ancestors settled in the remote mountainous area of northwestern Yunnan.
I am, of course, Chinese; however, I should like to add one more
word: I am Bai Chinese. I
belong not to the great Hans of Central China but to the Bai National
Minority. At home we speak
Bai, not the official language of my country, Mandarin.
In the past, because our contacts with outsiders were limited and
frustrated by this language trouble, we were looked down upon as
ignorant and backward. We
never found it easy to compete with the Han people.
in 1956, something unusual happened.
Under the direct leadership of the Beijing-based Academy of
Social Sciences, a special committee--the Research Institute for
National Minority People's Social History--was established in Kunming. Most of its personnel were from Beijing.
Without delay, I was the first one selected to help in their
investigations. Not only am
I Bai, fluent in Mandarin, but I had also studied English at college.
Sometimes I was instructed to translate English materials into
Chinese for research use; sometimes, to join a group of experts and
visit a distant mountain area. On these occasions I acted as an interpreter, since people
from Beijing can't follow the language spoken by the native villagers.
rejoiced over the change. I
had been working in a government office building where an eight-hour day
seemed like a sixty-four-hour day. But as soon as I was transferred to
do a translator's job, my workday passed by like eight minutes.
Opening my dusty boxes, I brought out my books.
I began to think, I began to plan; I was going to use my English
all at once, in the summer of 1957, a great political movement known to
the world as the Struggle Against the Rightists started all over our
country. In the beginning, people opened with statements like "We
are living in Mao Zedong's era. Everybody
is free to express his or her thoughts."
The most popular saying was ''Let a hundred flowers blossom and a
hundred schools of thought contend." This was the policy set forth
by Chairman Mao for promoting the arts and sciences and for developing a
flourishing socialist culture. Office
work stopped. For several
months we did nothing but hold meeting after meeting, where reports were
delivered and documents chosen for discussion.
in the autumn of 1957, came the second stage.
This was called "Drawing a clear line between sweet-smelling
flowers and poisonous weeds." Now we heard, "In order to
protect our New China, to ensure its color doesn't change, everybody
must boldly expose all the poisonous weeds.
Chairman Mao states that 95 percent of the population are loyal
to socialism, but 5 percent only pretend to serve the people in a false
way. If you cannot find that 5 percent, you are blind."
Right after this, the struggle began.
In order to fulfill that number, the group members began to
gather their strength and to reexamine and analyze all that had
previously been said.
our office, three people were being dragged out, found out, discovered.
One was a fifty-year-old man, a returned scholar from America. Another
was a young man named Gao, a classmate of mine from college, who was a
talkative fellow. The third and last poisonous weed was I myself.
first, face-to-face struggle meetings were conducted in a friendly
atmosphere. In some
organizations, snacks were even prepared on the table. The activists
criticized in kind voices and said, "Eat something soft. "They
offered you a cup of water or a cigarette.
This was named "To struggle with pleasant wind and light
rain." But as the movement went deeper, people used the phrase
"To struggle with a bigger storm."
They shouted at you, pointed at your forehead or pulled your
hair. They were so furious
that they banged the desks and chairs with their fists.
They kicked the floor, as if the floor was an enemy. And finally they hit, beat, or even gave you a
"helicopter ride"--tied your arms behind your back and hung
you up by them. All these
struggle meetings ended with a warning:
stop here for this evening, but we have a tomorrow everyday.
Never, never retreat unless a final and complete victory is
was easy to accuse me. My family had been classified as
"landlord." I had
once said that although I admired the Soviets' heavy industry, their
light industry was falling behind that of capitalist countries such as
Britain and America. I
remember saying, "If you go into a bookstore and pick up a copy of
a Soviet magazine, it gives off a terrible smell.
Can you find a strange smell on American publications?
British and American portable typewriters are light and
good-looking. What about Soviet typewriters? Ugly and too heavy."
They also remembered," You are a man who hates the Soviet Union and
loves the enemy, America!" I
had once commented that nowadays in China, as soon as you knew the
beginning of a book, magazine, film, radio program, you knew exactly how
it was going to end. For
this they said, "You hate our new society!
You hate our Party! No
mistake--you are just the rightist we are all trying to search
for!" If I made a
little unconscious mistake in speech, they immediately seized the
opportunity to do evil.
the daytime we three were left in peace, but each of us had to write his
own "material"--a written report expressing inner thoughts and
giving convincing answers to hundreds of "whys" and
* * *
day, after we had entered the second angry stage, I received a letter
from Wu Qiyan, a former girlfriend. I could hardly believe my eyes,
because many of my friends, including my former old classmates, had
started avoiding me after they learned I had become a poisonous weed.
