The years immediately following 1956 saw the flowering of economic reconstruction in China. With the whole nation concentrating on recovery, material productivity peaked around 1957. Conversion of agriculture to the commune system was almost complete. Public order and security, availability of consumer goods, and confidence about the future in general all reached a new high level. However, memory of the Hu Feng case lingered on the literary front. Writers were not as eager to produce as the peasants and workers were. To stimulate literary productivity, in early 1956 Party authorities announced the Hundred Flowers campaign—let a hundred kinds of flowers bloom together, let the hundred schools of thought contend.
The responses were enthusiastic and, to Party authorities, a little too overwhelming. A newcomer, Wang Meng, published his “The Young Man Who Has Just Arrived at the Organization Department” (Sept. 1956) to criticize senior Party cadres for their corrupt life and work-style. Liu Pin-yen joined Wang with a report, “At the Bridge Site” (1958), showing how an idealistic engineer was prevented from carrying out his duty by bureaucratic indifference and inertia. These exposés, together with demands for political democracy by some non-Communist leaders who had been influential before Liberation, brought about a prompt reversal of Party policy. The result was a counteroffensive, an “anti-rightist” campaign. Wang Meng and Liu Pin-yen were criticized and silenced. This reversal in political policy went further, to clear accounts with some veteran writers; Ch’in Chao-yang was denounced, not because of his own stories (such as “Election”), but for his part in publishing Wang Meng’s story in People’s Literature, then under Ch’in’s editorship. An established writer from Northeast China, Hsiao Chün, was punished for his novel about coal miners; his critics charged that Hsiao failed to uphold the Party’s leadership in overcoming the “practical difficulties.”
Other veteran writers fared better with their upsurge of creative energy. The ambitious were after epical works that chronicled the past three decades of revolution and dramatic change in the countryside and in urban centers. Liang Pin’s long novel Keep the Red Flags Flying starts with revolutionary undercurrents in the early 1930s and follows a number of colorful characters all the way through Liberation. Chou Li-po wrote about land reform and the far reaching change it brought about in village life in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Chou Erh-fu treated the struggle between labor and management in Shanghai soon after Liberation. Fang Chi, a versatile writer more deeply involved in Party politics than most other writers, produced a surprise story about an idealistic intellectual’s downfall because of his love for a folk theater singer enslaved by her stepmother-owner and the old society. These works enjoyed popularity until their denunciation during the Cultural Revolution in 1966-67.
Ju Chih-chüan’s “Lilies on a Comforter” portrays a young Red soldier whose childlike innocence is most disarming; the young bride in the story who develops such a strong feeling for the dying soldier is depicted persuasively and with economy of words. By contrast Tu P’eng-ch’eng’s village characters in “The Natives of Yenan” exhibit traits more typical of the proletarian image the new literature tries to foster. Yang Mo’s novel The Song of Youth, written in 1957 with a setting in the mid-1930s, presents another social stratum—college students involved in the underground Communist movement.
In poetry Mao Tse-tung himself encouraged more verse writing by publishing his own; he allowed eighteen of his early poems, all in classical form, to appear for the first time. Symbolist poet Pien Chih-lin, very quiet after Liberation, wrote several of his rare stanzas since 1949. Short lyrics yielded to longer narrative poems. Tsang K’o-chia and Tsou Ti-fan joined Li Chi in presenting characters in long verse with a story line. Ai Ch’ing and Ho Ching-chih developed their type of long songs with lines of irregular length but sustained with strong feeling. Only Li Ying continued to write mostly short lyrical poems.
Hsiao Chün’s proletarian origins are well known. Born in Northeast China (Manchuria) in 1908, he led the life of a vagabond jack-of-all-trades until joining a militia outfit in his early twenties. After the September 18th Mukden Incident in 1931, which led to the Japanese annexation of Northeast China, Hsiao Chün began his literary career in the city of Harbin. In 1933 he and his common-law wife, the writer Hsiao Hung, left their homeland and traveled first to Tsingtao in Shantung, then south to Shanghai, where they came under the wing of the renowned literary figure Lu Hsün.
Village in August, Hsiao Chün’s first novel, was published under Lu Hsün’s aegis in 1935; it and its author became overnight sensations. This novel also has the distinction of being the first modern Chinese novel to appear in English translation (New York, 1942). Following the death of Lu Hsün in October 1936, and the opening of war with Japan less than a year later, Hsiao Chün traveled to the interior of China, moving from place to place until his arrival in 1940 in Yenan. By then he had written another novel (The Third Generation, 1937) and several collections of stories, essays, and poems.
It did not take the abrasive, egocentric, and basically humanist Hsiao Chün long to get into trouble. His essay “Love and Patience Among the Comrades,” published in the Liberation Daily in 1942, was one of the articles by Yenan literary figures which spurred Mao Tse-tung into calling his Yenan Forum on Literature and Art. Hsiao Chün and his fellow “malcontents” were criticized, but for Hsiao Chün, at least, the matter was closed. Four years later he returned with the People’s Liberation Army forces to Manchuria, where he published a Party-supported newspaper, The Cultural Gazette. In a rash of articles and editorials he strongly censured the Communist Party’s land reform programs and Chinese and Soviet attitudes toward the Northeastern Chinese. In 1948 a major rectification campaign was launched against Hsiao Chün, and resulted in the closing of the newspaper and his incarceration in a labor reform camp at the Fushun Coal Mines in Liaoning Province. He returned to Peking in 1951. Over the next four years a revised version of Village in August, the first part of an expanded and greatly altered version of The Third Generation (retitled The Past Generation), and a new novel, Coal Mines in May, were published.
Coal Mines in May is a fictional tale of the author’s experiences during his period of reform through labor; it is, to all appearances, an exemplary piece of socialist realist writing. However, in the author’s zeal to glorify the proletariat, he has inadvertently placed them above the Party; having portrayed the people themselves as the motive force of the revolution, it could only be a matter of time before this advocate of individual heroism was once again under attack by Party critics. Indeed, it took but a few months for the first critical article to appear. The final blow came during the Anti-rightist Campaign of 1957-58, and Hsiao Chün disappeared without a trace for twenty years. He quietly reemerged in public in 1977. There is, however, no word on what he may be writing these days.
The following excerpt is taken from chapter seven of the novel Coal Mines in May. Although by no means a microcosmic view of the entire work, it is representative in many ways. Themes of patriotism and dedication to the Party and the masses; attacks against the vestiges of Nationalist Chinese control; individual heroism; the workers’ coarse language; and descriptions of production in the socialist naturalist mode are all in evidence. —H.G.
CHAPTER SEVEN: THE GREAT WORK CONTEST
A calamity struck at about midnight on the eve of the great work contest to produce more for the nation. The explosives storage shed for the entire strip mine was rocked by a blast. The news of the incident shocked not only the people at the strip mine, but the entire Black Gold mining region as well.
The word going round had it that it was all the doing of underground counterrevolutionary Kuomintang agents who were bent on sabotaging the people’s mine, and who were even more intent on disrupting the great work contests being held in May and June. The warnings that the administrators and certain responsible Party cadres had frequently issued in the past for everyone to be on constant guard against the Kuomintang counterrevolutionaries and their clandestine schemes to sabotage the mines were now revived for the first time among the working masses. There were some among them who recalled the words of Lu Tung-shan at the First Workers’ Representative Assembly:
“... Comrades, we must produce, but even more importantly, we must guard against our enemies! We toil hard to produce, to repair and build, and if we allow those bandits to run off with the fruits of our labor, or to destroy them, it’s a bad bargain! Those counterrevolutionary Kuomintang agent dogs are nothing but bandits; in fact, they’re more shameless than bandits—no deed is beneath them. If we’re not careful they’ll put sand in our rice and dog turds in our food. They even poison our food ... they can’t get anything good to eat, so they don’t want us to either. They want to starve us, or poison us!...”
At the time, few people had paid any attention to Lu Tung-shan’s warning. Some were of the opinion that the Kuomintang counterrevolutionaries had been frightened out of their wits and wouldn’t have the guts to do anything; others believed that this fellow Lu Tung-shan was merely currying favor with the Communists, and that by taking a couple of swipes at the Kuomintang counterrevolutionaries he was showing how progressive he was. As far as the others were concerned, he was just making noises by reeling off some stock phrases. They weren’t really listening to him, since no one felt the need to remember what he was talking about. Yet at that very time, underground agents were making plans against Lu Tung-shan’s life, plans that, fortunately, were never carried out.
But on this day every word that Lu Tung-shan had uttered came flooding back into their memories: not only were the secret agents bent on throwing sand into the people’s rice, they were intent on smashing their ricebowls as well—they truly wanted to destroy this mine upon which thousands of people depended for their livelihood. Even the people who normally thought of nothing but their own monthly wages were now in a restive and angry mood. They wanted to know just who these people were who would stoop to such despicable acts. Why would these bad elements want to break everyone’s ricebowl? What was it that drove them to throw sand into the ricebowls of people who had finally been able to sit down to a peaceful and secure meal? Just what was it that made such bad elements tick? And so the people kept their eyes peeled and went from place to place asking questions; with their ears pricked up, they surreptitiously listened to the talk around them wherever they went. Gradually those among them with shadowy pasts and those who had exhibited something less than upright tendencies fell under a cloud of suspicion.
The entire incident, as was to be expected, proved a hard nut to crack.
But the great work contest went ahead on schedule. That was possible because sufficient amounts of explosives and detonator caps for the contest had been handed out by the mine administrators to each unit during the first few days. And so the incident had no direct effect on the implementation of the work contest. On the contrary, the explosion had served to increase the people’s sense of outrage, which had a measure of revenge and a measure of something resembling a show of force. As a result, those who were planning to participate in the great work contest were filled with such enthusiasm they seemed about to burst.
It was only four o’clock in the morning—there were still two hours to go before the third unit of the previous day was scheduled to end its shift—but the first unit, which was to relieve them, seemed today to be under the effects of a marvelous “elixir of unity.” They were already mustered at the place where they were to begin their shift. Some had shown up even earlier.
Yang P’ing-shan and Lu Tung-shan had spent half the night at their respective work stations, their eyes opened wide like owls as they flew from one place to another. Otherwise, they could be found on their haunches carefully examining every spot where something untoward might happen, and were constantly making any necessary repairs.
The third shift of the previous day seemed unwilling to quit, so the men of the first unit rode herd on them, which led to some half-serious quarrels and shouting matches just about everywhere:
“What the fuck is making you so eager about the work! Are you trying to squeeze two days’ production out of a single day’s work? What kind of contest is that? To do it right we’re supposed to knock off work at the regular time and change shifts on schedule. You’re trying to cheat...” The men of the third shift, unwilling to leave and feeling somewhat jealous, cursed the others, airing their own complaints. Since their shift was unable to participate in the work contest, they were frustrated, unhappy.
“You guys get the hell out of here! You and your damned grumbling! You don’t appreciate the fact that we showed up two hours early. Since your old ladies are still at home keeping the mattresses warm, now’s your chance to go get a couple of hours in bed. But no, you don’t have the sense to understand that.”
Though the quarreling, cursing, and ridiculing continued uninterrupted, the work went on in all earnestness. In the end it was the oncoming shift that won out, as they finally drove off the men from the previous unit.
It was not even 4:30 when Lu Tung-shan and his crew had filled a train of coal cars at their work area; it was being pulled by motor and cable to the ground above. And so, on the first day of the contest theirs was the first crew anywhere in the strip mine to have filled a train of cars with coal. The second trainload was produced by Hsieh Chih-ching’s crew in the western sector. Following them, more winch-powered trainloads rumbled up to the ground as the other crews filled theirs. The coal cars snaked their way quickly down the tracks, looking like long millipedes in motion. At every site they wriggled their way up and down the hills, seemingly in competition with one another. Some of the hookmen* aboard them broke into song; they were singing snatches of local opera in high-pitched voices, which floated on the winds to distant places; from time to time their songs were smothered by the cacophony of sounds from the locomotives, electric excavators, punches, and explosives. The combination of sounds—metallic and human—was a symphony that naturally and harmoniously pervaded the entire mine site, and even drifted far off to greet the coming dawn.
The western sky was covered with a layer of light purple, then the eastern sky, with its dark-gray layered clouds, was rent by the slicing silver-red rays of the morning sun. In no time at all that great fiery red ball of an early-morning May sun broke free from the craggy horizon and leapt noiselessly into the sky. The lamps at the top and base of the mountain were still lighted, but they were no longer as radiant nor as inviting as they had been during the night, and soon they were extinguished.
The strip mine was divided into three major sectors: the eastern sector, the western sector, and the sector called the “deep hole,” which was at the bottom of the mine and was excavated through a deep trench. It was this shaft where they dug the coal residue at the bottom of the large deposits. All the sectors were located on the southern slope of the mountain. At appropriate places flat areas had been hewn into the side of the mountain, so that from a distance it resembled a man-made rice paddy terraced out of the slope, and men were working on this terraced paddy. Temporary rail lines that served each of the leveled areas could be extended or shifted around as the need arose. Each of these separate transport routes was linked to a major loop, from which a 300-horsepower or smaller winch moved the coal up to the collecting area at the top of the slope. From there it was transferred into larger transport cars that moved horizontally to the coal-washing station or some other place. Throughout the strip mine there were more than twenty sites served by the small winches, which were the transport facilities that connected the ground level with the lower reaches of the mine. In addition, there was at the western sector a 1300-horsepower double-capstaned winch powerful enough to hoist and lower coal cars weighing twenty-five tons—one round trip every five minutes. There was also a large winch in the eastern sector, but it was single-capstaned, and less powerful, managing 1100 horsepower. At these two major transport areas alone, 12,000 tons of coal or rock could be moved daily; they were like two gigantic drinking straws!
The entire Black Gold coalfield was some ten miles long by four or five miles wide, and from ten to more than a hundred feet thick, making it an enormous leaf of coal. From the south to the north it cut into the ground at thirty-degree angles. Few coalfields in the world could boast a layer of such pure concentration as this one. And it was located in the heart of the fatherland! In times past it was sealed up for many years by ignorant emperors; then it was forcibly occupied by the Czarist Russian and Japanese imperialists; and along the way it was ravaged and subjected to insane destruction by the Kuomintang. Now for the first time it was truly controlled by the Chinese people. It was now part of the great wealth belonging to the great people of the great Chinese state, and, reasonably mined and managed, it would, of course, prove its even greater worth. The pride of the Chinese people, it was also a test of the Chinese people’s will, particularly the working-class people of the Black Gold mining region. This day—May fifth, 1949—was the opening page of this genuine test.
The workers’ production fervor gushed from their political fervor. It initially lacked substance and order, and was, for that matter, somewhat wasted. When the work first began, one could still hear clamorous and chaotic shouts, quarreling among the workers, lighthearted laughter and banter back and forth, and even the sound of jolly singing. But after the work was well under way, these sounds were seldom heard. Outside of-the rhythmic clanging and moaning sounds of the machinery as metal struck rock, there was only an almost eerie silence. An atmosphere of leaden seriousness seemed to have settled over the entire mine. The sun’s rays burned stronger by the minute. No wind, no clouds in the sky. And yet the people’s working fervor was like amassing summer clouds, which grow thicker and darker by the minute, which grow heavier by the minute, which gather and roll faster by the minute, and which grow more beautiful by the minute. This fervor also resembled the twisting winds that come sweeping off the vast desert or off the ocean: at first they are dispersed, light, and warm as they swirl along. But they grow thicker, bigger, and denser; they swirl faster and faster, until at last they begin to suck sand and water up from the ground and form a towering pillar of wind, swirling and twisting, leaping over the deserts and oceans, and rolling up to the heavens.
This wind pillar of the people’s fervor, though invisible to the eye, nonetheless swirled more and more rapidly by the minute, and twisted more and more violently; this was the impression one got from looking at the people’s faces and watching the motion of their limbs as they worked. At first their faces were filled with boastful smiles born of excitement, and as the men set to work they seemed almost indolent or in a joking mood. But before long this mirthful appearance had disappeared. So, too, had any other discernible expression. By then, whether it was their facial features—their noses, their mouths; or each individual wrinkle; or every hair on their heads, in their beards, in their moustaches, in their eyebrows—everything seemed to have been newly etched with an air of solemnity, and was clearly set off from everything else. It then seemed that the thousands upon thousands of eyes had but one expression: stern and spirited. Limbs and muscles that had been put to work gave one the impression at this moment that they were made not of flesh and blood, but of dark-hued metals—machines in perpetual, unremitting motion.
Lu Tung-shan’s eyes were sunk in sockets that seemed like two black pits. His cheeks were hollow, his nose protruded in a sharp curve, and his lips were drawn so tightly inward they had disappeared from sight. His mouth was but a thin slit. His customary loud laughter and shrill yells were no longer heard; he had grown so silent it was almost as though he no longer existed. And yet he never paused in his coal-digging work or in his walking from one place to another. One moment he would drop from sight, the next he would reemerge from somewhere else.
“How many lines of cars have they filled over there?” Chin Ta-liang asked Lu Tung-shan, who was coming out of the wooden shed alongside the winch. The telephone linkup was located in this shed, and from there one could be apprised of the production situation anywhere in the mine site.
Lu Tung-shan answered him without saying a word: he raised two fingers, then picked up a coal shovel from the ground and savagely dug up a heaping shovelful of coal, which he emptied into a coal car.
“How about us?”
Once again Lu Tung-shan answered by using his fingers.
“What? We’re only two lines ahead of them? God damn it! ‘It’s no big deal for a fatso to be girded by a big belt!’* They won’t be calling us the ‘rabble-rouser unit’ anymore; instead, we’ll be known as the ‘lazy fart unit’ !” Chin Ta-liang asked no more questions, but busied himself with shoveling the coal. He shoveled it with such speed that the coal dust formed a black cloud over the area, enveloping him and the men around him. Like the others, he was stripped to the waist, and his dark-brown skin was covered with a layer of coal dust mixed with sweat, glistening in the sun’s rays.
The mute, Yen Pai-sui, was standing nearby, mouth agape and staring wideeyed, with his coal shovel resting idly in his hands. He was scolded by a small, thin coal digger standing alongside him:
“You dumb jackass, what are you listening to? We’re only two lines of cars ahead of them, so speed it up.”
It finally dawned on the mute that his unit might be swamped under by the “scorpion unit” of the western sector. This was no laughing matter; no wonder Lu Tung-shan had stopped his customary shouting. This was a life and death struggle between the “rabble-rouser unit” and the western sector that would determine who was to be covered with glory. One could not afford to be sloppy. No one could decipher the strange sounds that he uttered at that moment, but they all witnessed his almost crazed burst of activity as he shoveled the coal, raising a cloud of gray dust. In no time at all he had neatly filled another line of cars to the top.
Just then a line of empty cars came hurriedly snaking down the mountain slope. Standing in the rear of one of the cars was the master hookman, Wang San the Swallow. He had, for that day, managed to find a bright red silk bandana, which he had wrapped around his head. It was flapping in the wind, looking like a banner; it also resembled a flaming torch, its tongues of fire dancing in a strong wind. His dark-skinned, tall, erect body was the banner’s pole, or the handle of the torch. As the line of cars neared the branch of the track, Wang San, with his customary lightness and agility—he was more agile, even, than a swallow—jumped down from the car on which he was riding and unhooked the steel cable at the rear of the car. The small coal car that was then freed of the cable glided over to another track obediently and all by itself. Wang San dragged the cable over to the line of coal-filled cars and rang the bell as a signal to those above; the line of cars began to move gently as it was slowly towed up the hill by the cable. As for Wang San, he sprang up onto one of the cars with the ease of motion of a sparrow or a chimp. This time, however, he looked like a flag standard placed in the very first car.
“Hey, Wang San, you’re just as shameless as ever—now you’re even dressed like a young woman! Give us a harvest-song dance!” someone jokingly shouted, breaking the silence. This lighthearted banter was caught up and partly obliterated by the constant sha-sha of coal digging and the hollow tung-tung of the coal as it hit the bottoms of the coal cars. But Wang San heard it, nonetheless. He turned his head around and opened his mouth, exposing a row of teeth. His hooked, almost aquiline nose, with the sun behind it, presented a forbidding silhouette, like a paper cutout framed against the clear blue sky—crisp and beautiful. Then, as the line of cars began to move, he actually stretched his arms out wide and began to sway in concert with some unheard melody. A loud chorus of laughter rocked the whole western face of the mine and the entire valley.
Suddenly from off in the distance came the intermittent sounds of gongs and drums, causing everyone’s spirits to rise sharply.
“It’s a harvest-song brigade!” shouted Chin Ta-liang, the first to recognize the sounds. He stood up straight and looked over to the western sector of the mine.
“What harvest-song brigade? Keep digging the coal. You’ve broken the mood for the others! You big son-of-a-bitch, you only know how to piss around!” Lu Tung-shan cursed him. Chin Ta-liang said nothing more, but bent over and dug up another shovelful of coal.
But the crash of gongs and the thud of drums grew clearer by the minute. And that wasn’t all: amidst the usual gray, pale atmosphere of the colorless coal mine, to everyone’s surprise, flags—bright red, looking like a bed of flowers—appeared among the concealed bends and curves of the mountain ridge. Then the resplendent brigade itself came into view, though it was creeping along very slowly.
At this moment Lu Tung-shan, too, felt that his heart was like a piece of melting ice, and his eyes began to grow moist.
It was indeed a harvest-song brigade, one made up of young workers from the electric factory attached to the mine. Since their work contest was not scheduled for that day, they had come to the mine to entertain and cheer their coal-digging brothers.
“Are there any women?” Once again it was Chin Ta-liang. Unable to restrain himself, he broke out laughing.
“Damn it, what if there are women? You’re a real problem with those thoughts of yours. You’re like a dog who can’t stop eating turds! We ought to make you the target of a struggle ...,” the short coal-digger reproved Chin Ta-liang. This fellow was called “The Sage” by his fellow coal-diggers, since he had studied in school for seven years.
“Is it an ideological problem just to ask if there are any women? You little monkey, you’d better not fool around with your old dad here! Who are you to give lessons to me? What are you? Some kind of petit bourgeois? Well, you ... you’ll never be the equal of a Communist. Before a fox spirit can become an immortal, he has to take human form first, and then practice the moral teachings for five hundred years! Your old dad here is a true Communist, so I’m five hundred years of moral conduct up on you ... you ... !”
This time, uncharacteristically, Chin Ta-liang showed signs of an anger born of embarrassment, for he and this young coal-digger often had their differences, and held one another in low regard. But as he scolded he continued to scoop out coal.
This young coal digger was the son of a small landlord. After the Land Reform of 1947-1950 he had drifted over to the mine and had begun digging coal. Since no one else had been willing to take him on, he had been assigned to Lu Tung-shan’s “rabble-rouser unit.”
“Even if you are a landlord’s son, it makes no difference,” Lu Tung-shan had told him. “As long as you work hard, don’t engage in any counterrevolutionary activities, and make no trouble, we can reform you. You’re a cultured man, so you can teach all the ones who haven’t had any schooling how to read and write and do figuring. You have our guarantee that we’ll do a good job of reforming you!”
Now, on normal occasions this young man was the silent type who read books and newspapers when he had nothing else to do. He also taught the men how to read, and was a good worker, so that as time passed the others began to look upon him as a fellow worker. Chin Ta-liang alone among them looked down on the man, and he in turn was afraid of Chin Ta-liang. Inexplicably, today he had somehow screwed up his courage and was defiantly critical of Chin Ta-liang.
“I’m not merely a petit bourgeois, I’m a landlord’s son! But now I’m sincerely trying to turn myself around, and I am a genuine member of the proletariat. In the future I’m going to strive to become a model worker!” the young man said, making a point of keeping a lighthearted and conciliatory tone to his comments.
“You young snip ... you think you’re worthy of ... ? You young snip!” Aroused by a growing sense of anger, Chin Ta-liang scooped out a large shovelful of coal and heaved it into the coal car. This was followed by yet another. “What makes you think you’re worthy of being a model worker? How can you possibly become a model worker when your long-legged old dad, Chin, is around? If thirty-six-goddam-thousand drops of ‘model’ rain fell, not a single one would land on your runt of a head!”
“You can’t go around cursing people out,” the young worker said, having grown earnest in his protest. It was clear to the others from the tone of his voice that he was close to tears.
“Curse you? If this were happening in earlier days, your old dad here would have flattened you out. Then after you were all flat, he would have stuck a reed in you and puffed you up into a warty old toad ... humph! ... you’re only getting off easy because we live under a democratic government!”
Scattered laughter from those within hearing distance of this shouting match served to momentarily break up the excessively heavy, somber atmosphere. Those who were at too great a distance to know the cause of this raucous laughter only glanced over this way in astonishment, without letting up for a moment the work they were engaged in.
The harvest-song brigade had already arrived at the foot of the slope beneath the flat area in the western sector. They formed a somewhat uneven circle at a spot that was comparatively level and spacious, and began to turn round and round. A man standing in the center of the ring brandished above his head something shiny and silvery that was shaped like a mallet; his other hand was also raised in the air above him. The man was wearing a white coat over a pair of bright blue workpants. A bright red, round flower had been placed in front of his chest, from which hung two long red streamers. As he moved and turned, the streamers fluttered back and forth in the air. This man was the leader of the harvest-song brigade.
The sound of gongs and drums resounded for a moment, then stopped. From his spot in the center of the ring the leader was the first to start the singing; his was a booming, sonorous voice, and his singing seemed to rock the entire valley. Without realizing it, the men digging coal nearby stopped working simultaneously. With the exception of the constant din produced by distant coal trains, electric excavators, and other mechanical objects, the only sound to be heard anywhere in the mining area was this song:
The fifth day of the fifth month,
The great work contest moves along,
The fifth day of the fifth month,
The great work contest moves along ...
The Chinese nation has produced
A Mao Tse-tung!
The Chinese nation has produced
A Mao Tse-tung ...
Mao Tse-tung, a hero among men!
Mao Tse-tung, a hero among men ...
We’ve also got Commander Chu Teh!
We’ve also got Commander Chu Teh ...
The Great Liberation Army
Crosses the Yangtze! Hu-ah-hai!
The Great Liberation Army
Crosses the Yangtze ... Hu-ah-hai!
A single drum call,
Nanking is ours!
A single drum call,
Nanking is ours ...
Another burst of gongs and drums, as the men slowly began to twist their bodies, following the rhythmic movements of the silvery mallet in the leader’s hand. The pace was suddenly quickened, and streamers of various colors danced in the air. Another high-spirited burst of gongs and drums, then they stopped again, and the frenzied whirling of the men slowed to the original pace. As the second chorus of singing began, once again it was the leader who sang, and each line was repeated by the others:
The great contest, step up your efforts,
The great contest, step up your efforts ...
The fruits of our labor
Sustain the front lines.
The fruits of our labor
Sustain the front lines ...
At the front lines blood flows,
At the front lines blood flows ...
Behind the lines sweat flows,
Behind the lines sweat flows ...
Everyone join hearts! Hu-ah-hai!
Everyone join hearts! Hu-ah-hai!
Strike down Chiang Kai-shek’s bandits,
Strike down Chiang Kai-shek’s bandits,
Liberate Taiwan ...
. . . .
Translated by Howard Goldblatt
A native of Huang-kang, Hupeh Province, Ch’in Chao-yang first prepared for a teaching career at the elementary school level. He switched to art and went to Yenan in 1938. By 1943 he found himself involved in political organization work in central Hopei villages, and in writing short stories about his experiences. His best-known work, Village Sketches (1954), collects some of his most refreshing pieces, written in a simple but effective style. In the Countryside, Forward—March! (1956) demonstrates further his skill in full-length fiction.
But he is most remembered for his outspoken advocacy of “engaged realism” in opposition to the Party-directed socialist realism which had degenerated into mimicry of political formulae. His essays, represented by the one entitled “Realism—a Broad Road,” stirred up a storm in 1958 and brought about his political downfall.
Before his silence, however, as an editor of People’s Literature he published such controversial works as Wang Meng’s “The Young Man Who Has Just Arrived at the Organization Department” (excerpted in this anthology), Liu Pinyen’s exposés (see Liu’s story “At the Bridge Site” in this anthology), and others, all of which were later condemned in the Cultural Revolution. In 1974-75 there were talks about his return to public light, but he has not yet joined those writers rehabilitated after the Gang of Four. —R.C.
At the election meeting people were discussing candidates. According to population ratio, this village was to elect three representatives to the district people’s congress, and three candidates had already been nominated. The first, Chin Shih-hsüeh, had been secretary of the Party branch for six consecutive years. Next was Wang Shun-te, an old herb-medicine doctor and a model medical worker in the county. The third one was Chin Chia-kuei, a young man in his twenties, head of the county’s model mutual-aid team. Now the women nominated another candidate, Chang Ch’iao-feng, Chin Chia-kuei’s wife.
Yin Hsiao-chen, a young girl, was explaining in a silver bell-like voice why they had nominated Chang Ch’iao-feng: “... Without Chang Ch’iao-feng, is it possible for her man Chia-kuei to do well on the mutual-aid team? Two years ago in the spring, when the team had just been set up, we women were not yet used to working in the fields. Who was it that influenced the rest of us to go to work in the fields by quietly going first? Later, who was the first to endure the hardships, chose the heaviest work, and moved us so much that we forgot our fatigue? When it came time for work evaluations and point allotments, who confronted male members with the facts, fought and won for us ‘equal work for equal pay’? Last year, all the work on our team’s five mu of cotton, from planting to harvest, was done by women. The men were thus free to do other work—and we also had a good crop of cotton! Who was our leader in all that? ... Fellow villagers, Ch’iao-feng’s good points are countless. But because she works without talking, or bragging of her achievements, there are still those in our village who are unaware of her good work and know only of Chin Chia-kuei as leader of the model team....”
“I have something to add,” spoke up another woman, Li Kuei-hua. She blushed with excitement. “A little over a month ago, I went to the county model laborer’s rally and heard Chin Chia-kuei report on his good work, taking all of Ch’iao-feng’s credit. He said, ‘I talked it up with the women on our team, and mobilized them to join in the hard work.’ Afterwards the people who were with me recalled that he had said the same things at two previous district mass meetings. When I came back and talked it over with the chairman of our women’s association, I was told that Chia-kuei had been reprimanded by the Party cadres and had admitted his mistake. But this time, he again forgot about Ch’iao-feng and thought only of himself. I had to bring this up today and could not let Ch’iao-feng be ignored again.” She looked at Chin Chia-kuei, swung her pigtail and sat down.
There was dead silence, all eyes were on Chin Chia-kuei.
If at this time Chin Chia-kuei had stood up, mentioned some good things about his wife and some of his own shortcomings, people would certainly have supported him. It was a pity he did not do so. He was used to being in the limelight and was so confident the people would elect him and welcome him to make a speech that he had put on new blue cotton clothes for this special occasion. Now, under the scrutiny of the people, the new clothes made him even more uncomfortable, too nervous to even look around, and his face became redder. He stole a glance at Ch’iao-feng, sitting at his side, hoping she would say something, something like, “Fellow villagers, please don’t blame Ch’ia-kuei ... it is with his help that I have made such progress.” But Ch’iao-feng merely bent over, lowered her head and let her hair drop down over her face. She had never spoken before a crowd.
“Fellow villagers,” Chin Chia-kuei finally had to speak for himself. His voice was hoarse and low. “What Li Kuei-hua just said is not true ...”
“Yes it is!” shouted Li Kuei-hua. “Chia-kuei, I admit you are a good team leader; you have played a leading role in our village’s production. I also support you as a candidate. But this meeting today is too important. I must bring out Ch’iao-feng’s good points and your shortcomings too; I have to speak the truth.”
“I agree with Kuei-hua completely,” spoke up Wang Ts’ui-jung, the chair of the women’s association. “This is an election meeting. We should exercise fully our rights as citizens. We can not let Ch’iao-feng pass unnoticed. Furthermore, Comrade Chia-kuei is a little vain and loves to brag about his achievements.”
There was another silence. Only a few old folks in the back were mumbling: “These women are too serious; look how embarrassed Chia-kuei is. After all, he and Ch’iao-feng are husband and wife. What difference does it make which one is elected?”
The chairman called for a vote. At this point all raised their hands, cried out with joy, and unanimously elected Chang Ch’iao-feng as a candidate.
