Beidaihe is the resting place of the leaders of China’s central controlling regime. There, leaders can rest while their children play and create fond memories of the beach.
Beidaihe has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in China. However, the late 1950s to mid-1960s were the heyday of Beidaihe. As a result, the beach there has entered the childhood memories of many children of Chinese leaders. And their story also reveals some of the perks of China’s leadership.
In September 2014, a reporter from the “National Humanity History” magazine interviewed Cheng Dan, the daughter of former Hunan governor Cheng Qian. Cheng Dan recounted her summer vacation in Beidaihe. Here is her story:
Every time coming to Beidaihe is like moving house
Summer vacations in Beidaihe have been part of the lives of high-ranking Chinese officials’ families. During summer vacation, Ms. Cheng’s family moves to Beidaihe for about a month, and the most extended trip lasts more than 40 days. So, whenever she comes to Beidaihe, it’s like moving to a new place. She and her family bring blankets, bed sheets, curtains, clothes, and even a small stool that is convenient to carry with her. In addition to her family, she is accompanied by a secretary, a driver, a chef, and a bodyguard. Secretary Yang, secretary Wang, secretary Xie, chef Liu Ge, brother Chen and two security guards from Beijing also accompanied the family. It’s like her family is moving house. Her grandmother and Mr. Liu worked together to calculate expenses and arrange everything, just as they did in Beijing.
In the 1950s, road transport was not yet developed. At that time, it took the family eight or nine hours by train to get to Beidaihe, and the driver had to drive his own car to Beidaihe to serve the family.
Only parts of the beach in Beidaihe belong to the State Council, namely Donghai Beach, Zhonghai Beach, and Xihai Beach. Further to the west at Xishan, the Central Office is located. Great leaders such as Mao Zedong and Lin Biao lived in Xishan, and Central Committee meetings were also held in Xishan. When the regime’s security work was implemented, no one could go to Xishan without approval. Even if approved to go to Xishan, there will be a car to pick you up and take you to a specific location. Then you will be taken back by car after the excursion. There is a beach between Donghai Beach and Xihai Beach, which is the resort of foreign embassies. Behind Miss Cheng’s house is the residence of the Danish ambassador. She often hears the voices of foreign girls talking.
The living and resort areas of the State Council in Beidaihe are essentially separate from the locals. You can see the sweet potato farmers in the mountains from the beach. Citizens of Beidaihe cannot go to the beach here, so there are always only a few families of senior leaders on the beach.
People of the same rank will stay close together
On the beach of the State Council, there are many small villas, which are the dormitories of the State Council. They are distributed according to rank and number of people in the family. The State Council must arrange for families to live in coastal villas, and the surrounding neighbors must be families of similar status because people with higher ranks were arranged to live closer to the sea. Those who the State Council allocates for a small villa must be ministerial-level officials or higher, or those who enjoy the ministerial-level treatment.
According to her sister, their family was initially located at Donghai Beach. While at Donghai Beach, He Xiangning and He Long’s family are below, and the family of Shen Quan Nho (Shen Jun Ru) are above. There seemed to be some marshals and generals nearby, but they rarely walked, so that she couldn’t remember their names.
While walking on the beach, you could meet these leaders. While having fun on the beach, marshals, and generals like Chen Yi, He Long, and Xiao Jinguang may run into each other by chance. She said that once, the wife of Chen Yi named, Zhang Qian took her daughter to see Liao Chengzhi.
