Vol. 14


An Unforgettable Journey on the Island

1969; an island in Jiangxi Province, People’s Republic of China

"An Unforgettable Journey on the Island" illustration by Noah Palmer: A small snake in a jar, and other small creatures are highlighted against a background of mountains and trees.In 1969, when my father was six, he lived in Beijing, China, where my grandparents were professors at Peking University. In the summer of that year, right in the middle of the Chinese Cultural Revolution,1 Chairman Mao2 sent all the professors at Peking University to an isolated island in Jiangxi Province, to do labor for re-education.3 My dad had to go with his parents to Jiangxi.

It was a long journey. My dad took a train, many buses, and finally a boat to get to the island. When they reached their destination, they found no houses, almost nothing to eat, and dirty water. Mosquitoes, scorpions, snakes, and rats were there to welcome them. My grandparents and their colleagues had to build shelters. They also had to boil their drinking water. The food became monotonous after a while.

Having lived in a nice Beijing apartment, my dad didn’t understand why his family had to live in such a harsh environment. He missed the candy he loved and the toys he had spent many hours playing with.

My grandparents were forced to do farm work, and my dad was too young to go to school, so he completely immersed himself in the beautiful scenery around him. Every day he would go out exploring, and the nature was his good friend. My father taught himself basic survival skills, such as how to start a fire and how to catch crickets and dragonflies, and he would often enjoy inspecting the bugs. Sometimes my father would cook and eat the insects after he caught them. He even taught himself to identify which crickets were female and which were male. Every day there was something new to explore.

There was a professor who was a master at catching snakes. One time the professor caught a beautiful, poisonous bamboo leaf snake that was a foot and a half long. The snake had green skin and a triangular head, and the underside of the snake was white with a red line down the middle. The professor kept the snake in a glass jar, so my father and his friends were able to study the structures of the snake. When the snake opened its mouth, my father could see the needle-shaped teeth that could inject venom — and the black tongue.

At the time, meat was a rare delicacy for the people on the island, so the snake later was killed and chopped into pieces, but each piece still wiggled for a while after the chopping. The professor cooked a delicious meal, and it was the best meal they had had in a long time. Later, my father followed the professor along on his snake-hunting journeys. They caught many more snakes, and that delicacy turned into a regular meal. My dad still remembers savoring the marvelous meals and tasting the freshness of the meat.

Even though life was very cruel on the island, it was the most memorable time from my father’s childhood. He learned to withstand harsh conditions and learned how to enjoy himself with the nature.

Sarah Ding; Missouri, USA

Illustrator: Noah Palmer; Missouri, USA


1. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was the government’s attempt to strengthen Communism in the People’s Republic of China by removing non-Communist practices and Chinese traditions.

2. Mao Zedong (mow zuh DOONG — first syllable rhymes with “how”) was a founder of the Communist Party in China and served as chairman of that party from 1943 to 1976. He also led the revolution that established the People’s Republic of China, and served as leader of that country from 1954 to 1959.

3. Re-education, which often involved placing people in harsh living conditions, attempted to change people’s thinking about their government.



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