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1. My Childhood and Youth in Saigon

Chapter 1

My Childhood and Youth in Saigon


My family background

My Chinese name is Zhou Hui Xian. I was born in the city of Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) of South Vietnam. My parents were Chinese from the southern Chinese province of Guang­dong. They moved from Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong, to South Vietnam during the Japanese invasion of China. At that time they thought that they would stay temporarily in Vietnam for a few years, and that once the war was over they can re­turn to Guangzhou. But soon afterwards, Vietnam too was captured by the Japanese, which made it very difficult for the people in Vietnam to make a living. By the time the war was over, my parents were impoverished, and couldn’t afford the ship fare to go back to China. They were stranded in South Vietnam, yet they held on to the hope that one day, after saving enough money, they could go back home.


But shortly after the war of resistance against the Japanese had been won, the war of liberation in China got under way. The political situation in China changed rapidly, and within just a few years, the Nationalist government had moved to Taiwan, where­as the government of the People’s Republic of China was established in Beijing. Vietnam was also divided, into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. South Vietnam and the People’s Republic of China were opposed to each other, and there were no diplomatic relations between them. The people of these two coun­tries were not allowed to commun­icate with one another, so my parents lost contact with their family members in the Chinese city of Guangzhou.


After Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam in 1954, the South Vietnamese govern­ment realized that the population of South Vietnam was smaller than that of North Vietnam. If in the future a referendum is held for the whole of Vietnam on a political decision, South Vietnam would certainly lose. So they came up with the idea of forcing all the Chinese in South Vietnam to give up their Chinese citizenship and take up Vietnamese citizenship. Many wealthy Chinese left South Vietnam; some went back to Hong Kong, some to Taiwan. But my parents were so poor that they couldn’t leave South Vietnam, and had to stay there. The method by which the South Vietnamese govern­ment forced the Chinese to take up Vietnamese citizenship was very simple: just change their place of birth from China to Vietnam, and issue them Vietnamese IDs. In one flash the Chinese in South Vietnam became Vietnamese born in Vietnam. My parents were angry about this, and resolutely held on to their Chinese passports. Even though the passports had no more legal value, they were the only proof of their Chinese identity, and were priceless to them for that reason.