“I dreamed of having a bicycle” an interview in Beijing, August 2015

I met Mr. W through my Chinese teacher. I asked her to help me getting in touch with some elderly Chinese people with whom I could have a chat about their past and their view on the present and future. Mr. W is 65 years old, retired and speaks very good English (he used to live in Austria for a few years). 

Mr W.: We had a difficult time when I was young. I don’t know if you have heard about it but in the 1970s we had the Cultural Revolution. I was a student in middle school, but we had no time to study, we had to go to the countryside. The government sent us to the countryside, so we had to stop going to school. No time to study at school at that time. Every student, every young boy/girl, the government asked us to go to the countryside to be a farmer. Everyone should go for 5 years. I was there for 4,5 years. In my personal opinion I think there was something wrong to tell the students to stop school and go to the countryside. But now it is better. The living standards now are also much better than what they have been like. Now we have enough food. At that time we did not have enough food. We did not have any bread or meat at that time. When I was a farmer in the countryside I was often very hungry. The first year in the countryside was OK but the second year we started suffering from hunger. I was in a small city in a rural area, 3000 km away from Beijing and we did not have enough money to buy the train tickets back to our hometown Beijing. During my time in the countryside I only went once back to my hometown Beijing. But now there are quite a lot of choices in terms of food and places to live – much better. But I don’t mean everything is good now. Now we have several other problems. But the living standards did go up very clearly. My son now is 30 years old. Everything for him is much better than what it was for me. You know, they have a car now but when I was a student at that time we don’t even have a bicycle. I dreamed of having a bicycle but we didn’t have enough money to buy it. And my son they have a car now, it is different from my generation to my son’s. 30 years ago to now things have changed a lot. But now we have the problem of pollution, sometimes a problem with the government, we would like to be more involved in government’s decisions. The political system in China is quite different to other systems around the world. Now we would like to make more contribution to the government. We have a Committee, you know, the People”s Committee, they have an annual meeting. I think it is better to get the ideas from the bottom (grassroot) than from the top. Where I live we don’t even know what is going to happen tomorrow. Sometimes they (the government) just built a new road quickly and we don’t even know. Then we wake up and all of a sudden the market or supermarket is gone. The people here are retired (in the park), they are happy here, singing and dancing but they also want to do something for the community or society. But so far this is not really possible yet. There are two problems here. One is that the people here are not interested enough in elections and on the other side the system of the government does not include the people – they separate the people and the government. And sometimes also the communication is not so good. So we have some problems here. The problem is the pollution, expensive accommodation – so many people come from the countryside. Beijing is a “hot” place – people want to come here. They are looking for a better job, nice room but it is not the right way. Because too many people come here, we don’t even have enough water here. They have to get the water from 3000 km away from somewhere, they built a canal so they have to get the water from 3000km away, because we don’t have enough water to feed the people. It is not good. It is not the right way. I understand that the people (from the countryside) want to come here but I think it is not the right way. Too many people here. The people should move to the right place. You have to follow the nature, not nature follow them. You have to go to where the rivers are flowing, to the bottom of a mountain. Here is is very dusty

ME: What do you think should young people do differently then? What is their challenge now? What should happen in young people’s mind so that they do things differently, for the better hopefully?

