Tracing through Decades – Yangxin, Hubei Province, China

Chairman Mao’s worst joke to China was cultural revolution, where millions of young people forced stop schooling and sent to work in the countryside.  My mom was sent to work in a village factory near Yangxin, a small town in between Jiangxi and Hubei provinces, where she met dad.

More than 30 years have passed since she left that factory, where she spent a good chunk of her youth working there with other young people.  Though it was just simple factory work, the experience has impacted her rest of life.  She met dad, got married, had me.  Her circle of factory friends are still her closest friends. This shared hardship had bonded a generation of people together.

My parents have mentioned about going back to Yangxin and visit the place again, just like many of their old friends had done before them.  Dad had a bit of time during his last visit in China, so he visited the place by himself and took some pictures back with him.  That got mom going, now she really wanted to check this place out herself too.  And she took me with her since she always mentioned that I should visit it too.

A side note: I bought the cheapest train ticket in my life on this trip. A 21 kuai (equivalent of 3.5 USD) for a slow train from Wuhan to Yangxin – though it takes three times the time to get there than inter-city high-speed rail (3 hours instead of 1 hour on intercity high-speed)

We found the big bill board near the exit of the train station, saying “Welcome home wonderers”.

“That sounds like me,” mom sighed, “I am a wonderer.”

2013-09-04 008 (2)

Yangxin train station.

Turned out they still got one or two people stayed in town.  “Ask him, he could pick you up – or you will be very, very lost” mom’s friend from Beijing warned her.  So she picked up the phone and dialed the number while we were cruising on the train.

Mr. Huang insisted to pick her up.

2013-09-04 011

Still an hour from the Yangxin proper to the village itself.  On our way there we passed this rather ran-down shop. “This used to be best building in between the township and the village.” Mom explained, “it used to be the co-op building, where all the trade between the villages took place here.”

I was surprised there are still people in there.

2013-09-04 012

And they even got a warehouse next to the building.

2013-09-04 013


Broken glasses, abandoned factory building

But the wall is new!  Apparently dad’s pictures don’t have those walls.  Originally these buildings all belong to one factory; now they are being sectioned off.

Entering the factory proper.  This used to be the biggest business in the area.  It was so profitable that it hired thousands of workers.  Now all the buildings seemed quite abandoned – “nothing like what it was before,” one of her friend warned her. “You will be sad when you see what they are now.”

One of the building made lots of noise

2013-09-04 020

Looks like a wood factory.

Me and my mom in front of her old work place.

“This used to be filled by rows of machines,” mom savored, “now it’s filled by tons and tons of leftover coals.”

“There was a loft up there for the management office,” mom pointed to one end of the wall where some concrete stuck out.  “That’s a second floor, and there was a set of stairs going up there.  When the building was just built, the architect forgot to put in the stairs for the second floor, so they had to use a ladder.”

“And they always used a ladder?” I was awestruck that factory management could be so frugal.

“Of course not!” Mom laughed, “they eventually put in an iron staircase.”


Working in a factory, as mom put it, was the dream job since you don’t have to suffer the hardship in farm fields.  Everyone in the factory regarded it as a privilege back then.

Dad used to toil in the fields when he came to Yangxin.  Then he started to miss his day by calling in sick.  They eventually figured that the young man is too weak to work in the field, so they let him get a head start in this factory – earlier than most of his friends who worked with him in the field (most of them eventually ended up here after serving in the field for a year or two).

This part of the factory is converted into wooden floor maker.  We could smell their fragrance for miles.

Some of the abandoned area still decorated in slogans from Mao’s era.

“You want see the airplane building?” This was probably the third time Mr. Huang asked. “It’s up there,” he started going through the bushes.

“No, no, it’s too dangerous.” Mom hesitated.

“Don’t worry.” He walked in further, “come”

Clearly, someone also took the same path years ago.

This nonchalant building is the “airplane” building. It is the main administrative building of the factory.  The building got its name from its two wings coming out from the lobby in front, like an airplane.

“Look at the stairs,” mom said, “they are still so solid.  This is the workmanship from our times.”

Bathroom still looked neat.

I took the flight up to the second floor.

The office room seemed abandoned not long ago

A calendar stopped at September and October of 2009.

At the front of the airplane building.  You could sort see the wings extending out from the front.

Old garage

“Come and check out the old cafeteria!”

The cafeteria sat right next to the garage.

2013-09-04 057

“The well was new.”

2013-09-04 058

“This used to be a side gate.” Mom pointed to the broken glass. “They sealed this up and that other door over there. You could see the bricks are different from other bricks.”

Looks like it was a theatre as well.

“Look at this building. Every thing still looked so sound.” Mom was in awe.

2013-09-04 065_stitch

Next up, her dorm. It was this building hosted her and many of her friends still in contact nowadays.

The old staircase covered in mosses.

We found doors sealed the entrances of some hallways. Apparently, people took these rooms up by sections now.

Fortunately, mom’s floor is not sealed.  Though there are still people – a father and a son, living among these rooms.

At the entrance of her hallway the bathroom still stood. She pointed to the next room, “Mrs Qing (one of her best friends) stayed here.”  She said, “she used to stay right next to the bathroom. It smelled so bad when people forget to flush.  She always had to run to the bathroom next door to flush for them.”

What used to be mom’s room.

Building across was a lot nicer than this one.

2013-09-04 073

Since locals still live around this quarter, KTV is inevitable.

After the factory visit, we went to lunch at one of the vacation spots in nearby Fuchi township.

The town is known for its fishes. You could even find people fishing in here.

There was a tearoom hidden among the trees.

The whole place looked like a world outside of everything nearby.

Drinking tea while waiting for lunch.

After lunch, we passed by this historical site well-known around the area.

This is one of the narrowest sections on Yangtze River.  With its cliff on one side, it is a highly strategic place for many centuries.  Many battles had taken place here.  One of the most famous one left tens of thousands bodies here.

Oftentimes the spot was used to block enemies’ advancement.  Qing Dynasty army sank a ship here, effectively blocking the waterway.

2013-09-04 095_stitch

What used to be battle walls

It feels as if the wall could speak through its scars and holes.

2013-09-04 090_stitch

On the other side of the wall is no longer just water, it is also a port.

2013-09-04 086

The research institute next to the site dedicated to study the historical site.