It had never, even in his dreams, occurred to Chin Chia-kuei that people would give Ch’iao-feng such support. At first he was surprised, then he became bitter, especially toward the women of his own mutual-aid team. “Huh! I led you to progress, but now here you are criticizing my shortcomings. Shame on you!” He wanted to leave the meeting posthaste ... He did not hear the people welcoming the Party branch secretary, Chin Shih-hsiieh, to speak, nor did he hear the old doctor, Wang Shun-te, speaking. He was not aroused until the chairman had called his name twice.
He pulled himself together, cleared his throat with a cough, and went up to the rostrum. If he had taken this opportunity to review his shortcomings and had urged everyone to vote for Ch’iao-feng instead of himself, people would certainly have praised him; unfortunately, he did not. Instead, he tried to gain back his prestige with a touching speech.
“Fellow villagers, my mutual-aid team was the first in the whole village ...” He started the same old story again, covering the year before last, to last year, and then to the present. It was a long speech, but lacking anything new.
“Same old story, bragging again!”
“You don’t have to chant that ‘model liturgy’ of yours, we all know it by heart.”
Chin Chia-kuei, unaware of these hushed criticisms, continued on. When he finally finished, thundering applause and yelling burst out, but not in response to his long speech, rather to welcome Chang Ch’iao-feng to speak.
Chang Ch’iao-feng was humble and shy. She tried to get away from several women who urged her on, but, giggling, she was finally dragged to the rostrum. This is what Chin Chia-kuei saw: Ch’iao-feng suddenly raised her head, straightened her back, and calmly stood there. Her beautiful rosy face shone brightly, as did her large eyes. She even seemed a little taller. With her finger she brushed back a lock of hair from her forehead and, surprisingly enough without hesitation, she began to speak.
“Fellow villagers, today several things came to my mind that trouble me. First, during the peak wheat season last fall I was planning to mobilize the team members to organize a nursery, this to enable the womenfolk who were tied up with children to work in the fields. However, I was a little sick at that time and feared problems I might encounter. I didn’t make a wholehearted effort, and it was all because I was not resolute enough to face the challenge. Secondly, after three years our mutual-aid team still has not become an agricultural cooperative. Here again I haven’t worked hard enough. I shall accomplish these two things in the future, whether I’m elected as a representative or not. Furthermore, some women in our village are still abused by men or oppressed by mothers-in-law. I shall do my best to elevate the status of women and fight against such oppression.”
Her last words were especially forceful. The whole meeting again burst into stormy applause.
“It’s still our Ch’iao-feng who looks ahead instead of chanting that same ancient liturgy!” yelled the straightforward Li Kuei-hua, who ran up, grabbed Ch’iao-feng’s shoulders, and laughed herself breathless.
Suddenly, Ch’iao-feng’s mother-in-law stood up, clapped her hands and started to mumble.
“This is awful! We only need three representatives for our district, and you have elected four candidates. Who wouldn’t vote for the Party branch secretary Chin Shih-hsüeh? As to the old doctor Shun-te, won’t everyone vote for him too? That leaves a man and woman from the same house. Who shall we vote for?”
What she really meant was that if her daughter-in-law were elected, her son would certainly be upset; she knew her son well. Many others had also considered this point, but the chairman had adjourned the meeting and nobody wanted to bother with such insignificant matters. Moreover, this, being an election, should be fair. Vote for the best person, regardless of whether it’s a man or a woman.
Chin Chia-kuei quickly walked home and sat down dejectedly on the k’ang. After a moment he heard Ch’iao-feng talking happily with his mother in the front room, as she helped her with the cooking.
“So, you! ...” he gritted his teeth angrily and muttered. Suddenly he yelled in a rude voice:
“Ch’iao-feng, come here!”
Ch’iao-feng came in, her hands covered with flour, her face still beaming with joy.
“You, what did you think you were saying a moment ago at the meeting?”
“What did I say?” Ch’iao-feng was startled.
“You said you would fight against the oppression of women by men. Who’s oppressing you?”
“I didn’t mean you ... What’s the matter with you?”
“Why did you have to say those things at today’s meeting? You also said that in three years our team has not yet become a cooperative. What are you trying to do to me?”
“So, this is the kind of person you really are!” said the gentle, guileless Ch’iao-feng, also becoming angry.
The two argued back and forth, both becoming so upset that they did not eat.
The old woman also became too disturbed to eat. She could not say that her daughter-in-law was wrong, nor could she stand to blame her son at that moment. All she could do was wring her hands, stamp her feet, and sigh. Finally she could stand it no longer and ran out looking for someone to talk to, heedless of the consequences.
She first found the chair of the women’s association. “Oh, chairman, I told you not to nominate them both as candidates. Since they’ve been married, they have never had such a quarrel. They won’t even eat...” Next she went to look for Li Kuei-hua, and rattled off the story in detail again from beginning to end.
Wang Ts’ui-jung and Li Kuei-hua were both angry. In addition, Yin Hsiao-chen, who lived next door to the Chins, had heard the quarrel distinctly, especially Chin Chia-kuei’s loud voice as he purposely tried to outshout his opponent. Before long, all the women of the village plus some of the men were outraged, and were blaming Chin Chia-kuei.
That night a formal election was held. The results surprised even those who had been anticipating. Chin Chia-kuei, who was defeated, got only three votes. Chang Ch’iao-feng, on the other hand, was elected almost unanimously.
This was too heavy a blow for Chin Chia-kuei and he left the meeting before it was adjourned. His mother followed him sighing ... When Wang Tsui-jung and Chin Shih-hsüeh came to the house with Ch’iao-feng, Chia-kuei was lying motionless on the k’ang, his head buried under the quilt. They called him, but he did not answer. He was like a person who had been crushed by overwhelming public opinion.
His mother, who obviously had given up pacifying him, also went to sleep. She tossed and turned, sighed and mumbled to herself on the k’ang in the opposite room.
Chin Chia-kuei still did not utter a word, so Ch’iao-feng asked the chairman and the secretary to go home; she wanted to talk to Chia-kuei alone. After the two had left, she pulled the quilt back from his face and saw tears in his eyes. She kissed his cheek, and said softly,
“I’m not angry with you, but you must realize ...”
“I... realize ...” He spoke hoarsely, tears falling from the corners of his eyes.
Translated by Richard I.F. Chang
In April 1956, a report entitled “At the Bridge Site” appeared in the monthly People’s Literature. It stirred up a storm because, as editor Ch’in Chao-yang commented, the report revealed the complex forces contributing to conservatism that bred a decaying Party bureaucracy. The author, Liu Pin-yen, a Party member since the mid-1940s, was then one of the editors of the Youth Daily—an assignment he had earned with his reputation as a translator of several Russian plays.
Not long after the publication of “At the Bridge Site,” Liu followed with two reports supposedly dealing with confidential information restricted to the editorial office of a certain important publication. All three reports were received as exposés baring some of the deep-rooted political problems in the People’s Republic.
Denounced during the Anti-rightist Campaign of 1957, Liu remained in obscurity through the Cultural Revolution. The verdict against Liu was reversed, however, in January 1979. —K.Y.H.
[The line between reportage, what may be called the feature story in Western journalism, and the short story as fiction is rather thin in the People’s Republic. Theoretically, the former is supposed to be true to facts, but the ideological guidelines for both remain the same.
The present story is a report, hence its characters and events are meant to be real. It starts with a long flashback, about two-fifths of the entire report, recalling the author’s visit to a bridge construction site on the Yellow River a few years back and presenting three main characters: Lo Li-cheng, the chief of the construction crew and a veteran Party member who had been through the War of Liberation with the author and later became an expert in bridge construction, but also became conservative in his work style and life; Chou Wei-pen, director of engineering services at the construction site, who shares Lo’s conservatism; and Tseng Kang, a younger engineer who dares to assume responsibilities and make decisions. Episodes are related to portray these three different personalities and the conflict between them.]
Two days after I returned from the great bridge at Ling-k’ou, Crew Chief Lo and Engineer Tseng had a talk. It began as a personal talk, but ended by becoming strictly business—one might even say, political.
Perhaps because he had not been to Crew Chief Lo’s home for a long while, as soon as Tseng Kang walked in he felt tense all over, like a young student entering the examination hall when he can’t count on the test going well.
Crew Chief Lo was nevertheless still the same as he had been when Tseng Kang was last there two years before. With affable naturalness he bade Tseng Kang sit in his own broken-down swivel chair, and then went to make tea.
They exchanged platitudes about the weather and the news of the crew, and then Lo Li-cheng smoothly led their conversation to the topic at hand.
“It’s not simple, no, not by any means,” said Lo Li-cheng in a drawn-out voice, “but accomplishments in the building up of our fatherland these past few years have been nothing short of astounding. Do you still remember the time when we were building wooden bridges? Just compare then to now. Really! In those days we would not even have ventured to imagine it....” He swallowed half a cup or more of cold tea in one gulp, and then continued: “Of course, it’s not as though there are no shortcomings. Sure there are. Take you and me, for example. For us, with our levels, to take on such responsibilities... who would dare to claim no deficiencies? There are deficiencies, sure there are....”
From Lo Li-cheng’s tone of voice, Tseng Kang knew that these words were a conversational opening, and that the denial would follow immediately to negate what had just been said. First confirm, then deny; a pro and then a con: this formula was exceptionally strong. As expected, Lo Li-cheng’s glance became even more sincere and moving, and his tone grew even more forceful:
“But no matter how many defects there may be, accomplishment is still the main thing. Whoever overlooks this point is making a mistake. Take bridge-building—take our crew, for instance. Some have criticized us, citing our waste and our cost overruns; and these are undeniable facts. If we lost money, we lost money, that’s all. But the bridge? The bridge construction is progressing! Before we came, there was no bridge along this stretch of the Yellow River, but when we have gone, there will be a bridge here. From nothing to something—that’s accomplishment. Sure, we’ve spent a little more money. But we will have built the bridge! ...”
As he went on and on, he fished from his pocket a thin sheet of white paper, a galley proof of an article, and handed it to Tseng Kang. As soon as he saw it, Tseng Kang understood. It was an article written by a correspondent from the Third Team. So all this talk had been because of this! He laughed.
His laugh didn’t really mean anything, but Lo Li-cheng’s expression suddenly changed; he stood up and paced back and forth on the dirt floor, and then said sternly:
“ ‘The leadership is conservative!’ ‘Conservative!’ Based on what? That our production goals have been lowered a bit? That we’ve fallen behind quota? But this was approved by the Bureau! And it’s the same for all the sections and crews under the Engineering Bureau. Calling the bridge crew leadership conservative is the same as calling the leadership of the Engineering Bureau conservative. Such things shouldn’t be said so blithely....”
Tseng Kang knew that this debate could get them nowhere. He had long been planning to lay these questions out for thorough discussion, but this was not the right place; it would be best done at a Party Committee meeting. Wanting to wind up this conversation, he remarked casually:
“This article mainly commends the workers’ enthusiasm for their work. Isn’t the title ‘Young Vanguards of Bridge Crew’s Third Team Launch Quota-Doubling Campaign’? The conservatism of the leadership is only mentioned once....”
Lo Li-cheng suddenly planted himself right in front of Tseng Kang, looked him straight in the eye, and said very sternly:
“Yes, yes, that’s precisely the problem. Think about it carefully, pal. The workers want to undertake a doubling of quotas: isn’t that the same as saying that the official quota is too conservative? Aren’t conservative quotas the same as saying that the leadership of the Engineering Bureau is conservative? Any discerning person can see that at a glance. OK, that’s number one. What’s even more important is that some of the other teams cannot meet even a single quota. What will happen if our superiors in the Ministry find this out? They’ll order the Engineering Bureau to push the same campaign in all the teams. And that would really put the chief of the Bureau on the spot, since it clearly couldn’t be done. But of course the Ministry would be bound to say that if the bridge crew can do it, then why can’t the other crews? And that’s the least that would happen. If the comrades in charge at Party Central found out about this, things might be rough even for the Ministry’s leadership—they’d have to instigate the same drive nationwide....”
“What’s wrong with that?” Tseng Kang asked. Though he felt his anger rising, he couldn’t help feeling that Lo Li-cheng’s manner of speaking was laughable. “Let’s all exceed our quotas: what’s wrong with that?”
“No,” Lo Li-cheng extended a hand, as if to block the other’s mouth, “the problem is that it’s not feasible! Ten fingers have never been of equal length. I know that there was such a campaign in the Soviet Union—called ‘Double Quotas’—but that’s the Soviet Union. No, it just wouldn’t work. It’s no good importing Soviet gimmicks to China. China has her own unique points. For example, in the Soviet Union one can criticize the leaders, but not in China. When a major movement like the ‘Three Antis’ or ‘Five Antis’ is to be undertaken, and when there is a directive from the Central Government, it’s OK to criticize. Normally, when there is no directive, we cannot criticize the Bureau; if we want to criticize, it has to be authorized by the Bureau. In the Soviet Union they have a penchant for rushing things, but in China we prefer stability. That’s another unique feature of China. If we pay greater heed to China’s uniqueness in all things, we won’t make mistakes. Do you understand? ...”
Now it was Tseng Kang who stood up. He had heard such talk more than once, and it was precisely because he had heard it more than once that he could bear it no longer. He wanted to pour out to Lo Li-cheng all those opinions which he had pondered so often, but he didn’t know where to begin. If he spoke, it would have to be forcefully, so that the other would be unable to retaliate. Thus he hesitated for a moment before speaking his piece:
“Enough, Crew Chief Lo! The things you don’t like you say run counter to China’s uniqueness and therefore can’t be implemented. The things you like you say must be done this way because of China’s uniqueness. No, that just won’t wash. Answer me this, Crew Chief Lo: can it be that these are China’s only unique characteristics? Production conditions are backward, there aren’t enough machines, the leaders give no encouragement, and yet the workers still want to undertake double quotas. Isn’t this a feature of China? You speak only of the characteristics of backwardness; do you mean that these characteristics don’t need to be changed at all? Since the workers aren’t highly skilled, the machinery frequently breaks down, and when the machinery isn’t working, the only thing we can do is to use human labor. Granting that this is a characteristic of China, then what harm to China if we raise the workers’ skills? The cadres’ education is at a low level, and the workers are culturally limited, so all we can do is to have more meetings, long meetings; this is a characteristic of China. But if you have meetings every day, meeting after meeting, the cadres needn’t think, and the workers have no way to learn; how can they advance? ...” He wanted to go on, but he suddenly saw that Lo Li-cheng’s eyes were already heavy with sleep, as though he hadn’t heard these words at all, and so he did not continue.
Lo Li-cheng hadn’t the slightest interest in these abstract questions. He had always limited his concern to tangible problems. At that moment what he was thinking about was how this conflagration could be squelched ... Don’t let the article get in the press, don’t let this troublesome quota-increasing campaign get started. He also considered the possible reactions of the Bureau Chief and his deputy to all of this in the event that it could not be quashed
As always, just when Tseng Kang’s anger was at its height, Lo Li-cheng led the conversation to a more peaceful topic; he quite seriously began to discuss with Tseng Kang how the various preparatory tasks could be completed before the coming of high water, what to do about the outdated cement and the substandard rock, and even how the next crew work meeting should be conducted. By that time, flocks of cawing crows were flying over the roof, and in the tiers of caves on the loess hills opposite the house the lights of many homes were already lit. As for Tseng Kang, he was so tired he wanted to yawn; with one hand he was lightly rapping the table. Lo Li-cheng wrapped up the last subject. He stood up and shook Tseng Kang’s hand very warmly, saying:
“Things are always a lot more complicated than we think. I think it would be best not to publish this article in a hurry. We should go over it with the Party Committee secretary....” Only upon seeing no opposition in Tseng Kang’s eyes did he venture to add, “As for the matter of the quota-doubling campaign, it’s not that I’m against it, but how can we not discuss such a big undertaking with the Party Committee? I think the best thing to do would be to try it out first with the two vanguard groups, and then consider the question of expanding it....”
They had already walked out the door, and Lo Li-chepg had already seen Tseng Kang up to the road when he said in a low voice, as if to one of his own men:
“I’m telling you this only because we’re old comrades. Some comrades at Crew Headquarters are saying that you’re too narrow-minded, and that you see only shortcomings and not accomplishments. And some of the cadres in charge have asked whether or not this is a kind of anti-Party feeling; if it isn’t, then why are you going to such lengths to find fault with the leadership? ...”
Tseng Kang had been walking toward the riverbank, but when he heard this last remark he suddenly halted. The sky was already quite dark, and the wind blowing across the river made it hard to catch one’s breath; it was obviously not the time for conversation. He turned his back to the wind and stood there several seconds; then, without saying a word, he walked away....
On the wall outside the crew chiefs office there hung a large wooden box on which “Suggestion Box” was written in large letters. The lock was rusted shut, and no one put any suggestions in. The workers passed Crew Headquarters twice a day going to and from work, yet very seldom did anyone enter the office and sit down to talk. And it was no wonder: since even the opinions and suggestions which had been put into effect were subject to rejection, what was the use of talking? There was an altogether different atmosphere in Crew Headquarters.
The expression used most often at Crew Headquarters was “normal.” “Normal” was what was uttered by the heads of the various sections when they reviewed the work of the past seven days at the weekly planning sessions: “normal” was what appeared in the telephoned instructions and in reports to the Bureau.
This so-called “normal” meant that everything that should have been transmitted, disposed of, discussed, and calculated had indeed been done. But any difficulties or problems that remained after all this had been done, or any requests or proposals from the masses were not mentioned.
Crew Chief Lo recognized only the decisions, instructions, regulations, and rules which came from the Bureau; as for all the ideas, suggestions, or procedures coming from the masses, he ignored them, even though they might be just what was needed to implement a directive. And if a suggestion or proposal went beyond the confines of planning or regulations, and Crew Chief Lo had not had time to think of it himself, he would view it with commingled tension and repugnance. If they imprudently violated the status quo of the crew, if they threatened the state of “normalcy” in the crew, or contravened some regulation laid down five years previously, or—and this is especially important—if they didn’t happen to pertain to what was currently being advocated by the Bureau, or if they might run counter to “the intentions of the leadership,” then they would be regarded with consternation as dissident, and would be deemed “risky.”
At every opportunity, Lo Li-cheng would deliver repeated enjoinders to the cadres of the Crew Headquarters and the various teams:
“With us, the most important thing is grasping the intentions of the leaders. We must be understanding with regard to the difficulties of our superiors. At times you might think that the leaders are careless, or that they are dragging their feet, but you can rest assured that they do know what they’re doing; there’s a purpose to it all....”
In implementing the regulations which came down from above, Lo Li-cheng had always spared no effort, sometimes even at the cost of favorable working conditions. I myself saw one such strange incident.
The original specification of the Engineering Bureau for the square-dressed stone used in masonry arch bridges allowed a tolerance of no more than two centimeters. This was what the Technical Office required of the stonemasons, and anything exceeding two centimeters was simply regarded as waste. After working for half a month and cutting several thousand blocks of stone, of which seventy-five percent did not meet this requirement, the workers were unable to obtain their base pay. The older workers and the technicians had mentioned on numerous occasions that such precision was unnecessary for the square-dressed stone of a stone arch bridge. Moreover, the texture of the stone was actually too coarse; either the corners fell off, or it split. The dispute became quite heated, and Director Chou of the Engineering Office went to the work site for an on-the-spot look. Actually, it was not that the workers were lazy or their skill inadequate; this kind of stone was just unsuitable for fine work. Returning to Crew Headquarters, Chou reported the situation to Crew Chief Lo, the two exchanged views, and then Crew Chief Lo signed an order to the stone-working team:
“... In order to guarantee the quality of the stone arch bridge, specifications for square-dressed stone shall not be changed arbitrarily; it is necessary to adhere strictly to the stipulations of the Engineering Bureau and work according to the original specifications....”
This matter subsequently caused a commotion in the Engineering Bureau, which sent someone to make an inspection. The specified tolerance for square dressed stone was broadened fourfold to eight centimeters, and it was felt that this would have no effect whatsoever on the sturdiness of the bridge. Then they went to find the several thousand reject stone blocks, but they had disappeared without a trace—they had been used by the Municipal Construction Bureau to pave roads.
In this respect, Lo Li-cheng had always done too much rather than too little. If the Bureau wanted everyone in the crew to be reminded of safety, then Crew Headquarters would have the workers discuss it three times. If the Bureau said that a study session would have to be organized to discuss safety, then the bridge crew would be making reports and holding all kinds of discussions every night for a whole week. But after that week had passed, Crew Headquarters could forget all about the matter of safety. This is what is known as “dissemblance.”
Director Chou Wei-pen of the Engineering Office was the first to catch on to this “spirit.” No harm done if one frequently utters the words “not enough” in all matters. For things such as the technical proposals and procedures submitted by the various teams, the Engineering Office would always increase the assurance factor by twenty percent over the original base. Several hundred tons of concrete, steel, and lumber were absolutely wasted under the demand of “striving for safety.” But no one could pin the blame on Director Chou; “Safety First” was the directive from above, you know, and of course not one cent went into Chou Wei-pen’s own pocket! ...
There was one occasion in the Party Committee office when I spoke with Party Committee Secretary Chang Chih-hua about this problem of “dissemblance.” Having heard what I had to say about conditions I had witnessed during this period, he shredded a leaf of tobacco into his pipe, which was worn shiny from use, and laboriously drew on it awhile until the tobacco leaf was more or less alight. A sardonic smile suddenly appeared on his face, as though he had thought of some past unpleasantness:
“Outsiders as well as the people in the Bureau say that as for the chief of the bridge crew, he’s really strong in organization and discipline. Nobody else asks for instructions as often as he does, and the bridge crew carries out the instructions of the Bureau with the greatest resolve. That is indeed a fact. But after all, what is organization and discipline? He doesn’t study the policies of the Central Committee, and if the decisions and instructions of the Central Committee aren’t accompanied by orders from the Bureau, he doesn’t pay attention to them. He seldom reads the editorials in the Party paper; he says that they are written with a view toward ‘conditions in general,’ whereas the crew is a ‘specific case’ and is thus not the same....” He drew fiercely at his pipe, choked and coughed a bit, and then said: “He has one guideline: if someone doesn’t do things according to the newspaper editorials, even under the worst circumstances he would not be punished for that. That doesn’t count as a mistake. And if the Party’s policy is contravened by adhering to administrative orders, well, the lower levels wouldn’t be held responsible. That’s his logic....”
Listening to the words of this emaciated comrade, whose face was pale due to anemia, I could more or less understand what the major difficulties were in his daily work.
The crew chief was a member of the Party Committee. He had never opposed the majority resolutions at the Party Committee meetings, and he ordinarily respected the opinions of the Party Committee secretary. But the right conditions had to exist in order to implement any resolution or view. Many of these conditions could not emerge without administrative support and action, and the administrative leader—the crew chief, in this case—could always point out scores of concrete difficulties as excuses for postponing things with which he was not totally pleased or things which he did not consider urgent. And yet no one could reprimand him, because he of course did not oppose the resolutions of the Party Committee.
When the Party Committee secretary had been there for three months he could see that things were not moving ahead properly, and so he put his main effort to the task. Relying on his political savvy, acquired through lengthy political work, he spotted the third team right away. Tseng Kang of the third team assisted the Party Committee secretary in three ways: as an administrative leader and chief engineer, he did his best to create conditions in his own team, organized true competitions in accordance with Party Committee resolutions, and put into practice every feasible and rational proposal from the workers; as a member of the Youth League Committee, he first established three watchdog posts in the third team, which was a major impetus to reforms in administrative management and construction organization; and lastly, as a comrade, he spent a month’s time helping the Party Committee secretary, a layman, to become thoroughly acquainted with the theory of bridge construction and the fundamental principles of organizing construction work.
What Chang Chih-hua originally had in mind was to first set an example in the third team and have the other teams follow it, and this would impel the leaders at Crew Headquarters to improve their own work. But this task turned out to be a lot more complicated than he had imagined. It was easy to teach the other teams a couple of the experiences of the third team, but it was a lot harder to effect a turnaround in the basic attitude of the crew chief and the strong influence it had upon the various divisions and teams. If this influence were not changed, then even good innovations would soon deteriorate. When the Youth League watchdog posts of the third team were extended to the fifth team, they suddenly became “commendation” posts; each time one person was criticized, five others were praised on the blackboards and in wall posters. This was an idea suggested by the crew chief after he had come, saying that it was necessary to do more praising and complimenting lest the watchdog posts became alienated from the masses. The watchdog posts had been established in the second team for only five days when thirteen instances of procrastination, negligence, and irresponsiblity in the work of the team and of Crew Headquarters were revealed. On the seventh day, the secretary of the Youth League branch returned from Crew Headquarters and with knit brows relayed the opinion of Crew Chief Lo: the main task of the watchdog posts was to supervise issues among the workers, and they should not level attacks at the leadership; if this were to continue, it might threaten the leadership’s authority....
. . . . . . .
The Lo Li-cheng I remember was the man who came south with the army in 1949, carrying a heavy pack and traveling at night beneath the moon and stars along the route of the Peking-Hankow railway. Our job then was truly difficult: we had to recruit and train the workers ourselves, and to find our own tools and materials. And the deadlines for rush bridge-building were very tight.
How many evenings we sat by the fire outside our tent, drying our drenched clothing and chatting idly about everything under the sun! How can young people gazing into a burning fire not think about anything and everything?
“After the war’s over, I want to keep on building bridges,” Lo Li-cheng said. “I’ll study up on the technology, get a group of men and some machinery—there’ll be machinery then—and go to the Yellow River and the Yangtze and build one bridge after another!... Without bridges, there can be no roads. And when the bridge-builders have gone, those who come after needn’t fear big rivers or gorges; they can all just zip right on across....”
Our conversation drifted from building bridges to building cars, tractors, tanks, and cannon, and then returned to building bridges.
“Have you ever seen an arch bridge?” Lo Li-cheng asked the men around the fire, and then answered himself, “They’re the most magnificent. Just like ribbons. Now we can only build stone arch bridges, but wouldn’t it be great if we could build steel arch bridges across the Yellow River and the Yangtze? ...”
Seemingly somewhat abashed at his own fantasy, he grinned. The firelight shone on his ruddy face, on his shining eyes
In six years’ time, what had formerly been a dream had now come to pass. It was none other than Lo Li-cheng who had already built more than one bridge across the Yellow River, and China’s first large arch bridge was being erected under his command. The strange thing was that Lo Li-cheng was not excited by any of this. Of course, in reviewing the achievements of the past few years, it wasn’t that he felt no pride; his tired face would reveal a smile, but in a moment it would be gone.
Yes, Lo Li-cheng had changed. The tempering of these past few years had made him much more mature than before, but time had seemingly imbued him with something else as well. I am at a loss to give a clear account of this change, yet I remember the old Lo Li-cheng as being interested in everything, and always wanting to have a hand in things himself. But now, he had a dislike for concrete, complex matters. At several Crew Headquarters planning meetings, the various section chiefs would bring up questions—for instance, questions like the irrationality of quotas following the implementation of piecework wages, and workers’ opinions—and what I saw in the face of the taciturn Lo Li-cheng was always a mixed expression of indifference and impatience....
Speaking of his change, there’s one other thing. When he saw something that didn’t jibe with his own view, or something he didn’t understand, he never doubted himself, but would often disparagingly pick it apart, or even ridicule it:
“Did you see? Engineer Tseng Kang is reading Dream of the Red Chamber,” he suddenly said, his mouth next to my ear. Seeing that I was perplexed, he repeated himself: “A member of the Youth League Committee and an engineer, reading Dream of the Red Chamber! Interesting! Most interesting!”
I wanted to ask him what was so strange about that. The strange thing to me was a bridge crew chief and Party Committee member who didn’t pick up a newspaper for weeks and who never read novels....
One evening at the end of April, I caught a ride with Crew Chief Lo from the Ling-k’ou bridge site back to Crew Headquarters. He was driving the car himself, and I sat in the seat next to him. It was a blustery day, and the car was creeping forward through vast clouds of yellow sand. The little flagstaff on the front of the car was quivering, whipped by the gale. Grains of sand entered the jeep through every crack, and I seemed to sense the sand gradually piling up between the roots of my hair.
My friend was in a very strange mood that day. He said nothing from the time we got into the car, but frowned out through the windshield at the swirling sand, turning the steering wheel carefully with both hands.
After we had traveled about ten minutes or so, he suddenly spat vehemently. I thought he was trying to spit the sand out of his mouth, but then he said:
“A bunch of firebrands!”
Then I knew that he was thinking about the meeting he had just had with the workers of the third team. A misunderstanding had arisen: Crew Chief Lo had originally come to give a report to everyone, but the workers had inundated him with a clamor of suggestions. Naturally he was less than pleased.
“Have you ever led troops?” he asked, inclining his head slightly toward me, but keeping his eyes ahead. “There’s an old saying, ‘Leading soldiers is like leading tigers.’ I think that leading workers must be a lot harder than leading troops. I really envy the troop cadres. In the army, there’s no need to have the soldiers discuss battle plans, let alone offer suggestions to the commander.... But here, the fact that there are a lot of talkers is the least of my problems. There’s no telling but that one of these days they’ll stir up a real mess for you. And if something happens, the leaders are right in the line of fire....”
I disagreed, saying that even though the workers liked to make suggestions, they still had respect for specialized knowledge and labor discipline. I had been with the bridge crew for more than half a month and had yet to see subordinates fail to carry out any order from Crew Headquarters.
“But they’re so full of opinions! They’re asking for the sky, and I can’t just completely ignore their demands.” Lo Li-cheng shook his head vigorously.
“Also, do you have any idea how many opportunities there are for us bridge workers to make mistakes? What with wind and rain, floods and ice floes, and Ol’ Man Heaven not bothering to solicit your opinion in the matter. That’s number one. And there’s no way to see or fathom how things are beneath the water. That’s number two. And we can’t neglect policies, decisions, or instructions from above. That’s number three. And now there’s a fourth—the people’s inspectorate, supervision by the construction banks, the opinions of the workers....”
“I often think that since we have the correct leadership of the Party, what else do we need to do?” He paused for a moment, as though giving me a chance to think of how to answer this question, and then after a bit he continued in measured tones: “There’s only one requirement: Don’t make mistakes! If you avoid making mistakes, you have won a victory! That’s the only requirement, but it’s very hard to fulfill....”
These words did sound reasonable, but they were not completely correct. Only when I had connected these words with all I had seen and heard during my time with the bridge crew did I understand their meaning. Assume that at that moment we were riding not in a car but on a ship. This sailor was saying: Alright, let’s stop here; this way we’ll be safe, and not run aground.... No, the purpose of sailing is not to avoid running aground, and the purpose of working should not be to avoid making mistakes!
Watching Lo Li-cheng, his lips pinched in deep thought, I felt that now I finally understood him.
. . . . . . .
At the end of April, the waters of the Yellow River darkened. This was a warning of high water soon to come. The bridge men here had to face the threats of Nature twice a year: high water in spring and ice floes in winter.
As they watched the water level rise day by day and the flow grow swifter and swifter, the workers’ anxiety mounted even faster. If they didn’t rush to keep the piers built up higher than the water level, they would be throwing away half a year’s time, and would have to wait until fall, when the high water receded, before they could resume construction. The pace of work suddenly accelerated.
The flood was relentless. It wanted to win. It descended on the bridge project, rushing and surging every which way and seeking to upend the sheet-steel pilings which stood in the middle of the river.
The hydrographie station telephoned several times a day to report on the water level and flow rate. The number of days left for safe construction could not be counted on the fingers of one hand. But construction of two piers of the two great bridges on the Yellow River continued. There was a danger that the sheet-steel pilings would collapse.
On May 7, the sheet-steel pilings of pier 1 of the arch bridge began to lean backward on the upstream side. Should construction work continue? Or should the sheet-steel pilings first be strengthened? The engineer in charge couldn’t decide, so he asked Crew Headquarters what to do. Crew Chief Lo ran over to the bridge to take a look, and then ran back again, his brows furrowed in intense concentration and worry: If we go on, we might not be able to make it, and if the steel pilings collapse or someone is drowned, what then? If we stop, the high water might rise too fast for us to keep the piers built up above the water level, and who could assume that responsibility? A decision has to be made, and right away. But it’s too difficult. No matter how I decide, success is uncertain, and there’s a seventy percent chance of making a mistake. I’ll have to be responsible, but how can I bear such a responsibility? ...
