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How Ren Zhengfei grew up, in the Huawei founder's own writing
"My Father and Mother," and Ren himself
“If there’s a Darth Vader in the minds of Chinese national security hawks in Washington worried about China’s rising tech power, it’s Ren (Zhengfei).” said a Bloomberg story in 2018, conveying the enormous Western doubts and concerns in the founder of Huawei.
Then perhaps a deep dive into his family background is long overdue. In fact, Ren himself wrote and published an article in February 2001, where he recounted excruciating details in his early life, from teenage years to the days in the People’s Liberation Army through the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and the early days in China’s Reform and Opening-up.
我的父亲母亲 My Father and Mother, written two decades ago when Huawei had already emerged as internationally promising but far below its global significance today, provides a unique and first-person description of perhaps the most respected entrepreneur in China these days.
Ren apparently wrote the article in mourning of her mother, who had just passed away from a traffic accident. In his own telling, you will not only find out how Ren and his parents survived extreme poverty and political turmoil, but also how he joined the Communist Party of China and left the Chinese military. Most importantly, however, in the opinion of your Pekingnologist, the piece puts a human face to the Darth Vader.
The Mandarin article was apparently first published in Huawei’s internal newspaper 华为人 Huawei People and remains available at Huawei’s 心声社区 Xinsheng Community, an online forum featuring its employees’ lively discussion of company and other matters - and open to the general public. That’s what this translation is based on.
This newsletter is also prompted in part by a question that An offline event with a group of foreign diplomats on Huawei in May 2021 didn’t address, which was mentioned in the May 19 newsletter:
We’d be keen to know more about the Huawei ownership structure, and the relevant social background of their key shareholders (though we’re not sure if this can be specified).
Because 我的父亲母亲 My Father and Mother is quite long, the Mandarin version is not posted here. The article is widely available on Mandarin Internet sites but doesn’t appear to be well-known in English. Liu Chuanzhi, another famous entrepreneur in China and founder of Lenovo, even wrote a review [in Mandarin] of Ren’s article.
This is a full translation and the reason for highlighting it is you will encounter some ellipses …… in the article below. That’s what Ren himself wrote. All the links and square brackets [ ], however, are added by your Pekingnologist for your convenience to better understand the context.
As usual, please understand this is a personal newsletter with few resources, so errors in translation may well exist.
My Father and Mother
By Ren Zhengfei in Shenzhen on February 8, 2001
On the last day at the end of the last century, I finally found my conscience and bought a ticket from Beijing to Kunming to see my mom after my corporate duties were over. After buying the ticket, I didn't call her, knowing that once I did she would be busy all afternoon, no matter how late I would have arrived, she would have made something I loved to eat as a child. I did not tell her until the plane almost took off, and I asked her not to share the news with others, or send a car for me. I took a cab home. My purpose was to just spend time with her.
In previous years, I “went to Mecca” [visited mom] every year, but as soon as I got off the plane, I was picked up by the [Huawei] office colleagues, saying this client was very important to meet, and that client was very important to have a meal with. I ended up so busy that I only went home to get my luggage before catching the flight to leave, and I could only a quick goodbye to my father and mother. Mom waited and waited to look forward to having some family chat, but that just didn’t happen one year after another. They always said, your work is important, work first, work first.
As I had to rush back to Beijing on [January] 3rd, to participate in Vice President Hu Jintao's visit abroad, I could only stay in Kunming for one day. This time I finally found my conscience and made an appointment with my mother that this year's Spring Festival [Jan. 24, 2001] I would not work, would not go anywhere, and would only keep her company with a few siblings, to spend the Spring Festival in Hainan. We would have a good chat, thoroughly.
Previously, my holidays were spent mostly abroad, because when it was a Chinese holiday, it was usually not a holiday in foreign countries, and that would produce more time to work. This time I finally came around (in my thought), wanting to spend time with mom. I have not spent quality time with them in this life. I didn't know it would end up being a bust.
When I was abroad (on the visit abroad), the domestic travel agency kept sending me emails, enthusiastically introducing various options. I said I wouldn’t want too many options, we mainly wanted to sit on the beach and by the pools and chat.
There is a song that says: "Go back home often; Go back home often; Even if you can help your mom do some chopstick- and dish-washing; Parents don’t expect children to make many contributions; They just want to have a reunion and talk about family life."
