Thursday, May 31, 2007

Part Fourteen

My first love.

Many times it felt like I was despised and shunned by everyone up on that miserable farm -- but the truth is , I did have several girl friends.

Two of those girls, like myself, were from the elite families of high officials or intellectuals – but my best friend was from a worker family – and often we conspired to help each other out.

One time she got very sick, and I spent 5 days in the hospital to be with her. Many of the girls had come down with the same thing: a severe rash that ran up the arms, accompanied by a very high fever, and several girls died from it. The group leaders must have understood how we felt about each other, because I was allowed to take all those days off from work.

But the big event was my first real boyfriend -- a student from my own high school ( though I didn’t know him back in Beijing, since he was one year senior) . He was tall (6 feet), handsome, and witty. He was so perfect, I never looked at another other young man for the next six years!

His parents had divorced (an unusual event) when he was two, and he had grown up with his mom (he really hated not having a father).

His mom was a law professor at Beijing Peoples’ University. She was short and dark and spoke with a strong accent, but she was very down to earth – so I ended up being very comfortable with her – and I think she liked me very much, too.

He had been sent to a village about 6 kilometers from mine – and he first noticed me when I was going to visit a good friend from my grammar school who was also staying there.

One day, I was stopped by a group of boys who usually bullied and harassed me – but this time they stopped to gave me a letter – his letter – and I had never read a letter written so well. It was like a novel – filled with stories and imaginative descriptions. I read it a dozen times -- no, more like a hundred times -- trying to find the real meaning behind each and every word.

I was in love ! And thus began a correspondence that would last for six years.

In the beginning, we wrote to each other every day. No matter how tired I was, every night I spent hours trying to write him a letter at least as impressive as the ones he was sending to me.

How to describe his letters ? Sometimes he wrote about the things that happened at the farm – but mostly he wrote descriptive scenes – like, for example, a white-haired old man catching fish from a small boat on a river -- beautiful imaginative scenes -- like those found in the many books that he, but not I, had read.

We only got to see each other a few times a month – when I had a day off and could walk the 6 kilometers over to his farm. Usually these meetings were secret and we tried to hide where no one could see us. But even then, we never kissed. It was all very romantic – but physical affection was strictly forbidden – and all we did was hold hands.

I was very happy to see him each and every time. He was my whole world, I enjoyed so much his company, and I truly believed that he was the smartest young man I have ever met, and that he was the man I was going to marry.

Once, when we were together, I noticed that we were wearing the same wool long scarves: the same color, the same brand. So then we exchanged them – and when I put his on my neck, I could smell him. Even though that scarf became quite dirty, I never wanted to wash that smell away ! (but don’t worry -- eventually I washed it).

One day, a villager saw us beginning to embrace – and I was so afraid that we would get into trouble. But the villager gave me a knowing look – and later invited me to have dinner with his family at the village. He and his wife were so kind – and I appreciated their efforts – but I was not comfortable sitting on their kang and eating dumplings made with such dirty hands just a few feet above their dirt floor. In gratitude, I gave one of my blouses to his daughter – and they were very pleased to have it. This was the first time anyone had invited me home for dinner. (local villagers got to know some of us very well and they often invited students into their homes - but since I was considered to have such a bad family background, no one had ever invited me before.) I was touched under this special circumstance, and neither of us mentioned this incident ever again.

Most of our relationship was by correspondence – and letter writing was important to many of the girls in the dormitory because – let’s face it – the rest of our lives were misery. .

There was that 12-16 hours/day of hard work – the cold in winter – the insects in summer – and that ever-sensitive, unavoidable issue of sanitation.

We sixty girls had one outhouse : a pit with two boards, sheltered by four walls and a roof.

During the winter, the waste would freeze (probably even before it hit bottom) – and gradually the bottom of the pit rose higher than the ground – so we would be squatting on a raised mound of frozen waste. The earth was too frozen to dig another pit – so farm supervisors had some of us (like myself) dig it out it with a pick axe. Not a pleasant job – but as the daughter of a “bad family”, a job often reserved for me.

But even when the pit was dug out again – who really wanted to walk fifty yards through the sub-zero cold of a winter night to use it ? Most of the girls found a more convenient place to squat --- so soon the outside walls of the dormitory were encircled by a ring of frozen feces.

In the summer, the job of a special someone (often myself) was to carry off buckets of liquid waste. It was quite a challenge for me, because I wasn’t very strong, but there I’d be, with a long pole straddling my shoulder, and a heavy bucket of crap on either end.

By then, my group of students had been on the farm for a couple of years, and many of them had made new friends from different parts of the country, but I was still alone. Because of my family situation, no one wanted to be my friend, except for a couple of girls who either had pity on me or needed a friend as badly as I did. But even then, our friendship was never open to the public – everything had to be shared under the table.

Perhaps this will help explain why I jumped on the first chance I had to leave the farm – even though it meant leaving my boyfriend behind. After my second summer, I was given a holiday to visit my mother – and I never returned.

