Jia Zhen Liao remembers the day she lost her family.
“I was a young girl then and didn’t know what was happening,” she said.
In the early 1940s, young village children in the Canton province of China spent their days playing, tending the crops or performing various chores.
One day, Liao’s peace was disturbed. The Second Sino-Japanese war had begun in 1937 and the Japanese were coming. Liao’s village was evacuated immediately. Liao was no older than four or five.
Her family left the village with nothing but a cow. Barely out of the village, Liao was already too tired to walk and could not continue. Her father was busy pulling the cow. Her mother was carrying her older brother. Neither had the strength to carry another child. Her parents made a difficult decision. They hid her in the woods while they left for the mountains.
“They (had) to take the cow or we (would) starve later,” Liao remembered. “They took my brother because they needed a boy to work.”
Liao was in luck. The Japanese forces were a small group of soldiers. Her village was poor and yielded nothing of value. They left as quickly as they came. When it was safe, her family came back for her.
“I think I hid for a few hours or a day or more,” she said.
Today, Liao, 73, lives in Toronto and remains physically active, growing vegetables in her backyard garden. When autumn arrives, she bundles up and walks as often as possible.
Liao says her brush with the war was only one moment in her life. As a mother and grandmother, she said she resents violence and conflict.
When her son was a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army during the Sino-Vietnam war, she told him not to accept any promotion.
“Next time there’s trouble, you’ll be the first they’ll call back,” she told him.
Reflecting on the world today, she said, if “everyone focused on finding prosperity, there wouldn’t be a need for fighting.”