- Emily Pan
Double Luck: Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan (Part I)
Updated: Jan 19, 2021
Double Luck tells the story of Lu Chi Fa, a Chinese American who escaped Communist China and made his way to America. In 1944, Lu Chi Fa's parents died and at the time, China was facing tremendous political turmoil as the Communist party was coming into power, and very few families were willing to care for orphans. Even Lu Chi Fa's family was unwilling to take him in; hence, Chi Fa was often hungry, cold, and beaten. But through all of life's challenges, Chi Fa held onto his sister's words: "You are lucky, Chi Fa. Good fortune will find you" (8). Indeed, in 1969, Lu Chi Fa had found good fortune for he had the opportunity to immigrate to America, a land he always dreamed of seeing because of its legendary ideals. Today, he is a successful restaurant owner, owning the Coffee Pot Restaurant in Morro Bay, California. Here, we will give a brief summary of Lu Chi Fa's bitter childhood, but no one could tell his story as well as himself, whose words are forever contained in his autobiography, Double Luck: Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan.
Part I: Jiangsu Province (1944-1950)
In the summer of 1944, Lu Chi Fa, who was only three years old, would lose his parents forever after the village healer gave Father the wrong medicine, killing Father, and brokenhearted Mother, shortly after. They would leave behind Lu Chi Fa, whose name means "new beginning", his sister, and three older brothers. The death of both his parents meant Chi Fa was an orphan, and though his sister, who is twenty years older than him, took him into her home for a time, only day, Chi Fa recalls Sister saying, "Sister likes to have you here, but [my husband] Chi Haw does not. I am going to have a baby, and my husband wants only his own son. There is nothing I can do" (7). And with that, Sister left Chi Fa at the door of Favorite Uncle. But Favorite Uncle was not home, and Aunt slammed the door in his face saying, "We do not want another mouth to feed!" (8). Chi Fa recalls, "I wanted to run away, but I had nowhere to go," but little did he know that Aunt's house was only the beginning of a restless journey being abandoned and hungry (8). Following an argument between Favorite Uncle and Aunt on pg. 10, when Lu Chi Fa was five and a half years old, Chi Fa's family decided that since Number One Brother, Ching Fa, had inherited Father's store, he should take care of Chi Fa:
"The boy is four, and he cannot even talk," she huffed. "What good is he? He's just another mouth to feed."
"He is my sister's baby," Uncle pleaded softly.
"Give him back to [Sister]. Why should we be responsible for him?" Aunt demanded.
"[Sister] has a new baby girl to take care of, and Chi Haw doesn't want him," Uncle whispered.
"I don't want him either!" she snapped. "Tomorrow he goes."
Then came silence. Aunt always got the last word.
But Number One Uncle was a drinker and a gambler, and soon enough he lost all of his money; hence, he ran off to Shanghai, leaving Sister-in-Law, Nephew, and Chi Fa behind. But the barge tickets to Shanghai were expensive, and Sister-in-Law, who was yearning to rejoin her husband, sold Chi Fa to a Communist chief for 500 pounds of rice, which she used to pay for the barge to Shanghai for Nephew and herself.
But at the Communist parents' house, Chi Fa was treated horribly, "locked outside on the porch like a dog" with nothing to eat, freezing in his straw shoes, and often beaten when his Communist parents came home (19). When Chi Fa tried to get something to eat, Communist Father, "grabbed me by my hair and hung me up in the air with me feet dangling several feet from the floor" (17-18). And when no moonlight shone, Communist Father would make him grab bamboo for the cow, which meant passing through the cemetery and canal where unwelcoming creatures roam.