The visit to the one country ended successfully on [January] 8th. As we had just bid goodbye to Vice President Hu leaving on a plane, we received a call from Ji Ping [a co-founder of Huawei], saying that my mother had come out of a vegetable market at about 10:00 a.m., carrying two small bags of vegetables, and had been seriously injured by a car and that Sun [Yafang, a senior executive at Huawei] had gone to Kunming to organize the medical rescue.
I was so far away. The communication was very bad. That made me very anxious. I had to take several connecting flights to go back, and the transfer alone would take six and a half hours. It was really torturous. And then there was a thunderstorm, which delayed my flight for two hours. I was ten minutes late in Bangkok, so I couldn’t catch the (first possible) flight back to Kunming on time. I ended up arriving at Kunming late at night.
When I got back to Kunming, I knew that my mom was not going to make it. Her head was all crushed by the car and her heartbeat and breathing were all sustained by drugs and machines. Mom lied peacefully in her hospital bed without making a sound, without having to worry about anything. It was as if she had never rested so much in her life.
I really regret not giving my mother a call from abroad. On (January) 7th, Vice President Hu met with eight corporate leaders accompanying the visit. I made a report for two or three minutes. When I said I was (with) Huawei, Vice President Hu extended four fingers and said (you are) one of the four companies.
[Your Pekingnologist doesn’t understand the meaning here.]
I would have liked to tell my mother the good news that the central leader actually knew Huawei. But I didn't call her, because whenever I used to call my mother whether I was at home or abroad, she would always be garrulous: "You're on a business trip again", "Feifei your health is not even as good as mine", "Feifei you have more wrinkles than mom", "Feifei, you don't even walk as well as I do, you are so sick at such a young age", "Feifei, diabetes gets worse faster when you attend more banquets, and your heart condition is not good either".
[The last syllabus in Ren Zhengfei’s name is fei.]
I thought the local conditions (of the country where I was in) were so bad, and if I called, my mom would be garrulous again. So I didn't call, thinking I would see her in a few days anyway. And this is the biggest regret in my life.
Due to the time difference, if I had called, I would have called early in the morning on [January] 8th, China time, to tell her the good news. If I had called, that would have delayed her going out for a minute or two, in which case she might have escaped the disaster. This feeling of remorse is indescribable.
During the time in Kunming [before the foreign trip], I told my mother about the half-hour conversation Vice Premier [Wu] Bangguo had with me abroad when I visited Africa with him in November last year . Wu said that he personally asked for me to take part in that visit, with three purposes: ① to encourage and affirm Huawei, and to let the ministers in the visit know and understand Huawei positively; ② to understand the operation and management mechanism of our company, and to see if that can be helpful to other companies; ③ to see if the government could give some help to us in developing international markets.
Mom was very happy to hear that and said, "It's good that the government has trust. As long as the company does good business, everything else will pass, as time would tell. "In the last two years, there is some content on the Internet and in the media about Huawei, and it was half good and half bad.
Having gone through the painful ordeal of the Cultural Revolution, Mom was not interested in praises, but very worried about some articles that originated from a misunderstanding of our real situation.
I said we are not a publicly-traded company, so we have no [legal] obligation to make public disclosures; the main thing was to be on good terms with the government and good at the effective operation of the company. We will pay more than 2 billion yuan in taxes this year and more than 4 billion in taxes next year . All levels of government trust us. We can't go to debate in the media, it will cause arguments. The papers are expensive and wasting them for arguments on a small company like us would not be worthwhile. For a small company like us, to disrupt the priorities in the state’s public discourse is too much. They (those who criticized Huawei) mainly didn’t understand us, and we had done little in introducing ourselves. It would be better if they got to know Huawei. Mom breathed a sigh of relief and understood my silence [in public]. Maybe she can rest in peace (without worrying about me and Huawei).
[There was heavy political criticism of Huawei in China at the end of the 20th century, mainly questioning if its nature as a private enterprise and structure of employee ownership - instead of a collective-owned or state-owned company - was in line with China’s stated socialism. ]
[It should also be noted that the Mandarin version of we are not a publicly-traded company, so we have no obligation to make public disclosures; the main thing was to be on good terms with the government and good at the effective operation of the company is 我们不是上市公司，不需要公示社会，主要是对政府负责，对企业的有效运行负责。The translation is not a literal one because in the opinion of your Pekingnologist a literal translation of “负责” “responsibility/accountability” would be inaccurate. For the sake of transparency, this is specifically highlighted here.]