Yet in a crisis there sometimes arises wisdom: Ask the Engineering Bureau for instructions! There was no better way. If only the division chief or the bureau chief would pass judgment on the matter, then all problems, all difficulties would cease to exist.
So Crew Chief Lo picked up the phone. The division chief was out, and so was his deputy. They were still out the second time he picked up the phone. The third time, the operator went to call the division chief out of a meeting. But Crew Chief Lo had been to the riverbank to see things for himself, while the division chief had no idea how the water situation was. Of course he had to think it over. They agreed that he would call back that night to give the division’s considered opinion on the matter.
At five in the afternoon, when Crew Chief Lo had only just gotten through to the division chief on the phone, the round steel piling was flattened to an ovoid shape, and the whole thing was lying over on its back. The workers on shore were making ready to go save the machinery in it, but it was already too risky and no one would let them go. At half past five, the timbers of the catwalk began to creak and groan, and by six o’clock that evening the catwalk in front of the steel piling had been swept asunder by the current. Around seven, Director Chou was still in his office waiting for a phone call when there came from outside cries of alarm and sounds of confusion. Without looking, Lo Li-cheng knew what had happened. But he walked with the crowds toward the riverbank. By the time he got there, the steel piling was gone without a trace. A worker next to him was crying:
“A piling of more than a hundred sheets of steel! How can we dredge for it?”
“We’ve got to dredge it up; the bridge pier has got to be built at this spot...”
“The pumps have been swept away, too....”
The workers were discussing the damage caused by this disaster. The crew chief knew more clearly than they; he had thought of it long ago. Dredging expenses, material expenses, the expense of lost working time... if you wanted, he could have figured it all out within ten minutes. But he was thinking of something else:
“Oh, how fortunate, how very fortunate, that I had already gotten through on the phone—no matter what, I did ask for instructions....”
. . . . . . .
During that same period, another thing happened at the Ling-k’ou bridge.
The Ling-k’ou bridge was some several miles distant from the great arch bridge. The high water which beat against the piers of the great arch bridge would reach the piers of the Ling-k’ou bridge just several minutes later.
On the morning of May 7, when Tseng Kang emerged from his tent near the bridgehead, the water of the river was sweeping almost level with the top of pier 5, and down below, the foundation was only six inches or more short of being finished. But the high water might knock out the catwalk at any time, cutting off the workers’ retreat, and it might at any moment force its way into the pier works and bury the workers inside.
“If the pier doesn’t stay above water, no train could use this rail bridge.”
“Look at that head of water! It’ll soon be as tall as you!”
“No matter what, we’ve got to get it up!”
There was a hubbub of debate among the workers. Tseng Kang immediately assembled the activists to hold a discussion: Was it possible to continue construction work? If so, how could safety be guaranteed?
Before the meeting was over, the foundation workers who had come on shift that morning established an assault team. When this bunch of husky young fellows put on their rubber suits and walked across the trembling catwalk to work, they were not without apprehension: the high water had but to lash out in a sudden fury and they would surely be stranded out there. But everyone knew how vital these next eight hours were to be, and they had faith that the engineer in charge and the veteran workers knew what they were doing and would not leave them in the lurch.
Preparations had been made the day before. The catwalk had been repaired and all the steel cables inspected. The pumps at the bottom of the sheet-steel piling had been replaced, an extra row of braces had been added to the piling’s midsection, and a ring of sandbags had been placed around the top. And numerous other procedures had been thought up at the meeting that day. The plan was to hold out till the last second if they could, but if water conditions changed drastically, work would be halted at once....
Beneath the water, the crusher bored through the rock at a faster pace, making a continuous roar. A man had been stationed atop a ladder to watch the shore, his hand clutching a switch. At a wave of the flag on the bank, he would kill the green light and turn on the red light ordering the workers to retreat. But none of the workers had time to look up and watch the lights.
Every slight rise in the river water was noticed immediately down in the sunk shaft. By noon, the water was above the workers’ knees, and by two in the afternoon the braces of the sheet-steel piling had buckled under the flood, and water was gushing in through the seams of the piling. The workers did not dare to stand upright—if they did, they would get water all down their necks. In surge after surge the water flooded in, and the large pipes of the pumps could not draw it off fast enough. The workers stuck to their tasks as the sunk shaft slowly sank....
At that moment, the phone rang in the team office. No one was there to answer it. A few minutes later it rang again, and still no one answered. The phone went on ringing insistently, and finally a worker passing by on his way to work went in and picked up the receiver. The voice at the other end said that according to their understanding the catwalk at the Ling-k’ou bridge was no longer serviceable, and it would have to be torn down immediately. The worker told him that the catwalk had already been repaired yesterday, and that it couldn’t be dismantled now—how would the men down in the sunk shaft get back? The voice at the other end was silent for a moment, and then said that construction must be halted, that they should wait for instructions from the Bureau, and that he wanted Engineer Tseng to come to the phone. The worker put down the receiver and walked off toward the work site. He saw Engineer Tseng at the end of the bridge and was going to tell him to come answer the phone, but on second thought he decided not to. The rush job was more important, and right now no one would be willing to drop what he was doing if asked. So he took off his cotton coat, donned his rubber jacket, and mounted the catwalk.... The phone lay there in the office, and no one paid it any heed.
Down in the sunk shaft, the water was still rising. The men had been working for four hours, and they were weary; the grit was choking, and the air was foul. Tseng Kang ordered that the system of three eight-hour work shifts be changed to four six-hour shifts, and that a group of men be on constant standby to relieve the overtired workers.
... Dawn had just broken when the sunk shaft was finished. When the last shift of workmen filed up the ladder above water level, their ears had been deafened by the pounding, but in their hearts there burned the torch of true elation. Upon reaching the top, without heed for the fact that the catwalk was already awash, they shouted toward the shore at the tops of their lungs:
“We made it!”
“It’s all done!”
“No problem here!”
The men on the bank had long been awaiting this news.... Everyone breathed a sigh of relief: these past twenty-four hours had been really dangerous. But they didn’t stay happy for long. A few minutes later they received some discouraging news: pier 1 of the arch bridge had collapsed under the flood.
. . . . . . .
Before leaving the bridge crew, I came to the edge of the river to say goodbye to the unfinished arch bridge.... I said goodbye to Crew Chief Lo and Director Chou. It was already twilight, and the work site was bathed in silence. Usually at this time the workers would have been moving back and forth changing shifts; it was the time of greatest activity. After the collapse of pier 1, the various projects had all been halted, and the entire work site went into mourning over this misfortune. Viewing this scene, I could not help sighing. Lo Li-cheng sighed along with me. But I knew from his most recent report to the Bureau that he didn’t consider himself responsible for the pier 1 incident. The high water had come too early, and what could one do in the face of natural calamities! ...
I suddenly thought of one of Director Chou’s favorite sayings, and said sardonically, “It’s not easy building bridges, you know!”
“That’s right, it’s not easy,” echoed Director Chou at once; “It’s fortunate that this time no one was killed or injured. Such a great flood! And it came so suddenly! It wasn’t simple, to avoid losing life....”
Crew Chief Lo immediately raised the question to a philosophical level, saying, “Yes, yes, unavoidable. And why didn’t Ol’ Man Heaven consult us? It never works when you try to do things based only on subjective desires. Unavoidable, simply unavoidable....”
I wanted to ask: Wouldn’t it have been better not to let the pier collapse and still avoid personnel accidents? The Ling-k’ou bridge of the third team was on the same river as the arch bridge, and weren’t they able to avoid an “unavoidable” disaster?
Throughout my journey, my thoughts revolved incessantly around this question.
. . . . . . .
[Five months later, in October 1955, Chairman Mao’s report “On the Question of Agricultural Cooperation” was published. There followed a wave of rectification in the nation’s economic reconstruction efforts. The kind of bureaucratic conservatism exemplified by Crew Chief Lo was exposed and erased case after case, replaced by a high tide of labor enthusiasm.]
In February I went to the Northwest on a reporting assignment, and on the way I suddenly thought of my old friend Lo Li-cheng and his bridge crew. What was this old fellow up to now? Was he still his old imperturbable self? Or had he had to sweat through reading a much-revised self-critique at a mass rally? Thinking of all this, I couldn’t help wanting to laugh.
I decided to stop off and pay him a visit on the way.
A twenty-minute bus ride from Kao-lan Municipality brought me to the township of Hsi-kang. From there I still had to cross several mountains to get to where the bridge crew headquarters was.
A heavy Snow had just fallen. Walking along the level stretch of road was easy, but going up the mountain was a bit taxing. The old sheepskin coat I was wearing suddenly seemed to have gained fifteen pounds, and by the time I had crossed the second peak I was tired and sweaty....
From behind me there came the crunch of footsteps in the snow. Looking back, I saw that two workmen had caught up with me. The shorter of the two was wearing a brown cotton overcoat covered with grease and grime. Seeing me, he suddenly stopped, and then came running over in great strides to shake my hand. It turned out to be Chang Kuang-fa, the crane worker who had taught me to recognize all the knots. We walked off toward Crew Headquarters together. During this walk of about a mile, he filled me in on all that had happened in the bridge crew during the past six months, first with excitement, then with indignation. His face was flushed and was steaming in the cold, and there was an exceptional contrast between the whites and pupils of his eyes which displayed a certain youthfulness. I wondered why he made no mention at all of Engineer Tseng, whom he thoroughly revered. When I asked about Tseng, he suddenly halted and, staring at me in astonishment, asked:
“What? You didn’t know that Engineer Tseng was transferred away a long time ago?”
Now it was my turn to be astonished. Then he said:
“That was in June, more than half a year ago....”
His companion, who had said nothing all the way, now suddenly spoke up to correct him:
“What do you mean, June? It was at the end of May. We were still wearing our quilted cotton clothes “
“That’s right, it was the end of May,” Chang Kuang-fa continued seriously. Evidently they regarded this personnel transfer as a major event in the bridge crew. “It was only a few days after the rush job on pier 5 when he was transferred. That’s what we heard. During those few days, there were continual meetings at Crew Headquarters, and we thought that they were investigating the collapse of pier 1. Later we found out that they were discussing the problem between Engineer Tseng and Director Chou. They said that neither of them was perfect; Engineer Tseng was haughty and complacent, and Chou Wei-pen had his shortcomings, too.... Finally the leaders decided that they would have to transfer one or the other of them. But I didn’t believe that Engineer Tseng had any faults, and I never thought they’d transfer him away “
“No, that’s not exactly right,” said the other, slightly taller worker, and only then did I realize that he was a good deal older than Chang Kuang-fa; he must have been at least forty. “Engineer Tseng was not without shortcomings. Arrogant? Yes, he was probably a bit arrogant. But he was a young man, and how could he have avoided making the least little mistake? Take you, Chang Kuang-fa: if it’s faults we’re looking for, I could find a basketful of yours. Don’t you laugh What I mean is, you can’t look at it just from that one angle. In anything, you have to first find out who is in the right and who is in the wrong. The director and the engineer weren’t getting along; you can’t say that both of them were in the wrong. Like the old peacemaker’s saying, it takes two hands to clap, but this is something different from an argument or a fight....”
“Let’s say they were both in the wrong: then how come they only transferred Engineer Tseng? I just can’t figure it out!” said Chang Kuang-fa; he then closed his mouth tight, and his face was even redder.
“What Secretary Chang had in mind was not to transfer either of them; if someone had to be transferred, it would be the director. But the Bureau said that if the two of them couldn’t get along, they’d have to be separated. It just so happened that the cement products plant had a vacancy to fill. And oddly enough they just had to have someone like Engineer Tseng “
We had already come to the last slope. We could see the water from melted snow dripping off the roof of the Crew Headquarters office quite clearly. Bidding my two companions farewell, I walked toward Crew Headquarters.
I pushed open the door and walked into the crew chief’s office. Lo Li-cheng was bent over his desk in concentration, as though writing something. A closer look revealed that he was repairing a wristwatch! Seeing me enter, he gave a startled gasp and came over to shake my hand with his left hand—his right hand was covered with oily dirt.
Smiling expansively, he chatted with me. He hadn’t gotten any thinner at all; his face was as round and ruddy as ever, and in fact he had put on a little weight. Suddenly his face took on a stiff, stern expression, and he asked in a low voice:
“Have you heard of the Central Directive?”
Without waiting for me to reply, he began to brew up some black tea, and said emotionally:
“So wise! Party Central is really infinitely wise! Tell me, how come we’re so blockheaded? I guess we’re just old dogs who won’t learn new tricks!”
There followed a few words of praise for the wisdom of Party Central, and then he looked at me, and suddenly in an indescribably delightful way began to roar with laughter. He took a sip of black tea, and then said:
“Shrinking violets! Ha! We are the shrinking violets of industry! Ha! We had no gumption, no gumption whatsoever!...” After his fit of laughter had passed, he wiped away his tears, and said expansively, “Suddenly it all becomes clear, so clear indeed! Who says we aren’t conservative? Who says China has no bureaucratism? Huh? Aren’t we the conservatives, the bureaucrats? ...”
Lo Li-cheng then went on to mention many instances to prove how conservative “we” had been in the past. He said “we” so many times that from the sound of it his “we” included not only himself but all the cadres and workers as well, as though everyone but Party Central was conservative, and that Lo Li-cheng was merely one among the multitudes.
I reminded him that not long before, people in the bridge crew had come out in opposition to conservatism, but that the conservatives not only had no gumption themselves but would not tolerate gumption in anyone else. They had rebuffed all opinions and suggestions.
He stopped laughing, and without the least concern, casually remarked:
“At that time, wasn’t everyone the same? There hadn’t been any directive from Central, you know....” He pondered for a moment, and then, as if moved by something, said with sudden agitation:
“That’s what Party leadership means, you know! With the leadership of the Party, what need we fear? Huh? What have we to be afraid of? Whatever the problem, Central will think it over from every possible angle, and sooner or later it’ll be solved.” When he had finished, he laughed again
It had already become meaningless to sit here any longer; yet I casually asked him a question:
“What kind of progress is the crew making against conservatism?”
“From the bottom up”—it seemed that he was extremely happy to reply to this question—“we’re doing it from the bottom up, on a mass scale. First the workers and technicians examine their own conservative thinking, the leaders criticize it, and then the squad leaders and work leaders start examining—the problem of conservative thinking is most severe with these cadres. Then the cadres of each team and each section make self-examinations ...”
I interrupted him by asking, “When does it become the crew chief’s turn?”
Again he laughed. Opening a drawer, he took out a thick document and handed it to me. Then, as though he had it all figured out, he said, “Now, it’s all in here, a two-year plan.” He walked over and put his hand on my arm, and said warmly, “Write an article and report about us. Write! And if you call us conservative, that’s all right ... Oh, yes! I can find a typical example for you: Director Chou! Director Chou of the Engineering Office!”
A feeling of intense disappointment suddenly rose in my heart, and I was assailed by despair and anger. I had thought that as this upsurge formed throughout the nation, the rejecting of conservatism would at least bring the conservatives to their senses; that shouldn’t be too difficult. But I was wrong. The difficulty lay precisely in the fact that people such as Lo Li-cheng put up no resistance to this tide; the difficulty lay in the fact that this was not solely a question of conservative thinking....
Outside, the gale roared and swirled across the night-clad Yellow River. Through the window one could smell the scent of spring, replete with the breath of life. The northern spring had sent ahead a tempest to clear its path.
My friend was still sitting there, his eyes bleary with sleep.
Oh, Spring Wind, when will you blow into this office?
Translated by Philip Robyn;
excerpted by Kai-yu Hsu
Published in People’s Literature in September 1956, “The Young Man Who Has Just Arrived at the Organization Department” quickly attracted widespread attention as a manifestation of the Hundred Flowers spirit in literature. Its realistic portrayal of the clash between youthful idealistic revolutionaries and older entrenched Party bureaucrats was viewed by many as an example of how literature could be utilized as a critical tool to improve the existing system. The author of this story, a little-known, twenty-two-year-old Communist Party member named Wang Meng, was praised for his insight and his artistry.
With the end of the Hundred Flowers movement in early 1957 this situation changed dramatically. New interpretations described “The Young Man Who Has Just Arrived at the Organization Department” as fundamentally anti-Party in nature and a large-scale, officially sponsored campaign was mounted against it. During the campaign the story was widely condemned as an example of the excesses committed by those trying to take advantage of the Hundred Flowers movement to weaken Party discipline and promote individual freedom. The editor of the People’s Literature was attacked for publishing the story and was compelled to recant. Wang Meng himself was sent to the countryside to reform his thought through labor with the masses. He returned to active writing in 1977. His second novel, Long Live the Youth, which had been serialized in the Wen-hui Daily of Shanghai in 1957, was republished in 1978. More recently his short story “The Most Precious,” built on the theme of the lack of moral commitment among the young generation during the Cultural Revolution, has provoked nationwide discussions. —G. B.
It was March, with a mixture of rain and snow in the air. Outside the door of the District Party Committee office a pedicab drew to a halt, and a young man jumped down. The driver looked at the large sign above the door and said politely to his passenger, “If you’re coming here, there won’t be any charge.” One of the message center workers, a demobilized soldier called Old Lü, came limping out. After asking why the young man had come, he moved quickly to help unload his bags. This done, he went off to summon the Organization Department’s office secretary, Chao Hui-wen. Chao Hui-wen grasped both of Lin Chen’s hands tightly and said, “We’ve been waiting for you for a long time.”
Lin Chen had met Chao Hui-wen while in the teachers’ Party Branch in primary school. Two large eyes sparkled with friendliness and affection in her pale, beautiful face. Under those eyes, however, were dark circles caused by a lack of sleep. She led Lin Chen to the men’s dormitory, placed his bags in order, and opened them. She also hung his damp blanket up to dry and made the bed. As she was doing these things she continually reached up to arrange her hair, just as any other capable attractive female comrade would do.
“We’ve been waiting for you for such a long time,” she said. “Half a year ago we tried to have you assigned here, but the Cultural and Education Section of the District People’s Council absolutely refused to agree. Later on the District Party Committee Secretary went directly to the District Chief and said he wanted you. He also made a fuss at the Education Bureau’s personnel office. After all of this we finally got you transferred.”
“I only learned about this the day before yesterday,” Lin Chen replied. “When I heard that I was being transferred to the District Party Committee I didn’t know what to think. What does this District Party Committee of ours do?”
“And the Organization Department?”
“The Organization Department does organizational work.”
“Is there a lot of work?”
“At times we’re busy. Sometimes we aren’t.”
Chao Hui-wen took a hard look at Lin Chen’s bed and shook her head. “Young man,” she said indignantly, in the manner of an older sister, “you haven’t been keeping yourself clean. Look at that pillowcase! It’s gone from white to black. And look at the top of your blanket. It’s completely saturated with oil from your neck. Your sheet is so wrinkled it’s like seersucker.”
Lin Chen had the feeling that just as he was entering the doors of the District Party Committee and beginning his new life, he was also meeting a very dear friend.
Lin Chen was in an excited holiday mood as he rushed over to the office of the first vice-director of the Organization Department to report his arrival. The vice-director had a peculiar name—Liu Shih-wu.* As Lin Chen knocked nervously on his door, Liu Shih-wu was looking upward, a cigarette in his mouth, thinking about the work plans of the Organization Department. He welcomed Lin enthusiastically, but with a sense of propriety. After offering Lin a seat on the sofa, he himself sat down on the edge of his desk, pushing aside some of the papers that were piled high on the glass top. In a relaxed voice, he asked: “How are things going?” His left eye narrowed slightly. His right hand flicked his cigarette ash away.
“The secretary of the Party Branch told me to come here on the day after tomorrow, but since my work in the school was already finished I came today. Being sent to the Organization Department has made me anxious about my abilities. I’m a new Party member and I was formerly a primary teacher. The work of a teacher in primary school is quite different from the organization work of the Party.”
Lin Chen had prepared these words well in advance and spoke them very unnaturally, as if he were really a primary school student who was meeting his teacher for the first time. The room began to feel very warm. It was mid-March. Winter would soon be over. Yet, there was still a fire burning in the room. The frost on the window had melted and turned into dirty streaks. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead. He wanted to pull out a handkerchief and wipe them away, but he could not find one in his pockets.
Liu Shih-wu nodded his head mechanically and, without watching what he was doing, pulled a manila envelope out from a large pile of papers. Opening it, he removed Lin Chen’s Party registration form and scanned it rapidly with a keen look in his eyes. Fine lines appeared across his broad forehead and he closed his eyes for a moment. Then, placing his hand on the back of his chair for support, he stood up—as he did so the jacket that had been lying across his shoulders slipped to the floor—and in a skilled effortless voice said, “Good. Fine. Excellent. The Organization Department is short of cadres now. You’ve come at the right time. No, our work is not difficult. With study and practice you’ll be able to do it. That’s the way it is. Also, you did a good job in your work at the lower level, right?”
Lin Chen sensed that this praise was given somewhat in jest, so he shook his head and replied apprehensively, “I didn’t do my work well at all.”
A faint smile appeared on Liu Shih-wu’s unwashed face. His eyes sparkled with intelligence as he continued. “Of course, there is the possibility that you will have problems. It is possible. This is very important work. One of the comrades on the Central Committee has said that organization work is the housekeeping work of the Party. If the house is not properly cared for, the Party won’t be strong.” Without waiting for any questions Liu added an explanation. “What housework are we doing? We are developing and strengthening the Party, making the organization solid, and increasing the fighting power of the Party organization. We are establishing Party life on a foundation of collective leadership, criticism and self-criticism, and close ties with the masses. If we do this work well, the Party organization will be robust, lively, and will have the strength to fight. It will be up to the task of unifying and leading the masses. It will be better able to complete the work of socialist construction and fulfill the various duties of socialist transformation.”
After each phrase Liu cleared his throat, except for those expressions which he knew well through repeated use. These he spoke so rapidly that he seemed to be saying one word. For example, when he said, “Let’s anchor the life of the Party on ...,” it sounded as though he were saying, “Let’s anchor the life of the Party on rata-tat-tat-tat.” With the skill of someone manipulating an abacus, he handled concepts that Lin Chen thought were rather obscure and difficult to understand. Even though Lin listened with extreme intensity, he still could not grasp everything that Liu was saying.
Liu Shih-wu went on to assign Lin Chen his work. Then, just as Lin was opening the door to leave he called to him, and in a completely different, easy-going manner asked, “How are you getting along, young man? Do you have a girl friend?”
“No,” Lin Chen replied, a touch of redness sweeping across his face.
“A big fellow like you still blushes?” Liu Shih-wu asked with a laugh. “Well, you’re only twenty-two. There’s no need to hurry. By the way, what’s that book you have in your pocket?”
Lin Chen took the book out and read him the title, “The Tractor Station Manager and the Chief Agronomist”
Liu reached for the book, opened it to the middle, and read a few lines. “Did the Central Committee of the Youth League recommend this book for you young people to read?”
Lin Chen nodded.
“Lend it to me so I can take a look.”
Glancing at the papers piled high on the vice-director’s desk, Lin Chen asked in surprise, “Do you have time to read novels?”
Liu Shih-wu placed the book in the palm of his hand and gauged its weight. His left eye squinted slightly as he answered, “What do you mean? I’ll read through a thin volume like this in half an evening. I read the four volumes of And Quiet Flows the Don in a single week. That’s the way it is.”
By the time Lin Chen went over to the main office of the Organization Department the sky had already cleared. Only a few clouds remained along the clear bright horizon. Sunlight streamed into the large courtyard of the District Party Committee. Everyone was busy....
Lin Chen stopped for a moment in the portico and looked at the dazzling courtyard. He was very happy about the beginning of his new life.
. . . . . . .
Lin Chen had graduated from normal school in the autumn of 1953 and had been sent to serve as a teacher in the central primary school of this district. At that time he was an alternate Party member. Even after becoming a teacher he maintained the practices of his middle school student life. Early in the morning he lifted dumbbells. At night he wrote in his diary. Before every major holiday —May 1, July 1, etc.—he went about asking people for their opinions of him. Some people predicted that within three months he would be “converted” by the older adults whose lives were not so regulated. However, in a short time several teachers were praising him and saying with admiration, “This lad doesn’t have any worries or family cares. All he knows is work.”
Lin Chen proved himself worthy of such admiration. Because of his accomplishments as a teacher, during the winter recess of 1954 he received an award from the Bureau of Education.
People may have thought that the young teacher would continue on in this steady fashion, living his youthful years in contentment and happiness. But this was not to be. Simple, childlike Lin Chen had worries and concerns of his own.
After another year, Lin Chen was anxiously berating himself even more frequently. Was it due to the press of the high tide of socialism? Was it the result of the convening of the All-China Conference of Young Socialist Activists? Or, was it because he was getting older?
Lin Chen was now already twenty-two. He recalled how in his first year of middle school he had written an essay entitled “When I Am XX Years Old,” and how in that essay he had written, “When I am twenty-two I want to ...” Now he really was twenty-two and the pages of his life history still seemed to be blank. He had no meritorious achievements. He had not created anything. He had not braved any dangers or fallen in love. He had not written one single letter to a girl. He worked hard, but if the amount of work he did and the speed with which he did it were compared to the accomplishments of the young activists or the swiftness with which his life was flying by, of what possible comfort could this be to him? He set forth a plan to study this and study that, to do this and do that. He wanted to cover a thousand things in one day.
It was at this time that Lin Chen received his transfer notice. Now his history could read, “At twenty-two I became a Party worker.” Was his real life going to begin from here? Suppressing his love for primary school teaching and the children, he kindled great hopes about his new job. After the secretary of the Party Branch discussed his transfer with him, he stayed up all night thinking about it.
Thus it was that Lin Chen excitedly climbed the stone steps of the District Party Committee, The Tractor Station Manager and the Chief Agronomist stuck in his pocket. He was filled with a sacred reverence for the life of a Party worker.
. . . . . .
[Lin Chen’s assignment in the Organization Department is in the Factory Organization Development Section. His section chief, Han Ch’ang-hsin, makes a very favorable first impression on him (Lin Chen thinks to himself, “He’s more like a leading cadre than the leading cadres themselves.”) and he enthusiastically prepares for his first trip to a factory.
Four days after his arrival, Lin Chen rides his bicycle to the T’ung Hua Gunny Sack Factory to study Party recruitment work. What he finds leaves him shocked and confused. The factory director, a man named Wang Ch’ing-ch’üan, who is concurrently serving as Party Branch Secretary, is domineering, dogmatic, and obviously not very interested in his duties. Worse yet, when Lin suggests to the Party member in charge of recruitment, Wei Ho-ming, that a report on the situation be made to higher authorities, he is told that this has already been done several times with no effect. In Wei’s words: “I don’t know how many times I’ve talked to Han Ch’ang-hsin about this. Old Han didn’t do anything. Instead, he turned around and gave me a lesson, telling me about the need to respect leadership and strengthen unity. Maybe I shouldn’t be thinking like this, but I feel that we may have to wait until Factory Director Wang embezzles some money or rapes a woman before the higher echelons finally sit up and take notice!”
Lin Chen cannot understand how such a situation can be permitted to exist, and he reports excitedly to Han Ch’ang-hsin about what he has learned. Han is unconcerned. He informs Lin that he knows all about Wang Ch’ing-ch’üan and tells him not to worry about matters that are beyond the scope of his duties. This fails to satisfy Lin Chen and he goes to talk to Han Ch’ang-hsin’s superior, Liu Shih-wu. Liu openly acknowledges that Wang Ch’ing-ch’üan has made some serious errors, but he asks Lin to be patient, saying that conditions are not yet ripe for resolving the situation.
Lin Chen’s talk with Liu Shih-wu eases his mind temporarily, but subsequent visits to the gunny sack factory revive his indignation over Wang Ch’ing-ch’üan’s performance. Thinking that he will hasten the “ripening of conditions” mentioned by Liu Shih-wu, he gives his approval to Wei Ho-ming’s idea of organizing the workers into a discussion group that will submit complaints about Wang Ch’ing-ch’üan to higher authorities. However, after Wang learns of this plan and accuses Lin of encouraging antileadership activity, it is Lin, not Wang, who receives most of the criticism. At a meeting convened to discuss this matter, Han Ch’ang-hsin complains about Lin’s “unorganized and undisciplined activity.” Liu Shih-wu notes that Lin, as with most youth, is overly idealistic and reminds him pointedly that he is “definitely not the only person who has principles.”
After being subjected to such criticism, Lin Chen is uncertain about what he should do. Should he continue to struggle resolutely on behalf of his high standards? Or, should he put aside this struggle temporarily and wait until he is more knowledgeable and more experienced? A chance meeting with Chao Hui-wen on the following Saturday evening helps him decide which path to follow.]
On Saturday evening Han Ch’ang-hsin was getting married. Lin Chen went into the assembly hall, but he disliked the thick irritating smoke, the candy wrappers scattered about the floor, and the steady roar of loud laughter. Without waiting for the ceremony to begin he made his departure.
The Organization Department office was dark. Lin Chen turned on the light and saw a letter on his desk. It was from his fellow teachers in the primary school. Enclosed inside was another letter signed by the children with their little hands. It read:
“Teacher Lin, how are you? We miss you very very much. All of the girls cried, but they are better now. We have been doing arithmetic. The problems are very hard. We think them over for a long time, but in the end we work them out.”
As he read the letter Lin Chen could not refrain from smiling to himself. He picked up his pen, substituted a correct character for an incorrect one, and prepared to tell them in his reply not to use a wrong character when they wrote him again. It seemed as though he was watching Li Lin-lin, with the ribbon in her hair, Liu Hsiao-mao, who loved watercolor painting, and Meng Fei, the one who often held lead pencil tips in his mouth. Abruptly he lifted his head from the letter. Only the telephone, the ink blotter, and the glass desk top were there to be seen. The child’s world that he knew so well was already far away. Now he was in an unfamiliar environment. He thought about the criticism leveled at him at the Party committee meeting two days earlier. Was it possible that it was actually he himself who was wrong? Was he really rude and childish, full of the cheap bravery of the young? Maybe he really ought to make an honest self-appraisal. Couldn’t he do his own work well for two years or so and wait until he himself had “ripened” before intervening in all of these things?
An explosion of applause and laughter burst from the assembly hall.
A soft hand fell upon his shoulder. Startled, he turned his head and felt the glare of the light pierce his eyes. Chao Hui-wen was standing silently beside him. All women comrades had a talent for walking without a sound.
“Why aren’t you over having a good time?” she asked.
“I’m too lazy to go. What about you?”
“I’ve got to be getting home,” Chao Hui-wen replied. “How about coming to my place and relaxing for a while? It’s better than sitting here brooding by yourself.”
“I don’t have anything to brood about,” Lin Chen protested. He did, however, accept Chao Hui-wen’s kind invitation.
Chao Hui-wen lived in a small courtyard not far from the offices of the District Party Committee. Her son was sleeping in a pale blue crib, sucking contentedly on his fingers. She gave the baby a kiss and drew Lin Chen to her own room.
“Doesn’t his father come home?” Lin Chen asked cautiously.
Chao Hui-wen shook her head.
The bedroom looked as though it had been arranged very hastily. The walls were completely bare and because of this they appeared excessively white. A washstand huddled alone in a corner. On the windowsill a flower vase held its empty mouth open like a fool. Only the radio on the small table at the head of the bed seemed capable of breaking the stillness of the room.
Lin Chen sat down on the rattan chair. Chao Hui-wen stood leaning against the wall. Lin Chen pointed to the flower vase and said, “You should put some flowers in it.” Pointing to the walls, he asked, “Why don’t you buy some paintings and hang them up?” “Since I’m hardly ever here, I haven’t given it any thought,” Chao Hui-wen replied. Indicating the radio, she asked, “Would you like to listen? There’s always good music on Saturday evening.”
The light on the radio came on and a dreamy gentle melody floated in from afar. Slowly it became an emotional stimulant. The poetic theme played by the violin seized Lin Chen’s heart. He laid his chin on his hands and held his breath. His youth, his aspirations, and his failures all seemed to be transmitted through this music.
Chao Hui-wen leaned against the wall with her hands behind her back, oblivious to the whitewash rubbing off on her clothes. She waited until the movement was completed, and then, in a voice that was itself like music, she said, “This is Tschaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien. It makes me think of a southern country and the sea. When I was in the Cultural Work Troupe I heard it often, and gradually I came to feel that the melody wasn’t being played by someone else, but was boring its way out from my heart.”
