Posted By Min Yi on January 2, 2010
My grandfather was imprisoned and sent to hard labor for “reeducation” in Northwest China for 18 years after China became a Communist regime. He was father to six children; the youngest was 3 months old when he was sentenced. His crime: he was a bank manager. He was one of many thousands of Chinese people who were considered counter-revolutionaries, along with doctors, educators and landowners. Some were released after a short time but many died from the conditions they endured, lacking in nutrition and family support.
He was released in 1976, the year Chairman Mao died. In most pictures, his eyes are sunken with deep lines on his face, evidence of the years of misuse. What kept him alive, I could only imagine, was hope. Two years after his release, I was born. He had the opportunity to enjoy my infancy as if it was his second chance. He named me Su Min Yi.
I always had a general idea what it meant but it wasn’t until recently that I looked up the name in the Oxford Chinese Dictionary.
“Su” means to revive or become conscious again. The character is a combination of vegetable shoots, a fish and grain. “Min” means sensitive or clarity. Yi means ceremony, ritual or human relationships. I stared at the words for a long time. It made so much sense to every cell in my body.
Despite losing his life and family in the prime of his life, he found reason to live and time to love. The power of a government, the wealth of a few individuals and the invisible weight of loyalty or duty is nothing — NOTHING — compared to the perseverance of the human spirit.
When I see light in people, I am at peace. When I see pain, sadness or anger in people, I am at peace too because I know there is something valuable there. What we choose to do with it is a choice. The Dalai Lama was once asked, who is your greatest teacher. Mao Zedong, he replied.