The Eye of the Storm is Liu Haoran’s first book and was published in 2017. As his fandom size grew, he realized that there were more and more people who were curious about him, and he wanted to be able to tell his story on his own terms.
Chapter 1 focuses mostly on his childhood – but specifically, his family and their dynamic. Liu Hao Ran is a rare case where he doesn’t have a single family member involved in his career (which, frankly, is quite surprising given how young he was when he debuted – but it shows the faith that his family had in Chen Sicheng’s company), which means that he really doesn’t get to spend a lot of time with his family, and time was already limited given that his family lives in Pingdingshan, Henan Province, and he’s lived in Beijing since he was 12 at boarding school.
It’s very easy to think of Liu Hao Ran as fiercely independent, but the wistfulness in his voice is clear in this chapter when he reflects on his relationship with his parents and especially with his older sister. Also, the last part about his niece is possibly one of the cutest things ever.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
Chapter One – Thawing
Family is the first wind that we encounter in our lives. It’s warm and enriching. My family members all are a bit impatient, we are all like a gust of wind. When these winds interact, we can mutually rely on one another and take responsibility for each other.
The first wind to blow into my life was a surprise typhoon to my parents and my older sister. According to my sister, “I spent eleven years happily in a family of three – why did I suddenly get a little brother?”
As my mom tells it, she and my dad had only planned on having one child, and never expected to have me later in their lives. My parents took it pretty well though, and felt that since the pregnancy already happened, they might as well just roll with it.
I spent my early years in my uncle’s home, and only have some blurred memories of that part of my life. My (older) uncle lived with me in the old home*. My parents would come visit often, but basically before I was two years old I didn’t live at home. As a result, I was very close to my uncle and aunt. Later, because my cousin lived in Zhuhai, they decided to move to be with her, and brought me with them. I spent a semester of daycare in Zhuhai, and then finally returned home to be with my family.
T/N: *In case you’re wondering why he was put with his uncles and not his parents early on, this was probably how Haoran’s parents got away with having a second child – presumably – without paying a fine (and yes, that would’ve usually been the extent of the punishment – pay the fine and it’s all good) – under the One Child Policy, which would’ve still been enforced when he was born.
Reading between the lines, “old home” refers to either his grandparents’ home or other relatives’ that is most likely in the countryside, where government regulations are a lot more lax and you were permitted to have more than one child fine-free.
Before I was born, my sister believed she was part of a family of three, but what’s strange is that I also felt that way. It’s probably because when I returned home, my sister already began middle school and was boarding there. After that, it wouldn’t be until after she went to college that she was at home more. That period of time, for me, was like suddenly gaining another parent – it was terrifying.
Not Coddled As A Child
My family believed and implemented the old saying, “Boys should be raised as if you’re poor, girls should be raised as if you’re wealthy.”* So “valuing boys over girls” did not exist in our house – in fact, it was the opposite.
*T/N: Liu Hao Ran references two popular sayings here – the second one, “valuing boys over girls” is a mindset that many rural, poorer families used to have. Some of it is just stems from pure sexism (that boys are just “better”) and old beliefs that a family name could only be passed on through the males, but some of it is also that families needed boys to be able to work the fields to sustain the household.
The other one he references, “boys should be raised as if you’re poor, girls should be raised as if you’re wealthy” is a newer concept. The idea isn’t that you mistreat the boy, but allow him to grow up more roughly and exposed to the world around him. What does it mean to “raise a girl as if you’re wealthy”, then? It means that you shelter/protect her as much as you can. Now, I should note that the majority of (urban) families in modern China don’t follow either saying – they just straight up spoil their kids regardless of gender, ha.
From the time that I was a child, my parents were very strict with me, and never coddled me. My dad never physically disciplined me, but he loved to lecture. When I was younger, he would call my name after finishing dinner, and my legs would be shaking as I walked towards my dad, who would be sitting on the couch. I would stand there as he started talking, from outlining what life was like when he was a kid, to when he was in the army. It would usually take at least two hours.
My dad was the oldest in his family – I also have two aunts and an uncle – which meant that he managed the household since he was little, and started working at a very young age. It was very hard at first, but as he watched his siblings grow up, he felt proud and accomplished. He had the highest authority in the house, and was the strict presence in the family. He would also tell me stories from his military days, including how he was promoted from a private soon after he enrolled. He’d also go on about various principles of life, and the morals that humans should abide by.