After I took one last look at my mother, she passed away. My father died in 1995. He had bought a bottle of plastic-wrapped soft drink from a street stall in Kunming, developed diarrhea, which escalated to organ failures. It's not that there was anything wrong with the drink, but after long-time transportation and many levels of wholesaling, plus the stall in the street didn’t have a refrigerator [there were problems with the hygiene of the drink]. As an old man, his immune system had grown weak.
This time, my mother insisted on accompanying me to the suburbs of Kunming and take a walk. When coming back, we wanted to buy some pears which had just been harvested. She wouldn’t let me off the car. Later, I asked my brother-in-law why she wouldn’t let me off the car, he said mom was afraid of your extravagance - never bargaining. The pears were at 4 yuan a kilogram, and we bought a big bag of them.
My father and mother have been frugal all their life, and they were a constant example for me so that I don't become extravagant. In fact, my life is very frugal, mom was only measuring everything against the difficult days in the past.
My Father’s name is 任摩逊 Ren Moxun. Fulfilling his duties throughout life, he can at best be described as a village educator. My mother’s name is 程远昭 Cheng Yuanzhao. She was an ordinary teacher who accompanied dad throughout life in the poor mountainous areas and worked with poor children.
[The Mandarin word for teacher is 园丁 literally gardener, a metaphor often used in China to describe teachers.]
Wearing the cotton clothes of China’s Land Reform (in the 1950s) task force, dad entered the mountainous areas of Guizhou's ethnic minorities with the PLA's bandit-suppressing troops to prepare for the building of a secondary school for ethnic minorities. He devoted years to the cause, and many students under his teaching went on to become senior cadres in the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese state, with some of them becoming leaders of centrally-administered universities. Dad remained in a humble position while nobody took his words seriously.
Grandpa was a master ham maker in Pujiang County, Zhejiang Province. None of my father’s siblings went to school. It was only because grandpa found his conscience and dad’s persistent request that dad was able to go to school. While attending college in Beijing, dad was also an enthusiastic young man who participated in the student movement, gave anti-Japanese aggression speeches, opposed the Tanaka Memorial which planned to invade China, and joined the Communist Youth League. Due to the death of my grandfather and grandmother, my dad did not finish college and dropped out of school one year ahead of graduation and went home.
At that time, the Kuomingtang and the Commust Party of China just started their cooperation and the anti-Japanese movement was in full swing. Dad was introduced by his fellow villagers to work as an accountant in a Kuomintang military factory in Guangzhou, Guangdong where a fellow villager was the factory director. Because of the war, the factory was moved to Rongshui, Guangxi and later to Tongzi, Guizhou.
During his spare time in Rongshui, Guangxi dad and some friends opened a bookstore to sell progressive books and organized a "7-7" [the Marco Polo incident] reading group, from which dozens of people later went to the frontline of the revolution and many of them became senior cadres of the Party and the state after China’s liberation. After the smashing of the "Gang of Four" (in 1976), Rongshui invited dad to participate in re-writing the history of the local Party.
This gray history of dad was one of the most difficult things in the Cultural Revolution. He was in a Kuomintang arsenal, he actively participated in anti-Japanese publicity and agreed with the Party's views, yet he was not connected to the underground Party organizations. Why? This became suspicious to some people. In those days of the Cultural Revolution, it couldn’t be explained clearly. Some people always tried to “dig out a big fish that was hidden deep,” and dad suffered tremendously.
To think about it now, he was in a rural high school, and the school used state textbooks, even if this person had some issues, how much impact would he have on state security. Even if there were a problem, the solution should be to rehabilitate rather than torture him.
Mom actually had only a high school education. She had to accompany my father, endure all kinds of humiliation, become his windshield, and take care of the seven of us siblings. When she put down the chalk (in the classroom) she had to make briquette (for family heating), buy food, cook, and do laundry ......; she had to study and complete the teaching tasks, eventually obtaining the academic position of a “senior teacher” in the secondary school. Many of her students went on to become provincial- and prefectural/city-level cadres and outstanding technology experts. They were all impressed by mom’s sense of responsibility in teaching. With such a low level of education, mom only taught herself and only she knew the hardship.
Although dad and mom joined the revolution early, it was not easy for them to integrate into the revolutionary ranks of the proletariat and be trusted because of their non-proletarian origins. They could not be as politically pure as ordinary peasants and workers. They had been living in a complicated society, which was pluralist in composition, and there could not be only one pure substance. They had sometimes participated in various activities that were complicated, such as anti-Japanese aggression performances, and there could be people behind such performances. Mom participated in an anti-Japanese aggression singing team, and it was said by some people later that those who participated in the singing team were collectively involved in some organization .......