Earlier I had written to Qiyan in northeast China, telling her of
my new job. Then, a little
while before the Anti-Rightist Movement began, I heard she had returned
to Kunming and been assigned to teach Russian at a middle school.
For a time I thought of going to see her, but when I reconsidered
it, I gave up the idea. Following
the invitation in her letter, that afternoon I ran as fast as my two
legs could carry me. The
moment her school building came into view I stopped, looked at the gate,
and then exclaimed, "No, it's too late now!
I am too dirty. Heaven will punish me if I go into that school
and poison that teacher of Russian."
ran home, knocked my forehead against the desk, covered my head with my
hands, and then threw myself into bed and sobbed.
knock came at the door. Immediately
I wiped my eyes and listened. More knocks followed. I thought my
colleagues were coming to fetch me for another struggle session, so I
replied, "I am here. I
have no wings. I cannot fly to Taiwan."
knocking didn't stop. I tiptoed over, lifted the corner of my curtain,
and looked out. It was
Qiyan. She opened the door
and came forward a step or two, looking around, as though we were
Can you remember my name?" Gazing
straight into my eyes, she approached nearer.
couldn't control my tears. Her
voice brought back memories from the past.
spite of everything, Qiyan had taken the initiative and come knocking at
my door. How kind and how
great she was! I must offer
her a cup of tea. I reached
for my thermos, but there was not a drop of water in it.
Formerly, the cleaning staff had brought me hot water regularly. After they saw I had become a bad element, they stopped
serving me. I ran out, intending to borrow some water from my next-door
colleagues. People were talking inside, but they paid no attention to my
knock. About twenty minutes
later, I did succeed in getting a thermos of hot water, I bought it from
a tea shop.
I was returning, four children accosted me at the main gate of my
organization. One of them
said, "Good afternoon, Mr. Lao You (Old Rightist)!
boy asked, "Are you bringing poisonous water to your friend?"
biggest boy came up to me like a top official and asked, "What side
of the road are you walking on now?"
don't understand," I replied. "The road is public. It doesn't
belong to your family."
all of us are the masters of the road.
You are a Lao You. As
'you' means 'right', you must walk on the right side!" With a push he forced me to walk on the right side.
old woman said, "Just listen to the children! Hereafter they will all become the leftists of our
children followed me. I
couldn't stop them. My only
aim was to offer a cup of water to a special friend, but my head ached
seriously. I found my door closed and nobody in. Luckily the window had
been left open, and I climbed through. But at that moment I dropped the
thermos. Glass and hot
water smashed all over the floor.
was nowhere to be seen. However,
my room had changed while I was out buying water.
There was no more dust on the desk.
All my books looked in good order.
A vase of straw-like flowers had disappeared. On my bed I noticed a blue-covered notebook.
Upon opening it I found a little photo of myself pasted onto the
first page. I was
particularly touched when I saw a faded rose beneath it. Qiyan and I had
once picked two roses from the same branch of a bush in a temple.
Later we each kept one. I
had been preserving mine in my biggest English-Chinese dictionary. As I
opened the dictionary and looked at my rose, Qiyan came back.
She put down a pail of cold water and took up the broom.
has broken a thermos."
was my fault. I forget
everything when I am in a hurry. I
haven't even a cup of water to offer!"
all right. I know your
you don't understand--I have become an enemy of the people.
I am now a poisonous weed; even three-year-old children are
trying to weed me out!"
do understand, Shuyi! It
makes no difference. Exactly the same in our school!"
heard voices and looked out the window.
A group of my colleagues' children were looking back at me.
One of them waved his hand and they repeated a new type of
nursery rhyme. It sounded a
bit like one I had read in an English book:
two, three, four, five,
have caught a Lao You alive,
seven, eight, nine, ten,
strange lady brings him water again.
two, three, four, five,
inch the snake wants to move,
seven, eight, nine, ten,
will struggle him to death again!"
closed the window and asked," Do you have to get permission if you
want to go out?"
Big leaders up above haven't made a final decision. I am waiting for some sort of punishment now, but I still can
go out and about in the streets."
afraid those little ghosts will bring you trouble. Shall we go for a walk?"
what if later someone says, 'You are playing with a wolf, a snake....'
like your father! One day
you'll become a famous lady-professor."
are wrong if you think my professor-father is great. As the earth turns round and round, everything changes.
For a time he was called an important big-school professor.
But one day, my dear friend, there was a storm up above.
He also received a cap--they say he is a fierce monster and
demon. In our present-day
China, from north to south, from east to west, when anyone sees a weed
which appears to be special or unusual, they say that weed is poisonous.