“You were in the Cultural Work Troupe?”
“I was assigned there after attending the Military Cadre School. In Korea I used my poor voice to sing for the soldiers. I’m a hoarse-voiced singer.”
Lin Chen looked at Chao Hui-wen as if he were seeing her for the first time.
“What’s wrong? Don’t I look like a singer?” At this moment the program changed to “Theater Facts,” and Chao Hui-wen turned the radio off.
“If you were in the Cultural Work Troupe, why do you hardly ever sing?”
Chao Hui-wen didn’t answer. She walked over to her bed, sat down, and said, “Let’s have a chat. Little Lin, tell me, what’s your impression of our District Party Committee?”
“I don’t know. That is to say, I’m not sure.”
“You do have some differences of opinion with Han Ch’ang-hsin and Liu Shih-wu, don’t you?”
“When I first came I was that way, too. Having transferred here from the military, I was making comparisons with military strictness and precision, and there were many things that I couldn’t get used to. I made many suggestions and had one spirited argument with Han Ch’ang-hsin. But they made fun of me and said I was childish. They laughed at me for making so many suggestions before I was doing my own work well. Slowly I came to realize that I didn’t have enough strength to struggle against the various shortcomings of the District Committee.”
“Why not?” Lin Chen exclaimed, leaping to his feet as if he had been stabbed. His eyebrows came together in a deep frown.
“That was my mistake,” Chao Hui-wen answered, taking a pillow and placing it on her lap. “At the time, I felt that with my own lack of experience and my own imperfection I certainly wasn’t strong enough to be thinking about reforming comrades who were much more experienced than I was. Moreover, Liu Shih-wu, Han Ch’ang-hsin, and some other comrades actually do many things very well. If you scatter their shortcomings among our accomplishments it’s like throwing dust into the clear air. You can smell it, but you can’t grab hold of it. This is what makes it so hard.”
“Right!” Lin Chen responded, smashing his right fist into the palm of his left hand.
. . . . . .
[After this Chao Hui-wen and Lin Chen discuss what they see as the faults of several leading cadres, including Han Ch’ang-hsin and Liu Shih-wu. The plodding approach of these cadres toward their duties has troubled Chao Huiwen for a long time and caused her many sleepless nights. Now at last she has an opportunity to vent her frustrations. Lin Chen is deeply moved by what she tells him.]
“Then, ... what’s to be done?” he asked. Only now was Lin Chen beginning to realize how complicated everything was. It seemed that each and every shortcoming was attached to a whole series of causes that ran from the top to the bottom.
“That’s true,” Chao Hui-wen answered, deep in thought, her fingers tapping on her legs as if she were playing the piano. Looking into the distance, she smiled and said, “Thank you.”
“Thank you?” Lin Chen thought that he had heard incorrectly.
“Yes. When I see you I seem to be young again. You often fix your eyes on something and don’t move. You’re always thinking, like a child who loves to dream. You get excited quite easily and blush at anything. Yet, you are also fearless, willing to struggle against every evil. I have a kind of woman’s intuition that you ... that a big change is on the way.”
Lin Chen blushed deeply again. He had simply never thought about these matters and was completely embarrassed by his inability to do anything. “Well,” he mumbled, “I hope that it’s a genuine change and not just some blind confusion.” Pausing a moment, he asked her, “You’ve thought about this for so long and have made such a clear analysis. Why have you kept everything to yourself?”
“I’ve always felt that there was nothing I could do,” Chao Hui-wen answered. She put her hands across her chest and said, “I look and think, think, and look again. At times I think all night and can’t fall asleep. I ask myself, ‘You’re doing routine office work. Can you understand all of these things?’ “
“How can you think such thoughts? I feel that what you’ve been telling me is absolutely correct. You should tell this to the secretary of the District Party Committee. Or, write it up and send it to the People’s Daily”
“Look, there you go again!” Chao Hui-wen’s teeth glistened as she said this with a smile.
“How can you say ‘There I go again’?” Lin Chen stood up unhappily and scratched his head hard. “I’ve thought about this many times, too. I feel that people should correct themselves through struggle instead of waiting until they’re perfect before they enter the fray.”
Suddenly Chao Hui-wen pushed open the door and went out, leaving Lin Chen alone in the empty room. He smelled the fragrance of soap and then in an instant she was back carrying a long-handled saucepan. She skipped in like one of those little girls who comb their hair into three braids, took the cover off the pan, and said dramatically, “Let’s eat some water chestnuts. They’re already well cooked. I couldn’t find anything else good to eat.”
“Ever since I was a child I’ve loved boiled water chestnuts,” Lin Chen responded, happily taking the pan with his hands. He selected a large unpeeled one, took a bite, and spit it out with a frown. “This one is bad, both sour and rotten.” As Chao Hui-wen laughed, Lin Chen angrily threw the squashed sour water chestnut to the floor.
When Lin Chen prepared to leave it was already late at night. The clear sky was completely covered with shy little stars. An old man singing “Fried dumplings fresh from the pot” pushed his cart by. Lin Chen stood outside the doorway. Chao Hui-wen stood just inside, her eyes sparkling in the darkness. “The next time you come there will be paintings on the wall,” she said.
Lin Chen smiled understanding and said, “I hope that you’ll take up singing again, too.” He gave her hand a squeeze.
Lin Chen breathed in deeply the fragrant air of this spring night. A warm spring welled up within his heart.
. . . . . . .
[Shortly after his lengthy conversation with Chao Hui-wen, Lin Chen talks to Wei Ho-ming and convinces him to send a letter describing conditions in the gunny sack factory to the People’s Daily. The letter is published with an editorial note advising the appropriate authorities to look into the matter. Now, Liu Shih-wu moves quickly. He initiates a thorough investigation, and as a result of the findings, Wang Ch’ing-ch’üan is removed from his administrative posts in both the factory and the Party.
Lin Chen, however, is still not satisfied. When the standing committee of the District Party Committee meets to discuss the situation in the gunny sack factory, he tells the committee that Liu Shih-wu and Han Ch’ang-hsin should bear responsibility for not solving the problems there sooner. “Indifference, procrastination, and irresponsibility,” he states, “are crimes against the masses.” In a loud voice he calls out, “The Party is the heart of the people and the working class. We do not permit dust on the heart. We should not allow shortcomings in Party organs.” He persists until the District Party Secretary tells him bluntly, “Comrade, you get excited too easily. Reciting lyrics is not appropriate to the conduct of organization work.”
This is a frustrating moment for Lin Chen. Once again his superiors have ignored his views and called his idealism into question. But this is not the only challenge Lin Chen faces as the story now moves to its conclusion. He must also contend with the complex emotions that his relationship with Chao Huiwen have provoked.]
After the meeting adjourned, Lin Chen was so angry that he didn’t eat supper. He had never thought that the District Party Secretary would have such an attitude. His disappointment bordered on hopelessness. When Han Ch’ang-hsin and Liu Shih-wu invited him to go for a walk, as if they were unaware of his dissatisfaction with them, it made him even more conscious of how impotent he was compared to them. He smiled bitterly and thought to himself, “So you had the idea that speaking out before the standing committee would accomplish something!” Opening a drawer, he picked up the Soviet novel that Han Ch’ang-hsin had laughed at, and opened it to the first page. At the top was written, “The Model Life of Anastasia.” “It’s so hard,” he said to himself.
The next day after work Chao Hui-wen said to Lin Chen, “Come over to my place for supper. I’ll make some dumplings.” He wanted to decline, but she was already gone.
Lin Chen hesitated for some time, and then ate in the dining hall before going to Chao Hui-wen’s home. When he arrived her dumplings were just ready. For the first time Chao Hui-wen was wearing a deep red dress. She had on an apron and her hands were covered with flour. Like an attentive housewife she told Lin Chen, “I used fresh beans in the dumplings.”
“I ... I’ve already eaten,” Lin Chen stammered.
Chao Hui-wen did not believe him and rushed off to get chopsticks. But after Lin Chen repeated for a second and a third time that he really had eaten, she discontentedly began to eat by herself. Lin Chen sat nervously to one side, looking first one way and then the other, rubbing his hands together, and shifting his body. Those inexpressible feelings of warmth and anguish were once again welling up within his heart. His heart ached as if he had lost something. He simply did not dare look at Chao Hui-wen’s beautiful face, shining red in the reflection of her red dress.
“Little Lin, what’s wrong?” Chao Hui-wen asked, pausing from her meal.
“Tell me,” she said, her eyes not moving from him.
“Yesterday I presented my opinions at the meeting of the standing committee. The District Party Secretary didn’t pay any attention to them at all.”
Chao Hui-wen bit on her chopsticks and thought deeply for a moment. “That’s not possible. Perhaps Comrade Chou Jun-hsiang just didn’t want to give his views too lightly.”
“Perhaps,” Lin Chen replied, half believing, half doubting. Fearful of meeting Chao Hui-wen’s concerned gaze, he lowered his head.
After eating several more dumplings Chao Hui-wen asked again, “Is there something else?”
Lin Chen’s heart leaped. He raised his head and looked into her sympathetic, encouraging eyes. In a low voice he said, “Comrade Chao Hui-wen ...”
Chao Hui-wen laid down her chopsticks and leaned back in her chair. She was a little taken aback.
“I want to know if you’re happy,” Lin Chen asked in a heavy, completely serious voice. “I saw your tears in Liu Shih-wu’s office. Spring had just arrived then. Afterwards I forgot about it. I’ve been going along living my own life, not caring about others. Are you happy?”
Chao Hui-wen looked at him with a touch of misgiving, shook her head, and said, “At times I forget, too.” Then, nodding her head, she smiled calmly and said, “Yes. Yes, I’m happy. Why do you ask?”
“... I want so much to talk to you or listen to symphonies with you. You’re wonderful, of course. But maybe there’s something here that’s bad or improper. I hadn’t thought about this, and then all of a sudden I began to worry. Now I’m afraid that I’m disturbing someone.”
Chao Hui-wen smiled and then frowned. She raised her slender arms and vigorously rubbed her forehead. After giving her head a toss, as if she were casting aside some unpleasant thought, she turned away and walked slowly over to the oil painting that had just recently been hung on the wall. She stood staring at it in silence. Its title was “Spring.” It depicted Moscow at the time when the first spring sun appears, with mothers and their children out on the streets.
After a few moments Chao Hui-wen turned back and sat down quickly on her bed, holding onto the railing with one hand. In an exceptionally quiet voice she said, “What are you saying? Really! I couldn’t do anything so rash. I have a husband and a child. I haven’t told you anything yet about my husband.” She didn’t use the more common term “loved one,” but emphasized the word “husband.” “We were married in 1952 when I was only nineteen. I really shouldn’t have married so early. He had come out of the military and was a section head in a central ministry. Gradually he became rather slick, competing for position and material rewards, and failing to cooperate with others. As for us, all that seemed to be left was his return on Saturday evening and his departure on Monday. According to his theory love was either exhalted or it was nothing. We quarreled. But I’m still waiting. He’s now on assignment in Shanghai. After he returns I want to have a long talk with him. So, what is it that you want to say? Little Lin, you’re my best friend. I have great respect for you. But you’re still a child—well, perhaps that’s not the proper term. I’m sorry. We both hope to lead a true, real life. We both hope that the Organization Department will become a genuine Party work organ. I feel that you’re my younger brother. You wish that I would become more active, don’t you? Life should have the warmth of mutual support and friendship. I’ve always been frightened by cold indifference. That’s all there is to it. Is there anything more? Can there be anything more?”
Chao Hui-wen opened her briefcase, took out several sheets of paper and leafed through them. “I have some things that I want to show you this evening. I’ve already written up the problems that I’ve seen in the work of the Organization Department ov^r the past three years and have put down my own thoughts about them. This ...” She rubbed a piece of paper in embarrassment. “This is probably pretty laughable. I’ve set up a system for competing with myself, a way to let myself see if I’ve done better today than I did yesterday. I’ve drawn a table and if I make an error in my work—such as copying a name incorrectly on the notice of admission to the Party or adding up the number of new Party members wrong—I put down a black ‘X.’ If I go through a day without making any mistakes I draw a little red flag. If the red flags continue for a whole month without interruption, then I buy a pretty scarf or something else as a reward for myself. Maybe this is like it’s done in kindergarten. Do you think it’s funny?”
Lin Chen had been listening in a trance. “Absolutely not,” he said solemnly. “I respect your seriousness about yourself ...”
When Lin Chen prepared to leave it was again already late at night. Again he stood outside the doorway. Chao Hui-wen stood just inside, her eyes sparkling in the darkness. “This is a beautiful evening, isn’t it?” she asked. “Do you smell the sweet scent of the locust tree blossoms? Those common white flowers are more refined than peonies and more fragrant than peach or plum blossoms. Can’t you smell them? Really! Goodbye. I’ll be seeing you early tomorrow morning when we throw ourselves into our great but annoying work. Later, in the evening, look for me and we’ll listen to the beautiful Capriccio Italien. After we’re done listening I’ll cook water chestnuts for you and we’ll throw the peelings all over the floor.”
Lin Chen stood leaning against the large pillar by the door of the Organization Department for a long time, staring at the night sky. The south wind of early summer brushed against him. He had arrived at the end of winter. Now it was already the beginning of summer. He had passed through his first spring in the Organization Department.
A strange feeling surged up in Lin Chen’s heart. It was as if he had lost something valuable. It was like thinking about his inadequate accomplishments and slow progress over the past several months. But no, it was not really any of these ... Ah, people were so complicated! Nothing fitted Liu Shih-wu’s expression, “That’s the way it is.” No, nothing was the way it appeared, and because of this, everything had to be approached honestly, seriously, and conscientiously. Because of this, when unreasonable or unendurable things were encountered they were not to be tolerated. They were to be struggled against, one, two, or even three times. Only when a situation was changed could the struggle stop. There was definitely no reason to be disheartened or downcast. As for love, well ... All that could be done was grit one’s teeth and quietly suppress these feelings in the heart!
“I want to be more active, more enthusiastic, and certainly more strong,” Lin Chen said quietly to himself. He lifted his chest and took a deep breath of the cool night air.
Looking through the window Lin Chen could see the green desk lamp and the imposing profile of the late-working District Party Secretary. Determinedly and with impatience he knocked on the door of the leading comrade’s office.
Translated by Gary Bjorge
Chou Li-po chronologically is of the May Fourth generation, but as a writer he belongs entirely to the post-Yenan Forum era. Indeed, his career as a major novelist is really a success story for Mao’s insistence at the Forum that writers genuinely penetrate and participate in village life and reflect the positive aspects of the new society in their writing.
Born in 1910 in I-yang, Hunan Province, hometown of Party theoretician Chou Yang—some say they are cousins—Chou Li-po, like many revolutionary youth of his time, made his way from the countryside to Shanghai for college in 1927. His two brothers remained behind and are said to be middle peasants on a rural commune. In 1932 Chou Li-po participated in a labor strike, was arrested by foreign police in the International Concessions, and remained in jail until 1934. He started working for the League of Left-wing Writers, which placed him among the close associates of Chou Yang. Later, he went north to do cultural work in Communist-dominated areas. The winter of 1938 found him back in Hunan Province editing the Resistance War Daily. Then, in 1940, he returned north to lecture on foreign literature at the Lu Hsün Academy in Yenan.
Between 1946 and 1949, Chou Li-po served on land reform teams in the Northeast, and his three years of village experience there went into his first major novel, Hurricane (1948), which won a Stalin Prize in 1951. The novel describes the fury of peasants wresting power from armed landlords and the aftermath of land reform. After the publication of Hurricane, Chou was elected to the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, of which Chou Yang was the deputy director. In 1952, Chou Li-po was promoted to the editorial board of the prestigious magazine People’s Literature.
His second major novel, Great Changes in a Mountain Village, in two volumes, was based on his 1955 experience in a remote mountain town in Hunan Province. Volume one is constructed around a young woman cadre assigned to help the village after the first attempt to establish an agricultural cooperative failed. Several crises overcome, she leaves at the end of volume one and does not reappear. Volume two begins with the village now struggling on its own to make a success of the cooperative against the resistance of the non-joiners. The episode translated below is part of the long struggle to win over the holdouts.
Chou Li-po was criticized in 1966 and his works were withdrawn from circulation on the charge that he overemphasized peasant dependence on Party leadership and gave disproportionate attention to those who resisted collectivization. The downfall of the Gang of Four brought him back in circulation, as a delegate to the People’s Political Consultative Conference in February 1978, and as a member of the Third Congress of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles meeting in Peking in May 1978. His works are scheduled for republication. —D.A.G.
CHAPTER 6: COMPETITION
At first, when he heard that the Cooperative was getting ready to clean the mud out of pond bottoms to spread over the low-yield fields to enrich the soil, Gold-biter was green with envy, but then he decided to do the very same thing himself. The two parcels of dry land he owned near the hills, where the soil was so thin that if you plowed it deep water would run right through it to the rocks underneath, were ideal for this project. So Gold-biter put down what he was doing, picked up his tools and, leading his wife and daughter, went off to the pond near his upper parcel. A good number of people were already gathered there. Members of the Co-op were at that very moment carrying out to the fields, basket by basket, the rich, damp mud from the bottom of the drained pond.
“So you’ve come too,” Liu Yü-sheng called out in greeting as he packed out a load of mud. “Well, that’s fine. This stuff is even better than manure, you know. Get a whiff of it. It’s pretty strong.”
“It is,” said Gold-biter, nodding to him. “This pond hasn’t been cleaned out for a good long time now.” But as he moved forward to go down inside to start digging, he ran into Ch’en Meng-ch’un, who blocked his way.
“What do you mean, standing in my way like that?”
“You’re not going to dig here,” answered the weather-burnt Meng-ch’un, displaying all the brashness of his older brother, whom he had not yet quite overtaken in height.
“And just why is that? Maybe you don’t know that I also own a share in this pond?”
“That doesn’t mean anything to me. You didn’t help drain the pond, so you’re not going to dig.”
“I don’t have to deal with you anyway. Let’s go see your Party branch secretary.”
“Go get the secretary. You’re just wasting your time.”
Just when the two of them had locked horns and the exchange was heating up, Liu Yü-sheng rushed up to pull Meng-ch’un away.
“Let him dig. You think a whole pond full of muck like this doesn’t have enough for him too?”
“I just can’t see why a miser like him can get off so cheap at other people’s expense,” grumbled Meng-ch’un as he walked away.
Liu Yü-sheng, seeing Gold-biter still standing his ground, not budging an inch and his eyes bulging in anger, went over to smooth things out.
“Go right ahead with your digging and don’t mind him.”
With this, Gold-biter muttered an oath or two, and then, not wanting to lose any more time, turned immediately to start digging in the muck.
Deep down inside, Gold-biter wanted to compete with the Cooperative, for he always felt that if he could get the better of them there would somehow be something in it for him, and as a loner who refused to join the Cooperative, at the least, at the very least, it would help him to hold out on his own just that much longer. On the first day of digging, his own efforts exactly followed the pattern set by the Cooperative. When the others dug and carried, he dug and carried; when the others took a break, he took a break. But on the following day he went his separate way. At two in the morning, when the moon went down and there was only the weak starlight shining dimly over the outline of the pond, Gold-biter, leading his wife and daughter, groped his way down into the drained pond bottom and had his daughter start digging while he and his wife did the hauling. By dawn, when the Co-op members came to work, the Gold-biters had each already carried away some twenty or so loads of muck.
“From the looks of things, they’re going to beat us,” Liu Yü-sheng pointed out to the members during a break while they all sat around together on a threshing ground under a camphor tree.
“Not necessarily. There are more of us,” Meng-ch’un pointed out, full of confidence.
“Sure, but he’s not competing with us in numbers; he’s trying to outdo us in performance and in per-acre yield. He’s put a lot of fertilizer on his other land, and now here he is fixing up this parcel that’s so porous and bony it’s like a fish without flesh. Our parcels are uneven in quality—an awful lot of it is full of hollow spots—and look how much is just bone-dry land that you can’t improve no matter what you do.” This, from Liu Yü-sheng, caused Meng-ch’un to lapse into silence.
“When it comes to farming, he’s always been first-rate,” Li Yung-ho put in.
“Well now, you can’t say we don’t have first-rate farmers on our side too. There’s Meng-ch’un’s father, Hsien-chin, there’s Sheng Yu-t’ing, and there’s Old Hsieh. They’re at least as good as Gold-biter. It’s just that none of us, young or old alike, puts as much into it as he does.”
“That’s right,” Meng-ch’un agreed, discomfited by the thought. “Each and every one of us just isn’t putting out as much as he is.”
“I talked it over with the Party branch secretary,” Liu Yü-sheng went on, “and it seems the best thing to do is form a Youth Task Force.”
“Count me in,” Meng-ch’un put in without hesitation.
“Put my name down,” added Shu-chün.
“Put mine down, too,” Ch’en Hsüeh-ch’un chimed in, imitating the older girl to the last detail.
“Hey, all the activists are from the same family,” Li Yung-ho observed, laughing at his allusion to Shu-chün’s wedding plans that would make the two girls sisters-in-law. “Before you know it the whole Task Force will be a family enterprise.”
“Now don’t go changing the subject,” cautioned Liu Yü-sheng. “Li, old fellow, you’ve already finished your stint as bookkeeper, so now you’re ready for another assignment. How about getting the Task Force organized? Take old Gold-biter as your target and then surpass him. Can you handle that?”
“Of course we can!” shouted all the young people at once, with Meng-ch’un’ss husky voice heard above all the rest as he added, “Well be damned if we don’t beat him!”
Liu Yü-sheng’s heart swelled with pleasure as he stood up and said, “Well, I see the beginning here of a real effort.” Even when he was extremely pleased, there would only be the slightest trace of a smile creeping into his expression. “But then, of course, so far this is all nothing more than talk, isn’t it?”
“Now there’s a dig from our Co-op leader.” Ch’en Meng-ch’un always liked to roll his sleeves up to get down to work, but now his sleeves were already rolled up. “I suppose you think all we’re good for is just hot air and nothing else, huh?”
Liu Yü-sheng turned to Li Yung-ho to ask, “Well, what do you think? When can the Task Force get organized? By tomorrow?”
“What’s this about tomorrow? After all, it isn’t a wedding we’re planning so that it would need to have a specially picked day and all that,” retorted Ch’en Meng-ch’un agitatedly.
“You’re thinking about a wedding?” cracked one of the younger members.
“Hey, no joking around,” Meng-ch’un said with a new seriousness in his voice.
“When we quit work tonight, after supper, we’ll get together, all right?” Li Yung-ho said to Liu after some thought.
“What’s the point of waiting until tonight?” Meng-ch’un persisted. “If we’re going to do it, let’s do it now. Why put if off till after supper?”
“Meng-ch’un here is right,” Liu Yü-sheng agreed. “If you begin now, the young people can get together in that shed over there.” Then, turning to the older people, he added, “You folks are invited too, to give them some direction.”
“You flatter us, Mr. Liu, but we won’t take you up on that,” one answered, puffing on his pipe.
Meanwhile, Gold-biter continued to carry his mud, but his attention was drawn to what the young people were up to. As he watched Liu Yü-sheng lead them along the path to the shed, he thought to himself, “This must have something to do with the competition.”
Wave after wave of applause and shouts of enthusiasm issued from the thatch shed, together with gales of laughter and merriment. Half an hour later, one by one, the group streamed out. As they walked toward the pond, Liu Yü-sheng said to Shu-chün:
“Only a very few of the Women’s Association showed up today. Run over and get them all together. Explain it to them and see if we can’t get a better turnout.”
“I’ll do that right away,” agreed Shu-chün, who took off at once. But before she got far, she turned back toward the Co-op leader and, cupping her hands over her mouth, shouted, “Can you come too and give us a pep talk?”
“I’m tied up. Can’t make it,” he called back. “Get the Women’s Association head to do it.”
After she left, he turned to Li Yung-ho.
“This Women’s Association head we have isn’t as good a manager as she ought to be. All she does is stay home and look after her children.”
“I hear she’s got another one on the way, too,” Li Yung-ho agreed. “It seems to me somebody ought to replace her. Somebody like Sheng Chia-hsiu.”
Li’s suggestion of the woman Liu Yü-sheng would soon be marrying could not help but be calculated to put Li on the best of terms with the Co-op leader.
“Her political awareness is too low. And there’s that pig of hers she’s raising. If we get her to do it, it’s still just one shoe of a pair, getting things only half-done.”
“Then how about Sheng Shu-chün?”
“Come to think of it, she would do just fine, but that’s something that has to be taken up with the Party branch secretary. And then he’s got to clear it with the Party leadership above him.”
At this point a messenger came up from the District Office reminding Liu to call a meeting.
“This would be a good time for you to take it up with Secretary Li,” Li Yung-ho suggested.
“All right. I’ll do that,” Liu replied, as he started off.
After the Task Force meeting and the Women’s Association meeting, the work force turnout was much greater than before, so that even Chang Kueichen and Sheng Shu-chün’s mother, who normally almost never joined in, also turned up. On this day everybody put in a good, full day’s work.
That night, Li Yung-ho borrowed a three-barreled fowling piece from the security chief, Sheng Ch’ing-ming, and loaded powder into all three barrels, set the fuses in place and laid it beside his bed. The next morning, at the first rooster crow, probably around two o’clock, Li rolled over, pulled himself out of bed, and, before dressing, put the gun over his shoulder, fumbled around for a box of matches, and went out to the threshing ground in front of the house, where he fired off each barrel, one after the other, into the night sky only faintly lit by starlight. Concussion from the huge roar rattled the paper windows of the house and startled into flight the birds that had been roosting on the tree behind the house. But even before the echoes had settled, as he straightened up after the firing he was astonished to see a lantern hanging from a willow by the side of the pond, telling him that someone was already at work.
“Which of them can that be?” he asked himself as he hurried off to have a look. But the person he discovered hard at work was no Co-op member; it was the Gold-biters, man, wife, and daughter.
“You’re really early today. Been up long?”
“Not long. Just got up.” This was how Gold-biter replied, but in fact, as Li Yung-ho’s later investigation would reveal, he had gotten up at midnight. Now, fearing that the Co-op would follow his lead, he intentionally misled them.
It was early spring when frosts were liable to return at any time, and although there was none this morning, nor any breeze either, still, there was no sun at all. When the three-barreled fowling piece had gone off, everybody was startled awake. Even though they started work well after the Gold-biters, nevertheless everyone’s spirits were up for the occasion so that they put in another solid day’s work.
On the third day, Li Yung-ho pulled himself out of bed at midnight and raced outside, where at once he could see that there was no lantern. Gold-biter wasn’t up yet! Delighted, he fired off three quick charges in succession.
Now on this particular night the weather had changed sharply, and with the rise of a north wind, it was biting cold.
“Is a cold front hitting us again?” wondered Li to himself. When he had the gas lantern started and hung from the willow tree, he could see all around him, wherever the light shone—the weeds on the bottom of the empty pond, the bamboo fencing around the vegetable patch—it was all white with frost! The shallow water in the puddles down in the empty pond had frozen into sheets of ice. The young men and women of the Task Force filed up to the pond carrying their wicker baskets and tools. One of the youths who wasn’t wearing a quilted jacket was so cold he shivered. He hastily gathered up some straw from around the edge of the pond and with some dry kindling got a fire going, which the others quickly gathered around. Some of the mischievous ones, seeing this, went over to the thatch shed to take it easy. In no time at all no one was left to go down to the pond bottom.
“What do you think of this! They get us up early just to light the lantern and stand by the fire!” one of them complained.
Li Yung-ho, without a word, slipped out of his shoes, picked up his rake, and like the first horse in the water, took the lead as he stepped down into the cold mud on the pond bottom, where he used both feet to crack the thin sheet of ice over the puddles. His teeth chattered as the ice crackled under his feet. He shouted to the others:
“Ta ... ask For ... rce Mem ... bers! Forget the fire! Be like the PLA! Remember the heroes of Shangkanling. They weren’t afraid of dying. Are we afraid of the cold? Hurry up! Let’s get going!”
He began digging at the muck with his rake while shouting at his comrades. Ch’en Meng-ch’un, who was toasting himself beside the fire, leaped up at once, grabbed his rake, and ran to the pond.
“Hurry up. It’s not cold. Not cold at all!”
“Who cares even if it is cold?” said Sheng Shu-chün, who rolled up her pant legs and went down into the pond. Right behind her were Sheng Chia-hsiu and Ch’en Hsüeh-ch’un. The latter, a short, stocky young girl not yet fully developed, rolled up her pant legs and pushed back her sleeves, looking for all the world like a little bundle of energy.
Seeing the women get started prompted the other young people still loitering by the fire so that they too all came over to the pond. Soon the carriers were carrying, the diggers digging, and some of them were even singing folk ditties.
No more than two loads had been taken out when the three Gold-biters appeared. Gold-biter himself carried their lantern, but when he saw that the Co-op’s lantern lighted the whole area he blew out his own.
“Hey, don’t go borrowing our light there, old buddy,” Ch’en Meng-ch’un shouted over to Gold-biter, partly meaning it, but partly only as the kind of smart crack young people are always making.
“What light of yours are we borrowing?” the daughter replied testily.
“The lantern light. What’s the matter, no eyes?”
“Who told you to go light your old lantern, my father I suppose?” she fired back sharply.
The two of them, you say one thing, I say something back, soon were in full swing. At the outset, the conflict was limited to just the two of them: on the one hand, a youth of 18 or 19, always known for his brashness, and on the other hand, a little know-nothing slip of a girl, maybe 12 or 13 years old. Their insults, though fierce, were not of any grave import. Twice Li Yung-ho cautioned Meng-ch’un to stop quarreling, and Gold-biter, for his part worried about losing time from work, time and again scolded his daughter: “Can’t you learn to shut up!” However, when it came to this annoying Gold-biter family, the hot-tempered Meng-ch’un not only was unable to give up the fight, he actually felt dissatisfied at trading insults only with the daughter and dearly hoped the flames of battle would spread to Gold-biter himself. But seeing Gold-biter, so far from entering the fray himself, actually scolding his daughter for her part in it, Meng-ch’un felt annoyed and let slip a phrase that was more serious than he realized:
“The seed makes the plant, that’s for sure. No seed, no growth. That’s what we always say, and it’s as right as right can be.”
Gold-biter’s wife caught fire at this and, throwing down her carrying pole, stormed over to the young man shouting, “Damn you, Meng-ch’un! Just what does that mean?”
“Whatever you think it does,” Meng-ch’un fired back.
His baskets hanging empty from his pole, Meng-ch’un took a step closer to her, all the while thinking that while it wasn’t Gold-biter himself, it was better, at least, than just the girl.
“Clean up your mouth a little and don’t make other people have to come over here to teach you manners. I’m telling you, you hear?” warned the wife.
“I never asked you to come over here to teach any manners,” sneered Meng-ch’un. “I never went to your house, and I never went to your fields. I’m just standing here by the pond that’s our own Co-op property, that’s all. Now just what pigs in the night are they who come running over to our place, taking up our lantern light, getting something for nothing. They’re the lord and masters, I suppose?”
“So this pond is your Co-op’s, is it?” Gold-biter’s wife took yet another step forward.
“Well let me tell you, I’ve got water shares in this pond,” injected Gold-biter himself. When a quarrel got around to the subject of his own property he found it impossible to remain silent.
“That tiny share of yours, compared with our Co-op, is like holding a sesame seed up to a watermelon.” Ch’en Meng-ch’un turned to face Gold-biter squarely, “And it’s even less when you consider how you didn’t drain any of the water and you don’t even light your own lantern. All you know is how to get off cheap by sponging off other people.” Ch’en Meng-ch’un exchanged a significant glance with the others. Some had stopped working and had come over to see the excitement, while others kept at their job of digging or hauling. Ch’en Mengch’un then went on, “We’re just going by the Party branch secretary’s and the Co-op director’s say-so and being generous to you, letting you dig here, but if it were up to me I wouldn’t let you.”
“And just who do you think you are, to let me dig?” Gold-biter was now fully into it, his eyes bulging in fury.
“Me, that’s who.” Meng-ch’un threw down his baskets and held up his flat carrying pole in one hand and put the other defiantly on his hip.
“You? Who the hell do you think you are?”
“Member, Evergreen Cooperative, that’s who. You can’t see that, I suppose. Some dog got your eyes, has he?”