People take part in numerous activities in their lives, and if they are not measured by the purpose of the person, by their character, and by their understanding and commitment to history in reality, but by the appearance [of some actions], then it will be so complicated that no one can clean themselves up and [as a result they will have to] be extremely careful.
Throughout the rounds of political movements, they surrendered their hearts to the Party, and the difficulty in their ideological reformation was much greater than others, and the inner torment they suffered was beyond the comprehension of people. They wrote in extreme detail about any detail of their lives and wanted the organization [the Party] to review them.
After their deaths, I asked my classmates to help me copy the archived records of dad and mom. When they read dad’s and mom’s confessions to the Party, they were moved to tears by the devotion of dad and mom. Throughout their lives, they had followed the revolution, not necessarily as stalwarts, but worthy of the Party and the people. My father finally joined the Party in 1958 when the state was absorbing a group of senior intellectuals into the Party.
At that time, it was not like today when information is so accessible that everyone can see the spirit of the Central Committee and stay in line with it. At that time, what has to be done is in fact confessing to a few Party members and to the Secretary of the Party branch. Even though there were newspapers announcing the spirit of the above, the spirit had to be understood by certain people and then implemented. At that time, opposing individual Party members might be described to be anti-Party.
We saw with our own eyes our parents' prudence and carefulness, and their utter devotion to work having little time for us. Just as that, later I worked my so hard that I had no time to repay them [my debt as a child]. Their loyalty to the Party and the state, to the cause, has been tested by history. What I am repentant of today is that I did not spend time with them and send them off [near the end of their lives].
In retrospect, there are only a few revolutionary stalwarts in a society who can work selflessly and fearlessly in the name of the revolution; they are the backbone of the country and society. It is worthwhile to increase the cost of background checks in order to select these people. But there are many people like dad and mom who follow the revolution, or support it, or do not oppose it. They are better than not taking part in the revolution, and society should recognize them and give them a chance. It is not necessary to ask them to be so pure, to spend so much energy to check them [their background], to demand high standards from them. They suffer if they cannot reach them [the high standards].
And society should be supported by both spiritual civilization and material civilization, to consolidate the spiritual civilization with material civilization. So as to give full play to the enthusiasm of making their contribution, there should be a mechanism to motivate them to contribute to the revolution, to improve the quality of their living, and to promote the revolution.
After I presided over Huawei, we treat employees, including those who resigned, leniently. We only select employees with dedication, devotion, responsibility, and sense of mission to become leaders, but the strict requirements are only for senior leaders. After personally seeing and experiencing the process of the transformation of my parents’ thoughts, I developed a character of tolerance.
The most impressive part of our teenage years with our father and mother was surviving the difficult period of the three years of natural disasters. I still remember it vividly when I think about it today.
We were seven brothers and sisters. Plus our parents, nine in total. We lived on the meager wages of our father and mother and had no other sources. It was very difficult to make ends meet, and the children were growing up and the clothes were getting shorter every day. And we all had to go to school, so the expenses were big.
Every academic term the tuition was 2 to 3 yuan per person. When it was time to pay the tuition, my mom became anxious. Compared to families who can basically make ends meet by their salaries, my family's difficulties were even greater. I often saw my mother going around [the neighborhood] borrowing 3 to 5 yuan at the end of the month to survive the hunger (buy food), and she often had to go to several neighbors to accomplish the borrowing.
I didn't wear a shirt until I graduated from high school. Some of my classmates saw me wearing a thick coat on a very hot day and told me to ask my mother for a shirt, but I didn't dare because I knew it was impossible. When I went to college my mother sent me two shirts at a time, I really wanted to cry because, since I had the shirts, it would be harder for my younger siblings.
At that time, 2 to 3 people in my family shared one quilt, and straw was laid underneath the worn-out sheets. When the Cultural Revolution rebels raided our family, they had thought that a senior intellectual, the principal of a college, would be very rich. They were shocked. I took a quilt to college with me, which makes things more difficult at home, because, at that time, a quota was needed to buy cloth or cotton. In the most difficult year, each person only was only issued [by the state] a quota for half a meter of cloth. When there was no sheet, mom picked up a few broken sheets discarded by graduating students, sewn, mended, and washed them. That sheet accompanied me through five years of college life in Chongqing.
This time, when I walked with my mother in Kunming, we also talked about the hardship of that time.