They pull up everything. They
destroy everything, no matter if it is poisonous or can be turned into a
beautiful plant. Nowadays a father can do nothing for his children, and
sometimes the children have to curse their parents. Anyway, I think both you and my father are in the same
according to your theory, I am a good man?"
course you are! Otherwise I
wouldn't have come to see you here. I have brought you a little gift.
As I was dusting your bookshelf I found that familiar dictionary.
That fully proved, after all, that you didn't forget me.
Is there anything missing?" She put the two roses together.
several springs and several autumns have come and gone, but nothing
seems to be missing. Only
the color has faded a little. But
what about me? I have
changed my 'color.' And
Qiyan, you have not. You
enjoy a sweet-smelling job. You
are not involved in the present storm.
Cherish it, protect it, and defend yourself.
I am afraid I will spoil your bright future."
think the present movement today really is like a heavy storm.
It's not easy to find a safe shelter.
Thousands and millions of people can't resist this storm.
In the past you seldom paid attention to the weather reports, and
moreover there were holes in your shoes.
You couldn't get a pair of rubber boots like important people
with good connections can, but you still splashed about carelessly.
Needless say, all kinds of dirty mud got into your shoes. When the time came to examine each person's feet they said,
'Look at your feet! They're
our weather is changeable. Don't forget that mud is washable, and one of
these days a storm will come along and wash off your mud. Like many
others, I believe you and my father will eventually see that day. So you
must not be discouraged. How I wish I could take you to see my father,
but, for the time being, it's raining heavily.
It's better not to take a poisonous-weed friend to see a monster
opened the door and made sure no children were about. Qiyan walked ahead and I followed. As soon as we were in the main street we walked shoulder to
shoulder, naturally. We
drank, ate, and finally sat on a bench beside a lake.
It was very late when we arrived at her school gate. Taking a
lovely apple out of her bag, Qiyan said," I saved this apple for
you. It's from Shandong
Province. It goes to
foreign countries as well."
have it yourself or give it to your father."
you must have it. My father
has some already. All the
way from Harbin to Beijing and then to Yunnan, I purposely kept one for
apple passed to and fro many times.
One of us missed and the apple rolled and rolled until it stopped
just in front of the woman gatekeeper.
She at once cried out excitedly," Ai, what a big apple!
The biggest, the most beautiful apple I've ever seen in my life!
Ah, I must enjoy it myself...."She smelled it and opened her
mouth wide, making a funny show.
and I exchanged glances. The old woman smiled and said," Teacher
Wu, I've been watching you from the very beginning of your 'apple
ping-pong-ball game,' Very interesting.
I guess you must be our Teacher Wu's Mr. So-and-so.
Welcome to you. Now
tell me, what do people call that fruit?"
knows we call it 'ping guo' " Qiyan replied.
what does the word 'ping' mean?"
'Ping' means 'equal,' " I said.
old woman cut the apple into two and handed half to Qiyan and half to
me. " You make a lovely couple, "she said.
smiled. We ate the apple.
We didn't speak, but we understood each other's hearts.
We hoped we would thereafter share joys and sorrows like we had
shared that apple equally.
the period when that violent political struggle movement was in full
swing, Qiyan's visit to my room was a great comfort. In our
organization's office, when I was forced to answer their criticisms, I
had for a time thought that the only way out for me was to die. But now,
when I thought of Qiyan's words and her kind concern, I felt my life
wasn't over yet. She had given me a little strength with which to
dropped in at least once a week to see me. In order to avoid extra
trouble, I never went to see her at her school.
Each time she came she would bring me something special to eat or
help a little in my room. On
weekends we would go to see a film or walk for a while in a park. One afternoon during the Spring Festival holiday she took me
to see her father. I was touched to see the old man, but it was not
convenient to talk a great deal as there were many other guests.
and by, my colleagues began to be suspicious of our relationship.
When we met in our dormitory, some smiled a little; but inside
that forced smile they often hid a sharp knife.
I went about alone. The
office director allowed me to go back to my desk as usual, but a
decision had been made not to let rightists touch the work they normally
did. He said, "You just sit and read newspapers, including those
published in other provinces. The only reason you have been seriously
criticized by all the comrades is that you didn't pay attention to
politics in the past. You
must make up this shortcoming. The
more you study politics, the higher your political level will be."
the beginning of the struggle movement, when it stormed and rained hard
I thought I would be drowned. As
I studied the Party editorials, day after day, I slowly became convinced
they would not order a man from a security organization to shoot me.