“So. Member, Evergreen Cooperative! Well, that’s really something, isn’t it?” Gold-biter looked him over disdainfully as he said this. “Well I’m telling you something, you sprout. This is Wang Chü-sheng here, and I’m one fish who’s been to the ocean, you hear? I’ve seen a thing or two in my time. No sesame seed of a Co-op member is going to push me around. Bring on your brigade leader, your Co-op leader, your district chief, your county head. Bring them all on, and what’s that to me?”
“Old Wang, my friend. Your argument is with him. Why do you have to drag the cadres into it?” This was Li Yung-ho rushing over to break things up as soon as he saw the turn things had taken.
“Listen to him talk, would you. Let’s smash those straw baskets of his!” Li Yung-ho’s remarks had only encouraged Meng-ch’un to go even further. Flinging down his carrying pole, he reached out to grab the ropes on the baskets hanging from Gold-biter’s carrying pole.
“You dare, do you? You and who else?”
“Say that to me, will you?” Meng-ch’un released the ropes and bent down to retrieve his pole.
“You’re damned right I do.” Gold-biter likewise threw down his baskets and took a good hold on his own carrying pole.
“Curse me and you’re going to take a licking.”
“Come on, come on.” Gold-biter by now had his own stick in the air and was about to rush him when his wife grabbed one of his hands and held on with all her might.
Under the bright glare of the lantern their two poles locked together with a loud “crack!”
Everyone rushed over, surrounding the combatants. Gold-biter’s wife, thrown to the ground, quickly jumped back up. The daughter cried in fright. A militiaman jammed his own carrying pole between the two of them, forcing their poles up into the air. Hsüeh-ch’un rushed over to hold back her brother, Meng-ch’un, by the hand. Some of the young people who despised Gold-biter shouted encouragement to Meng-ch’un. Sheng Shu-chün ran off to the village at top speed.
The two plow masters, Ch’en Hsien-chin and Flour-paste T’ing, hearing sounds of the fracas from far off, abandoned their plows and oxen and rushed over with their whips. As soon as the bearded Hsien-chin saw that it was his son Meng-ch’un who was causing the ruckus, he rushed into the fray and bellowed:
“Meng-ch’un! You addleheaded no-good. Is this any way to behave? I’ll teach you a lesson.” He raised his whip. “So. You still don’t drop your pole?” He stepped forward and wrestled the pole away. Now, on the one hand, this old fellow had always had an air of authority, and on the other hand, he was stouter than this second son of his, so once he got his hands on the pole he was able to wrestle it away without meeting much resistance. Gold-biter, seeing both of Meng-ch’un’s hands empty and, being at the height of his rage, bore down all the more on Meng-ch’un, brandishing his flat pole to show his intention to give the boy a good clout, all of which served only to further outrage the young man. Ignoring his father’s wrath, Meng-ch’un lunged forward, pinning Gold-biter’s pole so that the two of them were pressed together. Gold-biter’s daughter was now shrieking and Hsüeh-ch’un’s face had gone pale. His sharp rebuke having no effect, the father now threw down his whip and leaped in to try to pull the two of them apart. Just when they had reached this impasse, Party Branch Secretary Li Yüeh-hui and Liu Yü-sheng arrived on the scene, followed by Sheng Shu-chün. There were now more and more people urging the pair to break off the dispute, and finally several strong militiamen managed to wrest the pole away and pull the combatants apart.
Li Yüeh-hui said a few words to the group and then with Liu took Li Yung-ho aside to the thatch shed, where he remained until he found out exactly what had happened. They reemerged only to find the two men still cursing each other.
Li Yüeh-hui went straight over to Gold-biter and said:
“Old Wang, go right ahead with your digging. There’s more than enough mud here for everybody. Don’t pay any attention to the boy. He’s just a youngster and hasn’t any sense to him yet.”
Then, walking over to where Meng-ch’un stood, he led the boy off to the shed and patted him on the shoulder, smiled, and said, “My boy, how can it be that you’re so much like your older brother?”
Meng-ch’un sat on the doorsill, head bowed, silent. Li Yüeh-hui, seating himself on a bamboo chair, went on:
“In our society everybody is undergoing change. I can tell from your older brother’s letters that he’s changed a lot. Now, do you still want to be just like he used to be?”
Meng-ch’un, head still lowered, said nothing.
“Why do you want to stir up trouble with him? The loam in the pond isn’t something so precious that we had to spend money to get it, so why not let him have some?”
“I just got so mad I couldn’t stand it.” Meng-ch’un’s head was still lowered.
“And to think that you want to be admitted to the Party, and with a temper like that!” Li Yüeh-hui was using the opportunity to give the boy some direction.
“Once you’re in the Party you become a member of the vanguard of the leadership. Do you think it’s easy to be part of the vanguard? There behind you will be hundreds and thousands of the masses, and you must always be inseparably one with them. You can’t go too fast or too slow. Lose your temper, give in to yourself, and it only makes things worse.”
“He’s just a go-it-aloner, so how does that make him any member of your masses?”
“Just like you and me, he’s a mud-hauler, and there he is, even now, still hauling the muck. You pack it out with a pole over your shoulder and he does exactly the same. What gives you the right to say he isn’t one of the masses? If he isn’t, then what is he?”
When it was clear Meng-ch’un had nothing to say to this, Li Yüeh-hui went on:
“All right. Go on with your work.”
The two of them went out together, but Li Yüeh-hui went directly over to where Gold-biter was shoveling muck into the carrying baskets. He addressed Gold-biter in a light, friendly tone:
“Wang, old fellow, keep up the good work. The Evergreen Co-op still wants to keep up the competition with you.”
“You give me too much credit,” Gold-biter replied, showing unmistakably that he still had a lot of anger bottled up inside. “There are more of you, so you’re stronger, but you still can’t get the better of me, so you use your raw authority to come right out and beat on me.”
“You know the old saying, ‘You only know each other when you fight each other.’ There’s been a little squabble, so now we know each other better and can be better friends for it.”
“I don’t dare compete with all of you. And I admit it—I’m afraid of you.” Although in his expression it was clear just how angry he was, still, Gold-biter was sounding the drums for a cease-fire.
“Don’t bear us a grudge. We’re all in the same village here, so that won’t do. Hey, Meng-ch’un! Come over here.” Li Yüeh-hui wanted to be a conciliator. His pleasant round face and his ready smile made him ideally cut out for this role. Pulling Meng-ch’un forward with one hand and Gold-biter with the other, he calmly said:
“Once when I was in the city for a meeting I saw a ball game where both sides were about to begin the competition and the referee blew the whistle. One team got together in a huddle and then with a big shout rushed over to the other team. The other team ran out to meet them halfway and it really scared me. I thought they were going to start brawling with each other before the game had even begun. How could I know they were just going to shake hands and that it was part of the pregame ceremony. Somebody there explained it all to me saying ‘It’s called friendly competition.’ So now let’s have friendship here, too, and then we can have competition, all right?” Without giving either of them a chance to protest, he pushed Ch’en Meng-ch’un’s right hand into Gold-biter’s right hand. Carefully avoiding each other’s eyes, they forced themselves to shake hands and then separated. By now the early dawn had given way to the brightness of a new day. Just then someone could be heard at some distance shouting.
“Hey, hey! Hey, hey! You son-of-a-gun. Run away from me, will you!” Li Yüeh-hui saw that the one shouting was Flour-paste T’ing. The slightly stooped old man was cursing his ox and shaking his whip as he ran down one of the narrow dikes separating the paddy fields. You could tell from the way he scolded the ox that he thought of it as an errant child and scolded it accordingly. Everybody looked across the fields at him and could see that the ox he had been plowing with took advantage of his absence and had joined Ch’en Hsien-chin’s ox for a romp. Dragging their plows, they had drifted over to the edge of the paddy, where it was pretty clear their goal was to graze on the green grass growing there. By the time the two men reached the animals, they had already achieved their goal and were bent on increasing the scope of their appropriations. Relieved to see that the plows were undamaged, the two men were now bringing the oxen back to the abandoned furrows to resume the plowing.
Those who had been squabbling and their spectators all gradually dispersed. Some were already at their digging or hauling, still discussing the issue. Li Yüeh-hui extinguished the gas lantern, and turning to the few who had not yet gone back to work, remarked:
“Next time you light up the lantern for a fight I won’t stop you, but I’ll send someone down to take up a collection for lamp fuel.”
Just then the chief of security came up. Glancing up at him, Li Yüeh-hui teased him, “Well, now, you got here right on time, didn’t you?”
“I missed all the excitement. Too bad. I really love a good fight. Next time you have someone notify me a little earlier and I’ll get my licks in.”
“Which side will you be on?” someone asked.
“Oh, any side will do. I’ll put in something for both sides.”
Saying this, he took the arm of Li Yüeh-hui and spoke to him as they walked off.
“As soon as I heard there was trouble I went right over to keep an eye on Kung’s place.* When I saw he was sound asleep I took it easy, so I’m a little late getting here.”
The sun now had completely dispelled the morning chill and melted the ice crust. People were digging vigorously and carrying their loads of mud out in quick order. It was hard work, and out in the warm sun their faces became bathed in sweat. Under their padded cotton jackets, which they peeled off, their undershirts were soaked through, and in this respect, the Gold-biters and the Co-op members were indistinguishable. This was one thing they all shared in common that could have served as a basis for their all getting back on good terms with each other again. But Gold-biter, although he had in word indicated retreat from his indignation, still, in fact, down deep inside remained furious and intended to go as far as he could in his competition with the Cooperative. And what’s more, in terms of work output and per-acre yield, he was bound and determined in his secret desire to put the Co-op to rout in the competition.
To get out of the pond bottom where they were digging the mud, it was necessary to climb up the slippery bank. For those carrying the loads of muck, it was hard work, slow going, and if you weren’t careful then you would stumble. The women were taking somewhat more falls than the men. In her debut performance with the Task Force the petite Chang Kuei-chen was carrying half-full baskets of the mud when she slipped as she climbed up the steep bank and fell flat over on her back, with baskets, pole, and her four limbs all sprawled out in the thick mire.
Someone laughed, saying, “Didn’t break your can, did you? If you had, your hubby would raise hell with us when he gets back.”
“It’s not right. Somebody takes a spill, gets muddy as an old ox, and you think it’s all right to laugh at them,” Sheng Shu-chün scolded. She put down her carrying pole and ran over to help Chang Kuei-chen to her feet, meanwhile thinking to herself, “This won’t do at all. Something should be done about this.”
Immediately afterward she and Sheng Chia-hsiu put their heads together, and then had two of the stronger of the young women go with them to the yard of one of the nearby houses. Before long, the four Mu Kuei-yings† singing in unison, “Hey-ho, hey-ho,” muscled a long, thick plank over to the pond where they put it down so that one end was on the pond bottom and the other on the bank. Because it was too steep, they raised the lower end a little by putting some rocks under it, and they lowered the upper end somewhat. They then placed rocks at the low end to form steps up to the plank. This way, men and women alike could step onto the stones, then up the plankway to the level ground around the pond, all the while walking on a path that was steady and easygoing. Someone praised Sheng Shu-chün for this, but she didn’t linger to listen. Shouldering her pole, she disappeared again almost immediately. This time, when she returned she was carrying two baskets full of husk sweepings from the threshing ground.
“What’s that for?” queried Sheng Chia-hsiu.
“Wait a second and you’ll see.”
One by one as they all crossed over the plank the slime from their feet had made the board slippery. Sheng Shu-chün used both hands to spread the husk dust over the plank so that it became much better.
“Hey, Sheng Shu-chün,” one of them shouted to her, “you deserve a medal for this.”
Another joined in laughing, “We’ll have to report this good news to Ta-ch’un. This is something your young man ought to know about.”
“What do you mean, ‘a medal’? Nonsense,” she retorted, without pause as she spread the material over the plank.
“It’s just a little trick, but not everybody would think of doing it,” yet another pointed out.
They all went about their work, chatting and laughing in a merry atmosphere, completely oblivious to how tired they were, and they kept at their work for long periods between breaks. In contrast to the Co-op members’ lively scene, the three Gold-biters, toiling on in isolation, could not help but appear grim and cheerless. Gold-biter, leading his two women, avoided the plank to head off derision from anybody who might lay new charges against him for taking a free ride, and also to avoid tangling with Ch’en Meng-ch’un again. The Gold-biters were still struggling up and down the steep, slippery bank.
“Old Wang! Go right ahead and use our plank,” shouted Li Yung-ho. Taking a leaf from the Party branch secretary’s book, he made the invitation in a friendly and concerned tone of voice.
Addressing herself to Gold-biter’s daughter, Sheng Shu-chün shouted, “Hey, come on over and use our plank.” She was thinking of what the Party branch secretary had said: “Even with those who resist collectivization and try to go it alone, in competition one is always to maintain good will.”
“Come on over. Don’t hold back. We’re not going to charge you for it!” one of the militiamen called to her.
The face of the exhausted girl broke into a smile, but the smile disappeared the minute she looked over and saw her father returning.
“Come on over. Let’s work together. We can have a labor exchange with you if you want. It’s awfully grim over there, just the three of you. What’s the fun of that?” Sheng Shu-chün’s enticements were, in fact, loaded with political implications.
Gold-biter’s daughter gave them a warm, friendly smile, but when she shot a glance toward her father, who had just turned his back, she again shook her head. Judging from her smile and from the way she shook her head, it was clear that the girl’s heart was already half won over to the Cooperative, while the other half was held sternly in check by her father so that she just didn’t dare come over.
“Don’t be so mean; you shouldn’t undermine a man like that,” chided Li Yung-ho when the Gold-biters had moved off some distance. “The general there has only got two soldiers in his command. One woman soldier and one girl scout. That’s pitiful enough, don’t you think?”
Ch’en Meng-ch’un remained aloof from this merriment. He was still unwilling to get on with Gold-biter. Our die-hard go-it-aloner also said nothing, just keeping his head bent to the hard work at hand, carrying out load after load, his stout chestnut carrying pole bent like an archer’s bow under the two-hundred-some catties of his loaded baskets.
“Poor old fellow. Look at him, slaving like an old plow ox,” Li Yung-ho could not help but marvel.
When the Co-op members took a break, Gold-biter also put down his carrying pole and baskets, but he didn’t rest, nor did he have a smoke, though certainly he liked a smoke as well as the next person. Instead, he raced home. Moments later he reappeared shouldering a board, which he placed against the bank to form a plank walk of his own.
When Sheng Shu-chün saw what he had done she again got her girls together and brought over yet another plank. This one, placed next to their earlier plank, broadened the platform so traffic could go up and down at the same time. The Task Force members now were shouting their “Hey-ho, hey-ho,” as they broke into a trot under their heavy loads.
Gold-biter likewise broke into a trot, but when he saw his wife and daughter falter, he lashed out at them:
“You dying pigs. Hurry it up. You going to stay there till New Year’s?”
“Father. Honestly, I just can’t move,” the daughter begged.
“Just good for stuffing your belly, that’s all you ever think of, isn’t it?”
“I’ve got a blister on my heel,” the daughter explained, limping along, tears welling up in her eyes. This time, her appeal was directed toward her mother.
“Then go on back home. No sense staying out here letting others see how miserable you look.” Gold-biter’s wife said this to protect her daughter. There was also a blister on her own heel, and she was feeling a little dizzy, too.
“You night-swilling pigs. You’ll be the death of me yet. You expect everything to be done for you, right?” cursed Gold-biter as he saw his daughter turn back for home and his wife limp like a wounded soldier as she tried to keep up with him.
“Hey, Gold-biter. Now you’re down to one pawn and the king.”
“Let’s work together. Or, if you want, we can do a labor exchange. We’ll give you a hand with the hauling and later you can do something for us.”
“For us it’s as easy as a hunchback making a bow—it’s easy as can be to get up a work force.”
“This is where a cooperative has all the advantages. Lots of people and lots of strength. Like we always say, plenty of wood makes the fire hot, right?”
Hearing everybody chime in this way so incensed Gold-biter that he turned grey with anger, but he said nothing and continued to carry his baskets just the same. When the Co-op members rested, he skipped the break and went right on with his hauling.
It was during one of their breaks that Sheng Shu-chün and Ch’en Hsüeh-ch’un sat talking beside a haystack, where they together composed a new song, so that when work resumed the two girls sang it. The words went something like this:
Co-op comrades sure do well,
With baskets and poles they trot pell-mell.
Happy-as-can-be, and lively you can tell,
But somebody else is mad-as-hell!
The last line, “Somebody else is mad-as-hell,” was Hsüeh-ch’un’s, but she originally had it, “And this makes Gold-biter mad-as-hell,” until Sheng Shu-chün talked her out of it, saying it went too far. It was first changed to “This makes the lone-goers mad-as-hell,” but that also was thought to be too obvious.
But no matter how it was modified, the last line was clearly aimed at Gold-biter, and it got under his skin.
Gold-biter was very disquieted. Li Yung-ho saw this and made it a point to fall in behind him and engage him in conversation.
“I see your daughter is already worn out, and it looks like your wife is about done for, too. Why punish yourselves so much? You don’t have much help, and yet ... Aren’t you being unreasonable?” Although he realized Li Yung-ho’s counsel sprang from well-intentioned impulses, still, Gold-biter kept his silence.
Li went on, trying to reason it out for him: “Here you are, run ragged like this just to improve the soil. Think how it’s going to be when we start the double-cropping and you’ll have twice as much to do at the same time. Do you really think you can keep up with it?”
“Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.” Gold-biter hazarded this one-sentence reply.
“It’s predictable even now. When that time comes there will be the harvesting of the first crop, then the replowing, and then transplating the sprouts for the second crop. Old fellow, even if you grow three heads and six arms it still won’t be enough. The way I see it you’d do better joining the Co-op now. Don’t wait until it’s too late when you’ll have to carry on alone something that’s just hopeless.”
“I’ve made up my mind not to join,” replied Gold-biter, determinedly.
“And in the future?”
“All right. We’ll wait and see what happens.” Li Yung-ho let his pace slacken so Gold-biter could go on ahead. Then, shaking his head to a Co-op member who had just come up, he said, “That’s the way people are. They won’t see something obvious until they’re staring it in the face.”
Noting that it was late and that he was worn out, Li Yung-ho realized the others must be, too, so he blew his whistle to signal that they could call it a day.
Gold-biter’s wife kept on with her digging and hauling, staying with it until nightfall, not shuffling back home to get up some supper until it was pitch-dark.
After supper, when Gold-biter stood on the stone slab in front of his door and looked out toward the pond he discovered the gas lantern was lighted; the Co-op people were at it again! He rushed back to the kitchen and told his wife:
“Let’s go. They’ve all started work again.”
“Let it go for today. Our daughter’s so tired she can’t even eat, and I’m not much better off myself,” she replied, washing the supper dishes.
“If they can do it, why can’t we?”
“But look how many more of them there are. The few are never any match for the many—what do you think you can do about that? The way I see it, let it go and don’t let them get you all worked up over it.”
“You going or not?” Gold-biter never was one to stand around for much talk.
“Well, if we go, we go.” His wife was seasoned to obedience. Her back was hurting her and she felt a little dizzy, but she still couldn’t bring herself to come right out and say “no.”
The two of them, man and wife, went all the way over to the pond before they realized that except for Li Yung-ho and Sheng Shu-chün, all the others were fresh troops. They had simply changed shifts! Gold-biter’s wife wanted to go back home, but when she saw her husband already starting to work down in the pond bottom, she had no choice but to start rolling up her pant legs.
They went over as far away as they could from the gas lantern for fear of a second encounter with someone as impudent as Ch’en Meng-ch’un. After about an hour of toil, just when Gold-biter’s wife had shouldered a load of the black muck, it suddenly appeared to her as though the lantern off in the distance was somehow floating around, and right after that everything went black; the carrying pole slipped away, and down she went, baskets and all, into the mire. Gold-biter hurriedly dropped the rake he was gripping and rushed over to her, while a number of young Co-op members, Sheng Shu-chün among them, also threw down their tools and ran to her.
Translated by Donald A. Gibbs
At thirteen, with very little formal schooling, Ju Chih-chüan started traveling around the country with her brother, at times finding shelter in orphanages and other Christian missionary charitable agencies in Shanghai. In 1943, the brother and sister together joined Communist-led cultural propaganda teams in Kiangsu Province, working closely with the Red New Fourth Army units. Ju Chih-chüan also went on stage, at least once portraying the White-haired Girl, the heroine in a 1945 folk opera which won a Stalin Prize in 1951.
Ju Chih-chüan’s short stories have been praised nationally for their finesse; their structure is polished and their characterization is very persuasive. “The Lilies on a Comforter” reflects these fine qualities. In the 1960s, while active in the Shanghai branch of the Chinese Writers Association and editing a major literary journal, The Harvest, she published several well-received collections of short stories: Auntie Kuan, Before Daybreak, The Quiet Maternity Ward, Towering Poplars, and others.
Because the quiet and refined tone of her writing, however effective it may be for a talented storyteller, does not lend itself to the bombastic heroism advocated by the radical left, she came under attack during the Cultural Revolution. Her critics accused her of exhibiting bourgeois tastes.
By 1973, she had already emerged from the shadow of persecution to work on motion picture scripts. Her new writings appeared in 1977 and some of her earlier stories were reissued in a new anthology in 1978. —K.Y.H.
The troops were getting ready for a night attack on the coastal area. Several comrades in the writing section of our Cultural Work Corps received orders from the regimental commander to go separately with different companies. When it came my turn for assignment, the commander scratched his head for a long and embarrassing minute before he summoned a courier to run me over to a first-aid station on the Front. He must have found it difficult to decide where to put a woman during an offensive.
First-aid station or any station, it’s all right with me, so long as they didn’t put me in a safe with multiple combination locks. I tossed my knapsack on my back and followed the courier on my way.
There had been a spell of drizzle early in the morning. Now it had cleared up, but the road, muddy and slippery, challenged any unsteady feet. The autumn crops on both sides of the trail, however, proudly displayed their green foliage, fresh and lush, bejeweled with glittering raindrops. The sweet scent of the soil filled the air. It was like going to a village market with all sorts of exciting anticipations, I thought, until scattered enemy fire pulled me back to reality.
The courier made long strides from the very start; in a minute I was left way behind. My feet, covered with blisters new and old, simply could not keep up with his, no matter how hard I tried. To ask him to wait for me would make him think I was scared; but I must honestly admit I don’t think I could have found my way to the first-aid station without him. But he kept getting farther and farther ahead of me, and that did not make me happy.
Did he have eyes in the back of his head, or did he read my mind? Without turning to look at me, he halted on the roadside, still looking ahead to the far end of the trail. Just before I caught up with him, he took off again, and again left me way behind. I gave up trying to catch up with him. Somehow he sensed my deliberate, slow steps and he too slowed down, but never enough to let me walk side by side with him.
His funny way of walking me to our destination began to amuse me.
When the commander called him to give him the assignment, I did not pay attention to how he looked. Now I had ample opportunity to study him—from the back, of course. He stood quite tall, not broad, but sturdy, with solid, sinewy shoulders. His khaki uniform had faded with washing; the leggings reached up to cover his knees. The twigs inserted in the barrel of the rifle slung across his shoulder were more decorative than protective as camouflage, I thought.
I gave up completely and called for him to stop and rest for a while; my feet were killing me. I sat down on a roadside stone. He too sat down on a stone, but a couple of dozen yards away, his rifle balanced on his knees, his eyes still staring ahead. I had never seen anyone behave quite like that before, but I knew it had something to do with my being a woman. Women among soldiers in the field created problems. A little annoyed, I moved over to sit down facing him, in defiance. For the first time, I discovered his round, youthful face; he could not have been over eighteen. My closeness made him fidgety, as though he were sitting too close to a time-bomb. He wanted and yet didn’t want to turn his face away or stand up. It was hard for me to suppress my chuckle, and when I managed that, I asked him where he was from, just to make conversation. He said nothing in reply for a long time, his face blushing pink, until finally he muttered something about the Tian-mu Mountain. Ah, we were fellow villagers!
“What did you do at home?” I asked.
“Hauled bamboos for others.”
His muscular shoulders brought me a vision of the immense bamboo groves in our home village area. There, in the midst of that sea of green growth, appeared a narrow mountain trail, winding upward in stone-paved steps. And there he was, a piece of worn blue cloth between his shoulder and the huge bundle of bamboos on it, their slender tips and untrimmed foliage brushing the ground behind him as he picked his way on the trail. That was a most familiar scene to me, and brought me close to this fellow villager.
“How old are you?” I asked.
“How many years has it been since you joined in the revolution?”
“Just one year.”
“How did you get involved in the revolution?” I felt I was not striking up any conversation, but conducting a one-way interrogation, but I carried on.
“When the Red Army pulled back north, I followed them.”
“Who did you leave behind at home?”
“Mom, dad, brother and sister—and one aunt also lives with us.”
“You aren’t married, are you?”
The blush on his face darkened and his tongue glued down stiff. He played with the holes on his leather belt for a long while before he decided to shake his lowered head and answered me with only a bashful smile. I swallowed the rest of my question about whether he had a girl in mind.
In awkward silence we sat a while, then he looked up at the sky and glanced at me as though urging me to get going. As I stood up to move on, I noticed that he stole a moment when I wasn’t looking to remove his cap and wipe his head with a towel. He had not perspired during the long walk, but he did when trying to answer my questions; that made me feel guilty.
It was past two in the afternoon when we reached the station, which was set up in a village school only about a mile from no-man’s-land. The school’s six rooms formed a triangle. The open space in the middle encouraged the growth of weeds, evidence of disuse of the school for quite some time. Several medics were arranging supplies. Boards placed on stacked bricks served as beds, using up all the space under the roof.
Shortly after our arrival, a village cadre came in; his eyes, bloodshot from strain and fatigue, peered from behind a makeshift sunshade tucked under his old felt cap. A rifle and a weighing scale occupied his shoulders, while in his hands he carried a basket full of eggs and a cooking vessel. Panting hard, he dropped everything and dove for a bowl of water. Between gulps of water he took a rice cake from his pocket and started chewing it, while trying to talk at the same time. I watched his movements—he was doing so many things all at once—but I could not catch everything he said. He seemed to be complaining about something, and telling us to manage the necessary blankets ourselves. The medics told us that army blankets had not yet arrived, and yet we had to have them; the wounded would feel chill from having lost blood. We had to borrow blankets from the villagers. Even if they were only a dozen or so old cotton quilts, they would do. I had been wondering what I could do to help, so I volunteered for this requisition mission. Time was pressing, and I casually inquired if my escort, the courier comrade, would go on the mission with me. He hesitated only a brief moment, then we walked out together.
We divided our route in the first village we approached, he going east and I west. Within a short time, I had signed out three slips for borrowed articles, which filled my arms with cotton quilts and my heart with warm satisfaction. I was carrying them back to the station so I could return for more when the courier comrade walked up, empty-handed.
“How come you haven’t gotten any?” I was surprised, since I discovered that the villagers in this area seemed to be politically very aware and easy to approach.
“Woman Comrade, you go borrow from them ... these villagers, hopeless, feudal ...”
“Which family? You show me,” I said, thinking that his clumsy way might have offended the villagers, which would be much worse than the failure to borrow a few quilts. I asked him to show me where he had found those stubborn villagers. But it was he who was stubborn, standing there, head low, as though transfixed with a nail. I went up to him and explained in a low voice the importance of maintaining a good relationship with the people. He cheered up and turned back with me.
We walked into the yard of a farmhouse. There was no sign of anybody in the main room facing the entrance, but a pair of fresh, cheerful, red paper scrolls adorned the jambs of a door opening to an inner room. On that door hung a curtain of blue cloth with a red overhang.
We called for “big sister,” then “big sister-in-law,” then back to “big sister” again, but nobody responded. In a little while, someone stirred inside, and in another while the door curtain stirred and out walked a very pretty young woman, with a straight nose, gracefully curved eyebrows, and a sweep of a bang. Her clothes were coarse, but new. One look at her hair done up in a bun made me call her “big sister-in-law,” apologizing for whatever offense she may have taken a while back at the presence of our courier comrade. She listened, keeping her face averted from us and having difficulty controlling her giggle. After I finished my bit of pacifying explanation, she still had nothing to say, still bit her lips to hold back her giggle. I was at the end of my tricks; what else could I say now? The courier stood next to me, blinking his big eyes and taking in earnest every word I said as though I were the company commander giving him a demonstration of how to handle a difficult situation.
I paused a second, swallowed hard, and began my pitch for borrowing blankets. I went through the whole works—how the Communist Party was the people’s savior and why we were fighting ... Now she stopped fighting her giggles. She turned serious. As she listened, she kept glancing at the door. When I finished my prepared speech, she looked at me, then at the courier comrade, as though sizing us up against what I had just said. Then she went in, presumably to get what we had come for.
The courier comrade seized the opportunity to tell me, “A while ago I said exactly what you just said. But she just wouldn’t budge. Isn’t that strange ...”
I tried to hush him by glaring at him, but it was too late. The young woman had reappeared with a quilt in her arms—which immediately explained why she had not been ready to loan us that particular piece. It was a brand new comforter, brand new inside and out. The cover featured a wine-red brocade with patterns of white lilies. She shoved it toward me, as though purposely taunting the courier comrade. “Take this,” she said.
My arms were already full, so I signaled to the courier comrade to accept it from her. But he pretended he did not see my signal, and I had to call him and tell him in so many words before he reluctantly walked up to the young woman for the comforter. Then he quickly turned and rushed away.
He turned a little too fast; his sleeve got caught on the door latch. We heard a ripping sound, and there was a dangling piece of cloth and a huge gaping tear on the shoulder of his jacket.
The young woman this time could not control herself anymore. She burst out laughing and insisted that she get her sewing kit to help him fix it up. But he would have nothing of the sort. Turning around, he resolutely walked away, the new flower-adorned comforter under his arms.
A few steps further on, we ran into another villager, who told us that the young woman was a bride of only three days, and the comforter was her only dowry. That made me feel awful, and the courier comrade felt even worse. His brow knitted in a tight knot, wondering what to do with the thing under his arms. Then he started to mutter, “We didn’t understand the situation; we took away her wedding comforter. That just doesn’t seem right “
“You said it,” I said, both touched and amused by his serious air. “Perhaps before her wedding she had worked extra mornings and nights to save up enough for this thing. Perhaps she had even lost some sleep worrying about it. And yet somebody still called her hopeless, feudal “
He stopped, looking lost. Then he said suddenly, “In that case ... in that case, let’s take it back to her.”
“She has already given it to us. If we returned it to her now, that would worry her, making her wonder what it’s all about,” I said. His youthful naiveté disarmed me; right there and then I decided I was very fond of this fellow villager.
He tossed the situation over in his mind, then said with determination, “All right, we’ll keep it, and after our use we’ll wash it carefully before giving it back to her.” That decided, he took from me all the comforters and quilts we had borrowed, throwing them one upon another over his shoulders, and headed toward the first-aid station.
Back at the station, I told him to return to his regimental headquarters. As though set free after a prolonged imprisonment, he became suddenly very jolly. He bade me goodbye with a military salute, but his feet were already running.
He suddenly seemed to have remembered something, for he swiveled around in the road, reached into his pocket and produced two steamed buns. He waved them at me, left them on a stone by the roadside and said, “This is your dinner.” Then he left, without once looking back.
I went over to pick up the buns; I could see that to the twigs stuck in his rifle barrel one sprig of wild chrysanthemum had been added. It danced in rhythm with his long strides.
When I realized that the torn shoulder of his jacket was still dangling and fluttering in the wind, I regretted that I had not insisted on fixing it up for him, but he had already disappeared around the bend of the road. Too bad; his shoulder would have to stay bare for some time.
The first-aid station was understaffed. The village cadres mobilized several women from the neighborhood to help us with the small chores, carrying water, cooking. The young bride was among them, still looking the same, still biting her lips often to hold back her giggles. Occasionally she would eye me, but only for a moment. I sensed she was looking for something, then she confirmed it for me.
“Where did that young comrade go?” she asked.
I explained to her that he was not assigned to the station and that he had returned to the Front. She smiled in embarrassment and said, “Guess I wasn’t too nice to him when he went along to borrow blankets from us a while back.”
She moved about nimbly, separating and folding the borrowed quilts and comforters, placing one neatly on each makeshift bed. Some beds were made with two children’s classroom desks pushed together. The new lily-patterned comforter was spread on a bed under the overhang outside the room.