Our correspondence continued another 4 years --- the entire period of my life outside of Beijing. In the beginning, we were writing every day – but when he was transferred to a fire-fighting station, mail delivery became more sporadic.

I remember how I cried the day I got his letter announcing his departure for that trip, and I was so anxious to get his first letter after he got there. It took at least a week for that letter to reach me – and that was a very long time to wait !

Some days I would get none of his letters at all – and other days I would get five letters at once. Gradually our letters became spaced more widely apart –though I never lost faith in our future together.

But how can a long-distance relationship last forever ? I still felt committed to him – but he was taking longer – and then longer – to respond to my letters. Eventually I got a letter that seemed to darken the hope of a future together – or, at least, that’s how I interpreted it.

In the sixth year, as his mother’s only child, he had gotten special permission to move back to Beijing with her where he got a job in a shoe factory. (he was very smart – and eventually he would go to school and become a lawyer – but back then he was working in a shoe factory)

Sometimes I got to visit Beijing, and we would get together for a date – but it was always temporary – and I’d soon have to leave.

He lived with his mother in an old office building – their two rooms were on either side of a long hallway – and on my last visit there, he was gone when I arrived, so I had a chance to chat with his mother (who really liked me). Usually she was very upbeat about her son – but this day she was very critical – disappointed about his dead-end job at the factory etc.

This was a surprise visit – and I wanted to surprise him with the news that I had just become a college student, studying English in the Beijing Second Foreign Language Institute. I wanted to tell him that I was back and would never have to go away again.

But he had a surprise for me as well.

When he finally arrived home, he sat down and we chatted for a little while. He seemed very uptight, but he was still friendly, happy to see me and happy for me.

Then -- after a little while -- while we were still chatting, – to my complete surprise – another woman entered the room. She did not say anything to me and soon she left.

“Who is this woman? ” I asked.

“I have begun a new family for China” he replied.

I was stunned ! I did not know what to say. I never thought that he could get married that soon – since it was against policy, though not law, for a man and woman to marry at such an early age. (he was 23 years old—and I was 22 at the time) My whole world was turned upside down, I did not remember what I said to him, I was totally lost and very very sad. I still don’t remember how I got home that evening (and believe it or not – a big patch of hair fell off my head over the next few weeks)

Many years later, we ran into each other, and we got together at a café to talk about what had happened.

Then he told me how he had met a woman at the shoe factory and she happened to live nearby.

Before he could continue, I interrupted and said “let me finish your story”

Then I told him how what began by walking home together eventually became sleeping together. She had gotten pregnant – then had an abortion – then gotten pregnant again – at which point they finally decided to get married. (even though, at age 23, men are usually considered too young to marry)

I told him that he did not love her, but he had no choice except to marry her. He was shocked - and he told me so.

I had guessed correctly !

And that was the end my first true love.

We kept in touch a little after that – his daughter would be over 30 by now -- but he left his wife after a few years. They really had very little in common.

And now I’m going to cry.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Part Thirteen

More about life at the farm

Maybe I didn’t make clear the location of this place: it’s nearly 1000 miles due north of Beijing – at the northern tip of Manchuria – 50 miles from Russia (i.e. Siberia) –and like Siberia, it was cold, desolate, and had recently been used as a kind of penal colony for the rehabilitation of criminals after they had served their time in prison.

Some residents were army veterans whom the government had relocated after the Korean war. It was a remote and uncultivated land, but some of them were happy, because they had a better life here than in their home land and I think they were also being paid by the government.

A strange thing we noticed when we first arrived: all the girls and boys started smoking at the age of 7 or 8. I was used to see grown men smoke, but not children, and especially not young girls. Later I learned that it was to protect themselves from all the biting bugs and flies which I was told hate the smell of the smoking. But unfortunately, so do I, and I never got the habit.

Each village (which still included some of those former criminals) received an allotment of young high school students like us. The village had to feed and build shelters for us – and we had to work for them – under the supervision of the village leaders - who then selected our student leaders to be in charge. Overall, the region was administered by the army – so all of us were issued green coats, similar to a military uniform.

Everyone in the village was Chinese, but there was one half-Russian – the adult son of a man from a village just over the Russian border who had been abandoned by his Chinese mother. He was borderline retarded, and people would tease him. “Hey – we have found a wife for you – just wait here and we’ll send her over” – and he would wait there all day.

Though the growing season was short, the soil was black and fertile, and during the summer and fall, we harvested crops of winter wheat, soy beans, and corn.

There was still a lot of good, uncultivated land there, but for some reason local people were discouraged from using it. One day, during my first summer there, the village leader named Liu took us to a small vegetable field filled with huge Chinese cabbages almost ready for harvest, but we were ordered to destroy them. I was puzzled and asked for an explanation. Mr. Liu told me “we do not encourage capitalists in our society. Let the cabbage rot just like the Capitalist society ”. No argument from us -- we destroyed the entire cabbage patch. (but what a waste!)