From 1959 to 1962, the country was in economic difficulties due to the mistakes of the Great Leap Forward, as well as the three years of natural disasters. I happened to be in high school at that time, and the biggest difficulty at that time was hunger. I was starving every day, so I couldn’t study. I had to take a make-up test in the 11th grade. When in junior high school [Grade 7 to 9], people took me as an example, while in high school [Grade 10 to 12] I had to take a make-up test. I didn't have ambitions as a teenager. My ideal for my three years of high school was to eat a steam bun.
Therefore, I can especially understand the difficulties of the North Korean people in recent years, though they have international aid and a small population. China's economy was very weak at that time, and with such severe natural disasters and a large population, its difficulties were even greater than those of North Korea and Africa today.
Later on, when we were hungry, there were more ways to deal with it. We went up to the mountains to pick some red thorn fruits (the kind we used for greening), grind the roots of fiddlehead into a pulp, and grind the oak nut [?] into powder for food. Sometimes my sister picked a few castor seeds and fried them as peanuts to eat, and diarrhea always came after that. Later on, some pumpkins were planted in the uncultivated on the mountain, and we invented a new thing: cooking the root of Canna Lily (a kind of flower) and eat them. At the beginning of eating the root of Canna Lily, fearing food poisoning, mom only allowed each person to taste a little. Later, when everyone was fine, we became more courageous, and every night, we the children gathered around the stove and waited for mom to cook a big pot of Canna Lily root or pumpkin to accommodate hunger, and the family was harmonious. At that time, there was no kitchen at all. A pit was dug on the ground in front of the bed in the bedroom - for a ground stove. It was used for cooking and heating, and everyone gathered around and ate pumpkin, and there was harmony.
Dad and mom were not selfish, and that was tested by what we went through then. I was 14-15 years old, being the eldest, and the others were younger and they did not know stuff. Dad and mom could have taken an extra bite, but neither of them did. Dad sometimes had the opportunity to attend [official] meetings and could have some improvement [in food]. Mom, on the other hand, was so humble that she not only had to work like other people but also had to bear the burden of raising and living with seven children. Cooking, washing, repairing coal stoves ...... doing everything, consuming so much (of her energy), but never taking one more bite herself.
Our family at that time had a strict rationing system at each meal to control everyone's desires, which ensured that everyone survived. Had it not been like that, one or two siblings would not have made it today. I can truly understand the meaning of the phrase "to live".
When I was in my third year of high school and about to take the national college entrance exam, sometimes I was so hungry when studying at home that I couldn't stand it anymore, so I combined rice bran and vegetables and baked them. Dad ran into me on that a few times, and they were distressed. In fact, at that time, my family was so poor that my home didn't even have a lockable cabinet, and the food was packed in a tile can. I didn't dare to grab a handful, otherwise, one or two siblings wouldn't make it to today. (My unselfishness is also copied from my parents. That Huawei is so successful today has something to do with my unselfishness).
For the last three months [before the entrance exam], my mother often quietly slipped me a small corn tortilla in the morning, so I could study at ease. For I could get into college, the small tortilla contributed tremendously. If not, maybe I wouldn't have been able to enter a company like Huawei, but there would have been one more skilled pig farmer in society or one more skilled craftsman on the street. This little tortilla was squeezed from the mouths of my father, mother, and siblings, and I can never repay them.
When China's higher education system was reformed in 1997, the state began charging tuition to students, and the accompanying student loan system did not keep up. Huawei donated 25 million yuan to the Ministry of Education for a Poor Students Scholarship Fund.
There was a big debate on how to name the fund, and even some employees came to me personally, urging not to use the word poor, but to use the name of excellent, etc., and many of these people have PhDs or have done postdoctoral research. I think it is not shameful to come from a poor background. Coming from a noble background with poverty in thought and knowledge is shameful. I spent my teenage years in poverty and hunger, and my parents forced me to learn. Without them seeing the light (in the future) and guiding me in the midst of difficulties and forcing us to work hard, I would not be where I am today.
My dad was careful and cautious all his life. Knowing that his position was not solid, he never spoke recklessly but buried himself in his studies. Therefore, he survived the Anti-Rightist Campaign in 1957, the 1959 campaign against right-leaning elements, and the Four Clean-ups Movement in 1964 safely. However, (as it is said in a proverb,) absent small difficulties, there will be major problems.