A full moon rose in the sky, and yet our attack had not started. The enemy, as usual, disliked night operations. They built bonfires here and there to light up every possible trouble spot, and their airplanes blindly dropped bombs and flares. The night was turned into broad daylight. Removal of the night cover rendered our operation difficult and called for greater sacrifice. I began to resent the beautiful moon.
The village cadre returned, bringing us a number of homemade mooncakes. I had forgotten it was the Midautumn Festival.
The Festival! If I were at home, I would see, set out in front of every house, a bamboo tea table on which there would be plates of fruit, melons, and moon-cakes. Children would be eagerly watching the incense sticks, hoping they would burn over soon so that they could help themselves to the goodies supposedly left over after treating the moon goddess. They would hop around the table, singing “Moonlight bright, candies tonight ...” And I thought of that courier comrade, my young fellow villager, who used to haul those bamboo trees on his shoulders. Perhaps he was singing songs like that only a few years back. I bit into a mooncake; it tasted delicious. What’s he doing now, I thought. Perhaps keeping a prone position in a pillbox, perhaps taking orders at the regimental headquarters, or walking the miles of trenches under enemy fire
Several red flares whined across the sky; our attack began. Before long the wounded started trickling into the station, and the whole place was plunged into tense action.
My job was to record their names and units. Those with light wounds could simply answer my questions, but the serious cases required my own effort to unbutton their jackets to search for their identifications. Then I came upon one. The word “courier” leapt at me from the ID card, and I shivered, but the rest of the identification, which showed that the soldier was from a certain battalion, saved me from a heart attack. He could not be my courier comrade, for he was assigned to regimental headquarters, not to a battalion. I wanted to ask somebody if by chance any wounded soldiers failed to get picked up by the litter bearers; I wanted to know what else a courier was supposed to do besides deliver messages on the front line. I didn’t know why these questions, which could appear irrelevant under the circumstances, rose in my mind.
For an hour or so after the attack began, things moved very encouragingly. Along with the wounded came the good news that we had smashed the enemy’s first line of defense, then we broke through the second wall of barbed wire, then we pierced the enemy’s next belt of fieldwork and actually engaged them in street combat. But suddenly news stopped coming. The wounded would only say that fighting was in progress, or that they were fighting in the streets. The mud and caked blood on them, however, told a different story, which did not bode well.
There were not enough litters. Quite a few serious cases could not be sent to the field hospital further on and had to be taken care of right there at the station. We were not equipped to do much for them, not even to ease their pain somewhat. We could only try, with the help of those women villagers, to wipe blood and dirt off them, feed something to those still able to swallow, or ease them into a set of clean clothes, if they still had their clothing in their knapsacks. For the last job we had to remove their torn and bloodstained clothes and then wipe the injured men clean.
I had done enough of that before; it did not bother me. Those village women were different; they shrank from it, embarrassed and scared. They dodged the job, preferring to do the cooking instead. The young bride was particularly awestricken. I had to talk to her for a long time before she agreed to try, and then only as my assistant. She would not handle the wounded soldiers alone.
It was still midnight, but the gunfire was thinning, which created the illusion that it was getting close to dawn. The brilliant moon was in the middle of the sky now, brighter than I had ever seen it. Yet another heavily wounded man reached us from the Front. There was no more room inside; we had to place him under the overhang outside of the room. The litter-bearers eased the wounded man onto the makeshift bed, but would not leave him. One older bearer must have mistaken me for a doctor, for he grabbed my arm and pleaded with me, “Doctor, you must try everything to save this comrade. You save him, and we...all of us bearers, will deliver a plaque to thank you for it...” As he delivered his earnest plea, his fellow bearers all fixed me with their stare; they seemed to think that I only needed to nod my head and lo and behold their friend would be healed right away. I was just about to try to explain to these supplicants who I was when the young bride, standing in front of the makeshift bed with a basin of water in her hands, suddenly let out a muffled scream. I pushed my way to the bedside. There on the bed lay the wounded soldier. His round youthful face had lost its original suntan and had turned ghastly pale. His eyes were closed, very peacefully. On the shoulder of his uniform was a long tear, a piece of torn cloth still dangling from it.
“It’s all because of us...” said the pleading litter-bearer. “Over ten litters were crowded in an alley, ready to move forward to the Front. This comrade followed us. We couldn’t tell where the damned reactionary sons-of-bitches tossed a grenade from. It rolled around in our midst, smoking and hissing. This comrade yelled for us to take cover, but he...he himself...he jumped right on top of it “
The young bride let out another muffled scream. I don’t know what I said, but I managed to hold back my tears and sent the bearers on their way. When I turned around, the young bride had already moved an oil lamp close to the soldier and had removed his clothes. No longer bashful now, the young woman proceeded to wipe the soldier’s bare body, solemnly, almost with piety, while he lay senseless. I watched them, spellbound.
Then I woke from my trance and darted out to look for the doctor. When I returned with the doctor and his equipment, the young bride was sitting on the edge of the bed, her head bent low, her hands busy with needle and thread mending the soldier’s torn jacket.
The doctor listened to the soldier’s chest. Standing up quietly he said, “No use doing anything now.” I went over to touch the soldier’s hand; it was cold and stiff. The young bride, however, didn’t seem to have heard anything or seen anything. She kept busy with her needle and thread, and, stitch after stitch, she sewed that tear, carefully, neatly. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I whispered to her, “You can stop now.”
She looked at me, her eyes full of incomprehension. Then she lowered her head and resumed her stitching. I felt like dragging her away, or tearing to pieces this choking thing in my throat, or perhaps he would sit up from his makeshift hospital bed, would smile his bashful smile. These things did not happen; only my hand inadvertently touched something, which turned out to be those two dried, cold buns, the dinner the soldier had given me a few hours before.
Several medics had a casket brought in. They started to fold the comforter aside to drop the body into the wooden box. As though seized by a spell, the young bride glared at them. Snatching the comforter away from them, she spread half of it on the bottom of the casket and gently pulled the other half over the dead soldier. The medics said, “The comforter ... was borrowed, from a villager ...” “It’s mine!...” she said, but her angry voice choked off, and she hurriedly turned her face away.
The corner of the wine-colored silk comforter adorned with white lilies, those exquisite symbols of purity and compassion, fell over the face of an ordinary young man who used to carry bamboo trees over a mountain path.
from Tall, Tall Poplars, pp. 54-63
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
Chou Erh-fu was born in Nanking around 1912. In 1933, while a student in the foreign language department of Kuang Hua University in Shanghai, he was jailed for involvement in Communist activities. He went to Yenan in 1938 to work in the Lu Hsün Academy. During the ensuing years, Chou established a name for himself as a writer of reportage literature, and in 1944 he was sent to Chunking to edit a collection of literary works from the Communist-controlled border region. In late 1945 and early 1946 he served as a reporter in Northeast China. In mid-1946 he traveled to Hong Kong, where he worked for nearly three years on the staff of the Communist-sponsored magazine Wild Grass.
Chou returned to Shanghai in 1949 and assumed a number of official posts. He was also active in literary circles and became increasingly influential within the Communist literary apparatus in Shanghai. During the Anti-rightist campaign of 1957, however, he himself was attacked as a rightist, and it was apparently only through the intercession of Chou Yang that he was saved. In 1959, again with the help of Chou Yang, he moved to Peking, where he worked in various capacities until he fell victim to the Cultural Revolution in 1969.
The fall of the Gang of Four brought him back into circulation. He was a delegate to the Third Congress of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles in Peking in May 1978. Among his publications are the short story collections Spring Famine (1946), Short Songs on the Highland (1949), Spring in the Valley (1955), and the full-length novels Swallow Cliff (1954), The Children of Hsi-liu-shui (1956), and Morning in Shanghai (1958). —G.B.
[Morning in Shanghai is Chou Erh-Fu’s best-known and most widely read literary work. Based on material he gathered while living in Shanghai in the 1950s, it describes the changing situation in Shanghai’s textile industry during the years following the establishment of Communist rule. Broad in scope and filled with vivid details, it resembles in numerous respects Mao Tun’s major work Midnight, a portrayal of the Shanghai industrial scene in 1930. Unfortunately for Chou Erh-fu, however, the complexity of his well-developed characters and his faithful reflection of the spirit and events of the times provided openings for certain critics to claim that he had failed to adhere to the standards of socialist realism in his writing. Thus it was that in 1969 this work, which had been widely acclaimed by Communist literary authorities in the late 1950s and early 1960s, was labeled a “poisonous weed” and used as prima facie evidence of Chou’s rightist tendencies.
Chou intended Morning in Shanghai to have four volumes, but he only finished three volumes before Chiang Ching’s literary rectification drive of the mid-1960s led him to set aside his pen. Volume one, from which the following excerpts were selected, covers the period from the arrival of the Communists in Shanghai in 1949 to the eve of the Five Antis campaign in 1952. As these excerpts show, this was a time of vigorous plotting by the capitalists to maintain their power and privileges in the face of increasing government regulation and growing worker militancy. By the end of the volume, however, their efforts have proven to be in vain. Their ranks are in disarray and they have scant hopes of continuing effective opposition to the emerging new economic order.]
[This first excerpt from volume one encompasses the latter part of chapter one and all of chapter two. It begins with the central capitalist figure in the story, Hsü I-te, the general manager of the Hu Chiang Cotton Mill, and his trusted assistant Mei Tso-hsien, the deputy director of the mill, discussing how to neutralize the new worker’s union. It ends with Mei Tso-hsien’s successful effort to enlist the help of a factory mechanic named T’ao Ah-mao in their scheme.]
“Tso-hsien, you’re right,” General Manager Hsü said in a low voice, as if he feared being overheard. “Now that we’ve been liberated it won’t be so easy to move our spindles about. From now on the workers will be on top. Without any of our men in the new trade union, things will be hard to manage. How do you see it?”
“I think that we should gain control of the union,” Mei Tso-hsien replied. Slowly lifting his cup of superior grade Mountain Peak Lungching tea from the low round table, he took a sip. Then, concerned that he might have spoken too strongly, he discreetly sought General Manager Hsü’s own idea with the question, “What do you think, sir?”
“I say that it’s not that easy.”
“Oh, it would actually be very difficult. However, if we don’t gain control, nothing will ever go the way we want it to.”
“Well, think about it and see what you can come up with.”
General Manager Hsü did not say any more. The gaze of his piercing fishlike eyes lay fixed on Mei Tso-Hsien, as if to say, “Now we’ll see what you’re made of.” In a single glance Mei sensed what the general manager was thinking, so he boldly set forth his plan.
“Of course it won’t be easy to gain control of the union. That’s only my way of describing the situation. How could a capitalist lead a labor union? Would the Communist Party permit it? Absolutely not. The Communist Party quite naturally wants to direct the unions, so we’ll change the prescription but not change the medicine. On the surface the union will be theirs. But in actuality those inside will be our own people, doing as we wish.”
“That’s excellent. Tso-hsien, you really deserve to be my deputy director.”
“It’s all due to your care and guidance.” “
Well, who is going to infiltrate the union?”
At this moment Old Wang entered the room and announced to General Manager Hsü, “Sir, the coffee and sandwiches are ready.”
“Yes, I know. You can go now. I still have a few things to discuss with Director Mei. Well be coming soon.”
Mei Tso-hsien listened until the sound of Old Wang’s footsteps had receded into the distance before moving over next to Hsü and whispering, “How about T’ao Ah-mao? He’s clever, capable, and daring. He likes to drink, and for a couple of bottles of liquor he’ll do what we want.”
“He would do,” Hsü responded, tapping his right temple with his fat fingers. Then, turning toward Mei Tso-hsien, he said anxiously, “But he was the deputy chairman of the old union!”
Seeing that the general manager was worried, Mei immediately changed his tone of voice. “This is true. Sir, do you see a way to work this out?”
Actually, Mei had already thought of a way to handle it. But, just as he could not look helpless in front of the general manager, Mei also could not appear to be brighter than he. He deliberately held back, waiting for Hsü to speak.
The general manager thought for a moment and then said reflectively, “Of course there’s a way. We did give him a little work to do for us in the past, and he also had his differences of opinion with the chairman of the old union. The workers know about this and his standing among them is quite high. If we could now give him a little capital, that would just about do it.”
Seeing that Mei Tso-hsien did not understand, Hsü I-te laughed and said “Political capital. We will express our dissatisfaction with him and he will think of ways to oppose us.”
Mei Tso-hsien gave the “thumbs up” sign and exclaimed, “Ingenious! Positively ingenious!”
“You have to be careful, however,” the general manager warned. “There must be no evidence of any contact between us and T’ao, and he must be just like he was before. He should seek opportunities for standing with the proletariat in opposition to us and for leading the workers in struggle against us. In this way he’ll have political capital and working for us will be easier.”
“Sir, you’re brilliant, just absolutely brilliant.”
“Handle this yourself. Don’t let anyone know.”
“Yes, sir. It will be done just as you wish.”
“Come, let’s go have a cup of coffee.”
. . . . . . .
Although it was broad daylight, with the sun high in the sky, the light inside DD’s Cafe was dim. Mei Tso-hsien climbed the spiral staircase and turned toward the ballroom on the right. With the windows covered by black cloth that completely cut off the sunlight, the weak lamplight coming from the booths along the dance floor gave the impression that it was already late at night. As Mei strode into the room his eyes moved from side to side searching for something. Quickly he saw a man seated in the last booth on the west side of the room raise his right hand and beckon to him. Mei nodded his head in return and walked over to him.
The young fellow seated at the booth looked to be about thirty years of age. He was wearing a coffee-colored Western-style pinstripe suit and a red silk necktie with a gold dragon embroidered on it. The sleeves of the suit were too short and it fit poorly around his body. Its appearance was that of something from a used clothing store on Woosung Road. The young man stood up as Mei approached, shook hands with him, and said, “This place is really great.”
[This young man is T’ao Ah-mao, and after some initial small talk, Mei Tso-hsien apprises him of his plan to have him infiltrate the union. T’ao is willing to undertake this task, but he is also very much aware of the difficulties and personal dangers involved. Picking up the action near the end of chapter two, we find T’ao telling Mei:]
“I wouldn’t say that there’s no way of doing this, but it will be very very difficult.”
“As long as there’s a way, Ah-mao, don’t worry about the difficulties. If you run into any problems let me know and I’ll help you resolve them.”
“Things can’t be done now like they were in the old days,” Ah-mao responded and then stopped.
“As far as openly leading the workers is concerned, how could I keep up with the Communist Party? They wouldn’t permit me to lead, either.”
“I would have to limit my activities to a small number of people.”
“There would even be times when I couldn’t tell anyone anything and would have to work alone. If Yü Ching and her friends learned about this, it would be very bad.”
“Indeed it would!” Mei Tso-hsien agreed completely with all of T’ao’s comments, but they lacked substance. Anxiously, he asked, “Well, then, just how are you going to proceed?”
“As you know, I work in the maintenance department. This means that I have a chance to go around the mill and pass the time of day with the workers.”
“This approach sounds good.”
“But not everything can be discussed in the mill, because there are too many people. It will be necessary sometimes to go to their homes to talk.”
“Of course. You want to be careful. In some cases you might even want to meet them elsewhere.”
“If there were a lot of family members around it wouldn’t be easy to talk, and we would naturally have to go out.”
Two dimples appeared on Mei Tso-hsien’s long rectangular face. Looking directly at T’ao Ah-mao he leaned forward and asked in a low voice, “Who are these people? Who are you going to start on?”
“I’ll start in the maintenance department. There’s a worker there by the name of Chang Hsüeh-hai. He’s very simple and honest and we get along well. His wife, T’ang Ah-ying, works as a spindle operator. She’s also a good person. She quietly does her job and doesn’t involve herself with other things. She’s popular, too. Talking with her won’t be a problem, and through her I’ll be able to influence other women working in the spinning shop. If each person brings along several more, when the total is added up it will be something to look at.”
“This is a very good plan. Why didn’t you mention it earlier?”
“It’s just that it’s not easy to do,” T’ao answered and stopped. He obviously wanted to say more, but nothing would come out. Finally, after a long hesitation, he blurted out, “It will take time, and it will also take money.”
When Mei Tso-hsien heard this last word he suddenly realized that he had been playing the role of a fool. T’ao Ah-mao had been toying with him all this time and he hadn’t even sensed it. This, however, was no time to become angry. Despite his great abilities and resources, Mei had no way of influencing the upcoming union election. He was a representative of the capitalists. Not only was there no use talking about his being elected to a union office, he couldn’t even acquire a red union membership card. He put on his tortoiseshell rimmed glasses, looked very closely at T’ao Ah-mao for a moment, and then said in an agreeable, generous manner, “Money is no problem. Whatever you want you can get from me. Just get elected to the union committee and we’ll be able to work everything out.”
“Ah-mao, there’s nothing to worry about. I believe that you’ll be able to do it.” Mei Tso-hsien spoke with great certainty. Without a trace of doubt in his voice he added, “Be quick about talking to Chang Hsüeh-hai, T’ang Ah-ying, and the others.”
T’ao Ah-mao’s voice also had a confident tone as he answered, “That won’t be a problem. I’ll look for a chance to approach them tomorrow.”
[This episode takes place in the early autumn of 1950, about a year after the events of episode I. By now the People’s Government is starting to implement policies that are encroaching from above on the freedom of the textile magnates. As in the case of the rising threat from the workers below, the capitalists meet to work out their responses. This episode begins with Hsü I-te telling his colleagues at the highly select Tuesday Dining Club, a group whose membership includes the most powerful and influential figures in Shanghai’s textile industry, what he thinks needs to be done to meet the latest goverment challenges.]
“Our discussions today have been very good. Our textile industry needs a place like this where we can speak freely. However, there are certain matters that the Dining Club cannot undertake directly, but which must instead be handled through the Textile Association. I have a personal view—I don’t know whether it’s right or not—that I’d like to put forth. Please tell me where I’m wrong. I feel that the leadership role of the Association is not very strong at present, and that the more capable men in the industry should be freed to manage the Association, as is the case in the Textile Workers’ Union. Every single department in our Textile Association should be headed by a millowner. Then we would present a stronger front, and it would be easier to get things done.”
Chiang Chü-hsia was the first to voice agreement. “I feel the same way. I’ve always felt that it was hard to get something done in the Association. Many members of the executive committee are absent on a regular basis, and many of the subordinate committees within the Association exist in name only. Some committees do have millowners listed as members, but they never exercise control. As is the case with the representatives of the state-run enterprises, they seldom attend. Because of this, those who perform the actual work feel utterly useless.”
“That’s true,” said Feng Yung-hsiang, as he picked up a fried chicken leg. Eating as he talked, he added, “The Association must be strengthened. Since Liberation everything has become dependent upon organization. With a poor organization it’s very difficult to accomplish anything. The textile industry has occupied an important position in Shanghai for a long time. At present, however, the situation is one of impressive strength, but confused ranks.” Pointing his chicken leg at Ma Mu-han, who was seated at the end of the table, he asked, “Mu-han, how do you feel about this?”
Ma Mu-han took a swallow of Coca Cola and replied thoughtfully, “Our strength is somewhat diffuse, and it is true that only by organizing can we really be strong. But after invigorating our organization we must also improve our study and strengthen our leadership. Since we’re operating our mills under the overall leadership of the Communist Party, we must learn more about the Communist Party. We must keep in step with the times. We must look ahead. If we do this our futures will be brighter.”
After he finished speaking, Ma stole a glance at Hsü I-te, as if to say, “Everything must be viewed from a higher level now. If you continue to manage your mill in the old way, you’ll fail.”
Hsü understood what Ma meant by this look and he responded, “Of course. With the communists leading us it would never do to be out of step with the Communist Party. However, we businessmen also have our business position. We can’t demand too much from ourselves.” In his heart he was thinking that this young fellow Ma Mu-han was, after all, nothing more than a university product with an overly simplistic way of thinking. He had not established himself by managing a mill and did not understand the difficulties involved. He had never tasted the bitter and the sweet, so he had no idea of their flavor.
Hsü’s remarks continued. “We are members of the bourgeoisie and always will be. The Association should serve our privately operated mills. If we could change the Textile Association into a bureau of private textile enterprises we would have some power.”
“A bureau of private textile enterprises. Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant!” With his father, P’an Hsin-ch’eng, out of the room, P’an Hung-fu became quite lively. His effusive praise was accompanied by animated gesturing.
“Who would be the director of this bureau, I-te?” Feng Yung-hsing asked enthusiastically.
Before Hsü I-te could answer, Chiang Chü-hsia interrupted, “I think that the best person would be Shih Pu-yün, who is in Peking right now attending a conference. Or, the chairman of our board of directors, P’an Hsin-ch’eng, would be fine, too.”
“Have father serve as director?” P’an Hung-fu could not restrain his sense of pleasure and began to smile. But then the fear that the others might see what he was thinking made him control himself and he ended up with only half a smile.
Ma Mu-han laughed coldly and said sarcastically, “Then well have two textile bureaus and two directors.”
“When that happens our Miss Chü-hsia can take charge of the office in the bureau of private textile enterprises,” interjected Feng Yung-hsiang.
Chiang Chü-hsia gave Feng Yung-hsiang a sidelong glance and said, “You’re making fun of me again.”
“Don’t worry,” Feng Yung-hsiang countered, “the director hasn’t been announced yet, so for the time being you won’t have to take over the office.”
Everyone laughed heartily. P’an Hung-fu called out to Chiang Chü-hsia, “Chief Chiang,” but then he saw his father coming back and fell silent.
P’an Hsin-ch’eng came in hurriedly, and without taking a seat or even resting for a moment, he announced excitedly, “That was a long-distance call from Shih Pu-yün, who’s in Peking attending the National Textile Conference. He has heard that the government wants to stabilize cloth prices and has decided on the unified purchasing of cloth. He knew that our Dining Club was meeting today, so he called to solicit our opinions in preparation for representing the attitude of the textile industry in Peking. Gentlemen, what are your ideas? How do you feel about this? He’s waiting for me to call him back today.”
As soon as this news was announced the lighthearted banter and laughter disappeared without a trace. A deep silence fell over the dining room. From outside the window came the sound of falling leaves rustling in the autumn wind.
Hsü I-te’s mood was like that of a leaf being blown from a tree. He felt a touch of disappointment. If the government adopted the unified purchasing of cotton yarn, the free market would cease to exist. There would be no way to freely buy and sell the cotton yarn produced by the Hu Chiang Mill system. Even if Fang Yü, the tax office representative in the mill, sent him better information about tax collections, it would be impossible to make a big profit on a single transaction. Normal profits would also have fixed limits. Hsü felt that they should oppose unified purchasing, but businessmen could not struggle against government officials. If this were a proposal of just the Shanghai State Cotton, Yarn, and Cloth Company they could still find a way out. Relying on the Federation of Industry and Commerce, they could unite with the Bureau of Industry and Commerce, win over the Textile Administration Bureau, and then attack the Shanghai State Cotton, Yarn, and Cloth Company. If unsuccessful, they could still appeal to the Central Government. But this proposal was from the Central Government, which made it a thorny matter.
For a long time no one uttered a sound. Hsü I-te stared silently at the plate of fried chicken before him. The chicken was tender and delicious, but he seemed to have suddenly lost his appetite. He couldn’t eat another bite.
Seeing that no one was going to speak, P’an Hsin-ch’eng said to Hsü I-te, “You’re our Iron abacus.’ Figure this one out. Just what attitude do you think we should take toward unified purchasing?”
Hsü I-te heaved a deep sigh and said dejectedly, “It doesn’t matter whether you have an iron abacus or an electric adding machine, or figure a thousand times or ten thousand times. Nothing can match a solitary calculation by Him who rules the heavens.”
Feng Yung-hsiang noticed Hsü I-te’s look of despair and tried to be encouraging. “Don’t exaggerate the determination of others or belittle one’s own importance. We in the Shanghai textile industry should, after all, have a set policy. I-te, give us your ideas first, and then we’ll have a general discussion.”
Hsü I-te thought for a moment, his fat fingers tapping his temple. Then he said slowly, “If the Central Government has decided to introduce unified purchasing, in my view there is no way for us at the local level to oppose it. Ninety percent of the things the Communist Party brings up for consultation and discussion are carried out. Their method of operation is more intelligent than that of the Kuomintang. Before undertaking something, they give us a thorough briefing, seek our consent, and expect us to do it willingly. This is a very formidable approach. As I see it, we should take the initiative in proposing the idea of unified distribution and marketing. At present every factory is experiencing a shortage of new materials, capital is hard to obtain, and our markets are restricted. Let’s place the burden of responsibility on the government. We’ll ask the government for raw materials and ask the People’s Bank for capital. With marketing given over to the government, we’ll concern ourselves solely with operations and management. Since the government is always saying that it wants private enterprise to develop, we won’t worry about the government not taking care of us. We’ll just watch and see what it does. How do you feel about following this plan?”
Chu Yen-nien listened to Hsü I-te’s reasoning with respect. He wanted to voice his support as soon as Hsü finished talking, but then he saw Ma Mu-han glaring at him and didn’t feel that he should say anything. All he could do was keep his complete agreement to himself.
Mei Tso-hsien had been listening to these high-flying, wide-ranging discussions of the big bosses in silence. But after listening to this lengthy discourse by Hsü I-te, he leaned toward him and said softly in a flattering manner, “This chicken is very good. You must be hungry. Have a piece before it gets cold.” He also servilely passed the small glass peppershaker to Hsü with the question, “Would you like this?”
Hsü I-te shook his head. He had no heart for eating chicken.
Chiang Chü-hsia also admired Hsü I-te’s analysis. “I-te’s idea is right. He really deserves his standing as our ‘iron abacus.’ “
T’ang Chung-sheng, “Mr. Brilliant,” raised his hand in support and said, “This is an ingenious approach!”
This time Ma Mu-han was in agreement with Hsü I-te. “I agree with I-te’s plan, too. Since the government has already made its decision, we might as well go along graciously. We’ll leave it up to the government to set the profit and see how much they give us. Whatever amount they give, we’ll take.”
“Right. We want to look good.” This was Feng Yung-hsiang speaking.
Seeing that everyone was more or less in agreement, P’an Hsin-ch’eng silently added up the number of spindles controlled by the members of the Tuesday Dining Club. The total came to about seven hundred thousand, which meant that if Shih Pu-yün acted as a representative of the Shanghai textile industry in agreeing to unified purchasing and marketing at the National Textile Conference in Peking, there would be no major problems after he returned. P’an then asked if there were any other ideas in the group, and when everyone replied that there was none he said, “Well, in that case we’ll take the initiative in accepting unified purchasing and marketing, and we’ll have Shih Pu-yün express this position for us in Peking. Agreed?”
“Yes,” came the unanimous reply.
Hsü I-te made an additional comment. “We have yielded on the issue of unified purchasing and marketing. But on the question of payment we must take the offensive. Tell Pu-yün that he can raise the subject of the eight percent rate of return that was fixed by the temporary regulations on private enterprise. In this way we’ll be able to stress the fact that current profits in the textile industry are too low. We must seek a decision on the formula for calculating payment and struggle to obtain a victory for ourselves on this question.”
“This is a very important point, as I’m sure you all agree.” P’an Hsin-ch’eng looked at each person for their reaction. No one had a different opinion, so he called the waiter in and said enthusiastically, “Place a long-distance call for me to Shih Pu-yün in Peking. Do it quickly. I have something urgent to discuss with him.”
“Yes, sir,” the waiter answered and hurried out.
[The events of this episode occur in the first part of 1951, some months after China’s entry into the Korean War. Here Hsü I-te faces a severe challenge from the representatives of the new workers’ union. It is interesting to note that T’ang Ah-ying, the spindle operator whose miscarriage in the mill has now resulted in greater worker militancy, was considered earlier by T’ao Ah-mao as someone he could use in his scheme to infiltrate the union.]
The time was two o’clock in the afternoon.
At the labor-management meeting, Yü Ching was just concluding the detailed report she had made as union representative. “According to our union’s information and analysis, the primary reason for the work in the mill becoming difficult of late is the raw cotton. I hope that this problem can be resolved once and for all at today’s meeting. If we continue on in this way, production in the entire mill will be affected, as will the quality of our products and the health of the workers. It is because of the difficulty of the work that T’ang Ah-ying became exhausted and gave birth prematurely in the spinning shop. The child died and Ah-ying has still not recovered her health. I believe that if we don’t clear up this problem there will be a second and then a third T’ang Ah-ying.”
When Kuo P’eng heard Yü Ching mention the problem of the raw cotton, he turned his face toward the window and stared at the great smokestack thrusting into the sky. General Manager Hsü was very calm. He avoided looking Yü Ching in the eye and with an unobtrusive glance indicated to Director Mei Tso-hsien, who was seated a little in front of him on one side, that he should respond to the issues raised by Yü Ching.
Director Mei nodded his head ever so slightly to indicate to the general manager that he was prepared to say something, but he did not begin to talk immediately. He first picked up his cup and took a sip of tea. Then, with a very troubled look on his face, he started to speak in a slow halting manner: “This problem has been of concern to the general manager for some time. The quality of our products has been poor recently, and this has affected the reputation of the Hu Chiang Mill in the marketplace. The general manager has come to me on a number of occasions and asked why our goods are so bad. I have been thinking about this for a long time. I know that a problem definitely exists, and I was about to approach the union to discuss it. Now today Comrade Yü Ching has raised this topic. I think that this is excellent. However, I see this problem differently.”
When Chao Te-pao heard this he became somewhat annoyed. “The problem is obviously in the raw cotton,” he thought. “What kind of game is he playing with his other viewpoint?” Leaning his chin on his left hand, he stared intently at Director Mei.
Director Mei realized that Chao was reacting against what he had just said, but he pretended not to notice. His tone, however, became much more mellow. “I don’t know if my opinion is right or not. That is something for everyone to look into. I am especially hopeful that the comrades in the union will provide more direction.” He glanced at Yü Ching and then proceeded. “I think that the major problem is with the machinery. Our mill has not had a general overhaul for a long time. If the maintenance department has not been making detailed inspections, this would affect production, make the work more difficult, and cause our quality to decline.”
Chao Te-pao stood up immediately and objected. “Your idea is wrong. Two days ago Comrade Yü Ching and I went to the spinning shop and looked things over. The maintenance department also made an inspection. In general, the machinery is very good, with no defects to speak of.”
Director Mei asked skeptically, “Well, then, what is wrong?” Continuing on he answered his own question. “Of course not every machine is defective. I’m just saying that some machines should be overhauled. Is that better? Some machines are defective. In addition, the task of keeping the spinning shop clean hasn’t been done well lately either. Naturally, this has an affect on product quality. That’s right, isn’t it, Kuo P’eng?”
Kuo P’eng had been watching the black smoke issuing from the tall smokestack. Curling up and down in the damp sea breeze of winter’s end, it resembled a long, long wisp of hair. The sound of Director Mei calling his name left him startled. He hadn’t been listening closely to what Director Mei had been saying, and had only heard the final question, “That’s right, isn’t it, Kuo P’eng?” Without thinking he answered hurriedly, “Yes. Yes.”
Director Mei was very pleased at obtaining Kuo P’eng’s support for his idea and his tone hardened immediately. “The work supervisor probably wouldn’t be wrong, would he Comrade Yü Ching?”
“What’s important is the facts. The cleanliness of the spinning shops recently has really been quite good. But even if the cleaning work in certain shops had been a little below standard it couldn’t have affected things this much.”
“Not necessarily. The impact of cleaning work is significant. If you don’t believe me, ask our own Engineer Han.”
Engineer Han had not yet said a word. He had not wanted to attend today’s labor-management meeting, and when Director Mei had asked him to come he had declined. When General Manager Hsü called him on the telephone, however, he didn’t feel that he could say no a second time. He had foreseen what today’s meeting would be like and the difficult position that he would be in. No matter what he said he would be in trouble. From the very start of the meeting he had held a teacup in his hand. On one side was written the number 13, which he considered a bad omen. He tried to turn it away from him, but it was soon back in front of his eyes again. And just as he could not avoid the number 13, so it was that this difficult situation appeared before him. He had not intended to speak, but now he had to say something. He said, “The cleaning work does have a certain effect.”
General Manager Hsü now took advantage of this favorable situation to comment. “I have heard reports very recently that the cleaning work in the shops is, in fact, rather poor. This is a clear indication that our worker comrades have a poor attitude toward their jobs. The rate of absenteeism now exceeds thirty-five percent. I hope that the union will give more consideration to this point.”
