Love Met East and West
by Nili Qian
Can love really be defined? In China I never heard people speak publicly of “love” nor did I ever give it any thought. When I came to the U.S., I watched American parents kiss their children goodbye and say “I love you.” My parents and other relatives never said this to me—but I never doubted their love. They lived out their love for me every day through their support and protection. I learned much about love from their example...and later I came to know much more about love from my Heavenly Father.
The Color of Blood
I grew up in a poor village where both my parents worked as physicians. The area was so poor that the villagers had only one match per day to light the fire to cook all their meals. Salt was too ostly to buy, so a spicy pepper was used to make food tasty. Many villagers suffered physical disabilities due to lack of proper nutrition. I never saw any kind of fruit until I went to live with my grandpa at the age of ten.
The Cultural Revolution was coming to an end about the time I was born. Shortly after my birth, the government sent my father to a labor camp to build a reservoir in order to “retrain his mind.” This action occurred because of “Blood Theory,” a philosophy that dominated China’s way of thinking during this time. In “Blood Theory” the “bad” or “Black Blood” referred to people who were landlords, rich merchants, anti-revolutionists, evil people, or “right- wing” people. Since both of my parents’ grandparents were landlords and business people, we were considered to have “Black Blood.” Because of this, after my parents completed their medical training, they were sent to work in one of the nation’s poverty regions, the village where I grew up.
The incident that resulted in my father being sent to the labor camp happened three days after my birth. Some “Red Blood” people found a tiny fingernail print on one of Chairman Mao’s pictures. This finding caused huge chaos and people began searching for the person who had done such a thing. They blamed “Dr. Luo’s daughter”— me, a three-day-old baby! My father had to work for one whole year to build the reservoir and spend three months in jail as punishment for this fingernail print.
Comfort amid Fear
As a child, my life was filled with fears. Since we lived in the hospital, almost every night someone would come pounding on the door crying, “Dr. Luo, save the life of my....” Then I would awake and see ghostly images in the room. I would hold my grandma’s tiny bound feet with all my might, trembling until her soft murmuring voice put me back to sleep.
Our family was allotted a certain amount of food: six pounds of rice for each child and 22 pounds for the parents. Half of the rice could be cooked at the hospital dining hall; the other half was cooked at home. Both morning and night, we would wait in line to get some porridge from the dining hall. Each time, if “good” people showed up, they would cut in line in front of us. Often when our turn came, there was nothing much left in the pot. They would just add more water to the porridge, and that would be our family meal.
School was something I loved, but the first day of school when my classmates found out my heritage, they would tease me, chanting “cat’s child is cat, mice’s child knows how to dig a hole.... dragon’s child is dragon and phoenix’s is phoenix. YOU ONLY know how to dig a hole like your parents!” All I could do was lower my head and wish I really could dig a hole and hide in it.
I often played with children from“good” families, but if “good” people’s children got unhappy with us, their parents would complain, and my parents would have to give them a food ticket and apologize. One day my youngest brother was playing with another boy in the sand. Accidentally, some sand went into the other boy’s eyes. Both of my parents were out visiting patients in the mountains. After sunset, the furious father and his son showed up in front of my house with a sharp knife in his hand, screaming and saying he was going to cut my brother’s eyeballs out. We were all so scared and quickly hid my three-year-old brother under the bed. My old grandma knelt down in front of the man, handed him all the food tickets for that month, and begged him to take her eyeball out instead. The memory of this is still so vivid—my grey-hair grandma with her forehead bleeding from knocking her head on the floor as she begged. What a huge humiliation this was for our family. The man took the food tickets and one pound of powdered sugar which our family was saving for a special occasion and left.
My dear grandma always tried her best to protect us and to reduce fears in our life. She would tell us that some day our lives would have no fear. She told us in secret that the most valuable thing in the world was to know how to read and write. She told us stories about the great scholars, taught us poems by memory, and always encouraged us to write, even with a stick in the sand or our finger, dipped in water, on the cement.
The Sacrifice of Love
My parents wanted to give their children a chance to improve their standing in life, so they provided the best education possible. When I was ten years old I attended a one-room elementary school. Then when other girls my age quit school to work in the field or marry early, my parents sent me to live with my grandpa in the city to attend high school. I went with one pair of nice pants, two sets of sweaters, and one huge winter jacket. My mother told me to study hard so I could become a college student and be treated like a “Daughter of the Heaven.” She assured me being separated from my family would prepare me to become the best college student.
At night, my grandpa would wash my clothes and in the winter time he used his body temperature to dry my clothes so that I could wear them. Food was sometimes scarce in those days, but I felt content, because I believed that some day, like my mother said, I would be a college student and I could have anything I wished for.
