I was born in Beijing, China. My grandfather named me 丹丹, after our national flower, the red peony. I was the youngest of 8 grandchildren and the only girl. Grandfather said, she's one red peony among the green clumps.
My grandfather was a well-known doctor who had treated the last emperor, Pu Yi. After the Communist Party came to power, all privately-owned establishments, including grandfather’s practice, were closed down. The government assigned grandfather to be the chief physician in the Navy Hospital of China.
My father was educated in the famous Beijing University. He was the youngest professor and later department director in Northern China Electric Power University. Mom was an accountant in the university where Dad worked. Mom was from a coal minor's family and got her self an education in accounting. She was well known for her beauty and was well liked.
I was attending the best grade school in Beijing. Outside school, I was selected by a government-owned swimming training school where I was being trained to compete nationally, internationally, or even In Olympics, if I had it in me.
The infamous Cultural Revolution destroyed all that overnight. Grandfather was a tortured into a comma. He never regained his consciousness. Red Guards raided our home, seized our properties and valuables, and sent both Mom and Dad to labor camp. Their crime? Being intellectuals.
At the age of 11 and 9, my brother and I maintained a household on our own. Two years would pass before they released Mom. Dad was held for several more years.
Then one day, I was run over by a bus in a busy street in Beijing, and I lost my left leg. i was 13.
In China back then, the disabled were considered incomplete and useless. The Chinese characters for ‘disabled’ literally mean ‘incomplete’ and ‘useless’. I was automatically disqualified to take college entrance exams. Colleges at the time were owned by the government and were the grooming ground for future leaders of the country. I didn’t make the cut, before I could even take the tests.
Mom, Dad, and I did not and could not accept this judgement. We appealed. We appealed at the Central Admissions Committee. We appealed at the Ministry of Education. And, we would have gone up higher in the government, but against all odds, I was permitted to take the 3-day grueling entrance exams. I was admitted into college.
After college and after more battles with the bureaucracies, I got myself accepted by the graduate school of the prestigious Academy of Social Sciences of China. The academy was a think tank for the government and dubbed ‘China’s Harvard’. The graduate school was fiercely competitive. In my class, only 3 enrollments across the country. After graduation I became the youngest research fellow there.
It was a privileged and comfortable life, but I wanted to see the world. I came to US with $60 in my pocket. I went to graduate school and survived on mini hotdogs from a vending machine in the school library. Then I met an aerospace engineer who worked at the navel base. His parents were immigrants from Poland. He was exactly the type of husband that we were supposed to marry according to our moms - kind, smart, well educated and well traveled, good looking, a stable career, responsible for his money. I got engaged, only to break the engagement to marry a good hearted and free spirited ‘red neck’. The marriage didn’t survive the cultural conflicts. I ended up raising my daughter largely by myself, while building a career as a researcher in America.
At some point along the way, I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. I did not want to hear it. There was no way I was going to take antidepressants. Those were for the weak.
Then one day, I snapped. I tried to take my own life, and my daughter’s, but my 8-year old daughter saved us both.
Over the years, a lot of people urged me to write down my story, if for nothing else, for my daughter and future generations.
So I will be telling my story, one chapter at a time.