At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, the model of Attacking Three Family Village was followed by every region. People who could write articles, who were cadres in the Party, and who had some independent political ideas (meaning they did not fit in with the local trend) became the targets. Dad fit right in since he was educated among those participating in the revolution early, had teaching experience, and was a cadre…
The Cultural Revolution began first in the education sector, and he was the first to be thrown out in the campaign to sweep away all ghosts and monsters. Reactionary academic authorities, capitalist-roaders, and people with questionable histories..…(Being a perfect fit,) he could not have escaped it. He was first put into the cowshed [the name for a non-prison jail for the Nine Black Categories].
Until the crushing of the Gang of Four, he spent a decade there. How many decades does a short life have? This was also the time that he was most capable to do something for the people, and you know how painful it was for an aspirant such as him.
As only a few people were thrown out at first, his fear of doom at that time was conceivable. My father was the principal. My father's colleague and formerly the Party secretary, Huang Xuanqian, who was an old revolutionary, could not bear it and committed suicide. In fact, their mistake was to improve the quality of teaching for the sake of the country, which in today's terms equals Invigorating China Through Science and Education. Today, we can loudly call for Invigorating China Through Science and Education; for more than a hundred years, how many people have been martyred for exactly that.
At that time, I had already gone away to study and did not directly feel what happened to my family, because my mother would never describe it in her letters to me. She would only write "Believe in the movement, follow the Party, draw a clear line, and fight for your own future ....... The Party's policy is, when there are issues in a person’s history, look at his or her behavior in reality; when there are issues in his or her family members, look at the person himself or herself. You must not be influenced by anything."
My younger siblings were young and around my parents, they directly felt all kinds of humiliation and blow. The younger siblings used to peek through the glass window to watch their dad in a struggle session, which scared them so much that they were shaking. Dad stood on a high platform with a high hat on his head, his face painted black, his hands tied behind his back, and was punched and kicked, and sometimes he was kicked to the ground ....... Sometimes, hundreds of capitalist roaders with black tags hung on them were loaded on trucks to parade the streets,.......
I was studying in a different place and did not know about the situation at home, it was my classmates who learned from the students who came out of my father's school to do the revolutionary networking and then told me about it. I collected many flyers in the revolutionary networking and sent them to my mother. I remember a statement by Premier Zhou Enlai on the leaflets, "Cadres should seek truth from facts, and not admit what is not true. Things will always be cleared up." Mom took this passage from Premier Zhou and hid it in the rice and sent it to my father, who later said that this note saved his life - that’s why he didn't commit suicide.
In fact, why father did not kill himself, mother later told us, was because of us, seven children. He thought that once he committed, he would be terminating himself from the people, and his children would have to carry this political liability, and how to survive for the rest of their lives. The blood lineage theory was dominating and there would be a risk of implicating his children, so he would not commit suicide even though he endured many tortures under harsh circumstances.
In 1967, when the violent struggle in Chongqing was fierce, I sneak into a train home. Because I didn't have a ticket, I was beaten by the Shanghai rebel team on the train. I said I could pay upon arrival and was refused and pushed off the train. I was also once beaten by the train station staff.
I didn't dare to get off directly in the city where my parents worked, but got off at the previous stop in Qingtaipo, and walked more than half a dozen kilometers back, returning home in the middle of the night. Dad and mom saw me back, and before having the time to feel sorry for me, they sent me back the next morning because they were afraid that people would know I was back, which could implicate me and affect my future.
My father took off his pair of old shoes and gave them to me, and I left early the next morning and went back to Chongqing where bullets were raining. My parents always thought that the gunfire was not as terrible as the political repercussions.
Before my leaving, my father said a few words, "Remember knowledge is power, when others stopped learning, you have to learn, do not follow the crowd." "Learning is the truth that has been proven for thousands of years." "Help your younger siblings in the future if you can."
Carrying this kind of heavy responsibility, when bullets were raining in Chongqing, I went through [Chinese mathematician] Fan Yingchuan's advanced mathematics exercise book from beginning to end twice and studied a lot of logic and philosophy ...... I also taught myself three foreign languages to the point that at that time I could read university textbooks [in the foreign languages]. In the end, because I am not a language genius, and I couldn’t use them [later] in the People’s Liberation Army, after more than 20 years of desolation, I completely forgot the foreign languages.
I regret it very much today that I wore my father's leather shoes at the time. I was a student then, a free man, not having to run in the mud and water, while dad was then being escorted to do hard labor, in the mud, in the water, being cold and wet, ...... he really needed the shoes. I only understood my parents' warmth at that time, not their needs, and was too selfish.
