School | Background

I was born in the full swing of the Culture Revolution and grew up in 70’s communist China. In those days, under the communist party’s rule, people were organised into “Units” – schools, factories, hospitals were all such “Units”. My father was a middle school teacher, so he and his family, my grandma, my mother, my sister and myself, lived in a dormitory which was part of the school.

It was a three-story block, each floor had 20 rooms along either side of a long corridor. Each room was literally a room with four walls, without a toilet, bathroom or kitchen, not even a washbasin. Stair landings on each floor were communal cooking areas. Bathrooms and toilets were separate outbuildings.

Our family lived on the top floor. In winter, the temperatures hovered around freezing. In order to wash ourselves with warm water, we needed to heat up water in a big pan on a coal burning stove in the communal cooking area, carry the hot water down four flights of stairs and then to the ground floor outbuilding bathrooms.

The communal toilet was located in the backyard, which was even further. I remember once I woke up in the middle of the night and desperately needed to go to the toilet, so I ran along the corridor in pitch black and nearly fell down from the top floor landing because the railing was broken at the time. I was only stopped by my sixth sense.

The living environment was certainly not comfortable but it was a happy place for me as a little boy as there were around twenty young kids in our dormitory block. We always had someone of a similar age to play with. Every day after school, younger kids like me were always hanging out in front of the building. Some older kids would come to join us after they had finished their homework and housework.

Male, aged around 50, Southern China
August 2020

Secret Garden

"Secret Garden 1"