I was young then, so in the beginning, I would seriously listen (as he was talking), but later I realized that my dad told me the same stories no matter what I may have done. For example, if I was recently mischievous and caused trouble, he’d tell me these stories. If I didn’t get good grades, he’d tell me those stories. If I made my sister angry, he would still tell me those stories. These stories were basically used for all scenarios, but I had already heard them more than twenty times. So as I got older, I started to zone out.
But what’s amazing is that as I’ve encountered many different things in the course of my life, I’ve found myself subconsciously using the advice he had given me back then to help me think things over, and to make my decisions.
Truth to be told, I’m becoming more and more like my dad. He’s impatient, and so am I – but only towards people who are inefficient and drag their feet in doing things.
When we are accomplishing tasks, we all hope that the process will go just as how we imagine to go. If it gets out of your control, or if it doesn’t live up to your expectations, you’ll feel extremely disappointed, and your initial reaction is that you can’t deal.
Where I’m different from my dad is that he’s been a very independent person since he was very little, but my independent personality only developed after I came to Beijing. From the age of twelve to eighteen, during the six years that I lived by myself in Beijing, I had to learn how to make my own decisions, and how to be responsible for each decision that I made.
Fighting From Childhood to Adulthood
The other thing is – I have an older sister.
My sister is a very headstrong person, and I also have a quick temper. When we were younger, we didn’t get along, so whenever we saw each other, we’d fight. Sometimes it’d be both screaming and physical fights that included pulling hair, pulling clothes. It would get a bit intense, but my parents never took sides. My dad would just be standing by laughing, like it was entertainment. My mom would try to stop us, but he would tell her, “Just let them fight it out. It’s fine. Once they get it out of their system, they won’t fight anymore.”
What I remember the most is when my sister just graduated from college. I was still in elementary school. Because she had just graduated, it was a particularly sensitive time for her, and my sister didn’t look for a job or a boyfriend. Our family members would be nagging her all day, and she’d become annoyed every time it was brought up. She didn’t dare to take out her annoyance on our parents though, so she took it out on me.
One day, my parents were both out. I was doing my homework at home, and she was supervising me. Normally, if my parents weren’t at home, I’d use the opportunity to secretly slack off and read manga, or watch a little TV. But my sister sat in the living room sofa eating fruit while listening to music, with her eyes on me at all times. When I wanted to leave, she’d call, “Ya!”. So I thought, “You’re just eating fruit and watching TV while I’m sitting here doing my homework!” We started yelling at each other, and soon after we started fighting, during the course of which my parents came home.
I think fighting without speaking is a special way of communication between my sister and I. We felt that we were the same age and were equal. I never thought that just because she was older than me that she had to let me win, and my sister never looked down on me because I was younger. In our family, we were like two animals who grew up together and relied on fighting to solve our problems, because our parents loved us equally.
I know my sister loves me, and I’d go overboard at times because I had that knowledge. When I was going to school in Beijing, every time I ran out of money for my phone, I’d call her and say, “Sis, can you add money to my account?” Even now, because I’m still not quite familiar with online shopping, I don’t have an online bank account*. So whenever I want to buy something, I’ll just tell her matter-of-factly, “Help me buy this-and-this.”
Humans are interesting creatures. The closer you are to someone, the more likely you are to let down all your barriers, which is why you end up taking your anger out (on those that you love the most). This is probably because I know that it’s when I’m with them that I’m the safest.
Our family environment is quite lively and we didn’t really have established family roles or statuses. Our speech to one another is quite casual, though Mom is usually the one to guide everything in our family. She is the one who influences the family environment the most. She takes care of many of the little things that arise, while Dad and I work together for the bigger decisions.*
*T/N: His sister is married with a family of her own.
Aside from my mom, the rest of my family is quite competitive, but Mom really is very traditional in nature. She’s well-read, reasonable, and totally selfless when it comes to her family. She’s also incredibly gentle, and willing to sacrifice a lot of her family. When I was in elementary school, she re-signed to look after me.
Later, when I went to Beijing for school, she accompanied me, and would travel back and forth between Henan and Beijing. She really is a Chinese woman with strong traditional values. To protect her family and each of its members, she’s given up so much, and has truly made me understand the importance of family, as well as the responsibilities that come with it*.
*T/N: Should be noted that in an interview in 2018, LHR did he say that he doesn’t think moms – or anyone – should have to give up their own lives for others, and that his mom is much happier now that she’s able to have a full life of her own now.