Director Mei was afraid that these words were not strong enough, so he added some of his own in an attack upon the union. “I think that the work style of the workers in our mill is bad. If not, why is the work always done poorly? Perhaps the union will want to consider this point, too.” He looked intently at Yü Ching as he spoke.
Yü Ching recorded each problem that they raised, but she made no response other than to ask, “Does management have any other comments?”
Chung P’ei-wen could not refrain from rebutting General Manager Hsü’s remarks. “I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the work style of the mill workers. As I see it, I would still ask management to give this matter more thought. Perhaps the problem really lies with them.”
General Manager Hsü feared that Engineer Han and Work Supervisor Kuo P’eng might give a different view, so he spoke again: “I think that the problem is primarily with the workers themselves. We have no other opinions on this.”
Chung P’ei-wen did not give an inch. Pointing directly at General Manager Hsü he said, “You can’t be so arbitrary and hold fast to the judgment that the problem is with the workers. You should listen to all sides with an open mind.” After he finished speaking his eyes came to rest on Engineer Han. He was thinking that Engineer Han knew where the problem lay.
Engineer Han was devoting his attention to turning his teacup. He did not want to join either side and had been sitting back watching Hsü I-te and Yü Ching face each other with crossed swords. This was not his problem, and he was afraid of being drawn into it. He feared being asked any questions, and deliberately avoided Chung P’ei-wen’s hopeful gaze.
For a while no one said a word.
Yü Ching arranged the notes she had written down, stood up, and said in a calm, deliberate manner, “We cannot look at the problem just on the surface. Neither can we discuss it in bits and pieces. We must get to the heart of the problem. First, let’s talk about the work style of the workers in our mill. Generally speaking, it’s good and proper. The cleaning work is not bad either. We invite General Manager Hsü, Director Mei, and the engineer to personally visit the spinning shops for a look. Of course, the cleaning work could still be done a bit better, and as Engineer Han just said, the cleaning work does have a certain impact on things. However, it does not have a decisive impact. The worker comrades have been doing their very best on the job. To show this I need bring up only one example, namely, the female worker in the spinning shop whom I mentioned earlier, T’ang Ah-ying. Even though she was more than seven months pregnant she continued to come to work regularly. Due to exhaustion she gave birth prematurely in the shop. Is it possible to say that she did not have a good attitude toward her work? Yes, there are times when the absentee rate reaches thirty-five percent. I acknowledge that this is a serious situation. But what has made the situation so serious? It is the difficulty of the work. If you don’t believe me you can look at the rate of absenteeism for the period when the work wasn’t hard. What was it? Supervisor Kuo knows. At most it never exceeded twenty-five percent. Why the change? The difficulty of the work. Why has the work become difficult? The webbings on the carding machines are completely covered with flying cotton. There are too many impurities in the laps and slivers and the rovings are not of uniform thickness. Going back to the beginning, it’s a problem of the raw cotton. I hope, General Manager Hsü, that we can all lay our cards on the table and have a frank and open discussion of this problem.”
General Manager Hsü was taken aback by Yü Ching’s pointed remarks, but in an experienced manner he quickly regained his composure and responded, “Comrade Yü Ching, this is my greatest hope, too. I think that our views can be described as exactly identical.”
Yü Ching waved her hand in disagreement. “No. Our views are different as a matter of principle. My way of viewing things is completely different from yours.”
“Totally different,” interrupted Chao Te-pao. “You say that the workers are at fault. This is not in keeping with the facts.”
General Manager Hsü asked in amazement, “Do you think that the raw cotton is the problem?”
Without any hesitation Chao Te-pao replied firmly, “Yes, the problem is with the raw cotton.”
General Manager Hsü feigned a bewildered look and inquired of Director Mei, “Is there something wrong with the raw cotton? Could this really be it?”
Director Mei knew what General Manager Hsü was thinking. He wanted Mei to stall for time while he himself thought of a good way to respond.
“In general there’s nothing wrong with the raw cotton,” Director Mei said slowly, thinking as he spoke. “We use even more cotton than other mills. For every lot of yarn we use 418 catties. The State Cotton, Yarn, and Cloth Company, however, only allots us 410 catties. This isn’t enough. Before the yarn is scheduled for delivery the cotton is already running out. The Joint Purchasing Agency can’t buy cotton for us either, so we have no choice but to add some Chingyang seconds. Chingyang seconds is comparatively low in quality, but even at this we’re losing money. If we added the best cotton we would lose still more money. The general manager wouldn’t agree with that, and I would be out as director of the mill, ha-ha.” Director Mei looked at Yü Ching and laughed.
As if struck by a great revelation, General Manager Hsü suddenly responded, “Oh, so that’s the way it is.”
As Engineer Han listened, it seemed as though General Manager Hsü was reading the script of a play. He felt sick to his stomach, but could not bring himself to say anything. His eyes were fixed on the number 13 on his teacup.
“Adding just 8 catties of Chingyang seconds shouldn’t make the work that difficult,” Yü Ching observed. “Is it possible that there’s a problem with the blending proportions? If so, please be honest about it.”
When General Manager Hsü heard the words “blending proportions” his heart skipped a beat, but outwardly he remained very composed. He said firmly, “The blending proportions are something that I’m well aware of. There’s no problem there, absolutely none at all.” Turning to Director Mei, he asked, “Isn’t that right?”
Director Mei leaned forward slightly and replied, “There’s not a single problem, not one single problem. I, Mei Tso-hsien, can give a complete guarantee of that.”
Yü Ching sensed that Director Mei was a bit nervous and thought that perhaps this was the key to the whole problem. Seizing this opening, she sought to widen it. “This is an engineering function. How can you guarantee that there are no problems whatsoever? On this question we should allow Engineer Han to speak.”
“Right. Ask Engineer Han to speak,” added Chung P’ei-wen. He had been thinking from early on that Engineer Han might know something about this. Now that Yü Ching felt this way, too, he was more certain than ever.
Director Mei was unsure of how to answer. He did not dare let Engineer Han talk. If by chance he mentioned the secret of the raw cotton, would not everything be uncovered? General Manager Hsü saw that Mei was having difficulty responding. He had been checkmated by Yü Ching. Now they had to take a chance and allow Engineer Han to speak. If they did not, it would appear that there must be a problem here. Only by encouraging him to speak could they retrieve this desperate situation. Hsü prepared an answer for Engineer Han. “Of course there’s nothing wrong with the blending proportions. Everything is done according to the regulations of the State Cotton, Cloth, and Yarn Company. Engineer Han handles this himself, so there’s not the slightest problem. Engineer Han, tell Comrade Yü Ching about this.”
Once again the teacup in front of Engineer Han was turning round and round. If he didn’t tell what he knew, and went along with the lies of General Manager Hsü and Director Mei, he would be going against his conscience. Science should seek after truth, and he should not violate his conscience. But what if he did speak up? It wouldn’t help either the mill or himself, and he would be turning his back on General Manager Hsü. No matter what else was true, he was, after all, an engineer in the Hu Chiang Mill and Hsü I-te was the general manager of this mill. Han’s conscience wanted him to tell the truth, but his job and friendship were telling him to keep quiet.
General Manager Hsü waited a few moments. Then, seeing that Han was not saying anything, he suggested, “Just tell them the facts; that there’s nothing wrong with the blending proportions.”
“That’s right. There’s nothing wrong with the blending proportions.” After Han said this his neck felt hot and he flushed slightly.
“Absolutely nothing wrong at all? Engineer Han, tell us the truth.” Chao Te-pao put further pressure on Han. But having finally spoken, Han now felt at ease. He replied very quickly, “Naturally there’s nothing wrong at all.”
“Then why is the work so difficult?” interrupted Yü Ching.
Director Mei was afraid that Engineer Han could not withstand direct questioning by Yü Ching, so he stepped in with an answer. “Recently the raw cotton from the State Cotton, Yarn, and Cloth Company has not been very good. Many other mills have been complaining that the work is difficult. I think that this is the major reason. Just a moment ago Comrade Yü Ching said that the key to our problem lies with the raw cotton. As I think about this now I feel that there’s some truth in what she says.”
“Then we must approach the State Cotton, Yarn, and Cloth Company tomorrow and formally request that they provide us with more good quality raw cotton.”
General Manager Hsü had actually been in a cold sweat these last minutes. Engineer Han’s comments had made him feel somewhat relieved, but he was still afraid that things could go the wrong way and get out of control. Then Director Mei, a man experienced in the ways of the world, placed the responsibility on the State Cotton, Yarn, and Cloth Company, and gave him a ready-made way out. Hsü I-te naturally took it. He assumed a very serious, earnest posture and said, “This problem must be resolved soon. Otherwise we won’t be able to face our worker comrades. Director Mei, send someone from the mill tomorrow to look in on Comrade T’ang Ah-ying, and send along some things to help nourish her back to good health.”
“Of course. It will be done in the morning.”
Turning to Yü Ching, General Manager Hsü said warmly, “Comrade Yü Ching, if we are to increase production and thereby keep pace with national construction and meet the needs of the people, we must depend completely on the leadership of the working class. There is no one from management in our mill I can rely on. If our mill is to run well we must rely totally on the Communist Party and always follow Chairman Mao. Only by doing this will we have a bright future. Now you have conscientiously raised this serious production problem. This is a great service to our mill and we’re very grateful to you. I hope that after this you’ll give us more guidance.” After he finished speaking he nodded his head to express his gratitude.
“There is no need to thank me. Furthering production is the primary duty of our union. I hope that management will improve its administration and work positively for production.”
“There’s no question about that,” General Manager Hsü said effusively. “No question at all.”
After the labor-management meeting was over and the others had all left, General Manager Hsü and Director Mei stayed behind. Director Mei walked over and closed the door. Then he turned back to General Manager Hsü and said softly in his ear, “Sir, you’ve committed yourself. What are we going to do now about the blending proportions?”
General Manager Hsü had already settled on an idea, and after wiping his face he said with great satisfaction, “With a young girl like Yü Ching, all it takes is a word or two to shut her up.”
This time Director Mei disagreed. “No, you made a commitment.”
“That’s true. I said that we would soon be contacting the State Cotton, Yarn, and Cloth Company about resolving this problem. Right?”
“Yes. But the cotton that they have been giving us lately has been quite good.”
“Then what’s the solution?”
“Notify Engineer Han and Supervisor Kuo that they can make a slight improvement in the blending proportions. This will mollify the workers and the union will think that the negotiations were successful. As the work becomes less difficult the rate of absenteeism will decline, and soon the feelings of discontent will disappear. After a while we can slowly come back to the present blending proportions. Isn’t that a solution, Tso-hsien?”
“Yes,” Director Mei replied with a nod of his head. But after thinking for a moment he added apprehensively, “I’m afraid that we can’t go on like this for very long. Won’t the complaints start up again?”
“A day delayed is a day gained,” Hsü I-te responded. Then, whispering in Mei Tso-hsien’s ear, he said, “The Peoples’ Volunteer Army won’t be able to hold out for long against the Americans in Korea. The whole government might collapse completely at any time. If the Communist Party falls and the workers lose their backstage support, who will dare make trouble again?”
Mei Tso-hsien listened with rapt attention, nodding his head in agreement and saying, “Yes. Yes. Yes.”
“Won’t that take care of everything?”
Mei Tso-hsien replied elatedly in a loud voice, “Yes. That will really solve everything.”
[This final excerpt, which is taken from near the end of volume one, describes events occurring in the late autumn of 1951. The Three Antis campaign aimed at rectifying shortcomings within the Chinese Communist Party is reaching its climax and the Five Antis campaign against bourgeois corruption is about to begin. Hsü I-te is shocked by the news that several high-ranking CCP officials have been dismissed from the Shanghai Municipal Council for hindering the Three Antis campaign. His own future now seems very much in doubt.]
“One can see from today’s paper that the Communist Party is capable of managing the nation’s affairs. China certainly has a bright future.” Engineer Han’s eyes sparkled with joy as he spoke, but looking around the room he noticed that General Manager Hsü’s eyes were fixed on the door. His face was still and rigid. He seemed to be deeply troubled.
General Manager Hsü turned toward Engineer Han and said, “Of course China has a bright future. But what about our future? If the Three Antis campaign within the Party is so harsh on their own people, think of what the Five Antis campaign against the bourgeoisie will be like. The Three Antis campaign is a living model for the Five Antis campaign.”
General Manager Hsü’s remarks spread like a dark shadow across everyone’s heart. Even the enthusiastic glow on Engineer Han’s face faded away. He could not find a good way to respond. It was as if he were back in school doing arithmetic; his teeth bit tightly on his right thumb and he sank into deep thought searching for an answer. Mei Tso-hsien knew now why the general manager had been so silent. He sensed the excessive tension in the room and thought hard for a way to ease the atmosphere.
General Manager Hsü took the newspaper on the table and turned it over for another look, as though he disbelieved the news he had just read and wanted to verify it. But there it was in black and white. It was true. Hsü could see from the newspaper that the Five Antis campaign would definitely be fiercer than the Three Antis campaign, especially after the office staff and the workers began to participate. Then it would become more savage, like an unstoppable sharp spear. Yet, for now the Five Antis campaign was still only a dark cloud before the storm. Its total effect could not yet be calculated. Hsü felt uneasy and apprehensive. As he looked at the Liberation Daily he murmured to himself, “Such high-ranking cadres in the CCP have been dismissed. Cadres who have been in the CCP for so long have been expelled from the Party. We in the business world will be in even greater difficulty. Ah, why haven’t they formally begun the Five Antis campaign? Start it! Start it! Let’s get going! The sooner the better! It’s so hard to be kept hanging like this.”
He felt regret about having stayed in Shanghai....
Translated by Gary Bjorge
Political independence and conformism run together through the life and works of Fang Chi, a poet and novelist who has enjoyed considerable standing in China. In such diverse writing tasks as travel reportage (1957) and art criticism (1963), translated into English in Chinese Literature, the author speaks in an aesthetic voice almost totally divorced from politics. To the Western reader not inclined toward socialist realism, “The Visitor” (December 1957) may provide evidence enough of Fang Chi’s artistic talent and social conscience. Taut, suspenseful, and full of the racy Hopei dialect which Fang Chi loves but uses here to reveal a social underworld, the story features a compelling monologue by a broken young intellectual who still struggles, half incoherently, to rationalize his life before authority.
Born into a declining Hopei landlord family in 1919, Fang Chi joined the Communist war mobilization effort in Yenan, after participating in left-wing student organizations and the anti-Japanese demonstration of December 9,1935. He served in Yenan as reporter, author, and editor of literary magazines. The People’s Daily, on March 12, 1950, attacked the ascendancy of romance, and even lust, over serious politics in his story “Let Life Become More Beautiful,” but Fang Chi criticized himself (and later Hu Feng) and continued to write. Vice-Chairman of the Tientsin Branch of the China Peace Committee and Secretary-General of the Tientsin Sino-Soviet Friendship Association, he visited the Soviet Union in 1954. From this came several pieces lauding the Russian approach to communism, which Fang Chi evidently has admired since his Yenan days, when he wrote “Dr. Orlov.” In “The Visitor,” the main character’s name, K’ang Min-fu, which means Communist, may itself betoken a romantic link to the early, idealistic days of Chinese communism, when names ending in -fu (transcribing the Russian final -ov, -iev, etc.) were much in vogue.
In 1958 a host of critics accused Fang Chi of having written “The Visitor” to “indict” China’s new social system. They asked if K’ang Min-fu was the one criticized, or an “anti-feudal hero” whose fate was meant to chastise those in authority. If he was a victim, had he suffered from social interference, or neglect? Some ideological repugnance on the part of Fang Chi toward the social irresponsibility of K’ang Min-fu’s extreme self-indulgence or individualism would seem as hard to doubt as the author’s long-standing commitment to the ideals of communism. But Yao Wen-yüan, who has since gained notoriety as a Cultural Revolution extremist and member of the Gang of Four, was surely correct in observing that Fang Chi’s plot does not turn on the class struggle. The story indeed projects a fairly chilly bureaucratic atmosphere, and conveys romance in romance’s own language. And no modern Chinese could fail to wince at the dark aspects of society portrayed in “The Visitor,” whether “feudal” liaisons with actresses and prostitutes, or “bourgeois” cohabitation. Was this a slander of the new order sufficient to drive readers into bourgeois despondency and political vacillation, as Yao Wen-yüan proclaimed, or realistic and well-meaning exposé?
On the other hand, when Fang Chi wrote, he was Deputy Director of the Propaganda Department in the Party’s Tientsin Municipal Committee, a “Party member responsible for cultural affairs,” like the cadre who hears K’ang Minfu’s story. In the summer of 1957 he had been as busy as his cadre criticizing rightists—including those in “Tientsin theatrical circles” (who do not appear favorably in “The Visitor”). Chairman of the Federation of Literary and Art Circles, Tientsin Branch, and Vice-Chairman of the union in Hopei from October 1958, as well as editor of the literary monthly New Harbor into the early sixties, Fang Chi may not really have suffered for his own authorial individualism until 1968, when he was finally named an “out-and-out counterrevolutionary revisionist shielded by Chou Yang.” If “The Visitor” reveals a Chinese writer’s private conscience from beneath a public mask, perhaps its most tortured passages confess what Fang Chi perceives to be his own burden as a protected intellectual—and manager of the public life.
Although reported to be suffering poor health as a result of political persecution, Fang Chi has reappeared in public and has published several new poems since the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976. —J.K.
The Information Center notified me that I had a caller; he claimed to be a college student. His visitor’s appointment form had been filled in to read: “K’ang Min-fu, age 28, origin Liaoning, unemployed...” Thinking it over, I simply could not remember having known such a person. Was he one of our readers? Had he submitted an article? Or was he a resident seeking assistance, one of the masses who wanted a Party Committee office to solve a problem for him? I hesitated a bit, then followed the courier downstairs and went into the reception office to wait....
I was genuinely startled when I got a good look at this caller of mine. I thought at once of the peculiar name on his appointment form: K’ang Min-fu Communist. Such names had been popular, in the twenties and thirties, among those who considered themselves revolutionary intellectuals. Most of them had really been sons of the rich who played at revolution, self-styled nihilists. I rarely get to see such names or people again in the course of my life today. Yet, somehow, such a one was seated before me. What startled me was that his appearance and name were of like peculiarity, and his hair was so long as to suggest the artists of an earlier era who had called themselves decadents. But their hair had streamed down to their shoulders, while his stood erect, with each hair distinctly visible. Truly it brought to mind the well-known figure of speech, “so angry that his hair stood on end, pushing off his cap”—only he had no cap. His face, like the shirt he wore, had lost its original composition. It was dirty—filthy—with a bottomless pallor showing through under a layer of oily sweat. And, perhaps because of the lighting, a green, phosphorescentlike hue flitted across his face.
I could not see his eyes, for he kept his head bowed. As I waited for him to speak, I looked at his appointment form—the name at the top, his age, his place of origin...the handwriting, very clear, seemed not at all like the strange caller before my eyes, except that it appeared similarly pale, weak, and perfunctory.
“What business brings you,... Sir?”
I simply could not get out such an elevated form of address as “comrade” before a person like this. A tortuously pronounced “Sir” was preferable.
He remained still, with head bowed, and said nothing. But his eyelids suddenly flew open at the sound of my voice.... The lunacy, despair, and distrust of humanity that his eyes betrayed were frightening.
You must realize, moreover, that this incident took place early in June of this year. It was just at the time of “Great Blooming and Contending,” when rightist elements were launching wild, unbridled attacks. The anti-rightist struggle had not yet begun. As the papers often described it later, dark clouds were welling up. In such times, anything could happen, however strange. My reaction may have been oversensitive, but one cannot say it had no basis. I even started to become wary.
His head was still drooping. He simply raised his hand: trembling fingers swished through his shirt pocket, groping for something. Finally he fished out a wad of papers. After laying them down before him and fixing his eyes there, he pushed the papers toward me, forcefully.
I grabbed the documents and went through them quickly. I was anxious to know just what this was all about. First were vouchers, one after another, for things he had sold off. Among the items were a suitcase, a bicycle, a suit, and an overcoat. There were also women’s things, jewelry and so forth. Finally, there were two documents certifying periods of hospitalization. On the first was written:
K’ang Min-fu, 28, Liaoning, unemployed, attempted suicide by poison, cause awaiting investigation....
On the second:
K’ang Min-fu, 28, Liaoning, unemployed, attempted suicide by poison, cause awaiting investigation....
Except for the fact that the dates were different and that two different hospitals and doctors had affixed their signatures and seals, the documents were, word for word, the same!
I was even more mystified! I raised my head to look at him. He, too, was observing me; having met my line of vision with his own, he lowered his head again. From another pocket he pulled out a four-inch photograph. He fixed his eyes on it as before, then forcefully shoved it in front of me.
It was of a couple, a man and a woman. The woman—how can I describe her? She couldn’t be called pretty, but she was radiant. One could see it even in the photograph She had just put her head on the man’s shoulder, and wore a slightly melancholy smile. The man, although likewise smiling, bore an equivocal expression I could not help comparing him with the person before me —indeed, it was he, the visitor sitting in front of me. But he had already changed greatly.
I understood, and nodded.
He smiled ironically, in a way that was a bit unsettling. Then he began to get stirred up. He told the story below, speaking fluently and without pause.
. . . . . . .
You must think it strange that I’ve troubled you with my purely personal affair. Let me state in advance: I don’t come to you in your capacity as novelist—although I know you often take to writing stories and the like. I’m approaching you as a staff member in a Party Committee office, one, moreover, who was once responsible for the administrative work of cultural affairs in this city. This is to remind you of your past work. For example, your oversight of those in the performing arts ... have a look, do you recognize this person? Yes, the woman in this photograph. Look carefully, she’s a singer of some reputation who falls within your domain—she’s a drum singer.* Ah, it’s hit you, you’ve recognized her. Yes, you ought to. In that case, I need not tell you her name. I refuse to speak it. My memory is filled only with her—her existence and everyting about her—not her name. Names have no significance. Take mine. You seem to have found it strange from the first. Indeed, it has no meaning! The year Peking was liberated, I was in my second year of college. As with many youths, Liberation, and temporary fanatical enthusiasm, led me to take my name from some novel or other. Now I realize that this was merely absurd and farcical.
You shake your head. You don’t care to hear what I have to say. All right, I’ll get to the heart of my story at once. This is how it was—excuse me, I’ve sought you out without even bringing a letter of introduction ... but where could I have gone to get one? I burned all my papers early on, before my first suicide attempt—my college diploma, my employment papers, and the like. Fortunately there are still these two records of my hospitalizations. I have no acquaintances in this city, other than her. In fact, there are very few who are close to me in this whole world. My mother is old and sick. She’ll die soon. She awaits me on her deathbed at my old home in Mukden, but I cannot go to see her. Besides her, I have a teacher, a professor of philosophy, in Peking. I read philosophy with him for four years, and then assisted him in compiling the course syllabus for three years. Now, because I’ve taken leave of my senses, he’s declared that he has no such student as I. Anyone else? No one, save her. And she, too, swears she’ll never see me again!
This is how it was. Judge for yourself, who in this whole world can vouch for my identity? I’ve tried to commit suicide twice—you consider that equivalent to a crime, don’t you? I cut myself off from mankind, but each time someone turned me over to the local public security substation, which in turn took me to the hospital. The doctors saved my life, and the Bureau of Civil Affairs supported it. Even the kindhearted public security station chief, seeing me famished, shelled out money from his own purse. But why must people be like this? It’s really comic!
Perhaps people pity me. I dread that most of all. You’ll see why as I continue. Perhaps I really ought to go on living, you think? Yes. I have no reason not to go on. None. I finished my four years of college after Liberation. The school then assigned me to the south, to participate in land reform. Two years later I returned to my alma mater and became a teaching assistant to my philosophy professor ... it was only because of her ... do you see? It was she! Originally my work went pretty well. After the Party announced the March Forward to Science campaign, I even wrote a qualifying doctoral thesis. I was young and unmarried, with prospects for a brilliant future ... but after I came to know her, this woman——
It was during the winter last year, at the winter vacation, that I returned home to see my sick mother. She was once a middle school teacher. My father, an engineer, had died. It was then that I met her, at a theater in Mukden.
You’ve heard of her, haven’t you? In all fairness I must say she’s a good woman. Even though it was on account of her that I twice attempted suicide, I’m grateful to her. Only because of her have I now come to know myself....
You wouldn’t call her pretty, would you? Or, to put it another way, she isn’t “pretty” in the way people ordinarily speak of. But those eyes of hers—look. You can see to her heart in a glance! So candid, and profound. And have you heard her sing? From the first note, all the excellent and brilliant things within her eyes unfold in train with her voice. Her voice is crisp and clear, like the waters of a brook in autumn.... I was overpowered the first time I saw her and heard her sing.
Performers must have a special magic to attract people, don’t you think? You ought to understand that. For in addition to the qualities they display themselves, there are those of the heroic personalities they personify, which move men’s hearts ... but I don’t know, this is only a guess on my part. In any event, I was moved, and attracted.
Don’t laugh at me! My arousal was entirely proper. That is to say, her performance was successful. She has a talent for performing. But the others? They liked her as much as I, but ... threw catcalls. Catcalls—do you understand? I have come to know now, myself. I felt that this was an insult to her, and to me ... do you see? I was enraged, simply beside myself with anger, and ran backstage directly. But I... when I saw her ... how laughable it was! I didn’t know myself what I meant to do! I oh-so-respectfully bowed to her, begged her pardon, and comforted her. In short, I offered her a torrent of mindless praise.
Yet she shook her head, simply mystified, as she listened to me go on. Then she laughed, and her laughter was so full of innocence. She said:
“Thank you, comrade. Thank you for looking out for me. But what’s your business? We’re backstage, so comrade, please don’t let me keep you.”
She turned around to go.
I didn’t understand her meaning in the slightest. Nor had she understood me. I felt I had been wronged, and nearly cried. I hastened outside. Turning around as I reached the door, I saw that she had followed me. She was smiling at me. I stopped.
“Thank you for your kindness,” she said. “If you ever come to Tientsin, drop by and see me, at the South Market ...” And, would you have guessed it, she even extended her hand.
I hesitated a bit. Hurried and flustered, I reached out my hand and squeezed her soft, delicate fingers.
That’s how it began. Do you think it odd?
Yes, and so I say, I do not understand such people. As I see it now, the whole affair was entirely misconceived—absurd!... Yet I quickly returned to Peking, and just as quickly found an excuse to beg a leave of absence from my professor. I came to Tientsin and found her.
Are you familiar with the kind of life these people lead? Performers? ... No, I don’t mean her, but her mother. She has a mother, a foster mother. I found out that she was her foster mother only later. Since Liberation, she’s been an “element under surveillance.” The local public security substation—the very station chief who gave me money out of the goodness of his heart—told me so. He also advised me not to go to her house. But how could I not....
She had an “elder sister”—this is another chapter of her life, which she told me about later, after we’d been living together.
“... When we had matured a bit more ...” she said. Tears filled her eyes but would not stream down her cheeks. She was always that way. “Mama, whip in hand, brought us to our knees before her, and forced Big Sister to receive customers. She was only fifteen that year. I ... being too young, took up the performing arts. It came about only some time later, after a string accompanist who often came to our house discovered that my voice was pleasing. Then, only because of Liberation was I spared having to go the way of Big Sister.... Now she is long dead, from disease!”
How could I have known this in the beginning? When I went to her house the first time—I had learned her address in a theater at the South Market—her mother happened to be away. She greeted my shout as I stood in the courtyard. Her look of astonishment when she discovered it was I really astonished me. At first she looked without seeming to recognize me. Then she evidently remembered, but still seemed unable to believe her eyes. She blushed, and smiled—it was a very beautiful smile, not at all like the smile backstage in Mukden—or so I thought.
Flustered, she hurriedly let me into the little room where she lived. In the same flurry, she dusted off a stool so that I could sit, and poured tea. Then she stood to the side, looking at me, and whispered, as if talking to herself:
“This is really a shock. So you’ve come to find me ...”
Looking back on it now, I failed completely to understand her reaction and her words, just as I had had no comprehension of the words she spoke to me backstage in Mukden.
Moreover, she already seemed to have said everything she had to say, for she didn’t speak again. She only sat opposite me, on the edge of her little wooden bed. Leaning toward me with her arms about her knees, she carefully scrutinized me with those profound, candid eyes. I had no idea what she was thinking. She looked at me until my face burned, my heart leapt continuously, and my fidgety hands and feet could find no place to hide ... but she continued to look at me that way, as if she wanted to see through to my heart!
I let her look: I wasn’t afraid to let her see my heart. I even wanted her to look at it, and see it clearly. I ... loved her.
But comrade, this is how I explain it now. At the time, I was truly in a quandary. Who knew why she was looking at me like that? Was she really so earnest, and fearless?
I don’t want to shirk my responsibility. It’s true, when I ran backstage to see her at the theater in Mukden I was only acting from an impulse—in part it was because of her voice, and her eyes. And there were those men who had thrown catcalls. When later I came to Tientsin to seek her out, I myself didn’t know what force ultimately was propelling me. I only felt that I must come; and what was more, she had invited me ... but when I pushed open the door of her home, called her name, and she ran out and stood before me, I knew not what I had come to do.
Now, as she looked at me like that, I understood: I loved her.
Yes, I loved her, and she, too—loved me.
Indeed, that was it. For this insight of mine—this lucid insight formed by emotions which had never been clear to me since I first saw her in Mukden, and which I had never understood—definitely arose on account of her—her looking at me in that way, and her silence. Oh-h-h. Later, when I asked her about it, she said that if she had spoken, she would not have been able to hold back her tears.
But in the end, when we were about to separate, she said: No, that wasn’t love, it was only ... gratitude! Toward my sincerity, my ardor, my willingness to come any distance to see her....
Do you believe it? Sometimes I think perhaps she was correct ... but perhaps she said it only to console me—to fool me. When we were finally on the verge of separation, she wanted me to forget her—to think of her no more, even to hate her, in order to lessen my bitter suffering.
Yes, she was simply too good; she could have done this.
And I ... oh, all of this is past now.
Just at that moment, while she was looking at me that way, a middle-aged woman entered. She entered quietly, as a cat treads the street. Neither of us had discovered her. When we did, she was already standing beside me, carefully sizing me up through slanting eyes narrowed to a slit.
When I raised my head and saw her, a chill ran through my body—although her eyes were barely open, they instantly made me feel like trembling with fear. As I stood up, she spoke—
“Ai-yoh!” she cried. Her voice, although very loud, was quite gravelly, and carried with it a heavy nasal quality. It created an impression of stickiness.
“Who is this!” she yelled. “Ai, so there’s a guest! Look at this, our Number Two works very cleverly. Even I didn’t know about it. So ... you two have already got something going. Ai, Number Two, don’t act like your wits have left you, quickly, pour the tea and bring cigarettes,... all right, then, you two sit, I’ll do it, I’ll ...”
She went out but came back immediately. Standing in the doorway, she cast a searching glance at me, then slowly walked away. Her look was horrible. I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life. When her eyes were fully open, instead of slitted, they flashed a chilling light like a knife-point that made you shiver! Have you seen eyes like that? No, you can imagine my astonishment and chagrin at the time. I could never have anticipated it.... I went from terror and loathing to rage! I stood up. I wanted to chase her, to ask her: Who are you to look at us like this, and to speak to us like this!
But she... she grew pale. Tears welled up in her eyes but would not flow. She went to the doorway. Hanging on to the door frame with both arms, she called out—
So this was her—her mother! I was simply too amazed to speak. I grabbed my hat and went outside. She withdrew one of her arms to let me pass. I strode across the threshold, but she clasped my hand from behind.
I stopped and turned around. She had already buried her face in her other arm. Too choked up with tears to make a sound, she kept hold of my hand and would not let go.
. . . . . . .
That’s how it was at our first meeting.
How strange it was! I returned to Peking feeling puzzled and insulted. Yet I was powerless to shake off the impression that meeting had made on me. And I continued to feel that in tightly grasping my hand, she had been like a person drowning, who will grab at anything at all. I pitied her. She was just too pitiful!
Moreover, these sentiments grew ever stronger, until I could bear them no longer. Finally—not long after, although I still felt that it had been too long—I had to see her, deliver her, even take her by force—from her mother’s arms. Tortured by these fantasies, I came again to Tientsin.
