Last Boat Out of Shanghai -The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution

HML Vancouver Sailing Farm – Liming  Li

What does that say about the Communist government when most people stayed in Shanghai during the Japanese invasion, but rushed to get out when the Communists were on their way after the surrender of Japan?

In early and the spring of 1949 millions of people who lived in Shanghai made an exodus out of the city with the impending take over of the Communists and the Red Army. Many people knew that they would be the people attacked because many of them were rich or middle class, intellectuals, owned land, owned businesses, or were foreigners, as well as, nuns and missionaries and Jewish refugees. Many knew they would be the ones considered too Western and bourgeoisie and would lose not only everything they owned and their livelihoods, but possibly their lives. Some were officials or soldiers with the Nationalists and feared execution, and especially the Japanese puppets who had a lot to fear. There was also a large exodus from all of China, but this book concentrates on four families who left Shanghai.

Many of these people and their families left so many possessions behind, only taking what they could wear or carry. Many wore layers of clothing so that they could take more clothing with them.

Chinese people left for Hong Kong, Taiwan, other Asian countries, Canada, and the U.S., etc. with foreigners returning to their country of birth. The parting words of one of the foreigners was, “It was a great city, but it’s become a hellhole.”

People crowded onto boats, that sometimes sunk due to overcrowding and mines planted in the river, or airplanes that sometimes crashed due to overloading, and also trains where people sometimes fell from them for the same reason, overcrowding. But people were desperate to leave and tried by any means possible. Now it was time to go.

The Communists had gained the support of millions for farmers with the promise of land reforms. Land taken from rich landlords and redistributed to the poor farmers and peasants. Chairman Mao had declared landlords to be the class enemies of the peasant farmers. Many who couldn’t flee killed themselves. In Communist “liberated” areas, landlords were being liquidated in the name of land reform and their confiscated land being redistributed. Many who were targeted were beaten, tortured, and sent off as beggars with a death sentence for anyone who helped them. Many were killed.

When the Communists reached Shanghai in an effort to stop the exodus, they claimed to the ones who had not fled yet, that there would not be a revolution and to continue business as usual. The Communists were worried about too many intellectuals leaving Shanghai as well as business. They would need money and people to help them set up a new China. The Communists gave the impression of being fair people and that no one had to worry about them. Many were happy the Communists had come and there were celebrations. But we know how that all changed.

Worship in churches were cancelled. People had to pray in private. Schools were to be brought in line with party policy and English was no longer allowed. It was considered as “slavery language.” All the classes were made to be taught in Chinese only. In the beginning, there were not too many rules enforced.

It was believed by some that once the honeymoon was over, this government would do the same as all had done in the past and become lazy and do only what is good for them, everything for its own benefit. And eventually, their worst fears came to pass with mass “trials”, struggles and at times violence where many were beaten to death. It is estimated that over a million landlords had been killed during the time of the revolution. The government under Mao became worse, stricter, and more severe. Taxes were raised so high on churches, schools, and businesses that the employers could not pay them. Employers were forbidden to lay off workers unless they could give a huge severance package. Mao’s government tightened control on the people more and more. Eventually religious organizations were declared counterrevolutionary and closed. Missionaries and nuns were denounced and imprisoned.

Even today, the Communist Party will not acknowledge that this exodus took place and that there was great loss in economics, social, and intellectual capital from Shanghai because of it.

(The writer of the article is Canadian born, English name Dawn and Chinese name Li Liming. Dawn was married to a Chinese man whose family name is Li and lived in China for 8 years where she taught English.)

Editor: Jing Wen

Posted by: Shuang

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments