Peking Story: The Last Days of Old China
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In 1949, soon after the arrival of communism, David Kidd's Chinese fiancee, the daughter of an ancient Mandarin family, telephoned to say that her father was dying and that they must marry immediately. At first the couple was able to continue their privileged lifestyle, a remnant of an old and exquisite culture. But the new proletariat was rapidly suppressing the ancient traditions. Spies watched them from the roof, then confiscated their sets of mahjong; an aunt was sent on a mission to re-educate prostitutes; and the family's final magnificent party was invaded by the police. Eventually their entire way of life, and the thousand-year-old culture on which it was based, was destroyed by the totalitarian regime.
symbolizing a grief so deep as to make him unable to see. Although actually he could see, and could walk quite well, ceremony demanded that he be supported on either side by attendants. Every ten feet, he knelt on a cushion placed before him by an attendant, knocked his head on the ground three times, and wailed. He would then be helped to his feet and taken forward another ten feet. Behind the family, at a pace respectfully — and necessarily — slow, came the several hundred guests. They, too,
the rest. Nothing’s tasted right for weeks.” I’m afraid I was being callous, but I was growing weary of not living with my wife, and of the suffocating clouds of incense and the smell of burning paper that constantly filled the house. A tremendous number of ingots of gold paper were still being burned for Mr. Yu, and I wondered what the old man could possibly be doing with all that gold, and whether it was absolutely necessary that he take the very flavor out of my mouth. “Please, Aimee,” I
the great square, and found that we had a good, if distant, view of the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Beyond the southeast wall of the plaza we could see dimly the spires of churches, lights in the upper windows of the Wagons-Lits Hotel, and the black frame of the radio tower of the American consulate — landmarks of the old Foreign Legation Quarter. Thousands of people were moving into the plaza and other thousands were filing out of it. The military parade had just ended, the driver told us, and the
starched bands removed, Mr. Hsiao was an old and ordinary looking man. Amused at my surprise, Aimee wrote out her address and invited me to tea a few days later, where I learned that she could play the violin, had studied gypsy dancing — complete with tambourine — from White Russians in Peking, knew classical Chinese dance, and, to my surprise, had majored in chemistry at the university. I also discovered that she was the fourth daughter of the former Chief Justice of the Chinese Supreme Court.
have enough money to make repairs and pay taxes at the same time. Under a new monthly levy introduced by the Communists, houses were being taxed by size on an increasing scale; that is, the larger the house, the more disproportionately large the tax. Since the Yu mansion was so huge, the tax reached — for the impoverished Yu clan, anyway — a staggering sum. “There isn’t much use in paying taxes on a house that’s falling down.” Aunt Chin sniffed. “I’ve told you more times than I can remember that