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Research Memoir: Life Changing Act of Kindness


In spite of education western influences on Chinese cultures, the traditional values, cultures and customs are still holding strong. I grew up in a society that puts more emphasis in selfless service and in social relations rather than in individual goals. My upbringing has shaped my view of life and the social relationships from early childhood to early adolescence. I was struck by a culture shock when my family moved from Hefei to Beijing, which is a city in which western customs that mainly emphasize on individual success and personal liberty are much more prevalent. There, I encountered an act of kindness that changed my perception to life. In this essay, I discuss an account of my childhood life, how change of cultural environment modified my worldview, and how the act of kindness changed my life.

Life in Hefei

I was born and brought up in Hefei City in Anhui province in Eastern China. Hefei, a capital city of Anhui province was had a population of approximately 500,000 inhabitants. In addition to this, its inhabitants were relatively poor. Majority of the city residents had manual labor jobs such as construction, babysitting, cleaning and house-keeping. I consider my family relatively well-off in comparison to the general population of this city given that my father had college education, and had been sent to Hefei from Shanghai to work for Chinese Communist Party. We were three siblings, who were all born and raised partly in Hefei.

The Chinese Communist Party had been the ruling political party in China for years before I was born (Yafei np). Having good knowledge of the party because my father was an insider, I considered myself luckier than other children…


From my father’s perspective, I was born at a time when my parents were members of the Chinese Communist Party, and pledged loyalty to communist cause. My parents were deeply committed to their jobs and to politics and because of it they rarely had time for us. As a result, our maternal grandmother was the one who nurtured and took care of us. My maternal grandfather and my mother lived in the countryside near Hefei City, but then she moved to Hefei City to take care of us. I later learned that she didn’t like living a lonely life in the countryside after my grandfather was arrested by the communist government because as a landlord, he violated party’s policies and was labeled as a criminal (McGregor 213). No one in our family ever told us about him,, we never knew he existed until one day my grandmother took us to prison to visit him. He was in a bad state; he wore tattered clothes, his back was slightly bent, his forehead was frowned and he had a forced smile. I felt sorry for him and wondered why he was not allowed to come home to live with us.

I remember being sent to a boarding school with my sister, because my parents were too busy with their careers. The food at the boarding school was poorly cooked, and given out in small portions that hardly filled students’ empty stomachs. The school had no central heating system and during winter; we had to dress in heavy coats during the day and in coats, sweaters and pants during night to protect us from the cold.

Life in Beijing

Our family relocated to Beijing when I was around twelve years old. I felt relieved from the fact that we were going to Beijing. Although we had to leave grandmother and my friends behind, my joy of relocating to Beijing overshadowed the sad feeling of leaving my friends and relatives in Hefei. After a long road trip to Beijing, we arrived there at night. I could notice the drastic differences between Beijing and Hefei even by night.. The arrangements of the lighting systems in Beijing were much more beautiful than in Hefei. Besides, I could notice that the people who were walking on the streets at that time of the night were more presentable, and looked happier than the people in Hefei which appeared to be occupied with their problems most of the time.

It did not take us long to adjust to lifestyle in Beijing. Being that we were only three siblings, our parents gave us the best resource they could afford to make us successful in life. My parents continued to instill the traditional and values that were prevalent in the society. In China, children are taught to avoid fights and arguments, and to respect the elders in order to be respected in the public. In school, the teachers insisted that we behave ourselves humble, kind and responsible in everything that we did. Unlike Hefei, where people lived as a community, in Beijing people kept more to themselves and their families. We lived in a closely knit family of five. Comparing Beijing to modern times, it has not changed much Today, the Beijing community is much more westernized in comparison to Hefei, people dress fashionable, and private money is more valued than social behaviour (Scocca 279).

Life Changing Experiences

I believed that the life in Beijing has shaped me to be what  I am today; a kind and humble human being. As opposed to Hefei, the children in Beijing were rude and inconsiderate. I learnt to differentiate between selfishness of the urban culture and the discipline in the countryside culture of China. The people in Beijing appeared more intimidating to me, they were always ready for a fight. I never expected to find a kind and welcoming person. One day, as I was walked home from school, I spotted a group of boys that were running towards me. Of course, I got scared, but had nowhere to escape. They beat me without anybody around to help me. These boys were ruthless in their cruelty. I started bleeding and lost all the energy to resist. They took me to a railroad nearby and left me there. As I struggled to get off the rail, I sensed that the train was coming my way. It was at this time that a ten year old boy named Yamei, who was chatting with his friends from school, saw me. He made a sharp quick decision to save my life, even though it could have been dangerous to him. I was so weak that I could not move and I was pretty heavy so he couldn’t pull me away from the rails on time.  He covered my body with his and pulled me down between the train tracks. The train operator saw us and tried to stop the train but it was already much too close. The first ten train cars rolled over us, mere inches from my head, when the train finally stopped, he screamed and shouted to on lookers that we were okay. Eventually, we were pulled out and I was taken to the hospital for a check.

When I came back to school the bully boys were remorseful of what they did. They promised never to bully anyone ever again. When I met Yamei later at the school, I thanked him and told him how grateful I was for what he did. He told me that he did not feel like he did anything extraordinary except helping a person who was in need of help. His act of bravery and kindness saved my life. Today, I can say that this episode shaped my life; it showed me the two sides of Beijing, two extremes – cruelty and kindness. Although I was raised to be a kind, obedient, and respectful child, I never thought my life would be saved by a child as brave and selfless and Yamei. The act of kindness has prompted me to be kind to everyone, because acts of kindness, however small, are what are needed in the modern society.

Overall, individual characters are what shape childhood experiences. Despite having a prejudiced view of the Beijing’s culture, I learnt that it raised kind and selfless individuals as well. The diversity of the population and characters made me reflect on my own life, the way I was brought up in early childhood, my maternal grandmother and how my grandfather tried to show us a smile when we visited him in jail. I also reflected on how my parents used to explain to me everything that I couldn’t understand, and how my grandmother insisted on being humble, respectful and kind to all people at all times. What I saw and experienced taught me that every society needs kind, generous, respectful members in order to keep it going.

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