The project, specifically, draws an image of Lao (old) Zhang, a nobody living in a remote, forgotten village in China and an illegitimate child born in the 1930s. He can only speak dialects, but everyone in town calls him "The German" because his dad was a German battleship officer in Shanghai during World War II. He was left in China when his biological mother, the youngest daughter from an influential family in Shanghai, eloped with her lover to German. For some reason, they did not take Lao Zhang with them but to entrust him to her best friend with gold, silver jewelry, and other property as a parenting fee. When China was liberated in 1949, Lao Zhang was a young man, and he entered a medical school planning to be a doctor. Then the Cultural Revolution started, and it was almost a sure thing that Lao Zhang's destiny would turn sharply. His step-mother died in the movement, and their property was confiscated. He was thrown into prison because of his unusual look and class origin. Thus he was suspected espionage. His best years were spent in prison. When he was released, he did not have a home anymore. He was unaccompanied and had been used to prison life. So he decided to work as a prison doctor. As time went by, he got old and lonely. A "good-hearted" colleague introduced him to a woman from Yudong and Lao Zhang married to her without expecting too much of the relationship. However, after marriage, he found that the woman was mentally ill, but it was too late because their mentally disabled daughter was born. With the economy booming in China in the 80s, the government readdressed the so-called "unjust and false cases," which policy approved to return Lao Zhang's biological mother's property in Shanghai. Lao Zhang became a millionaire over-nightly. It was a time everyone wanted to be a boss and make a fortune, so did Lao Zhang with the money he inherited. Although he did not have any experience in business, he bet almost everything to run a shirt factory. It was the highlight moment in his life that he finally got some freedom of his own. Unfortunately, before long, the factory went bankrupt, and Lao Zhang's dream broke. He had no choice but went back to the old town Yudong and lived with his deranged wife and daughter day after day, year after year. There was a time his parents and siblings in Germany finally found him and hoped that he would live with them. He refused the idea and said he did not want to leave his mad wife and daughter unattended. He has been taking care of both of them until today.
Lao Zhang's intense and dramatic life experience was bestowed by the radical changes in the world and the rapid flow of classes in Chinese society. As an observer, I want to incorporate both global and local perspective to zoom into Lao Zhang's life as an immigrant- his reluctant relationship with socio-political vicissitudes and his subjective in relation to man's will power. Born and raised in mainland China and working in the US on a visa, I choose a different entry point to discuss the Chinese diaspora within the historical period from Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese civil war, cultural revolution and to current.
The project also intends to examine the dichotomy of "appearance" and "core" of an immigrant's conflicting situation. Opposite to many migrants overseas, Lao Zhang's German face naturally isolates him from his tight-knit community. He was forced to be in a foreign state mentally rather than a physical dislocation. By using household articles and furniture as representations, which reflects personal history and traces of living, I want to transform those worldly goods (with inside painted in traditional Chinese decretive pattern) into symbols, which explores the meaning behind "immigration" as of its geographic alienation and psychological alienation.
Further, this sympathetic gesture of this project hopes to capture a man's existence before it sinks into the river of history, like many other immigrants whose silent stories undertake heavy historical weights and scars. By weaving an intricate net, the project creates a side profile of the Chinese diaspora and how it connects to today’s context.