In 1959, Li Jishen passed away. Her family moved to Zhonghai Beach and lived in Mr. Li’s previous villa. Her neighbors at this time were people from Xinjiang, such as Burhan, Shi Liang, Zhang Zhi Zhong, Tie Dao Jiang, Li Tao, Fu Zhong, etc. Many literary artists are working on the beach. For example, the wife of the famous writer Lao She and Hu Bangqing, the author of the work “Tracks in the Snowy Forest” and writer Qu Bo all lived in mountain apartments further from the beach; they were treated less favorably. Her villa is very close to the beach,
The coastal villas have different architecture, different areas, and different layouts. For example, Cheng’s house was a single-story house. The general design has ample space in the middle for dining and parties, bedrooms on two sides, and three rooms on each side; there were seven or eight rooms in total, and there were many small rooms at the back of the mansion where the guards lived. The total area of the villa is over 3,200 square feet. On the other hand, Zhang Zhizhong’s house she often visited is a two-story building. Security guards and plainclothes policemen were always on top of the hill on the beach. Because there is security, there is no need to close the door at night when sleeping.
Even in difficult times, supplies are still good
When it comes to food, every family’s situation is different. For example, her family has a chef who mainly cooks in their own home. The family of Zhang Zhizhong, who lives near her house, also brings their chef and cooks for themselves. At the same time, the Zhang family also opened a canteen. Families who do not bring their chefs come to the canteen to eat. The canteen is quite good and features a variety of seafood. The canteen uses meal vouchers, and the prices are very low.
Even if you buy food and cook it yourself, you still have to go to the State Council supply station to buy it because it has a dedicated service body responsible for all matters. So, for example, when the chefs in Ms. Cheng’s family wake up in the morning to buy seafood, there is a separate supply point.
There is a Western restaurant called Kiessling near Zhonghai beach. It is a Russian restaurant similar to the Moscow restaurant in Beijing, where people can party. However, it is impossible to use vouchers; you have to use money. Braised beef, sausage, fried pork chops, and butter-grilled fish are the most commonly served dishes. A cream soda at Kiessling’s, which apparently still sells today, was a favorite of the kids back then. In her impression, the cream soda wasn’t too expensive. At least it could be bought with pocket money.
For kids like her, as soon as summer vacation is over, they will go to Beidaihe to eat and play. Although most of the time, the whole family works together, sometimes the children go first, and their parents arrive a few days later. They won’t miss their eating and playing as long as the chef is with them. Even in difficult times, the supply in Beidaihe is still good.
High quality of life
The children only have to eat and play. After breakfast, her family goes to the beach to bathe and play. Here their family also has the opportunity to go fishing.
After lunch, she slept for three or four hours, then woke up to go for a walk on the beach, play poker and wait for dinner. This was usually the time when she did her homework.
Sometimes she continues to play cards at night. Sometimes, she invites others out to play at night. Children organize themselves to explore “bizarre buildings,” call people to wake up in the middle of the night, or take flashlights and go out to the pigeon den to watch the sunrise.
In terms of beach quality, Xihai beach is the best, followed by Zhonghai beach and Donghai beach, which has the biggest waves. In addition, Xihai beach is quiet, the only place with a Seawall, and it is very suitable for swimming.
There is a cinema, a barber shop, etc., similar to a five-star hotel group in Yalongwan. Although not as lavish as today, all (living) services are available. Movie screenings, mostly mainland movies and sometimes Hong Kong movies, impressed her. Every day at dusk, the cinema calls to let everyone know what movie is on tonight, if you want to see it, you can ask the driver to drive, or call a car to take you to the cinema.
During the month-long vacation in Beidaihe, the children rested, and the adults talked less about work because they were relaxed. Adults do not often visit each other, especially during political tension. The children are different. They are very social, and many of them have become friends. Like Zhang Zhi Zhong, Burhan, Li Tao, and Fu Zhong. These families live near her family, and the children have become pieces of each other. After returning to Beijing, they kept in touch, and some even talked about romance.
Cheng said that now that she thinks about it, life in Beidaihe was a luxurious vacation at the time.
The summer of 1965 was the last time her family went on vacation to Beidaihe. At that time, she planned to return the following year, so she left small stools, swimming floats, soaps, and other necessities in the small villa in Beidaihe. But, unexpectedly, the “Cultural Revolution” period began in 1966, and the family never returned to their villa in Beidaihe again.