But I didn't know what kind of punishment I would have to face
Qiyan never said "I love you," and I never asked her "Do
you love me?" Nevertheless,
we understood each other well. Shortly
after the Spring Festival of 1958, our marriage proposal was approved by
her father. At first we decided to get married as soon as I was
permitted to go back to my work. However,
when that would be was a top secret of the government.
Later we made a newer decision: Get everything ready, as quickly
as possible. Qiyan had to fill in several forms at three levels: the
Communist Youth League, the school authorities, and the local people's
government. It usually took
a long time for everything to be processed smoothly.
evening I was plunged into a state of terrible anxiety.
How could I plan my life in my present uncertainty?
I went to see our office director at his house.
I told him everything about my past, and also about the true
relationship between Qiyan and myself.
At the end of our talk, he said, "Don't worry too much. Your
problems have nothing to do with the law.
Our Party is not going to send all the rightists to a court and
then throw them into a jailhouse. Today we have big rightists, middle
rightists, little rightists and ordinary ones. There are many different
types. You didn't secretly
organize a group of counterrevolutionaries to destroy our society.
You are perhaps only a little rightist. So the punishment for
you, I think, will be a lighter one.
You will be treated as an ordinary citizen.
You'll receive regular pay from the nation.
I guarantee you won't experience any physical harm."
next morning I ran Qiyan and told her to double her efforts to hurry
along her marriage forms. Three days later, all my plans and dreams were
destroyed. It happened
suddenly and swiftly. At
eight o'clock sharp we were told to attend a short meeting in the
office. Our director opened
the meeting with these words: "Comrades, listen to me carefully.
Our plans and prearrangements always fall behind the flying speed
of our society. I thought we would have to wait for a considerable time
to see the outcome of our great struggle against the rightists.
But no. The formal
note from a high level has come at last.
I was instructed to declare it today in the presence of
the gate here we are a big revolutionary family. By mastering our great leader Chairman Mao Zedong's thought,
using his thoughts as a mirror, we can see which comrade is true to our
Party, and which is going to destroy our great cause of the proletarian
dictatorship. In this
organization, as we look in the mirror, we see three enemies.
In the past, since we didn't pay enough attention to politics, we
were all deceived by their sweetest words.
But today, under the correct leadership of our Party, and with
the spirit of persistently chasing the enemy, we finally succeeded in
revealing their ugly faces as those of monsters and snakes and ghosts.
We all know where they were born, their past family history, what
they said and did to injure our socialism.
It is all down in black and white.
They can never deny a word.
All their material will be put into a big paper bag and will
follow each one of them.
three are not good-for-nothing. The
Party has spent a big sum of money in training them. They are valuable state property. Later, they thought they were wiser than others, so they
began to fire at our Party. They didn't know that real wisdom is in the
hands of the people. Yet when the time came for the Party to consider
their problems, it was lenient and forgiving. As bad as they are, we
don't intend to shoot, to beat them to death. We'll let them have an
opportunity to correct their defects and make a self-reform plan in the
coming years. As soon as
they realize they have been ungrateful to the Party and the people, the
people will welcome them back to contribute to our nation's
modernization program. I hope you three will consider and cherish this
I want you three to understand this: If you had committed such crimes in
the Kuomintang days, you would have had your heads cut off.
You must be cheerful and rejoice because you are under the
leadership of the Chinese Communist Party. Yes, we agree, none of you
killed a person in the street, or set fire to a building--but your
anti-Party thoughts and the words you used to attack our Party were
fiercer than those who use a gun to fire or a TNT packet to destroy.
They were not trifles. If
we place your anti-Party problems on a big-principle desk, it wouldn't
be exaggeration to describe them as a case of treason.
And you know the penalty for treason is death.
Are we going to give you a death sentence? No. You'll live.
You still have a great hope to join our big revolutionary family.
Bear this in mind: Based on Marx-Lenin-Mao Zedong thought theory,
all your problems belong to 'contradictions between the people and the
enemy.' But our Party hasn't punished you in accordance with this rule.
In order to give you a chance to correct your wrongdoings, our
Party has turned a 'people-to-enemy' contradiction into a
'people-to-people' contradiction. Your
problems are problems among people, not between people and enemies.
You three are very lucky. If
our Party had used the first to punish you, you would have died.
Please treasure this lenient policy of our Party.
note we have received from above makes it clear that there is some
difference between each of you. One
will be sent to a distant county in south Yunnan. The other two will be
sent to a small county not far from Kunming.
Generally speaking, they are all state-owned farms.
They are not concentration camps, neither are they labor-reform
farms of the Security Department, nor are they under the control of
policemen. They are very
new farms, set up only several months ago.
