morning.

The child who defied a peaceful death for a difficult life was my mother.

Growing up poor with an elementary education and introverted personality, she resigned herself to a life of labor in a state-run factory in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. The oppression of her social condition was matched by her physicality: at 4’9″, she was frail and severely nearsighted. Despite this, she won the love and adoration of my father, an illiterate orphan whom she married and blessed with three children.

Raising children under Mao’s regime was an arduous burden. We lived in a primitive worker’s row house sharing one restroom and faucet with eight other families. We were literally dirt-poor; our mud floor would sprout mushrooms after flooding. We barely survived on food rationing coupons from the government. Despite all this, my mother’s heart never hardened. She was known for approaching beggars in the street with small gifts and the words: “Buddha bless you!” Her generosity defied the cruelty of her reality.

Amid a very hard life, she found happiness in music (which she only sang after a little Chinese moonshine). She was elegant, clean, and loved pretty, pink clothing, which was frowned upon under Mao’s regime. Using what little money she saved to buy pink fabrics was a small act of defiance against Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

Happiness was often short-lived, however, as she was ill most of the time and required frequent care in the decrepit state-run local hospitals, a product of socialized medicine. While undergoing surgery in the 1980s, she received a blood transfusion infected with syphilis that was discovered a decade later when I brought my mother to the United States in 1995. Despite a course of antibiotics, her brain had already suffered the consequences of neurosyphilis. She displayed signs of dementia at the age of 59.

Though she was ill, America offered my mother a degree of peace, even if it was momentary. She and my father converted to Christianity and lived peacefully, attending a Chinese church every Sunday. In the end, her advanced dementia collided with COVID-19, and after being hospitalized, she died alone in November 2020.

My mother’s legacy is one of defiance. It began with a cry that defied death, lived through compassion that defied pain, and endures in me. This revelation testifies to the miracle of God’s design — subtle, yet purposeful. God imbues in each of us a part of his divine essence. For my mother, she bore the suffering and submission to pain that Christ knew; not out of weakness, but out of love for her family, so that they would survive. She embraced God’s Word that we defy evil not through the hardening of our hearts, but through turning the other cheek and committing to compassion.

Happy Mother’s Day. I hope all the mothers in the world never suffer or endure my mother’s tragic fate under communism.

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