Early in the planting season, we worked three shifts to put seeds in the fields with machines. On windy days, we came back from work covered with dust a—but still each of us had only half a basin of water to wash ourselves..

Every day, we had to stand in the line waiting for that water—and hopefully it was hot – but some days, nobody remembered to turn the heat on, or someone took too much hot water before every one else got a chance. Those were the days we washed ourselves with icy cold water!

In mid-summer, our day began before 4 am – just as the sun was rising – and we’d begin by walking two to three miles to the fields. Then we’d spend the next 12 – 16 hours walking down the field rows picking the crops (each row could be several miles long) – and throwing the harvest into piles that ran along each row – to be picked up later by the carts. We’d all line up – one to a row – and work side-by-side – with a kind of pride in moving ahead of the others in line.

In the beginning, I was slow and always got left behind. Usually, those who finished first would pick a line from the other end to help the slow person get to the end of her row, but nobody ever helped me. Later, I learned to choose an inner line, close to the pile, so I could be the leader of that line, and it really saved me a lot of time. I also got faster, and eventually I had time to rest as well as pick and choose those whom I would like to help.

We got a break for lunch – when freshly steamed bread was brought out to the fields – but often there was nothing to drink – and we’d get so thirsty, that we would drink from the puddles in the cart tracks if we had the chance (straining it through our neckerchief)

One time, the farm’s bad girl (I’ll talk about her later) told me that she had found a pond where we could drink and swim. I followed her into the brush, but as she walked into the pond, she sank into mud, almost up to her waist. I tried pulling her out – but it wasn’t easy, since I was getting sucked into the swamp as well. (After that – I stayed away from open water).

Back at the buildings, there was also work to be done: preparing the grain for shipment. This was hard, dirty work and the floor was swarming with mice, hundreds of them. (I had nightmares about them, and still don’t like mice, to this day). We tied strings around the cuffs of our pants to keep mice from running up our legs.

One day, a mouse ran into a girl’s pants and she was so terrified, that she was screaming and grabbing it for almost 10 minutes. Finally, as she let other people help her catch it, the mouse dropped out from her pants. It had been squeezed flat.

Life was hard, but the young people tried very hard to please – and there weren’t any serious discipline problems – though once in a while, people noticed that things were missing from their pocket or from the trucks stored in the shed, and sometimes there were fights among the boys or quarrels among the girls.

One area of contention, was the spot on the chimney that could be used to dry our wet shoes which had been specially designed for the people of this area. The tops and the soles were of rubber, while the insides were cotton padded, and if you did not dry them out , they could be hard as a rock to wear the next day, but not every one could get a safe spot on the top of the chimney every night.

So, almost every night, someone’s shoes got scorched, and we were often woken by clouds of black smoke accompanied by much crying and swearing.. The smell of burning rubber shoes was almost unbearable --especially during the winter, when all the dormitory windows were kept tightly closed.

I was not lucky enough to get spot on the kang, but at least I was not one of those who slept close by the door, and who were always yelling whenever the door swung open during the winter.

I remember once that I was bullied by the girl ( mentioned above ). She pushed me down to the floor from my second level bed. But no one helped me because everyone else was afraid of her and I was so unpopular due to the arrest in my family. I felt so bad, sad, and helpless.

But on the whole, there were no serious crimes, nothing that couldn’t be handled within the criticism sessions we had at night.

I never saw students get beaten – but one time we caught some young men from the village who had come to steal our grain. The village leader had them tied up – and then instructed our young men to give them a beating. It was a terrible – I remember their screams – and one of them was nearly killed (it took him a month to recover)

And even though there were so many adolescent boys and girls working side by side – in the entire two years I was there – only one girl got pregnant – that bad girl I mentioned earlier – who slept near me on the shelf above the kang. She was overweight, and not very attractive, and had a reputation of being available for any boy who wanted her. An older couple from the village adopted her child, and eventually, she married and moved into the village herself.

During the harvest months, we were too tired to do anything at night – but otherwise, we would have political meetings – many of which concerned preparing us for an impending Russian invasion. One time, we were loaded up with packs, and got to practice our own “long march” throughout the night.

Regarding food, I should mention that since we were paid a salary, we had to purchase our own food at the cafeteria – but the offerings were rather minimal: steamed bread and “soup” – where the soup was hot water that had been politely introduced to a few slices of turnip.

One day, when I took my usual breakfast meal of hot soy milk and steamed bread back to the dorm., I spilt the soy milk on my little finger. Within a few seconds, my finger had turned white, and it was so painful, I almost dropped everything in my hand -- but I held on – because otherwise I would have had to go back to buy the meal again. I was in tears.

Being a cook was the best job anyone could have (since you could eat whatever and whenever you wanted) But being a blacklisted person like me, almost everyone treated me badly, and every time I was buying my meal, I noticed that I was given the smallest portions. Nor could I complain, because I knew that if I did, I would be treated even worse.

