Life & Style

The heart-wrenching story of Andrew Kwong’s childhood escape from mainland China

Andrew Kwong spent his early years in Shiqi, a subdistrict in the Pearl River Delta, China, that now works as a family physician on the Central Coast where he lives with his wife Sheree, three grown-up children and seven ‘little Australians.’

One Bright Moon is the true story of Andrew’s childhood experiences of Communist China under Chairman Mao’s forceful rule to his escape to Hong Kong and to his new life here in Australia. From live executions, extreme poverty, and family persecutions to the unknown bustling city of Hong Kong, and a new way of life in Sydney, Australia; One Bright Moon is a memoir of famine and freedom. 

Fifteen years of putting his story down on paper, One Bright Moon hit the shelves (online and in-store) in May 2020; sharing the poignant story of a young boy’s life-changing experience with the world.

We recently caught up with Andrew to learn more about his motivation for writing the book, the difficulties he faced when exploring his childhood, and what he wishes for readers to take from it.

There were moments throughout the book that really hit the heartstrings; how did you manage to sit through the whole process of writing the entirety of your life story? 

“When I was writing One Bright Moon, with so many unpleasant memories to exhume, so many stories to tell, at times it was very painful. I shed tears that had been held back for all these years as I typed on. However, through writing and re-writing, I edited out the rotting anger and hate and found consolation in the love, guidance, and family togetherness my parents fought so hard to provide and instill on us children, albeit too brief in my early life.

“It was a challenge. I knew right from the beginning as soon as I stepped off the bus that took me to the border, that I would have to conserve my energy for the future ahead now that I had left my home, my family and my loyal childhood friends like Ah-dong, Big-eye, and cousins, my parents and sisters. There was no looking back. There were so many unfathomable things ahead, like adapting to city-living, learning English, getting into a good school, then there were the worries of finances, and later, how to survive the 1967 riots in Hong Kong and beyond … to overcome that, I decided to bury them and looked forward to the future, like focusing on the spark of hope from a lighthouse in the dark sea.”

In 1989, your family was reunited after 32-years apart. How did that moment feel when you were finally together as a family again?  

“It is not easy to describe such an unbelievable moment as we were all together after a long thirty-two years of endeavouring to get together again as one family. I still find it hard to believe that it had happened. But my late father’s words live in my heart forever. This was what he said at the reunion dinner: ‘Ordinary people like us, throughout history, are often made to suffer by forces beyond their control … and … The sea may be vast and treacherous, but we must steer our own boats. Hold on to hope and your life with both hands, always and forever.’ The only thing I would like to add is compassion for people around us as we sail the sea of humanity.”

Kwong Family - China, 1950
Kwong Family - China, 1950

One Bright Moon launched in May this year, with readers from across the globe reading your memoir; how does that make you feel?

“In a short few weeks after One Bright Moon was released without the usual physical book launches and book tours, I’ve been touched by numerous positive responses from everywhere, from cousins living overseas who feel inspired to find out more about their family and their seniors’ endeavour and battle to carve out lives in foreign lands, to complete strangers who find the story resonating their own. Two months after my book was released, a Queensland artist presented with me a beautiful sketch that encapsulates my whole book One Bright Moon, together with what he called One Bright Moon greeting cards, by express delivery. The amazing artwork promptly occupies a prime wall space in our living room. You could imagine how much I was moved by such a wonderful gesture from a stranger that my book must have touched him deeply.

“An email came a few weeks ago from a gentleman in Perth who is writing a story about his late father who was a Belgian Jewish doctor escaping from the Nazis and ended up working in the only modern hospital of western medicine at the time, in 1938 in the Pearl River Delta, a mere two hundred meters away from where I went to primary school right in my town of Shiqi. I am also humbled to receive Bestseller tag on One Bright Moon in Amazon site recently, as well as Five-Star in Booktopia, in the Top-ten of Dymock’s nonfiction list and 4.6 in Goodreads. It is most tantalising also to receive a Five-Star rating from the recent book review on 23 June, South China Morning Post, Hong Kong, a leading English newspaper in South East Asia, comparing it favourably to Angela’s Ashes.”

You’re now residing on the Central Coast in NSW, with your wife, Sheree, your three children, and seven ‘little Australians’. Did you ever imagine during your childhood years this is what your life would look like now?

“Not at all, but I always believed in what my mother told us that the bright moon is ours to appreciate if we keep our spirits high and work diligently towards our goals.”

What would you like readers to take from this book?

“Compassion distinguishes humanity from animals in the wild, and hope overcomes obstacles in life.”

You know it’s a good read when the book sticks with you for the weeks after you read the final sentence. The book has received some beautiful reviews from across the country and beyond, and you can get your very own copy of One Bright Moon online here.