Zhu Huiling is the son of a Chinese woman
and an African-American
sailor. He was born in China amidst the chaos and confusion of
the Chinese Civil War. His mother lost track of his father when
Zhu was just an infant. Zhu's childhood was a difficult one.
Both he and his mother were taunted with racist and anti-American
insults. At age 12, Zhu found himself orphaned after his mother
died of pneumonia. Shortly thereafter, Zhu was sent to a
juvenile detention camp. He spent the next three decades moving
from one prison camp to another. Now, nearing his fiftieth
birthday, Zhu is reaching out to find the father he never knew.
The following is his story.
I still remember how jealous I was when I saw the other children going out with their fathers on Sundays and holidays. Because of my black skin, I was called "little black coal," "black half-breed" and "American little devil." I could never quite understand why the people in our community treated me so harshly. One day, I could not help asking my mother where my father was and why people treated me so badly. My mother cried and sobbed: "You are too young to understand that and I will tell you when you are older."
Ms. Lu Caidi and Liu Aihua, two of my mother's close friends, were among those who often visited my home when I was child. From their conversations with my mother, I constructed a thin sketch of my father. He was an African-American sailor in the American Navy. Because of my color, we, my mom and I, were always finger-pointed at by our neighbors. Very few people dared to show sympathy with us. Cold War tensions exacerbated the racist ill-treatment we received when the Chinese government launched propaganda campaigns against the United States such as the "Help Korea" and "Resist America" campaigns during the Korean War and the Suez Canal Crisis.
At age nine, I was summoned to my teacher's office for a serious conversation. He said: "You should feel very happy because you are growing up in the New China. Your father, as an oppressed African-American, is still living in hell." After that, I was required to write "American Navy" as my father's vocation in my personnel file. In this context of racial-oppression and anti- Americanism, my mother kept silent about my father.
In winter, 1961, my mother died of pneumonia when I was only twelve. She left me without telling me anything about my father. Maybe, she thought that it would be better not to tell me the truth at that time when everybody feared having anything to do with foreigners, especially Americans?
After my mother's death, my life became even worse. One year after my mother died, the director of our resident committee, accompanied by my neighbor, came to my home. With smiling faces, they asked me if I was willing to go to a place where I would have many other child friends and would not need to worry about food and clothing. After a lonely year of fending for myself, I immediately agreed.1 They asked me to report to the local police station two days later. On a chilly morning, January 25, 1962, with dreams of obtaining care from others, I came to the police station and found Comrade Yu. He called in a man-power cart and sent me to the Lu Wan Public Security Bureau. Two other children were waiting for me there. Later a jeep drove us to a juvenile correction center, located at 40 Caobao Road, Shanghai. At age thirteen, I began my thirty-years of labor camp life there.
In the correction center, I was assigned a inmate number of "10739," and was told that we would be called by number rather than name in the center. At the beginning, we loaded and unloaded bricks to and from steamships. Despite the promises of care and friendship, we were worked without rest.
On April 5, 1962, I, together with some five hundred other children, was sent to a labor camp located in Northern Jiangsu province, one hundred miles away from my hometown of Shanghai. We worked in the agricultural fields during the daytime and slept on the floor in night. I was transferred among different camps in the following two years. On September 27, 1964, an officer named Zheng called me in and told me that I served up my sentence and was released according to the party's policy: "You are a citizen of the People's Republic of China from now on," he declared, "However, you will be kept in this labor camp. You should work hard and live well. You will have a salary and can leave for home once a year upon getting approval. For the rest of the year, you will not be allowed to go out of the camp without official approval." I was not paid even a penny when I had worked during my first two years of labor camp life. After that, I was paid some seventeen yuan (roughly $ 4.50) per month.
My life stayed the same until the second half of 1968 when the Red Guard, a radical Maoist organization formed during the Cultural Revolution, came to my labor camp. Myself and approximately one hundred other inmates were sent to a concentration camp where we were subjected to Red Guard "education," beaten, forced to confess to crimes and to denounce others. Some of the inmates began to escape. From the other prisoners, I learned how to live by theft and plotted my own escape.
On June 29, 1973, I was sentenced to five years imprisonment for stealing, and released on June 28, 1978. Once again, I was kept in the labor camps even though I had served out my term. I could not stand life in the labor camps, and escaped. In Shanghai, several of my friends and I tried to break into a house but encountered the owner coming home. For this, I was sentenced to seven years imprisonment and was sent to a remote labor camp far away from Shanghai.