During the Cultural Revolution, my family's economic situation fell into a more difficult scenario than during the three-year natural disaster period. In order to financially defeat the capitalist roaders, the central Cultural Revolution Group issued official orders which capped capitalist roaders’ per capita income at 15 yuan. Moreover, the rebels at different levels lowered the cap further, and the average amount that really came to hand was about 10 yuan. I had classmates working in the street office, who introduced my younger siblings to dig sand in the river and lift earthworks to build the railroad ....... My younger siblings together gave me 100 yuan when I got married. That was all they earned by sifting sand in the cold water and being buried in collapsed earth when repairing the railroad ....... The hardship of life at that time were bearable, the mental suffering was much worse than the physical pain. Because my father was being investigated, my younger siblings were denied admission to school again and again, and the loss to them in that era was the inaccessibility to higher education.
Except for me, who started three years of college before the Cultural Revolution kicked in, my siblings did not finish high school, junior high school, high primary school, or junior primary school. The skills they later learned to adapt to life came from self-learning. In retrospect, the material hardships, as well as the mental trials and tribulations, were an opportunity for us to get mature later in our lives.
My mother had severe tuberculosis at that time. With such a tight purse and poor nutrition, she had to bear heavy political pressure, deliver meals to the cowshed, copy confessions......, and helped my father carve wax plates of confessions to print more copies [in a bid] to solve his [political] problems earlier. At that time, the oil printing machines in the society were for the rebel groups. It was impossible to borrow them. Mom then sharpened a piece of bamboo, scraped it on the wax paper, and printed out the confessions. ....... Mother was almost deaf due to the lack of appropriate medical treatment.
I was less affected at that time, being in a college away from home. When in the late stage of the Cultural Revolution I graduated and was set to be assigned to work, I was no longer an isolated case because tens of millions of cadres had been swept out throughout China. There was not an official conclusion on my father. Therefore, his issues could not be a basis for determining my assignment. Later, when I enlisted in the PLA, it was the same reason that got me through, so I had an extra bit of luck than my younger siblings. However, because of my father's issues, I was not able to join the Party, until after the "Gang of Four" was crushed.
The Cultural Revolution was a disaster for the country, but it was a baptism of life for us, making me mature politically and I was no longer a book nerd. Although I participated in the Red Guard movement, I was never a Red Guard, which was also strange. Because of the investigation into my father, no faction or group approved my participation in the Red Guard. I did not want to be a “commander” so as to organize three or five people who had been abandoned by society to form a fighting team and make an armband to wear. At that time, wearing an armband was a symbol of political status. I also envied the students who had “clean” families. Therefore, I could only follow the periphery of those organizations and do something little on the sidelines.
Reform and Opening-up
It wasn't until October 1976 that the Party center crushed the Gang of Four. That liberated us. I immediately became a "nouveau riche" in winning commendations. During the Cultural Revolution, no matter how hard I tried, all opportunities for merit and awards were not available to me. In the unit under my leadership, soldiers made merit citation of third class, merit citation of second class, collective merit citation of second class almost every year and in large numbers, but I, the leader, never received a commendation. I had never had any injustice in my heart, [because] I had gotten used to the quiet life that we do not deserve commendation, and this is the psychological training that led to me not competing for honors today.
After the crush of the "Gang of Four", life turned over. Because I twice filled the national gap and had technical inventions and creations in line with the needs of the times, all of a sudden, [I was called] "standard-bearing, meritorious ...... " The PLA’s and civilian authorities’ recognition came like sea waves. I couldn’t heat up myself, and many (physical products as a result of the) prizes for me were collected by other people and brought back to me when I distributed them to many.
I attended the National Science Congress in March 1978, and of the 6,000 delegates, just over 150 were under 35 years old. I was 33. I was also one of the few non-Party members among delegates from the military. Under the direct care of the Party committee of the branch of the PLA, the military went directly to conduct an external investigation for the purpose of finding out my father's history before he was rehabilitated.
The external investigation denied some of the slander (of my father). The findings were sent by the military to my father's local Party organization as well. I finally joined the Communist Party of China. Later on, I attended the 12th National Congress of the CPC. My father made a big frame of the photo where I was with the leaders of the CPC Central Committee and hung it on the wall, and my whole family was proud of it.
My father was also rehabilitated shortly after the "Gang of Four" was crushed. At that time, the Party needed to restore some key high schools as soon as possible to increase the rate of advancement in the college entrance exams, so he was asked to be the principal. Before the Cultural Revolution, he was the principal of a vocational college. He didn't care about the demotion [from a college to a high school], didn't care about the gain or loss, and just thought since he had a chance to work, he (should) put his heart and soul into it.
