A Times Reporter on His Father’s Years in Mao’s Army in China

As a reporter for The New York Times, I have had the privilege of covering a wide range of stories, from political scandals to natural disasters. But perhaps the most personal and poignant story I have ever written is the one about my father’s years in Mao’s army in China.

Growing up, my father rarely spoke about his time in the People’s Liberation Army. He would occasionally mention snippets of his experiences, but it was always in passing, as if he were trying to shield us from the harsh realities of war and revolution. It wasn’t until I began researching a story on China’s Cultural Revolution for the Times that I decided to delve deeper into his past.

As I pored over historical documents and interviewed former soldiers, I began to piece together my father’s story. He had joined the PLA in his early twenties, eager to serve his country and fight for the ideals of communism. He was assigned to a unit that was tasked with carrying out Mao’s radical policies, including the forced redistribution of land and the suppression of perceived counter-revolutionaries.

The more I learned about my father’s experiences, the more I realized the immense sacrifices he had made. He had witnessed atrocities and violence that haunted him for years, and he had lost friends and comrades in the brutal battles of the Cultural Revolution. But what struck me the most was his unwavering loyalty to the Party and his commitment to the cause, even in the face of such hardship.

When I finally broached the subject with my father, he was hesitant to open up at first. But as we talked, he began to share his memories and emotions with me, recounting the moments of fear and courage, despair and hope that defined his time in the army. He spoke of the camaraderie among his fellow soldiers, the strict discipline of military life, and the constant struggle to survive in a world torn apart by ideology and violence.

Through his stories, I gained a deeper understanding of my father and the forces that shaped him. I saw the complexities of his character, the resilience of his spirit, and the depth of his convictions. And I realized that his experiences in Mao’s army had left an indelible mark on him, shaping his values and beliefs in ways that I had never fully appreciated before.

As I wrote the article for the Times, I felt a sense of pride and gratitude for my father and his generation of soldiers. They had endured unimaginable hardships and made unimaginable sacrifices, all in the name of a vision of a better society. And though the ideals of communism may have faltered and faded over the years, their legacy lives on in the stories they left behind.

In the end, my father’s years in Mao’s army taught me a valuable lesson about the power of history and the importance of remembering the past. They reminded me of the sacrifices that have been made in the name of progress and the duty we all have to honor those who came before us. And they showed me the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity, a lesson that I will carry with me always.