My Book “Dad’s Bicycle” and Life in China

After retiring in 2015, I always wanted to write something about the place I grew up.  I wanted the world to know about that remote village in northern China, as that’s part of who I am.  Finally my mini-memoir “Dad’s Bicycle” was published on Amazon last year.

The village I grew up is totally different from Beijing or Shanghai.  The life there is still primitive.  There is no running water or in-house plumbing yet.  I lived there for 16 years.  Spent my childhood, and attended the primary school, middle school, and high school there.  Many of my friends are still living there, got married and had kids.  Some of them are already proud grandparents. Do they care about the GDP?  I doubt about that.

In 1981, I left there, and went to a college in Beijing.  Going to the college totally changed my life, and I realized the world was much bigger than I thought.  I completed my undergraduate and graduate schools, and worked as an IT Engineer in Beijing for 8 years.

Beijing is such a special place to me, and I always feel the connection.  Having left China for two decades, I miss my college buddies, the great Chinese good, the gorgeous Tian An Men Square, the lovely and familiar streets, and a lot more.

Once a while, the local radio station in central Ohio broadcast some traditional Chinese music.  The one I heard over and over again is “The Butterfly Lovers” (“Liang Zhu” in Chinese), played by the Singapore Symphony Orchestra.  It brought me tears when hearing the beautiful music during the night.  What do I miss the most?  It’s hard to tell exactly.  Just that kind of vague and sweet feeling that is always lingering there.

This is why I wrote the book “Dad’s Bicycle”.  I like to share my life story with you and every reader.  How did the life in the 60s, 70s and 80s in China look like?  Is the remote village in China really that backward?  What do the people in the village care the most?  How did a young country girl like me walk out of that place, and embrace the world?

This is an eBook.  You’ll see it at the top right bar of this blog.  The book image links to  It’s also available in many countries outside of US.  Check your local Amazon web site under Books, enter the book name, and you’ll see it.  The Amazon Kindle software needs to be downloaded in order to read the book.  The Kindle software is free.

This book is about an old bicycle in my family.  It is more about the life in China.  Here is the excerpt from the first chapter of this book.


——————————  Start of the Book Excerpt ——————————

I GREW UP in a remote village of Shan Xi province, China.  

  I was born in mid 60s.  Dad bought this bicycle in 1968.  Believe it or not, this bicycle was part of my family for 47 years.  It recorded the ups and downs of my family.  It also mirrored the dramatic changes that happened in China during the last five decades.

  As far as I can remember, the brand label of the bicycle was worn out at the very beginning, and nobody in my family knew what kind of bicycle it was.  It had the 28-inch wheels which were big, and reliable.  It went anywhere Dad went to during the day, and sat there in the living room of my parents’ house during the night.

  My parents have two children:  my brother and I.  My brother is a couple of years older than I.  Four of us loved our bicycle, the only transportation means in our household.  I started to learn to ride a bicycle around the age of 13 when I was in the middle school.  It was a real struggle.  Our bicycle was huge to me, as I’m petite size.  The size 28 inch tires were the biggest size at that time.  There were two styles of bicycles in China:  man-style and woman-style.  The only difference was the top tube.  With the top tube, it’s man-style; without the top tube, it’s woman-style, which is easier to get on and out. Adding another challenge to me, our bicycle was the man-style.

  Dad was a primary school teacher.  He taught for over 30 years, and retired in the late 90s.  In the primary school over there, there was no math teacher or Chinese teacher per se.  Each grade was one class (usually 20-30 students), one class had only one teacher, and this teacher taught everything.  Just a one-man band.  So Dad taught every subject: math, Chinese, political science, music, art, physical education, etc.  Dad met Mom when they were in early 20s.  They fell in love, and got married.  Mom is a homemaker. 

  My parents lived in a small 3-room house.  Each room was about 100 square feet.  The middle room was the living room.  The other two were bedrooms.  Each bedroom had a big bed spread from wall to wall.  It was made of clay, and veneered a bit by bricks.  When Mom cooked, the cooking fire and smoke went through the small tunnel of the bed, and went out of the chimney.  This kept the bed warm.  The yard was shared among my family, my paternal grandparents and two other families. 