Soon he got the quality of teaching up, and the rate of his students entering a higher-level education reached more than 90%. The school became famous far and wide. He did not retire until he was 75 years old in 1984. He said that he had finally caught up in the end and done a little work. He wanted us to cherish our time and do a good job. From then on, we set out for our respective career and could not care for each other anymore.
I have also personally witnessed and experienced the old leader of the Sichuan Provincial Party Committee, Comrade Yang Chao, who made a second comeback during the Cultural Revolution. His children had always been friends with us. At the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, his father was imprisoned. At a later time, I heard his daughter say that the Party would go to the prison in a few days to talk to his father and ask him to come back as the Secretary of the Sichuan Provincial Committee. As soon as he got out, he went to work without any complaints.
I am proud of the political virtues of the older generation, who worked hard as soon as they were released from the cowshed and resumed their Party links.
They were not pleased by external gains and not saddened by personal losses; they were not counting honor and disgrace; they loved the country and the Party; and they remained loyal to the cause. That is worth learning for generations to come. Life cannot be without setbacks, but one's will to work for the people cannot be shaken.
I was fortunate to be at the National Science Conference and listen to the speech of the central leader, who said that the next decade or so would be a rare period of peace and that we should seize the opportunity to devote ourselves to economic development.
I was young and lacked political acumen, and did not understand the implication. Two or three years later, came the Great Disarmament. The entire branch of the PLA where I belonged was decommissioned. It was then that I understood what foresighted leadership meant.
In 1982, during the 12th Party Congress, the central topic was disarmament for our group - representing the infrastructure engineering corps - and the group of railway corps , because as soon as the 12th Party Congress was over, we (the two Corps) were going to be decommissioned completely.
We were reluctant. After all, we were used to military life for more than ten or twenty years. At that time, my father and mother did not quite understand the Party's Reform and Opening up, and also thought it was a pity to leave the PLA.
After entering civilian life, I could not adapt to the commodity economy [as against a planned economy], and I had no ability to be good at it. At first, I was a manager at an electronics company, and I suffered a setback because I was cheated by others. Later, I couldn’t find a job, and I founded Huawei for there was no better option.
The first few years of Huawei were very difficult. At that time, my parents, my nephew, and I lived in a small room of a dozen square meters, and the cooking was done on the balcony. They worried about me on everything and lived very frugally, saving some money and saying it would be used to save me in the future. (I heard my sister say that two months before my mother passed away, mom told my sister that she had several thousand yuan saved. It was to save the brother in the future since he would not always be successful. When my mother was hit by a car, she had only a few dozen yuan on her and no papers and was rescued by the police as a Jane Doe. At lunchtime, my sister and brother-in-law found that mom had not returned and looked around, only to find out that she had been in a car accident. Parents worry about their children, and that’s how pure a mother's heart was.)
At that time in Guangdong, dead fish and shrimp were very cheap, so father and mother only bought dead fish and shrimp to eat, saying that they were fresher than the inland region! [Guangdong was a coastal province.] They went out at night to buy vegetables and watermelon because at that time of the day the unsold vegetables were cheaper.
I had no time to take care of their lives that I didn’t know my mother's diabetes became serious. It was a neighbor who told me. When Huawei grew to some scale, the pressure of management adaptation was very huge, I not only could not take care of my parents but also could not even take care of myself. It was during that period of time that my body was exhausted (to have illnesses). That’s when my parents only moved to Kunming to settle with my sister.
Because of this, I understood that hard work comes with sacrifices. Huawei's success cost my opportunity and responsibility to take care of my father and mother, and also eroded my own health.
I always thought my mother was in good health and would have time. My poor health, as well as knowledge structure and intelligence, cannot keep up with the times, so I will also gradually exit the stage of history, and there will always be time to be with her.
I didn't imagine the unexpected tragedy. Looking back on my own history, I have no regret in my life to the motherland, to the people, to the business or my colleagues, or to friends. My only regret is to my father and mother. When I was poor I didn’t take care of them, when I was no longer poor I didn’t take care of them either. I know my situation is better than the vast majority of people. For memory, that’s why I write all of these.
Dad and mom, I call you with a thousand voices, but you will not return after my thousand-voice calls.
Those who have perished have perished, those who are living shall move forward.
---- February 8, 2001, in Shenzhen