On January 26, a fight among inmates broke out. Several people involved in the fighting were later sentenced to death. I was sentenced for another seven year term even though I was not involved in the fight. I appealed and got my sentence reduced by two years. Even the judge decided that the evidence for charges was not sufficient, but the court wouldn't overturn the findings of the first court. Anyway, considering the then harsh policy dealing with crime, reducing the sentence in my case was considered a miracle.2
In May, 1991, I was finally released from the labor camp where I had spent most of my life. I returned to my hometown in 1991, and went everywhere to look for a job. Because of my past experience and mixed color, I could not find a job. I began to think that I could make a living as a peddler. However, my application for a peddler's license was turned in over five years ago and I still haven't received a response. I have lost hope of ever finding a way to live in China. I know that I cannot escape the bad fate of people's racist reactions to my mixed blood.
Looking for My Father:
As I mentioned, all I know of my father came from overhearing conversations between my mother and her friends when I was a child. My mother did not leave me any valuable clue about my father's identity. I do not remember how many nights when I was serving my terms in the endless fields, that I stared at the cluster of stars and moon in clear sky of summer nights and vowed to find my father.
Even when I was still in jail, I never stopped looking for my father. In 1979, I was excited hearing the news that the United States and China had established a formal diplomatic relationship, ending thirty-years of hostility. I wrote to the Municipal government of Shanghai for help finding my father, and got a response that the American government would soon set up a Consulate in Shanghai and that I would get help from the American side. To get more detailed information about my father, I started to investigate by taking the opportunity of once-a-year leave from the labor camp. I went back to the place where my mother met with my father, 219 Wu Chan Road. Through residents, I found witnesses of my parents meeting, Mr. & Mrs Huang and Ms Lu Caidi, one of my mother's close friends. I was told as follows: My father's first name is Jimmy. The navy ship which my father worked in was called "Dalai" alike in Chinese. It moored often in the harbor called "Gonghexiang Road Harbor"(then American navy base and now No.5 tier of Shanghai Port). My mother became pregnant soon after my parents fell into love. Initially my father did not know that my mother already had me because he was away at sea. After his return, he became excited by the news of my birth. He asked my mother to go with him because the war between the Nationalist government and the Communist troops was turning worse. One day, he told my mother that his ship would leave China and might not be back for some time. He then asked my mother to go to the United States. My mother feared traveling the seas with a baby and didn't want to leave her hometown, so she refused to go. She told my father that she would be fine and that they would reunite when the whole situation calm down. My father could not change my mother's mind and left my mother some money before he shipped out.
At the beginning, my mother occasionally received letters and packages from my father. Soon the mail became rare and finally the communication between them was totally severed. As everybody knows, China and the United States fell into the cold war during the next thirty years. My mother and I suffered a lot for the souring relationship between these two countries. During these years, Chinese people tried their best to avoid any connection with the United States, and rarely dared to find their relatives or family members in the States. When I had grown up a little bit, I came to understand my mother's reluctance to tell me anything about my African-American father. Under the political circumstances of the time, it could only bring me more suffering.
In 1980, I read in the newspaper that an American Consulate had been established in Shanghai. I could not do anything at that time because I was detained at the Number One Detention Center of Shanghai. In 1988, I read in the newspaper about how the Vietnam-American offspring had been accepted by the United States. This raised my hopes of finding my father. I entrusted one of my friends to send a letter out to the American consular. Soon after, I received a letter both in Chinese and English from the Consulate, signed by the then general consular, through the prison authority. It was very polite but demanded that I provide my birth place and date, my mother's birth place and date, my father's birth date and place, and his navy unit's name. Of course, I could not provide all this information.
After finally getting out of jail, I went to the Shanghai American Consulate several times and asked them help me to find my father. The persons receiving me evaded my questions every time and asked me go home and wait. I never heard from them again. I knew that it would be difficult to find a navy soldier serving on an American ship nearly fifty years ago in China, however, what I could not understand is why the hearts of these people were so cold and lacked incentive to help a person with a life full of miseries like me. I have suffered so much and could not in a few pages tell you my whole life story of living in different labor camps scattered among sparsely populated, remote and barren lands. Now that half of my life is over, the most important goal in the rest of my life is to find my father or his relatives.
1. Thirteen years later when I was interrogated in a small room of a public security bureau, I found in my personal files that I had been sent to the juvenile correction center for stealing clothes from the neighbor. What a big lie! Finally, I knew that my neighbor was so eager to acquire the room that I was living that she made up the whole story.
2. During "Crack Down Crime" Campaign in 1980's, usually, the second instance court would uphold the sentence by the first instance, even though the judgment contained an obvious error.
If you can offer Zhu any assistance in locating his family members please contact:
Ping Yu at: firstname.lastname@example.org
HRIC at: email@example.com
Human Rights in China
485 Fifth Avenue, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10017
United States of America
Telephone: (212) 661-2909
Facsimile: (212) 972-0905
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