My dad’s headstrong personality is mostly reflected at work, but he’s also quite serious in real life. When I was little, I thought that Dad did everything with extreme focus, and was very strict with both himself and his family. For example, on weekends, people typically like to sleep in, but my dad usually only came home on weekends as he worked in other cities. No matter what, he’d come at around 6am and yank my covers off, and make me go hiking with him, or other activities. He had a lot of expectations for me, but he was even harder on himself.
My dad was a smoker for over twenty years, but later decided to quit. For a lot of people who are trying to quit, they’ll hide their cigarettes boxes so they can’t be tempted, but my dad took out all the individual cigarettes and put them on display around the house – on the dining table, in the living room, even on the bed.
I asked him, “Aren’t you torturing yourself?”
My dad responded, “When it comes to quitting smoking, if you can only stop because you no longer see it, then you’ll never be able to fully quit. You have to get to the point where no matter where you see a cigarette, you won’t want to smoke. That’s how you can quit entirely.”
That’s how my dad got over his twenty year old smoking habit, and at the time, he was still working at his company. Whenever they had meetings, smoking together was an extremely common activity, and if your boss passed you a cigarette, how could you refuse? But my dad was resilient. Sometimes when I think about how he quit, it’s kind of terrifying, and he never relapsed.
Never Watched TV Before the Third Grade
At the time, we had a bulky black TV, but before the third grade, I basically never watched TV programs. In order to make sure I didn’t watch TV when I got home from school, my mom deleted all the channels. If she wanted to watch some later, she would re-scan for the channels. But I was too young then, so whenever I turned on the TV, I’d only see the CCTV 1 (news), the Henan channel, or other news channels. The rest just showed static.
My mom’s original intention was to protect my eyesight, but as a result (of no TV), I was bored. My bedroom then had a giant bookcase, which held all of my parents’ and sister’s books. And because I had no TV, I started reading, one book after another. Sometimes, I’d even hide under my covers to read.
I read some of the books multiple times – classics like Three Kingdoms and Journey to the West, and novels that my sister left behind. I still remember many of those stories to this day. On a trip home later (when I grew up), I looked at the publication dates of those stories, and discovered that some of them were from 1987, 1993, etc. They were older than me!
I remember once pulling out a copy of Zizhi Tongjian (T/N: basically a very thick chronicle of Chinese history from the year 1084 – no, that’s not a typo), but I couldn’t understand it at all. I was still more drawn to novels, and sometimes looked at manga, like Slam Dunk.
They were very good. It’s quite strange, but I once saw a picture online where a person was holding a cassette tape or a fountain pen (or similar 90s items), and the caption said that anyone who recognized those items are probably already married. I was mystified, and thought, “That’s not right, I’m not even of legal age to marry yet, but why have I seen these items before?”
Most of those items were my sister’s. When I was little, I used to take her tape to listen to Jay Chou’s “Tornado” and “Nunchucks”. They all belonged to her.
When I got a little older, I got a library card, and would often go to the library nearby to borrow books and read for an entire afternoon. That’s where I read Dragon Ball. Aside from manga, I also read other books, like the A Case for You and the Tiger-Team series. I read a lot of books in that genre.
On the weekends, I’d go to Xinhua Bookstore, and would head to the novel section, where there were many other kids my age. I’d have a stash of coins in my pocket, to buy water or ice cream, and would spread a sheet of newspaper on the floor before sitting down to spend an entire afternoon reading.
And soon after, I became near-sighted (needed glasses).
Almost Got Disfigured By A Butcher’s Knife
If you look carefully, you can see a very light scar along my jawbone. That was left by an incident with a butcher’s knife as a kid. When I think about it now, I realize I’m very lucky.
It’s actually quite funny when I talk about it now. At the time, I was about five or six years old. We had a butcher’s stand near our house, and when they had their stand out, they had this huge metal shelf that was covered with hooks to hang the meat. When people came buy to buy meat, they’d just point at the piece of meat they wanted, and the butcher would cut it for them (from the hook).
I’m not sure what was wrong with me that day, but I stood right behind the row of meat. I was small, so the shelf of meat hid me entirely. Someone came to buy meat, and the butcher didn’t see me, so when his knife came down, it went through the meat, and landed on my face.
My first reaction was shock, and then I backed up. My mind was blank, and I immediately touched my face. When I looked at my hand, it was covered with my blood. That’s when I heard my sister’s voice. She was screaming and crying at the same time, “Mom! Didi (little brother) is disfigured!”