An exception was New Year – our one, big holiday – where we all got together to make dumplings – using our own wash basins as pots. One of the offerings at the cafeteria was soy milk – and this is what I bought every day – not because I liked the taste – but because it was the only offering that had serious nutritional value. (who knows what went into that bread –one time it was filled with sand and mouse droppings – as if it were made from floor sweepings)

Due to poor nutrition, I was among the first students from our group who got night blindness. I could not see anything at night except for the flame of the oil lamps, and I got scared. I wrote to my mom and friend in Beijjng, and both of them sent me a few bottles of vitamin A. When I opened the package, only one bottle was left – but that bottle was enough, and soon my vision had recovered.

The water from the wells was yellow – so all of our towels turned the same color. We survived it, but it must have affected the people who grew up here – because all of them had swollen joints – and rather than walk straight , they seemed to waddle from side to side.

Regarding my life among others, it had been immediately announced (by a blabbermouth who knew me) that my father was in prison – not the ordinary kind of prison where so many people were detained for questioning in those days – but in a special high security prison – with walls 30 feet high – that incarcerated the very worst political prisoners. So being friendly with me was not a wise path to follow – and that’s why nobody would ever help me.

Our group leader especially hated me (she was 2 years older and came from Tienjin). It was policy that all working women got a 3 day rest during their period – but this policy was not applied to me – and I had to work everyday, regardless.

I had never imaged that I could end up like this. All my dreams were gone, and I was facing a grim reality – not only of physical labor – but of missing my mom and everybody else I knew, ---as well as the mental torture inflicted by my peers. I just could not handle it any more. There is a Chinese phase like “ calling the sky, the sky will not respond --calling the earth, the earth will not answer” . I felt helpless, I was so sad, and I could not imagine spending my whole life there.

I made a pledge that I would get out in 5 years. I did not know how I would survive until then - or where I would go --but I was determined.

And in the meantime, I became a fervent writer of letters.

One day, my oldest brother was staying with mother when she received one of my long, whining communications – begging her to help me get me out – telling her that I could not stand my miserable life any longer.

When he saw how mother wept to read it - he sent me a reply – gently asking me to take her feelings more into consideration. I think I grew four years older on the day I read his letter – and I never shared my misery with mother again.

But I also wrote letters to everyone else whom I thought might possibly return them – including – and especially – my first real boy friend.

Yes ! -- amazingly enough -- I had fallen in love – for the first time in my life – with a student who was working on a nearby farm.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Part Twelve

I go to the countryside

With my older siblings dispatched to the countryside, I spent the next year in the Beijing apartment with my mother and younger sister.

I was supposed to be attending my first year of high school at this time.

But when high schools reopened after Red Guard chaos, it was a completely different system. There were only local schools now – no more schools ranked by student ability – and it turned out that what had been the lowest school ( with the lowest ranked teachers for the lowest ranked students) – was now my local school. It was a disaster – I hated it – I learned nothing the entire year – and I skipped classes as often as I could , so I could hang out with my friends.

My friends were like me – children of high officials – whose parents had been arrested or sent to the countryside – so they were often under their own supervision, left alone to live on their own with money left by their parents,

One time, I was invited to a friend of friend’s house.

She was a very pretty girl, about 15 years old, and she lived alone with her brother, age 7. She was so mean to this poor boy ! She forced him to do all the chores – constantly beating and slapping his face. He had to cook for her, and if she didn’t like the food, I saw her shove it into his mouth. He was in tears, but dared not to cry out, because the more he cried, the more she beat him. I felt so bad that there was nobody to stop her.

We were so-called hooligans – but of the genteel sort. Breaking into movie theaters was our worst crime. One time, my best friend stole a tomato off the window sill of a security office -- but that was the most outrageous thing we did (and I remember running like crazy to get away)

This wasn’t the 60’s in America – we rebellious youth had no drugs – no sex -- or even any rock n’ roll. (sometimes we played recordings – but the only records anybody had were Russian)

There was some dating among us – where someone would introduce someone else to a brother or sister – and we had some neighborhood boys on bicycles who liked to chase young girls. They especially liked to chase the girls who wore a military uniform or blue Mao jacket (since that could identify us as children of high officials)

I went out with a few boys --but I never had any special feelings for them. All of our behavior would have been quite appropriate for a church social.

But as I said – my high school was hell – and I especially hated the principal teacher who supervised my class. He knew that my father was arrested , and he used it against me before the other students. He was a peasant who had worked his way up to teach in a Beijing school.

One time he took a few students with him to visit our apartment – to berate my mother for having such an awful daughter. When I heard what he was doing, I raced home – but he was already there – and my mother was so upset by his attack, she went into a kind of fit – falling on the floor and clenching her fists. It was something I had never seen her do before – but it would happen several more times over the next 5 years.

I was furious ! And I ran out of the apartment to where the teacher had left his bicycle – and I stomped it – jumping up and down – going kind of berserk. Seeing his bicycle destroyed, he ran up to me and punched me full in the face, knocking me down.

I saw stars ! – yes, I actually saw stars, just like in the cartoons.