Chi Fa was also brought to the Communist meetings, where Communist Father was the leader, and he heard Communist Father say, "The Chinese Communist Party will rule China without a fight. Because of this season's floods, millions of Chinese are homeless. Every day thousands of Chinese starve to death" (26). Chi Fa was confused and saddened that Communist parents would want millions of people to starve; hence, he ran out of the building crying, only to be scolded by Communist Father. Luckily for Chi Fa, his time with the Communist parents would end when they took him with them on their boat to a nearby village to sell wheat and he escapes home with sister. But first, on pg. 32, after Communist mother bragged about the lovely dinner they were to have, Chi Fa was ordered to jump into the muddy water to dock the boat, and he was told that when Communist parents had supper, he was to stay guarding the boat.
First I helped [Communist Father] lift the heavy cart out of the boat. Then, one at a time, we carried the bags of wheat to the cart. Hungry and eager for a ripe peach and a duck egg, I grabbed the cart's handles.
Communist Mother called to me, "Double Luck, where do you think you are going?"
"To the marketplace," I said.
"No! You are soaking wet. Stay here and guard the boat. Father will eat your duck egg, and I will eat an extra peach for you."
With those few words, it was settled. There would be no supper for Double Luck.
But after spending the night in the boat, Chi Fa, who had not eaten for a two days, jumped out of the boat and followed a woman hauling sticks then came to a man's house who offered him a large pile of cakes. After eating, Chi Fa made his way back to the boat and to his surprise, he saw Favorite Uncle. In their conversation on pg. 41 and 42, Chi Fa says,
"Uncle, this is great luck seeing you here."
"It is not luck that brought me here, Chi Fa," he said with a smile. "An old woman selling sticks came to the school. She told me where I could find you."
"I want to go home with you, Uncle," I pleaded.
"Oh, no, I am sorry, Chi Fa, but I cannot take you. You belong to the Communist chief. It I steal you away, he would have me arrested. You belong to him."
"They are mean to me, Uncle. They beat me. They starve me."
"I am sorry for you, Chi Fa," said uncle.
..."Okay," I told him, "if you cannot help me, please go get Sister. I want to see her before I go. Tell her where I am. Tell her I am waiting here to see her. WIll you do that, Uncle? Please!"
Luckily for Chi Fa, Sister came to his rescue and told the Communist parents, "My little brother has been mistreated by you. You may be the Communist chief of your village and have a little bit of power, but I will report you to a higher authority. Let my brother go. If you refuse to let him go, there will be trouble" (44). And with that, Sister took Lu Chi Fa back to Favorite Uncle's house, only this time, with two bags of rice, which Sister forced Communist parents to provide. But at Favorite Uncle's house, Aunt only gave Chi Fa pig food and wheat husks, and always made him feed the pigs while the rest of the family had dinner so when Chi Fa returned, all the rice was gone. At night, Boy Cousin would never share the blanket with Chi Fa so he was always cold and shivering. But like Sister said, Chi Fa is lucky, and Sister gave Chi Fa a blanket of his own so he would never again be cold at Favorite Uncle's house; "Mother made it just before she died. I was saving it for your wedding day, but you need it now. Mama would want you to have it today" (57).
Then, one evening, Sister told Chi Fa that she had found a job for him working for another family in the kitchen. He worked for an old woman, whom he called Grandma, and every morning he would make her tea, work in her garden, and make the fire. Chi Fa loved being at Grandma's as he always had good food to eat and a clean bed to sleep in, but one day, Chi Fa had an accident making the fire and set the entire house on fire. Chi Fa, embarrassed, fled from the house, but no one else would take him in. Finally, the next morning, a sick man who often had seizures took Chi Fa in, and Chi Fa was to care for him. After caring for him for a time, Sister told Chi Fa he was to live with Ching Fa in Shanghai and handed Chi Fa women's clothing to wear on the ten-day barge, because Chi Fa had no decent clothes. Chi Fa was made fun of on the barge for his clothing, but he finally made his way to Brother's place. From Shanghai, Chi Fa would escape to Hong Kong, Taiwan, and finally the United States. His story continues in Part II.
Lu, Chi Fa., and Becky White. Double Luck: Memoirs of a Chinese Orphan. Holiday House, 2001.