Chuck Lee: My Boyhood Days in China

Dad always had lots of stories and anecdotes from years gone by. Many were from his short childhood back in the village in China before his Father brought him over to join him in Canada at the ripe old age of 9 back in 1916. Many years ago when we were going through some of his old papers after he passed away in 1990, We came across an old typewritten recollection he’d composed probably some time back in the late 60’s. I managed to scan it and run it through an OCR program so I could save it in Word format. Finally sharing this today with friends and family.

My Boyhood Days in China

By Shew Chuck Lee

I was born in Long Tao (Dragon’s Head), a small village in the remote part of the District of Hoi Ping in Guangdong province. Our village and the other villages in the immediate area were inhabited by the Lee family. Like other rural areas in China, different families tended to cluster in different communities. Just beyond our Lee community, there were the Hums, Setos, Fongs and Kungs. You might say that China was a collection of communities.

Nine generations before me, the founder of our village, Chung Len, moved from the district of Sun Wei to our present location. Before settling in Sun Wei, our forebears lived in Nantung, up in the northern part of our province near the border of Hunan province. Here in Long Tao, members of the Lee family grew up and tilled the land. When the father died, the son would carry on his work. This was the pattern of life from one generation to another. Since the founding of our village, there has been little or no change in our community. The roosters would crow at dawn, the dogs barked, the boys would recite their lessons at school and the farmers would work in the fields. The land was good to us. We grew out rice and vegetables. We caught fish in the rivers. We gathered grass and firewood in the hills. It was a hard life bit somehow we managed to eke out a living.

When I was seven years old, my mother sent me to the village school. School life in those days was hard and boring. While the farmers were toiling in the fields, we youngsters had to work hard at our studies. We started off to school at dawn and came home when it was too dark to see. In contrast, my first year of school in Canada (kindergarten) there would be more play than work. Not so in China. Whether we liked it or not, we got a steady dose of reading and writing, day in and day out. I suppose it was the only way to master the intricate and complex Chinese written language. The formation of each Chinese character, representing one word, had to be memorized. During my first year of school I must have memorized a couple thousand characters.

We used to get a little relief once in a while. Our schoolteacher would sometimes run out of groceries and supplies and would go periodically to the market about a mile away. When he was out of sight, we would dash off to the nearby stream and play. However, we were not always so fortunate. I remember one day our sentinel failed to see him coming back to give us the proper warning. Instead of the usual route, he must have circled to the back of the village and come in through the back entrance. When he noticed that we were not in school, he sneaked over to the bank of the stream, scooped up our clothes and calmly waited for our return to school. When we discovered our predicament, we had no alternative but to slowly and sheepishly walk back to school minus our clothing. Needless to say, he delivered a stern lecture and gave a sound whipping to each one of us. Well, boys will be boys. Our Canadians play hooky from school as well.

During the vacation months, we used to have a great deal of fun. We roamed over the spacious fields, woods, mountains and streams. We took great delight in stealing sweet potatoes and sugar cane. The owners would chase us but never catch us. We used to dam up little streams to catch small fish. Those were the days when life was full of fun.

The above recollections are just a few incidents which I experienced in my boyhood. I will always have pleasant memories of my ancestral home – a home where my forefathers moved in over two hundred years ago. This is the land where my people worked hard without any complaint from dawn to dusk. This blessed plot, this earth, this realm was to me home, sweet home. Our early sojourners to America had this home land feeling and always yearned to be back home with their loved ones. However, things have changed. Fate has altered our way of life.

Here’s the actual map of our village Long Tao from Google:






View Longtou in a larger map

Comments (2)

old frtOctober 10th, 2014 at 7:09 pm

“The Good Earth” by Pearl Buck comes to mind.

Hints of Mark Twain here as well.

robertinseattleOctober 10th, 2014 at 9:20 pm


Seems like by the time he was 9, Dad had already lived a lifetime.

And then his Father brought him over to Canada in 1916 to go to school and help out in the business. Dad was the only Chinese boy in the entire city at the time so being different and not being able to speak English made him a target for bullying during his early years in Canada.

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