I was 15 - he was over thirty – I was a small, skinny girl from the city – he was a large, country man, strong as a horse – but I jumped up and slapped him twice on the face – leaving red hand prints on both his cheeks. (Well -- I’d never done that before - and I never did it again)

So as you can see, I was probably more eager than anyone to leave town and go to the countryside – and indeed, as summer came, all the students my age were being organized to leave the city. At first it seemed that my family’s bad record was going to keep me from going – and since my school was going way north – up near the Russian border – somebody like me might well try to escape to the other side.

But eventually – in October – the orders came for me to join them – and I was really looking forward to it.

For one thing, the students got paid 32 Yuan a month – a real salary. And for another – I so longed to get away from the neighbors ( who spied and accused us) – and, of course, away from that hellish school. Working with a bunch of boys and girls my age – out in the fresh air - among the valleys and streams – it all seemed very romantic – and I was eager to go.

Our destination was a large farm , formerly used to rehabilitate political prisoners –way up in HeiLongJiang province (Manchuria) –in a village about 50 miles from the Russian border.

We were on the train for 36 hours – and when it finally stopped – it was the middle of night – and in the middle of nowhere.

It was very dark – and there were no lights.

There was a very small train station—but nothing else.
No buildings - no trees - no nothing – just shoulder-high grass – and several tractors from each village that were waiting for us.. We were loaded into wagons – and the tractors pulled us for another four hours down the dirt road that led to the farm – where we were greeted with a great banquet upon our arrival.

I’m calling it a great banquet – it was only stir-fried cabbage and steamed bread. But compared to what would become our usual meals – it really was a banquet – even though we were eating in candle-lit darkness. (there was no electricity – and by the way, we never saw candles again)

And it did I mention that it was cold ? The newly built dining hall had windows – but they hadn’t yet been glazed – and this was October in a rather high latitude.

Yes, there was a lot of crying during the first week at the farm (and not just by me)

In preparation, my mother had used some of my uncle’s money to purchase a new, large wooden trunk to carry everything that might be needed in a place where nothing could be purchased—all my clothes – toiletries – bedding – water basin etc. It was probably the heaviest trunk taken to the farm – but that’s as far as it got – as it split down the middle while being loaded off the cart.

The boys and girls lived in two separate dormitories – that were like long tunnels with a long bed – called a kang – on either side – that were like horizontal chimneys that circulated hot air within them from the fire that burned at one end. That’s how homes have been traditionally heated in northern China for thousands of years. The room itself isn’t heated, but the bed is – though there wasn’t much warmth for those sleeping at the far end of the dormitory.

That autumn, we worked 12 hours a day – first in the fields, gathering brush/scrub to serve as fuel – and then in the barns winding rope out of hemp – a regimen that left most of us in a very bad mood at the end of the day.

We got a half-basin full of hot water every day. First we drank a little – then we used it for a sponge bath – and all of us had fleas.

I was meticulously clean and kept the fleas away as long as I could – but basically we were all sleeping in the same bed – and the fleas had a field day.

It was especially tough as winter wore on – as the snow piled up and the temperature sank far below zero. We used to say that if you spit – the frozen spittle would shatter when it hit the ground. And foraging for fuel became much more difficult as well – because several feet of snow had to be cleared off the top.

But the summer was not necessarily a holiday either – as we had great, black clouds of mosquitoes – and walking along –we continuously had to flail our arms to brush them off.

To relieve the monotony, we had singing (songs from the 8 operas approved by Madame Mao) . Occasionally, we got to see a movie, but they were all the same - and usually just more propaganda. Sometimes we had to walk many kilometers to a nearby village to see them. At other times , the headquarters would send some local entertainment team to perform shows for us (shows that were all about praising Mao and down with the rich. )

The only thing kept me going was letters from my family and friends. I cannot describe the joy I had whenever I received a letter.

It was at this time, that I became such a fervent correspondent – written by the light of a simple, oil burning lamp I had made. I wrote letters to anyone-everyone I ever know or hoped to know – and was, of course, so happy to get letters in return. One day, at mail call, I got 5 letters ! This was my greatest achievement – and one of the happiest moments of the two years I spent there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Part Eleven

Needless to say , with father gone – the rest of us spent a rather unhappy summer (of’68) in that Beijing apartment.

On the evening of the day following the arrest, mother was dragged out to the street, where a platform had been hastily erected. Our belongings were piled up on long tables, and mother was publicly bullied into making a confession. The slapping and shouting and accusation went on for several hours into the night – but mother was stubborn and denied everything – and we had to watch.

My second-oldest brother was very upset, since he and mother were very close, and many times he began to move toward the stage to help her – but the rest of us pulled him back – what could we do ? There were five of us, and crowd numbered several hundred – and sometimes people were beaten to death in these situations.

Finally, my mother stopped disputing the charges – and she just hung her head in silence.

Thank goodness that was the only time we had to endure such a trial.