You are to receive a reeducation program through labor. There is
no fixed date on which you will be able to leave.
Two weeks, two years, or ten years--nobody knows how long you'll
have to stay. You'll have the right to vote. You'll receive a little
salary to buy soap, cigarettes, and stamps.
The country takes care of everything.
Just pack your things right after this meeting and get ready to
jump into a jeep."
out of the office building, I thought of what Qiyan's school gatekeeper
had said as we ate that apple. Would
Qiyan like to share her future with a man who was going to reform his
thoughts on a farm? I had
to tell her the news, so first I ran to borrow one of our organization's
for?" the man at the gate asked.
important. I'll be back in
a little while."
just now I was informed not to lend anything to you but, instead, to
watch you more carefully."
I began to pack I was called to the phone.
I rushed upstairs. Another
hand stopped mine as I picked up the receiver.
for you now. This telephone serves the people," the man said.
I an animal?"
dare you say that! Before
eight o'clock you could use this phone, but after the meeting...."
only this time, the last time. I
won't talk too long."
have to ask the director first. Don't touch it until I come back."
tears streamed down. The
man returned and said," What are you crying for?
You're not only a rightist but also full of bourgeois ideas!
The director says all right.
But tell me what you want to say."
tell the caller I am leaving before lunch.
Tell her I am going to a farm, and ask her to come over and see
me as soon as her class ends."
fear they would not allow me to talk to Qiyan in person when she
arrived, I dashed off the
the moment I am forced to pack in a hurry, and to make matters worse, so
many thoughts are appearing in my head and I have a hundred things to
tell and say, but I simply don't know where to begin.
things do happen everyday. Here they say I am still a
"citizen," there I am stopped from using the telephone.
I will never be able to understand such policies.
Didn't we feel hopeful about our future?
Your father also said we should have a hopeful outlook.
They hadn't drawn up the final curtain then, so we thought many
things were within our reach. Today,
when we look back at our behavior, I must say both of us were naive and
word about our future. I think, beginning from today, we must set an
example in being practical. Can
we manage to get married? Can a schoolteacher marry a criminal on a
farm? Maybe you will
say," I don't mind!" Dangerous!
Do you know what "social pressure" means?
Since the situation has changed like this, I have no more courage
to think of that which is out of my reach.
If only you consider the duration, because they didn't tell me
how many years I would have to reform on the farm, you will come to see
my point of view.
makes my heart ache when I recall our times together. What did we talk about beside the lake? Remember? I said
no matter what kind of fierce storm might come I would stand by you.
I am very sorry. All that's in the past.
I hope you will forgive me and accept me as a good friend of
yours. Always take care of
yourself and write if your policy is "good friends."
I hope I can keep on hearing from you.
the way, I leave three boxes of things at our gatekeeper's room for you
to collect. I am taking the
typewriter and some books. Please
take care of the rest for me.
had begun hurrying me even before I ended my letter to Qiyan. My room
was in a state of disorder. Time
was so limited that I could only cram my belongings into several
cardboard boxes. At about
half past ten, Lao Li (the returned student from America) and I were
rudely forced into a jeep. A
crowd had gathered to watch. One
of the children called out, " Look, ladies and gentlemen, over
there, Mrs. Lao You is
coming to see her Mr. Lao You off!"
thought he was making fun of me, but upon looking out of the jeep window
I saw Qiyan riding up on a bicycle. The engine started. I asked the
driver to wait for a moment, but the colleague who was responsible for
taking us to the farm stopped him, saying, "No, you must not wait. The political mission is above all. No more love making affairs for an anti-Party element who is
going to a reform farm."
jeep began to move. Qiyan
was pedaling hard and had almost reached us. We waved and called--but we
couldn't hear each other. Her
bike raced forward into the cloud of dust rising up behind our jeep. I
dropped the letter out of the window but couldn't tell if she had seen
it or not. Soon our jeep
pulled away, and she disappeared from sight.
bumped along. The colleague
escorting us just smoked and said nothing. The middle-aged driver
offered us cigarettes many times and asked Lao Li and me many questions. When he asked me how long we would have to spend on the
"reeducation through labor" farm, I said, "I am living in
a drum. That's top
Li added, "Heaven only knows the length of time."
The driver laughed, "No time means they have a lot of time to do whatever they want to do. What a wonderful flexible policy! To you, no time means no hope is left for you. You will have to wait for a long, long time before that no time comes."
Important Note: The name "Shuyi" is the original name, after he married Mrs. He Cun-niang, he followed the wife's family name "He" and change his "Shuyi" into "Liyi".
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