With hard work and grandpa tutoring me at home, I became a star pupil every year in school. In the summer of 1984, I was the only student out of four-hundred high school students in my town to get admitted to college. My parents were very happy and received various gifts from their friends and the community. They threw a feast for all my proud teachers, and my name was posted on big red paper in the town hall. Despite this great honor in the eyes of my arents and community, I felt discontent. The college I was accepted to was not a prestigious one—and I felt I needed to give my parents the very best!
Successful, yet Empty
In my college years, I really excelled. My grades were the highest of the entire campus, so my parents pushed me to try to become a communist party member—something they could never achieve because of their heritage. When I was the only one of ten thousand students chosen as a party member, my parents were very proud. Not only did it bring honor to the family, but they believed that by being a member of the party, my future life would be free of fears, and I would always be protected—living under the “big red umbrella.”
By the time I was twenty, I entered graduate school in one of the most prestigious universities in Shanghai. I chose to study philosophy, focusing on Marxism and education, which was a hot field of study in China at that time. By 1996, I had become a professor, the youngest in the province, and was selected the “model” teacher. Later a full professorship was offered me and various awards began to come to me. Papers I wrote were published in key journals selected by the Bureau of Central Education in Beijing, and I was sometimes interviewed on T.V. But though I was experiencing success in my career, I cautiously went about my life and job, careful not to make mistakes that might ruin my future. I was even too afraid to ask for leave to be with my grandma when she passed away or to serve her while she was feeling pain—a regret I have to this day.
Discontentment and unhappiness began to dog my steps. I wanted desperately to figure out the true meaning of life. I studied ancient philosophies like Buddhism and Marxism, the life story of Chairman Mao, and other great heroes in history, trying to learn something for my life. However, the more I learned, the more I sought perfection, in myself and others. My mother often asked me, “Why are you so unhappy? You have all the things other people dream of.”
In 1997, however, my life story changed, and I came to know God, and to hear Jesus My Savior say, “I will give you living water so that you will never thirst again.” That year I was invited to teach at a private college in the United States and conduct research with American families who had adopted Chinese children. I interviewed over 20 families, and found that Christian families were different from any I had ever met, and their children’s behavior followed patterns I agreed with. As a result, I started to read the Bible to try to understand the philosophies of western families. I scanned the whole Bible three times, but it did not make any sense to me. It only served for my research context. I assumed hristianity was like opium, a happy medicine for those families.
On Easter 1998, I was invited to the Amherst Chinese Christian Fellowship to witness some Chinese students being baptized. I was collecting information for a paper I was writing so I was given permission to videotape the Chinese new-born Christians. As I did this, I was privately thinking that these Chinese students were so naïve.
One person’s testimony, however, shocked me. He was a retired professor from China, my father’s age, with a way of speech much like my father. He shared that he had become a Christian in China before 1949, but he had never had a chance to get baptized. Now that he was visiting his son in college, he wanted to be baptized so he could follow God’s wonderful plan. As I looked at this gentle man’s calm face, gray hair, and his tears, I knew he was speaking truth from his heart.
On the way back to the campus, a well-known young doctor from South China offered me a ride. When I asked why she had given up an honored position in the medical program in China, she just smiled and said God had something better for her. She told me God is like a Heavenly Father who blesses His children in many ways. This was the first time I had heard the phrase “Heavenly Father,” and it bothered me that I did not know what it meant.
The following week, I planned to ask Sister Mao, a Christian whose office was close to mine. I sneaked in during lunch time and asked her in Chinese what the meaning of “Heavenly Father” was. She said she would explain to me after work. It was Wednesday, April 15, 1998, at 4:00 p.m., in the social science office, that Sister Mao told me the whole story about Heavenly Father. She told me that He knew me, even the number of hairs on my head, and would guide me with His words. She told me how much Heavenly Father had to suffer by sacrificing His only Son to provide the best for me. She explained that all our sin comes from our ancestors’ one mistake of disobeying Father. The best part of all she told me was that I could become Heavenly Father’s daughter. I could hardly believe such a great thing possible! I knew my father on earth loved me very much, but he had limited abilities. But Heavenly Father was a perfect, wise Father with unlimited ability. I was eager to be His daughter!
Love and Abundant Life
After I came to know the love of God, my entire perspective on career and family changed. I understood that children are a precious gift from God and felt led to pursue doctoral studies in early childhood education. As a result, I was able to complete a project involving orphans in China. Later, as I continued to pursue God’s will, I found a job at a private Christian college, where I currently have the joy of working alongside other Christian professors. Being engulfed in the perfect love of my Heavenly Father has removed all fear from my life, because His love “drives away fear.” He has also “made known to me the path of life and filled me with joy in His presence, with eternal pleasures at His right hand” (Psalm 16:1). Each day of my life I find that God loves in a very detailed, abundant way! I look forward to some day seeing Him in His glory and thanking Him for all He has done for me.
(Nili Luo currently is working as a professor of Early Chilhood Education in the USA.)