THINKING OF MY FRIENDS – by Yuansan Chang – from Beijing – June 2020



Life is not complete without any one corner. With no family, life becomes “MEANINGLESS”. With no friends, life becomes “ FUNLESS “.

I have four good friends since I was 13 (from year 1944) . They (let me call them Z, Y, J and S) were all my classmates at the lower middle school we attended . Z was our leader. He was an ardent reader of novels and some “serious “ reading (on philosophy and economics) , He recommended those “out-of-school” books to us , and we met once every week at his home (he had a small living room for himself) to discuss what we read. Those books were mostly on “revolution”, and we all became “revolutionists” – but with no action except talks. 

We came from different social classes. I from a prosperous family (My Grandfather was a retired high government official and later the President of a University), Z and Y from medium middle-class, while J and S from lower status. We were cordial with each other – no “class-struggle” among us.

In 1947, my family sent me to America for higher education; we kept writing letters to each other. I was deeply moved by their letters. I still remember one letter from S, in which he wrote about working as an apprentice in a bookstore, one of his jobs was to deliver newspaper to subscribers. He described how he used to ride the bicycle under heavy rain and strong wind and felt proud and happy.

I returned to China in 1951, but we were still separated – S and I in Beijing, Z, Y and J in Shanghai, but we kept close contact. There were a few incidents I remember well :

When computers came, it was a luxury to own one at home. S (then the Editor-in-Chief of the China Youngsters Daily) bought one and asked me to help him on how to operate it. I happily agreed but then there was a period with no news. I was surprised and soon learned that his grandson (the only son of his only son) wanted to play games with it, and did not want to share it with his Grandfather. So till S’s death he couldn’t master a computer of his own.    

J’s father owned a small workshop with 4 weaving machines which he passed over to J. Under the new regime, the workshop produced cloth for public use with cotton supplied by the government. During the anti-corruption movement in 1952, one of his cousins falsely accused him of stealing government’s cotton so he was jailed and the cousin took over the shop. Though the court later found that he was wrongly accused, he still lost the shop and was out of job. He soon applied for a teaching job at a far-away western city in China. He was there for more than 20 years till he decided to return to Shanghai. Before he left, the whole school (teachers and students) came to the terminal to bid him good-bye. He was jobless when he returned (the anticipated workshop was already absorbed by some state enterprise). It was Y who introduced him to the Municipal Tourism School, where he served as a gatekeeper. The trainees (mostly local tourism officials) liked him very much and many invited him to tour in their cities. After he retired , he was taken care of by his two daughters. They provided him a living room with toilet and kitchen where he could have a peaceful life by himself. He passed away merrily at old age.

Y returned to his home city (in northern Jiangshu) after finishing lower middle-school. There he used his knowledge of the local conditions to serve as a guide for Communist cadres from Shanghai in danger of arrest after escape secretly into the “red” district. His guidance was so successful that it became the safest route available. After the new regime was set up , he returned to Shanghai and was later appointed the Director of the Municipal Tourism Bureau  He enjoyed reading my Memoirs and when he was hospitalised he asked me to translate the poem Remember (by Christina Georgina Rosetti) into Chinese which he recited wholly and carried it to his death.

Now only Z and I are left out of the Five – he in Shanghai and I in Beijing. He was appointed leader of the journalist team to Shanghai for the Peoples’s Daily and was quite popular with the articles he wrote on economic affairs. We have corresponded by letters, and each year we have met once or twice either in Shanghai or Beijing. Now he sends me his writings and some other articles he considers worth reading. We sometimes talk on the phone but my bad hearing limits its use.

I deeply enjoyed our friendship, because it made me feel life more meaningful. It opened to me the door to the outside world. The pleasure and regrets it offers make me feel life more colorful and worth living, more valuable and enjoyable – MORE FUN – than routine reading and traveling.