But our next problem was getting enough to eat – since Monday had been my father’s payday – and the previous paycheck had already run out.

Mother was frugal and had always believed in saving money – so she had opened several bank accounts – but this was, of course, the kind of thing that our interrogators were looking for. They found some of her smaller account books – but she had one very large account (of 30,000 Yuan – a fortune) and she sewed the account book into a pocket in my sister’s underwear.

So we had a lot of money in a bank – but the problem was how to get it.

As a known criminal, my mother was afraid to go to the bank herself – so she sent me and my older sister on this important errand – to withdraw some small amount, like 150 yuan – that would feed us for several months, but not enough to attract attention.

We had never been to a bank before – and had no idea what to do.
My sister was more timid than I, and she pushed me forward to talk with the teller, but I was not coached enough by mom, and I didn’t know what to say. So there we were, standing by the entrance, pushing each other forward to get the money.

The Banks teller noticed what was going on, and as soon as we handed her the precious account book, she took it to one of the rooms in back --- where she stayed for a very, very long time.

When she returned – she handed the book back to us – but it had been stamped “Closed due to suspicious activity” – and we would not see a single yuan of that money for many years.

This made the family’s situation rather desperate – and at first we went to visit my mother’s brother, a military officer stationed in Beijing. He wanted to help us – but even he was threatened by having any connection with the family of a spy. He did not want to come to our apartment, so we made arrangements to meet him near the Beijing Zoo secretly. Each time he give us 50 – 60 yuan – enough to last us a month. (as a military officer, he made about 230 a month.)

Eventually, our lives were saved by the new military administration of the hotel at which my father had worked. The military had taken control of all institutions whose leadership had been arrested – and the officer in charge of the hotel assigned us the 6-yuan/month stipend given to the destitute --- and since there were 6 in our family, we got 36 yean/month to stay alive.

Which left us with two concerns for the rest of the Summer – first – what happened to father ? and second , what would we do for clothing come next winter (everything had been locked into one of the bedrooms and then sealed so we could not get in)

The challenge was how to remove the seal without breaking it –and with great care, my older brothers accomplished this trick by steaming off the paper seal – and then re-dusting the tracks they had made over the dusty floor.

Unfortunately, finding my father was not so easily accomplished.

Every day, one of us went somewhere – visited someone – trying to get any information at all – but ended up with nothing. Nobody could help us – even if they wanted to.

Meanwhile, the whole country was chaos --nobody was working – and we were stigmatized with enormous lettering on the wall beneath our windows (the calligrapher must have used a mop) marking us as the enemies that we were – and making it dangerous for us to go outside. (my younger sister was once chased and stoned by neighboring children)

Our apartment door was constantly hit with stones thrown by all the people (the “rebellious”) who hated us (or by children who thought it was fun) And then there was all that loud door knocking – whenever someone wanted to search the apartment. Eventually, we all had a fear of door knocking, -- even years later, when it was only friends who came to visit.

Next door – newly wed couple moved in the apartment that had been taken from us – and ever after we had to share the kitchen and bathroom with them. They never cleaned up their mess – and mom hated it -- but she dared not say a word.

We analyzed that situation: why did they want to move in with us?

Yes, they needed a place to live, but meanwhile they could also spy on us. Fear that the couple would report whatever we said, we soon spoke in a low voice and used some secret codes among us. So even if they heard us, they could not tell what we meant.

Then, one day the couple moved out – and in their place came one of the many new political action groups that used the apartment as an office – where they would meet to decide who should be denounced – and broadcast the results from a loudspeaker aimed out the window. This was happening all over Beijing – and it was like a madhouse.
As the family of an “American Spy” we were, of course, one target of their displeasure – and as the comrades visited the office, they often grabbed a handful of stones to throw up against our door.

But it wasn’t only comrades who visited the office – we also began to notice that a parade of neighborhood girls (aged 12 to 16) were spending time there with one of the fellows. As a group leader, he had access to things girls might want – like treats or tickets to shows– and eventually, one of them became pregnant.

As I may have mentioned before, we lived in a somewhat puritanical society – and sex outside of marriage was a serious offence. The parents of the pregnant girl complained to the police, and the young revolutionary was brought up on charges. No laws, no lawyers, no litigation was involved – but the young man spent the next 2 or 3 years in prison.

During this summer, I had my own scrapes with law –but nothing that serious – because I had begun to hang out with a group of what might be called “young hooligans” What else was there to do ? I became best friends with a very short, but very feisty girl my age from the neighborhood (I still know her ! she lives in New York now)

One of our projects was to break into movie theatres to see the movies for free –maybe to save a little money – but mostly for the thrill of it.

We would rush the ticket counter all at once – say something a little threatening – and then find seats in the theatre. Sometimes it worked – and sometimes it didn’t – and one time we heard the theatre doors being bolted shut behind us as the police entered the room and rounded up all the miscreants.

So there I was –hauled off to the police station late one night. I must have cried so pathetically, they let us off with a stern warning – but by now it was midnight and neither my friend or I felt we could go home --- so I had the idea of visiting my uncle again – the one who had helped us before.