What I remember the most is that I felt no pain at all, from the moment that I saw the blood to the ride to the hospital. I was completely dazed, and all I could think of was, “There’s so much blood. Is my face totally ruined?” After getting to the hospital, it was discovered that the cut was indeed quite deep, and I got quite a few stitches.
I remember my mom holding my head steady as the doctor sewed me up. It felt like that day was very dark. My sister hid outside the door, afraid to come in, and I turned my head to look at my mom. She was extremely pale, and her eyes were rimmed with red as tears continuously spilled out.
After getting out of the hospital, the anesthetics began to wore off and that’s when I felt huge spurts of pain. My whole face was swollen. I looked at myself in the mirror and noted the bandage on my face and the jaw that looked like a pig’s head, “Am I going to have a scar the size of a centipede on my chin from now on?”
Many years later, the story of the butcher’s knife is now a funny tale shared often during holiday family reunions. I often bring it up myself in a joking manner with friends, and will summarize, “To this day, I don’t know why I was standing behind the meat. Maybe it’s because I felt that it was cooler behind there?”
Cute Little Creature
Despite having two conflicting memories about the pain then, I have it firmly embedded in my mind, because I have been forced to recall that feeling of pain when I take on portraying other peoples’ lives (in acting). I’ll remember that moment then, and will think,
“Pain doesn’t just come and go. When you’re really in that moment where pain is being created, it’ll seem like a much longer moment, like you’ve lost all of your other senses. As a normal person, when we see a knife coming towards us, you won’t have the quick reactions that the main character in The Matrix does and be able to avoid it.”
So when I relive those moments of pain, I instead will remember my mom’s tears the most.
The most important member of my family now, aside from my parents, my brother-in-law, and my sister, is my niece, who is a little over a year old. I wasn’t at the hospital when she was born, but I got there as soon as I could. Because she’s my own niece, I feel very connected to her. The first time I saw her, she couldn’t do anything. She would just wave her hands. At a month or two, she couldn’t flip herself over, nor could she talk, but she was adorable.
During Chinese New Year’s this year, due to work, I was unable to go home, so my parents and my sister brought my niece to Hengdian (Film Studios) to visit me. She crawled on the floor of my hotel room, and then used her little arms and legs to pull herself up with the help of a chair. A couple of seconds later, she couldn’t find her balance, and plopped down. Her mouth never stopped moving as she babbled in a language that only she and my sister could understand.
It’s quite something watching her grow up. Before, I didn’t think I knew how to get along with kids, because usually when I see little kids, my first reaction is that they’re small, fragile aliens that I’m unable to communicate with, so I don’t dare to get close. But my niece has changed that impression. She’s such a tiny being that relies on you completely. The first time that she smiled at me, I thought, “It’s over. How could there be such a cute little creature in this world?”
I really enjoy taking my niece out for a meal. Sometimes I carry her; other times I push her in her stroller. The time that my sister brought my niece to visit me on set, the director even joked and said, “If the paparazzi gets a picture of this, you’re going to be in the headlines!”
My niece actually kind of looks like me. She also has monolids, but her eyes are bigger than mine, and longer, like her parents, though she resembles my sister a bit more. You can tell right away they’re related. Kids grow up really fast.
When I don’t see her for a few months, it feels like she’s gotten taller, and has become a more fluent talker. I love seeing the expression she has on her face when she’s babbling about something. And every time when I’m video chatting with her, I want to reach my hand into the screen and pinch her chubby little cheeks!
Everyone always says that babies are the world’s purest angels, but I only felt that after my niece arrived. She’s incredibly curious about this world, and can be utterly fearless. She is both fragile and strong, and needs someone to protect her while simultaneously bringing warmth to everyone who loves her. She’ll smile at everyone, whether she knows them or not, and there is so much pureness in her gaze. Her intentions are simple and clear. Really, she’s like an angel.
I don’t really know how to describe this cute little thing that just suddenly appeared in my life, but after she came, the center of my life has changed. I think I understand now why people say, “Daughters are like the father’s soulmate from a previous life.*” If such a cute little thing who is so stuck on you appeared in a previous life, how could you like anyone else?
*T/N: I swear this saying isn’t as creepy as it sounds when you translate it literally. What it means is that she’s a daddy’s girl and there’s a special connection – in a non-creepy way – between a dad and his daughter.