Mr. W.: Sometimes I think we have a problem here. We have a problem because of the 1 family, 1 child policy. So for instance me,I have one (child). They have only one child. They enjoy the life without any difficulties. In my generation we had a lot of trouble and difficulties to overcome but the young generation because they are the only child, several older people take care of only one child. They take care too much. So the child believes everything should be like this: like nice clothes, everything they want to have. They have never been in a difficult situation. They have a very good childhood, they have a good education, better life –  but they need some normal life. In my opinion they should have the ability to find a job, to earn money, make their own money. Sometimes the parents give them a lot of money, they don’t know how to make money themselves. It is not good. It is an old tradition of the Chinese that the older generation loves the next generation very much. So the young generation sometimes when they meet difficulties they have not enough ability to overcome these. It is a problem. So my generation we have 4 children. So we live independently because at that time we have many difficulties. We don’t have enough food, we have to try and find the food. We have to help my mother to do some things. But now even when they are 30 years old, everything the mother does. It is not good. The young people enjoy and take some benefit from the old ones. It is natural. Too many old people look after one young person. Too much. They don’t have a good way to change this behaviour. So I think there is a problem with the young generation. They are not brave and not independent. So next time we have a problem in the country, inside or outside, they need some ability and knowledge to shoulder the future. If you suffer difficulties you will be strong, if you overcome some difficulties you become stronger. But the younger generation they have no problems, they are weak. Not strong enough. Because they have a very easy life. Maybe it will be a problem for China 30 years later. I love my son very much. He is a good man. My life & my career and my son”s are very different. In 30 years there was a lot of change. 30 years ago it was a disaster. We didn’t even have enough food. No skill to have education, no rule. You were not even allowed to stay with your parents, you had to leave, you had to go there (to the countryside). All the young people had to go. My mother stayed here. We had 4 children in my family. They all had to go. They were all sent to different places. I was seventeen years when I was sent to the countryside. I went first and then my younger sister had to go and then the others also had to go, and my grandfather too. I had to work as a farmer. The first year the harvest was quite good. But not enough. We only had food for half year, the other half year we were hungry. Then I went back to Beijing, back to my mum to eat something. Although even Beijing was poor at that time it was still much better than in the countryside. In Beijing we had 15kg of rice per month, no meat, only rice and a little bit of vegetables, no peanuts. We had 15 gr of oil per month. 15 kg of rice and 15 gr of oil per person. Children received half the amount. We were still hungry but it was OK, we could survive. When we wanted more they said no, we cannot. But in the countryside the average person did not have food. I remember the year in the countryside very well. It was very unique in the world (laughs). But my son cannot really understand what happened during that time. We had very difficult times and very different living conditions. For me, I am very satisfied with the living conditions we have now. For my son, even if it is better to what we have had before but that generation is still not satisfied. I don’t understand. I think now it is quite good. Nowadays they say: My friend and my classmate have it much better than us. (laughs). But they don’t compare with me. They compare with classmates or with people who have a car or something. But now the people want more material. I think the people should be kind, should be educated, should be polite to other people. They should put more focus on stuff like this. But for the younger generation they want more money, house, want to be rich. They think people are nice because they are rich. They think: ahh, these are good people because they have a big car.

I enjoy my life as a retired person, being here in the park and doing tai chi. I have been practising Tai Chi for 5 years. I retired when I was 60 which is the normal age in China. For ladies it is 55. 5 years ago I left my office and I came here. I come here (the park) every morning. After that I go home and do some cooking in the kitchen, watching television, internet communication, very easy life, because we have enough pension. I am very satisfied with what I have. We have a normal life. I mean, not great but enough to live on. The pension is not great, but it is enough. My pension is from government support. But now the pension comes from an insurance company, or something like that. But the company has a government background. If you work for a private compay every month you have to pay, basically you pay 40% of your total income, or 35% something like that. You have to pay monthly. And after retirement, they will pay for your pension. They will tell you how much you will get. Now the older people – retired people get more and more. And the young generation – one family, one child – they pay. The amount they pay is not enough to support the older generation. So the government supports paying for the older generation. Something I am very worried about is, can they still make sure that we receive our pension in around 10 years time. Now it is good. But the young generation is not enough to support all the old people. The balance is no good. What happens is the government puts some money on the side in case they need to further support the pension payment. I think they should stop the one child policy. They should finish it. I wanted two children. At that time only one is allowed. Now people with a good education they can have one or two children. At that time only one. But in the countryside, in the rural area, no education, they can have 4 or 5. They are far away from the government. The policy there is not so strict. So they are free – some kind of free.

Mr W. asked me to make his picture unrecognisable before posting it. 

3 thoughts on ““I dreamed of having a bicycle” an interview in Beijing, August 2015

Add yours

  1. tja so isses in china und in einigen jahren wird der hunger nach “mehr” auch bei uns zu spüren sein….auf jeden fall wieder interessant zu lesen 🙂


  2. i can see that you are embarking on a career as a ‘roving journalist’. this interview is very deep and exactly reflects the problems of modern china: pollution. one child policy, not enough future workers to support the whole ageing population. the madness of closed schools, universities as everyone had to go to the countryside to be ‘educated’ by the stupid, illiterate peasants! then, also, very well expressed: the problem of those modern one-child families’ kids: too many old people looking after one child, spoiling it and, of course, heaping great expectations upon them in terms of ‘making it’.
    altogether an insightful contribution of contemporary china. well done, verena. keep it up!


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