I’m sure we were not a welcome sight at 2 am when we finally got to his compound. The soldiers at the gate wouldn’t let us in – but they phoned up to his apartment. He wouldn’t let us stay – but he gave me ten Yuan – which was enough for bus fare and breakfast. (note: I forget where you ended up sleeping that night)

Often our adventures were not that risky – we would just manage to sneak through the fence of a neighboring apartment complex on movie night.

As winter approached, arrangements were made for high school students, like my older brothers and sisters, to be sent to the countryside – and this was happening across the country in every high school. The higher rank the school -- the more primitive the area to which their students were sent.

My siblings were going to remote places with no electricity, no plumbing, dirt floors, and very little food. Where my oldest brother went, there weren’t even houses – but the people lived in caves dug into the hillsides. Where my sister went, the food was corn porridge --- that varied throughout the day from watery to more watery. The local people have been living like that from generation to generation. They seldom went to bed with a full stomach.

My old sister and her classmates had to build their own house to live. (When she was sent to the roof to work, she was so scared, she hardly dared to stand up.)

And I remember so well the day they left for the train station – because we had to borrow a cart and it took all day dragging it back and forth for each of them.

What a dark, bleak, cold December day that was !

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Part Ten

Sunday, May 6, 1968 --- I remember this day very well.

For more than a year, posters had been going up on the wall of our compound, denouncing my father as one of the criminals against the people’s revolution.

So we knew we were in trouble (my parents often talked about it - in hushed voices we could not hear) -- but what could we do ? We had tried to eliminate the most incriminating evidence from among our collection of books – and I remember that “1001 Nights” was especially problematic, so mother took it apart, one page at a time, and flushed it down the toilet. (one time, the toilet got jammed – but we had a friend in building maintenance, and he fixed it up without reporting us)

She also destroyed her father’s portrait since he had come from a rich farmer family and had attended the Military School founded by the Goumingdang. (the Nationalist regime). For many years, she had kept a large portrait of him in a picture tube, and I didn’t know it existed until the day mom was ready to tear it up.

Before she tore it, she told me that it was the only photo of her father that she had. It had been drawn from a group photo of several soldiers .

(I think my third uncle still has that photo - Grandpa was standing in the middle of the back row. He had gone to Huang Po Military School, but did not graduate, since he was dead from liver cancel at the age of 35. He had been the oldest son of 5 brothers and 2 sisters – and he was a very tall, handsome man.)

She also tried to get rid of two small bullets that dad had kept all of the years since his military service. He had been given a pistol in the military, but in the early 50’s he had to turn it in to the government since nobody was allowed to own one. Mom asked my old brother to throw the bullets in the river or somewhere, and my old brother was so afraid that it took him a whole day to throw them away. He did not get home till late night. Mom was worried and really regretted that she did not do it herself.

The schools were closed, and all us children were living at home – or actually – half our home (since the other half had already been taken away) – and on this Sunday, – with nothing better to do --- the family took a trip to the zoo.

Thank goodness the Zoo was still open ! The monkey and elephant must not have heard about the need to criticize Mr. zookeeper !

But even as we left the apartment to board the bus, father turned to mother and said “we are being followed”

And we were followed – at a respectful distance – though we still had a good day at the zoo – taking photographs of the animals – and having lunch at the zoo restaurant. Father’s payday wasn’t until the upcoming week, so we were too short on cash for everyone to get a meal – but there was enough for the kids to have bowls of rice and a couple of dishes. Father took one or two bites himself.

When we got home, my mother went to the kitchen to prepare dinner. It was twilight now – oh, how I hate the twilight ! – and there was only one small bulb to light the kitchen. My mother grew her own mung bean sprouts – and she and father worked together in the dim light, picking the roots and cleaning them for a stir fry. It was a dark, ominous evening – and soon after dinner, we went to bed.

It was 2 am when mother came weeping into our room “Get dressed – your father has been arrested!” And I remember so clearly how frozen – how terrified I was. What would happen to me ? What about our future ? I struggled into clothes and came out in time to see my father in handcuffs being lead downstairs to a jeep that was waiting at the front door. Then there was the sound of the jeep doors shutting – the engine starting, and the jeep driving away. We heard nothing more about my father for the next four years.

What was happening ? I was so terrified – my tongue was too frozen to ask.

That’s how it was – we heard nothing. We didn’t get letters – we couldn’t visit – we didn’t know where he was – we didn’t know if he had been tried or convicted – we didn’t even know whether he was alive. You would think that we might still have friends somewhere high enough in government to know what was happening --- but my father’s only personal friends were comrades from the old days – and once someone had been arrested, it was not wise to have anything to do with their family.

There was nothing to do the rest of that night but stay awake and be miserable.