FOR DECADES, the teachers in primary schools and middle schools had two categories:  the first category was called Gong Ban Teacher, the other one was called Min Ban Teacher.  The majority of the teachers were in the Gong Ban pool.  Gong Ban means Sponsored and Paid by the Government, they were permanent employees of the government.  Min Ban means Sponsored and Paid by the Village Farmers, they were temporary employees.  In terms of work load and job responsibility, Gong Ban and Min Ban had the same, but there were huge differences in benefits and pay scales.  Gong Ban teachers were paid several times higher than the Min Ban teachers.  A Gong Ban teacher had a pension once retired while a Min Ban teacher didn’t. 

  Dad was a Min Ban teacher.  He was paid by the village.  Depending on how the whole village’s crops were at the end of the year, Dad’s pay fluctuated a lot year to year.  One year his salary was as low as $30 for the whole year, as it was an extremely dry year.  Why Dad was not a Gong Ban teacher?  A couple of months before Dad graduated from the middle school in 1957, someone altered the village document illegally, and changed the background of my paternal grandpa to Landlord.  Grandpa was working for the government, and was purged and labeled as Anti-revolutionist.  Dad had one brother and one sister.  He was the youngest.  Dad was punished because of being an Anti-revolutionist’s child, and was denied of every opportunity of advancing his education.  At that time Dad’s brother and sister already went to the vocational schools, and were able to get a job right after graduation. 

  Dad’s classmates either went to high school or vocational schools, and government guaranteed them a good job.  Some of them became Gong Ban teachers, others became engineers, government officials, etc.  Dad was one of the few left behind because of the stinky “family background”.  That was the darkest year in Dad’s life.  Grandpa was stripped of his job, title, benefits, and everything, and was sent back to the village for labor reform.  Dad was denied advancing in his school.  That was the start of how Dad became a Min Ban teacher. 

  Grandpa spent 22 years in the village for labor reform.  In 1979, the government realized they just made a mistake, and reversed the call:  Grandpa’s position and benefits were restored, and he was able to retire afterwards as government employee.  Dad finally found the altered village document that put three generations of my family into misery, and showed to Grandpa.  Grandpa just cried, for a long time.  Grandpa never ever received any apology from the government.  Should there be an apology since he didn’t do anything wrong and lost 22 years of precious life?  I think so.  The whole ordeal was handled by the government just like a joke.  My uncle, who is Dad’s brother, was saying that, we should feel lucky.  Uncle’s point was, at least Grandpa was safe in the village during 1966-1976, the Cultural Revolution.  Otherwise Grandpa could suffer more.  I’m not sure about that.

——————————  End of the Book Excerpt ——————————

I hope you enjoy the read.  Please click the link on the right bar and get a copy of this book from Amazon.  It only costs $2.99, even cheaper than a hamburger.  Plus reading a book is healthier than eating a hamburger.  Thank you.

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8 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    Congratulations on your book Helen, what an accomplishment! I don’t think I could ever write a book, which is too bad because I have lots I would love to share.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Thanks a lot. You can write a book, too, if you want to. You have been doing great on blogging, and a book would be similar. After retiring, you’ll get more time. I used the Amazon to self publish it, and no middlemen like publisher or editor was involved. Sharing the life stories is great, and I like it.

  2. This is such a moving story. I read it during my train ride home and it made me a little bit teary. It’s sad how someone’s wickedness can ruin someone’s life (in this case multiple people’s lives). It’s good that you got to go to an out of state school and experience a different life.

    99to1percent recently posted…About Our Humble Beginnings

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Thank you. It was sad. It was more a political crisis in China during 50s, 60s, and even 70s. Friends and even family members became enemies in order to protect themselves. Many people were innocent, and were tortured to death. I feel lucky that my family survived. But the emotional trauma stayed for a long time …

  3. Bob says:

    It is truly amazing how lucky we are just being born and living in the United States. And most people don’t even realize it. Comparing standards of living here vs. other countries, most everyone here would be considered wealthy. We have running water and electricity. I love watching documentaries on Netfilix and just finished one about the Mekong River. It was fascinating. I will have to check out your book as you seam to have a great story.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      I agree. I feel very lucky living in US, this great country. Sometimes I take nice things for granted like: fresh air, having a car, well-ordered traffic, huge parking lot, big place to live, etc. My village always reminds me to appreciate the current life.

  4. Nanyu Cao says:

    Admired your courage to write a blog and even a book in English.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Thanks a lot, Nanyu. I’m sure everyone has stories to tell. It’s fun to share with others. I love telling my stories and thoughts about China, especially about my hometown in Shan Xi.
      – Helen

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