In the beginning, the Red Guard had been students (like my brother and sister), but now they were mostly workers – and the ones who arrested my father were workers in his own ministry . Several of them stayed in our building for the rest of that night –and then began to interrogate us – one by one – the next morning. “Did you ever notice anything suspicious about your father ?” “when did he become an American spy ?” These were the kinds of questions we were asked – and when my younger sister (age 12) had been in the interrogation room for what seemed like a very long time – mother told me – as the boldest one – to go in and see what was happening to her.

So in I went ! (I was 15 at the time – and yes, I was a bold, though small, person) – and I told them that we weren’t spies and we didn’t know if father had done anything wrong.

I recognized the interrogator as being from my father’s ministry – and I remember his home-made pipe – the kind that was quite fashionable among the Red Guards of that period. It was made from a certain kind of tree root found in the country – and he liked to continuously oil its smooth surface by rubbing it against his cheek and both sides of his oily nose. I wanted to punch him when I saw my younger sister in tears and scared to death.

After the interrogations, they went through everything in the apartment – looking for evidence of criminal activity and/or luxurious living. They had never seen anything quite like my brother’s photographic equipment – for he had managed to mount a lens in an old tin can to build his own adjustable optical projector and he could do many of the things done in a professional darkroom. More seriously, they found my mother’s coats and my grandmother’s collection of fabric – as Chinese have collected since the days when cloth almost served as currency. Good fabric, such as the linen for summer clothes, or silk or velvet or even wool sweaters or nice long scarves – all this was considered luxurious.

It was all gathered together and locked into a bedroom – then the doorway was sealed with a great sheet of paper -- so that the accused could not tamper with evidence. Unfortunately it also kept the accused away from any of their winter clothing – which would be sorely missed when the summer was over.

I said that the arrest was not all that unexpected because my father had been hounded, humiliated, and denounced on a daily basis over the previous 18 months.

Every morning, a fresh set of posters were inked up and pasted on partitions in public areas. In the beginning, they were made by students accusing their teachers – and I made a few myself. It was fun – and good practice for my brush work. But for the targets, of course, it wasn’t any fun at all – as their life history – either real, distorted, or completely fictitious -- was posted up for public contempt.

The bits about my father being an American spy – that was, of course, completely fictitious. The accusation that he wasted the ministry’s money buying hundreds of winter coats was partially true – but, of course, the coats were not for him – they were for the drivers who often had to stand out in the cold waiting for the officials they shuttled around to meetings. And it was quite true that he worked closely with the top men in his ministry – all of whom had also been accused/condemned as spies and traitors.

But a lot of controversial family history was also put up on the wall (the Chinese keep meticulous records). Often it was true – and usually I had never heard it before.

This was when I learned that my father’s parents were Christian, that my father had a Christian name, and that his brother was a Catholic priest who had lived in those two centers of world evil: the United States and Taiwan.

And this was when I learned, (incredibly enough for the first time), that both of my parents had been in previous marriages and that my father had a son by his first wife. (unfortunately, the boy had died in childhood) My father had gotten married in his village before joining the army. It was a marriage arranged by his parents and he never felt close to his wife. So he divorced her and never came back. Meanwhile, my mother had gotten married to a man from her village, but this marriage produced no children, and her husband died from illness.

These details were written on large colored paper and posted on the wall where everyone would read them. There were many “crimes” listed on these posters, starting with the 10 big crimes that included my uncle (who lives in Taiwan) and my father’s old boss (accused as being the biggest spy in China). My father had an American teacher to help him with his English – that was a crime. We lived in a big apartment – that was a crime. We had bath tab put in for us -- that was a crime, too.

And as my father’s crimes were piling up – people who held grudges against him were showing up and making trouble.

One was a young man who had attracted police attention by brushing Chairman Mao’s name on dozens of inflated condoms. Now, it seems like childish prank – but what’s a state security chief, like my father, supposed to do ? The young man was punished by being sent back to his home village – and when the cultural revolution turned everything upside down, he came back to Beijing to accuse my father of reactionary activity. (by the way, this young man went on to a career as a nationally known fine artist. I guess China and America are not that different after all!)

Another vengeful spirit was the daughter of a woman who had been accused of stealing. She thought that my father (who was in security) had a profile of her mom and she wanted him to destroy it – but my father would not

She showed up at our apartment one day to confront my father in person. She was a large, strong woman and she slapped my father across the face, knocking him to the ground. (A few years later, her husband became a leader of one of the many political organizations, but when that organization was accused of anti-Maoism – he committed suicide by hanging himself. She slapped his face too -- even after he was dead. !)

In addition to these indignities, my father was made garbage man for the Friendship Hotel - it being his job to scrub the garbage area on his hands and knees every day.

But it still took a direct order from Zhou Enlai to have my father arrested – and eventually, this is what happened. Perhaps there was so much pressure from below that Zhou had no choice. Perhaps throwing him into prison saved my father’s life (since some top officials had been killed). But whatever the reason , I do not believe Zhou deserves the respect he is still given – and I will never forgive him.

I think he was a coward. He knew the Culture Revolution was wrong, but he would not stand up against it.