This time it was in the evening, in a small theater at the South Market. I had come by night train. I bought a New Evening News at the station, and at first glance saw her name. She was performing in a South Market theater; I ran there directly from the station. After buying a ticket, I took a seat near the stage and waited. My heart was aflutter. I wanted to enjoy again the bliss I had known on seeing her in Mukden. Yet, for some reason I can’t explain, I already felt uneasy as I thought about it then. Her home, her mother, and the words she had spoken, all changed into a screen of smoke that enshrouded her—now hiding her from view, now letting her reappear....
Now, after the announcer had read her name, a round of applause welcomed her onto the stage. My heart pounded violently, like the clapping that surrounded me. Quietly she walked on, stopped, and bowed to the audience. As the drum sounded, she lifted her head, and those candid, profound eyes smiled at the whole house.
I felt as if my heart had stopped beating—why was I so excited? Was it love? Or something else?
It was just then that the following conversation invaded my ears from behind——
“Look at that—that young chick—what a snob! Night before last her ma dragged me off to play cards, fully hoping that the girl could spend some time with me when she got off. What do you know, but as soon as she showed up from the theater, the girl chased everybody away....”
“Isn’t she pretending to be hoity-toity! Time was when those stinking drum singers would go to bed with you, not to mention play cards ... Now no matter how nice you are to them, they won’t even look at you. See that slit dress she’s got on? Bet one of her pretty young clients bought it for her!”
Their talk wasn’t loud, but it was right up against my ears. No, I should say it was right in my heart. My head seemed as if suddenly hit by a hammer, my ears buzzed, I saw stars, and my body was paralyzed ... to the point that I no longer heard her singing. I only saw her, very indistinctly, as if from a great distance—no, as if through smoke. Her lips and hands were moving, but I could not see her eyes or hear her voice.
I stood up and staggered out of the theater by hanging onto the chair backs on both sides of the aisle.
That night I bedded down at an inn and ran a fever all night long.
The next day, I went to see her.
She ran out immediately in response to my voice. She appeared to be very happy. She held my hand tightly, and looked at me openly.
But I was looking at her dress with the slits. Light green, with an embroidered hem, it set off the symmetry of her figure. It was really very beautiful....
She looked into my eyes, and then at her dress, as if she had been splashed by something dirty and was an object of ridicule.
“What are you looking at?” she finally couldn’t keep from asking.
I said nothing.
“Is there something on me?”
While speaking, she whirled in front of me as nimbly as a little bird. Then she tilted her head to look at me....
I felt myself blushing, and inwardly scolded myself for behaving so impolitely. But still I said nothing.
“Are you looking at these clothes?” she said, still in an exultant tone. “I got paid last month. It’s new—pretty, isn’t it? Does it suit me? It’s nicely tailored, don’t you think?”
How refreshing her manner of speaking—artless and candid, just like a child.
I almost wanted to slap myself! But of course I didn’t. I only grasped her hand tightly, after which she led me toward the main rooms of the compound. When we reached the door, she whispered to me:
“Mama is inside.”
I started. I wanted to beat a retreat, but it was too late. The door opened. There, in front of me, stood her mother.
“Ha, Mr. K’ang ... or Comrade K’ang! Last time you left without saying goodbye! I brought back some cakes for us, but you’d vanished without a trace. It may not have meant much to you, but our Number Two cried herself sick! She wouldn’t eat and she wouldn’t go to the theater. She was mad at the world, and blamed her old lady! ... Now that we’ve got you back, you mustn’t go! I’ll leave now, to let you two ...”
So speaking, she actually grabbed her cape, threw it over her shoulders, and went out the door.
This time, she didn’t talk in the funny tone of voice she had used before, but with a smile, as if there were a special meaning to it. This thought struck me particularly as she narrowed her eyes to a slit, in order to observe me.
Puzzled, I stood in the doorway, my heart beating fast.
The girl, for her part, turned around, her face against the wall.
Suddenly her mother returned. Walking up to me with quick footsteps, and narrowing her eyes, she lowered her gravelly voice and said, intimidatingly:
“We’re liberated now. It’s not like it was before.... We sell our artistry, not our bodies!”
In a split second, my whole body quaked! If she had not run up immediately and called out, “Mother, Mother,” imploring her to say no more, I can’t guarantee what might have happened next!
But her mother ignored her completely, and walked away at once. Now only the two of us were left. We stood, neither of us speaking. After a good while, she suddenly rushed up against my breast. She cried bitterly, too choked up to make a sound.
What could I say at that point? I told her, simply and directly, that I wanted her to leave this place immediately and come with me. And never to enter the theater again! ...
Comrade, judge for yourself! Surely I wasn’t wrong to have said that? No, she ought to have left such a filthy place, such a disreputable life, and followed me....
Perhaps my manner of speaking and tone of voice, and my irrepressible feelings of loathing and anger were too extreme, do you think? In short, I hadn’t anticipated that—perhaps you understand people like them—she answered me this way:
“I know, I’ve expected this for a long time.” She stopped crying, stepped back, and looked at me from a great distance, as if she didn’t know me. “You look down on us—our kind, us performers—drum singers! You want me to leave this place and follow you, and you would never let me go to the theater again ... you! How must you see us! We’ve been liberated. Now we’re literary and artistic workers; we’ve joined the union—we’re of the workers’ class. Do you look down on that, then? You’re a college student, one notch above other people, so we drum singers aren’t fit for you ... Well you’ve misjudged us! You get out of here now, while the going’s good! Careful, you might stand here too long and get your shoes dirty!”
She rushed into her own little room as she spoke, without even looking back. She locked the door, leaving me to my bitter entreaties, but refusing to come out.
I could only go back. At the inn, I ran a fever for another whole night.
I shut myself up in my room the next day and skipped eating. I wrote her a very long letter.
That evening, I went again to the theater where she performed, but she was not there. A ticket seller said that she had asked for sick leave. I could only give him the letter to pass on to her.
I suffered through another day and evening. That night, after the performance, I waited for her under a power pole along her route home, according to the arrangements I had suggested in the letter.
She did come. But she said nothing. She only stood before me, silently. I took her hand, and she did not refuse it. I insisted that she come with me and she pliantly obeyed.
That night, she slept in my hotel room.
. . . . . . .
Look comrade, I’ve told you about everything, including my crime.
Yes, I’ve committed a crime. Nevertheless I feel blessed—don’t frown, what I refer to is that night—when we returned to the inn together. It was a quiet, deserted night, with no one out on the streets. There were only the street lamps, reflecting our shadow as a couple. I made it clear to her that I had never looked down on her; on the contrary, it was all because I was too much in love with her. It was on this account that she couldn’t go on living as she did now. She ought to be with me, and lead a respectable life. Thank heavens, with her intelligence, and goodness, she understood on the whole. She said that she simply could not relax under the strain of living with her mother. She was not in the dark about that.... Although since Liberation her mother no longer beat or scolded her—indeed, she even curried favor with her—she was icy cold. Her face was smiling, and her lips were sweet, but her heart—it was cold! No matter what, the girl never felt a glimmer of warmth. She was isolated and afraid. The joy of her day lay in going to the theater. With her transparent, sparkling voice, which flowed like the waters of a brook in autumn, she poured out all the zest concealed within her heart, before the multitudinous audiences. When she made others happy, she, too, was happy. Thus she could not leave the theater, nor the audiences with whom she exchanged forms of encouragement. Yet there were still those in the crowd who were insulting: after the performance they would follow her, even to her home—mostly they were old acquaintances of her mother. They drank and played cards, and wanted her to stay up with them all night long. After that, this mother of hers was never in want of anything; even her breakfast and daily fare were provided—this was through the shopkeeper of a little odds-and-ends store across the street from her home!
She said she used to think she deserved a better life, someone to care for her, show her warmth, and put an end to her constant anxiety. Since she had come to know me, and seen me come such a long distance just to see her, these hopes had rested with me....
Ai, do you understand? You can imagine my excitement and happiness as I listened to her tell all this ... don’t look at me like that. You don’t understand. No—you couldn’t understand it. But I understood everything—she loved me—yes, she did.
How blissful was that day. I had won her! And I felt that, like Columbus discovering a new continent, I had discovered love, understanding, and hope, within the person of an entertainer.
But now? Now, after I’ve twice attempted suicide, I’ve discovered something else—that all this only proved my foolishness and degradation!
Don’t laugh, let me continue. The next day, at her insistence, I returned to Peking. Yes, at her insistence. She didn’t want me always hanging on to her, not only because of her mother, but because I needed to work hard, and study, for her.... I agreed, and this time I went home bearing great happiness and satisfaction.
But I couldn’t keep my promise. I had to come back, and come back again, until she became displeased, and fearful. Still I could not restrain myself.
Indeed, when we were not together, she wrote to say—although writing was not very easy for her—that her mother’s treatment of her was rotten. She was always scolding her in an unfriendly and sarcastic manner, and gave her no freedom at all. She made it very difficult for her to meet with me. At the same time, she said, with more and more clarity as time went on, they could not live together any more. She must leave, for she was pregnant. Moreover her mother had found out, and would force her to have an abortion!
How full of remorse I felt, on receiving that letter. I was both shocked and pleased. This was my child, yes, mine! An abortion—how could she possibly? I would not allow it. I bore responsibility myself. I made for Tientsin that very day.
How enthusiastic the hopes, and great the courage, I bore as I went to the rescue of my wife—it was now my right to call her that. But—imagine for yourself, how her mother dealt with me!
Truly even now when I think of the way she looked at me, I feel my whole body run cold.... Her mother was like a poisonous snake, hypocritical, greedy, and cold-blooded—but this time when she saw me, she really seemed happy that we were having a child, and said:
“Ai-yoh-yoh, congratulations, congratulations! So soon—even I was fooled!” ... “What will you do now?” she asked.
What would we do? Marry! That was my only answer. She was mine, and so was the child....
“Is it as easy as that?” This grandmother-to-be suddenly looked stern. “What kind of air have you inhaled that makes you talk about it so lightly?”
I looked at her, amazed.
She squinted up her eyes to look at me.
“How much money do you have?” she asked.
True, I ought to have considered that point. My salary was sixty-eight dollars a month. Hereafter three people would have to live on it. But I also had a few things at home, such as my mother’s clothing, and jewelry....
I told her my actual state of affairs.
She laughed out loud, sarcastically.
“However you want to live,” she said, “it makes no difference to me. What I mean is, once you’ve carried off my girl, how much money will you leave me?”
What? To think that she could actually say such a thing! It was eight years after Liberation—foster mother or not!
I even began to suspect that the two of them, my wife included, had purposely set me up!
A chill ran through my body and my head felt giddy. There, before her, I felt completely sapped. I told her that such a demand was unreasonable and illegal. It violated freedom of marriage.... But my voice was hollow, and seemed inaudible even to myself.
“Cut it out—sir.” She paid no attention to me at all, but said to me, still narrowing her eyes and smiling with that strange, frightening expression:
“Since you dared to come here to take advantage of us, it’s evident that you’re no novice at this. This old lady doesn’t have sand in her eyes, so don’t play-act with us. This affair, so far as we’re concerned—let me tell you, it doesn’t mean much to us. At worst, our girl might not get married. But you have a public image. When the time comes, you’ll find yourself stuck with more than you reckoned on! ...”
“What, are you saying that ...” I yelled. “How dare you say that! I want to marry her, to make her my wife. I’m not afraid of ...”
“Ai-yoh-yoh.” Now she began to laugh. “What now, do you take it so seriously, my son-in-law? You’re marrying her? Fine, but it’s too late. You’ve fooled around with a performer—insulted an entertainer—the union won’t stand for it....”
“I love her....”
“I know. If you didn’t, would there be a child to boot? I don’t mean that. You wait for me.”
I did in fact sit down.
“Number Two, come here!” She called out.
She—my wife—appeared in the doorway. She was wearing only a blouse and pants, and her hair was dishevelled. She cried like one who had gone to pieces.
My heart simply broke! I jockeyed to take a step forward, to embrace her, kiss her, and comfort her.... But her mother shifted her body across the doorway, blocking it. Two words rolled softly from those lips, from which a cigarette drooped:
She, my wife, lowered her head and sobbed. She knelt on the steps outside the door, without looking at me.
I said nothing. What could I have said? I had only one thought: to wind it all up and get out. At that point I, too, knelt down behind her mother.
This mama was a real terror. Without looking at either of us, she gave a quiet, sarcastic laugh, threw her cigarette butt on the floor, and stamped it out hard, saying:
“Enough! Get up, both of you!”
I stood up. She turned to face me:
“I raised this child. Although she isn’t my own, if I don’t care for her, who does? Just don’t be hardhearted. Don’t forget about me afterwards....”
She actually began to cry as she spoke. She lifted a corner of her blouse to wipe the tears.
. . . . . . .
Ai, comrade, look what a price I paid—it was the price of my happiness! We had finally reached our goal—she returned to Peking with me, and we lived together.
This was on the condition that I send her mother fifty dollars every month, for the rest of her life.
Ai, if only it could have stayed that way, and nothing else happened ... what difference did this monthly payment make? It was all very appropriate. Don’t think that the mother was really a bad person. No, what was she to do? She herself had been raised from childhood by a foster mother. Later she became a prostitute, and when she grew older, a procuress. She had raised two girls, and now only one was left. And since Liberation, she had been under surveillance. She had to have some way of living....
You’re shaking your head again. You think I’m defending her, don’t you? Then why didn’t you deal with her during the period of Democratic Reforms?* Why did you only put her under surveillance? No, I’m not defending anything. I don’t study the law. My field is philosophy. I only affirm the truth. The facts being thus, I am obliged to find an explanation for them....
Stop shaking your head at me! I know you don’t appreciate my philosophy. That’s fine, I’m only talking about the facts—the facts are, when she, my wife, left her mother, she also left me.
Yes, she left me, too. Do you think that strange? Then I’ll tell you right away—I frankly admit it, she was good to me. Our life of cohabitation was blissful. She was sweet-natured and kindhearted, and she did what I wanted. Despite the environment in which she had grown up, she restrained herself fully and led a simple life. She skimped and saved on our meager salaries so that we could send her mother fifty dollars each month, to clear that unjustly imposed debt, and to make ready for the child ... but I, on the other hand, did not understand her sentiments at all.
I was not satisfied with her depriving herself of everything, and my increasing dissatisfaction fully had its basis.
For instance, I wanted to have clothes made for her, but she was unwilling; to buy her a watch—but she would not have it ... now I wasn’t doing these things for myself! I only thought that since she was my wife, she ought to dress a bit more appropriately, so as to look like an educated person. And so as not to let those around me know ... her origin.
You’re frowning at me again—yes, this is where we were different. It was because of this that our lives diverged more and more from what we had first anticipated. My temper grew worse as time went on, and she cried with increasing frequency. Finally, I took the occasion to speak to her frankly: she ought to get used to her new life and completely forget the past. What’s more, she must never again think of “going to the theater”! ...
She quietly listened to me.—This was at night, two months after we had begun living together. Tears welled up in those profound, candid eyes and finally coursed down her cheeks.
“K’ang ...” she said softly, standing before me, still holding my hands. “When all is said and done, you still look down on us! You despise professions like ours, and people like us! Why won’t you let me go to the theater? You’re a person with education. How can you fail to understand that under the new society, the performing arts are no longer disreputable? I left my mama behind and followed you. That was because of her.... But I can’t give up the theater. You don’t realize how restless I’ve been these days, not able to perform despite having you. Since I feared upsetting you, I didn’t sing a note. I didn’t even dare to warm up my voice. Now I feel my throat becoming taut. Soon it will be through. I really fear that I’ll never be able to sing in the theater again! I can’t give up the theater—nor the audiences, nor the plucking of the strings, nor my singing. Don’t you remember what you said to me in Mukden, when you ran backstage after hearing me sing for the first time? Wasn’t it only my singing that attracted you? And brought you to Tientsin to find me? And, has now,... brought me to live with you? I beg you—I obey you in all things, and already belong to you—I carry your child ... just don’t look at me like that. Let me go to the theater, to be with the audience, and sing!”
. . . . . . .
Not long after this conversation, because I disregarded her wishes and had a coat made for her that pleased myself, I ran out of money at the end of the month. Even with my past savings, we could not raise the fifty dollars to send to her mother. I didn’t consider it important at the time. I wrote a letter of apology, and mailed forty dollars.
But was my being short ten dollars the sole factor that decided our fate? No.... It happened precisely three days after I had mailed the letter and money, in the evening, as I was returning from work. She, my wife, was gone!
... I went out on the street to look for her, scouring all the shops in our neighborhood. Where had she gone? I heard a radio broadcasting drum singing in Pekingese cadences. Oh, “gone to the theater”! I thought. I went through every theater in Peking.
Just before dawn, I returned home, dragging along a pair of numbed legs and a numbed heart—ai! How could it be a home any more? Without her, there was nothing. It was quiet and deserted; everything had become unfamiliar and detestable. On entering, I kicked over a pot that had been placed by the stove, so I went all the way and smashed the stove itself.
I sat, alone, without even turning on a light. I could see and hear nothing. Everything was empty. It was as if our two months of life together had never happened, as if they were a dream....
When the first train of the day passed by in the early morning, the thundering of the wheels on the rails reminded me. I went to the station.
. . . . . . .
Comrade, is it really because of interest in my story that you’ve listened so long, without once interrupting me? Or is it because in your profession you’ve cultivated a calm and collected disposition? Are you not aroused in the least by my happiness? Don’t you sympathize at all with my misfortune? Perhaps as you listen you’re laughing inwardly at my foolishness, selfishness, and bewilderment... but think as you please, I must continue, since I’ve come this far.
I arrived in Tientsin and ran directly to her house. The door was half open; I strode into the courtyard and stood before her door.
It was locked. I wrenched the lock hard, rattled the wings of the door, and pounded on the door with both fists. It was as if she were sleeping within, but had purposely locked the door from outside so as not to have to see me.
The door to the main rooms opened, and out came her mother. Clothes thrown on and hair disheveled, she was uglier than ever.
“Who is it?” she wrapped her clothes around her and went in back of me, as if she didn’t really recognize me. “Oh, so it’s ... you, K’ang...”
I suddenly turned around and stared at her. She drew back a step.
“It’s me!” I screamed. “Where is she?”
She narrowed her eyes into slits again, and a strange smile flitted across her face. I could not help but feel a cold shiver in my heart.
“Who? Who are you looking for?” she said, without a trace of anger. “Here you come at the break of day, to break down my door ...”
“Don’t play dumb!” I shouted angrily. “Who am I looking for? Your daughter, of course! You’ve brought her back—where is she hidden?”
“Number Two?” She withdrew another half step. That strange smile was gone from her face, but her eyes emitted a peculiar light. “My daughter?”
“Yes, your daughter. She’s gone, run away. You’ve brought her back and hidden her....”
Unmindful of everything, I screamed and closed in on her. She retreated, step by step, appearing frightened, but her eyes were blinking slyly. Suddenly she sat on the floor, as if I had pushed her down, and began to sob.
“I haven’t. Number Two hasn’t come back ... she’s not here!... My luckless child, I thought you’d found a good man, educated and well-mannered. For that you cast aside your mother and went on to enjoy your good life. Now, hardly more than a few days later, you’ve been thrown out yourself Where can you have fled? This is your home! My poor child ...”
I looked at her without speaking.
“... I thought we’d been liberated, that there was a new society, in which we, too, could hold our heads high! You would perform, and your mother could have a peaceful life with you. How could I have known that you would let me down? ... A good man is not to be found on this earth!”
She cried and shouted. It was early morning, and there was no one to come mediate....
At that point I didn’t know what to do.
She loved me—from beginning to end, I believed this to be so. If not, would she have made my dinner and put it on the stove for me, as she was about to leave? ... It was only through my own carelessness that the pot had been kicked over.
Yes—I must have been mistaken—if she were here, she could not have kept from coming out to see me.
While thinking it over, I backed up to the doorway and turned around to leave. Someone was standing outside the door.
“What’s going on, my good woman?” he said. But his eyes were fastened on me. “Why this, so early ...”
Seeing him, the woman screamed more fiercely still.
“Grab him!” she shouted, lunging forward unsteadily. “It’s him, the one who degraded Number Two, and now he’s forced her to flee! I want to get him, no matter what ... don’t let him run away, Proprietor Wang!”
I didn’t hear what else she said. It was as if the two words “Proprietor Wang” had struck me on the head like a club. I thought of the conversation I had overheard the other time in the theater, and the part about “he plays cards with her, and even sends breakfast over....”
My rage now turned on him. I lunged forward.
“You,” I roared, and grabbed him.
“Ah ... me.” He forced the two words out through the space between his teeth, his expression and tone of voice unchanged. Then he squeezed my wrist in his hand, and I fell down on the floor.
“Young punk, did you think this was another place where you’d get away with something?”
He stepped over me to go inside. There followed the sound of the door as it slammed.
I lay there for a long time before I stood up, with great effort. I looked around and saw the tightly closed door behind me—it seemed then that all my hopes and plans had been definitively cut off.
. . . . . . .
I staggered forward, weaving back and forth. There still was no one in the alley. Only the door of Proprietor Wang’s general store in front of me was open, so that I could see the various supplies and daily necessities arranged on the shelves. Among them, I suddenly discovered DDT!
Yes, DDT. Isn’t it chlorophenophane? A single bottle, or two perhaps, would suffice. Yes, I ought to put an end to it all.
I went on, not daring to stop. More people were out on the street by now. I warily took note of each one, fearing lest I be seen.
Later, I gradually realized that I was seeking her. But she was not there.
Not there. I had lost her forever. I had lost everything—my life, my happiness, my beautiful dreams....
I saw another general store, and entered. I stood there for a long while, until someone asked me: “What do you want?” I pointed to the DDT on the shelf.
Yes, I had lost her forever, and everything that was mine. I had nothing else to consider, nothing I could not part with. Everything had been settled, just like that. I needed quickly to ...
. . . . . . .
When I awakened, I was lying in a hospital.
Need I go into this in detail? There’s no need, it’s a bore. If I must speak of it, there is just this one point: DDT could not resolve my problem.
I was in the hospital five days.
I lay there, looking up at the snowy white ceiling, and the bedsheets, the bed, the stands and trays—all snowy white. My mind seemed just as white—hollow and empty....
But on the day I was to leave the hospital, a nurse told me that someone had come to see me.
I could not imagine who it might be. No one knew I was there. Not even my dearly beloved mother and honored teacher. I had cut myself off from the world, so that no one would know of my shameful life, nor would anyone come to see me, or pity me....
But the one who entered—was she!
She appeared at the door of the hospital room. Her eyes threw panicked glances in all directions, searching. Yes, she was looking for me. She had not forgotten me.
When she saw me, her eyes glistened, and she came over, slowly.
She was thinner and pale, but she looked more beautiful than ever. She moved carefully, because she was pregnant, or perhaps through indecision.
She sat in front of my bed and lightly touched her fingers to my face—it was really strange—these fingers, delicate and soft, were the same as the first time we touched, in Mukden. Now, as if the fingers of a magician had touched my face, my memory, feelings, thoughts, and desires were instantaneously and completely revived.
In particular, when she began to speak, her voice, transparent and sparkling, seemed like the flowing waters of a brook in autumn.
I truly felt regret! With such a voice, how could I have not allowed her to go to the theater? Could it have been because it was too beautiful—too moving; that I had wanted to possess it all alone? ...
She said that when she had left our home that day, she had not done so willingly. Proprietor Wang and a “maternal aunt” of hers had suddenly appeared, saying that her mother was seriously ill, and wanting her to return immediately. Although she felt it was a little funny, she still went with them.
“I thought it wasn’t the truth,” she said, “but I felt pity for my mother. Because you—you wouldn’t let me sing. When it comes down to it, we’re not the same kind....”
She looked at me. Her eyes were full of tears, but she held them back.
I hated myself! I was selfish, really mean, despicable to the extreme!
“Go. Sing.” I wanted to say to her. But I could not. I was afraid to.
“But they tricked me.” She was preoccupied with herself. She didn’t look into my feelings at all. “Mama was not sick. They tricked me.... Why, what was the point? ... I’m leaving them. I won’t ever live with Mama again....”
I nearly jumped for joy.
“Come back! Come back with me!” I grasped her hand at once.
“No!” As she continued speaking, she wrenched her hand free and stood up. “I’m not going anywhere. Alone is how I want....”
At this point, she lowered her head and looked at me—what eyes she had! As candid and profound as before. What I had not recognized there before was an unyielding strength, which saw through to my heart in a glance! I immediately closed my eyes and shrank up on the bed.
How long she looked at me like that I don’t know. When I slowly opened my eyes, she was already gone.... I was both ashamed and angry—and regretful. In her eyes I had seen my own worth. Yes, what parted us was not just her mother and Proprietor Wang. The most important factor was still she herself. She ... looked down on me!
From that moment on, I was possessed by a frightening thought. I left the hospital, but did not return to Peking—I wasn’t going anywhere, to borrow her words. I found a small inn. I wanted to see her again. I also wanted to look at her in that special way, so as to restore our positions to their former order, proving the value of my existence....
I didn’t go to her house again, but I looked for her daily. I followed her and traced her, waiting for my opportunity. I wanted to give her that look! The highways and the alleys, the parks, the markets, and the department stores ... naturally, the theaters were most important ... I went to all of them. I went every day, to sit, to listen, to watch, to hope, and wait.
Later I gradually came to like that kind of life. I learned how to throw catcalls—how to stamp my feet, hiss, whistle, and all manner of similar things, just like a thug.
But can you understand my suffering? While I was living like this, my heart was both pained and satisfied—for I had tasted the happiness of vengeance!
... Suddenly one day.... Yes, I finally arrived at that day—it was she, my wife. She had come out on stage. This was about three weeks after I left the hospital.
Concealing her condition, which had been becoming daily more evident, she sidled up to the front of the stage. The candid and profound eyes were sunken. Her cheeks were pale. Their dazzling adolescent rosiness had entirely vanished. Only her voice was left—transparent and sparkling, like the flowing waters of a brook in autumn.
My heart burst into flame again as I listened to her voice.
If you’ve ever experienced it, how would you react, if that which you loved, which you longed for, and which could only belong to you, was loved and admired by everyone else?
At that point I stood up. My body was numb, probably because my heart was pounding too hard. As I had the time before, I left the theater by supporting myself on the chairs lining the sides of the aisle.
I had seen her. But I could not look at her in that way—I didn’t have the courage. I had fallen too low—there was no way that I could look at her ... from above.
I walked down the street, skimming the shadows that the street lamps cast beneath the power poles. And I secretly recalled the numbers of the poles. Counting from the first, outside the theater entrance... 97,98,99... I was there, at the location of our previous meeting! ...
A tram went by in front of me, roaring and thundering; behind me, pedestrians passed, crowding and jostling. I saw them, but did not take them in. Later the vehicles and pedestrians slowly thinned out, and the active street became quiet and deserted. But I leaned against the pole, motionless.
She came, as expected. I knew that it was she from the sound of her footsteps.
Her gait was very determined; only one who was full of self-confidence, or whose spirit was elevated, could walk that way. Her high-heeled shoes struck the cement pavement one click after another, making a loud, clear sound in the still night.
I turned around.
What I saw at first was a short, fat man behind her, who wore a long gown and was following on her heels. “Proprietor Wang....” The thought of him flashed quickly through my mind, but I stuck my hot face to the icy pole.
Then, from behind me—she paid me no heed and perhaps did not recognize me—she passed by and continued far into the distance, confidently and with determination, her high heels clicking against the cement sidewalk.
I left the power pole only with a great burst of effort. Half my face was icy cold; the other half was burning feverishly.
Hatred burned in my heart. Yes, hatred! I wanted revenge. I followed closely behind her, and immediately felt possessed of sufficient courage and strength.
She ducked into an alley, where the light was dimmer. The door of her house was beyond. She stopped and turned around, and said loudly to the man:
“I’m here, Uncle. Please go back!”
But he, Proprietor Wang, without making a sound, suddenly unfolded his arms and embraced her—my wife!
I felt giddy; my head spun around and around.
“How dare you ... Help! ...”
It was she yelling, and resisting. But her voice was immediately stifled by a powerful hand—the brook waters were sobbing.
Next I heard a sharp slap in the face. It was not very strong, but rang out loud and clear; her delicate fingers, slapping that fat face in the dead of night, sent reverberations into the alley.
I came alive. My heart full of joy, I ran out immediately. My strength was so great that I toppled Proprietor Wang, and almost brought my wife down with him. I quickly steadied her, but Proprietor Wang had already got up; I let go of her, again turned toward Proprietor Wang, and before he could get a firm footing, I hit him in the face.
My blow was accurate and sonorous, as if I knew how to fight from practice —I was extremely satisfied with myself.
But at this point my wife recognized that it was I—how fortunate, I thought! I went to her, wanting to speak ... but she stepped backwards, as if she didn’t recognize me, or feared me. She looked at me with loathing and terror. Within an instant she seemed to have become so frightened that I even suspected that I had mistaken her.
I had not. As soon as she spoke, I understood—it was finished! “When it comes down to it, we’re not the same kind!” I recalled her words.
But now she no longer spoke in that vein.
“You—you!” she said, her voice suddenly gravelly, unlike ever before. “You! Why do you cling to me! Who am I to you? Surely I don’t have to suffer through a lifetime founded on error, just because I was once mistaken about you. You follow and watch me, as if I were a thief.... Who am I to you! You hurt me, but you still won’t let me go. Go! Leave me. Get away from me. I don’t ever want to see you again....”
She hid her face in her hands—as if to confirm her oath never to see me again. She quickly turned around and, almost running, rushed into a deep corner of the alley where she couldn’t be seen. She did not in fact enter her mother’s doorway.
Now only the two of us were left: I, and Proprietor Wang of the little general store. I felt that we would have to fight it out to the death. And I prepared to die....
Ai, comrade, if we had fought and he had given me a good beating, wouldn’t that have been great? But no, he wasn’t willing. His eyes were stronger than his hands.
I dared not look at him. I turned my head and looked in the direction she had run. Just then a peal of laughter suddenly broke out behind me—have you ever heard an owl’s laugh in the middle of the night? They say that to hear such a laugh is to die. It’s absolutely true. I’ve heard it and it’s even more terrible than that.
His laugh sent a chill through my heart. My whole body trembled. Even my bones went soft, so that I could no longer stand.
But he laughed and went away. He entered his store.
. . . . . . .
Comrade, you must be tired. I ought to conclude my story. In fact there’s nothing left to say. That’s how it was.
Would you still like to hear about my second suicide attempt? Actually it was the same as the first. It was a little prettier, is all. I returned to my hotel, that small inn, and gave away all my possessions, leaving eight dollars in my pocket. Then I wrote my mother a letter by lamplight—when bidding farewell to the world, I had of course to say goodbye to her first. She had already been confined to her bed for a year and had long wanted me to come back to see her, but I could not do it. Now it was still more unthinkable. Next I wrote a letter to my professor, telling him goodbye, too. I confessed that I was truly unworthy of being his student—moreover, I was returning all of his philosophy to him—it hadn’t been a bit of help to me. Then day broke. I washed my face, ate breakfast out on the street, and then went to every pharmacy there was, buying as much phénobarbital as they could sell me. By noon, surprisingly, I had accumulated enough sleeping pills to put me to sleep for a long time. I entered a restaurant—perhaps the Spring in P’englai? I ordered a a bottle of wine and two dishes. As I drank, I stealthily swallowed all of the sleeping pills. I left the restaurant, hailed a pedicab, and asked to be taken to the district of Hsia-wa-fang.
The driver was a sturdy fellow, and cheerful. He pedaled very fast, without having the slightest idea of where he was taking me. As we threaded through Taku Street, tall buildings flashed by quickly on either side. The displays in the store windows for once exerted an attraction on me—I’d never paid them any attention before—except for the time when I’d bought her the overcoat. Now there was another overcoat, the same color as hers, and the style, too, was ... but we had already reached the suburbs. Before my eyes were newly built factories and workers’ dormitories. The laughter of children sounded from within—how wonderful it was! But it was too late. I began to spit blood, one big mouthful after another. At first I did so quietly, but later I could not help groaning. The driver looked around and stopped. His very peculiar expression showed both loathing and anger. I was afraid, and began to pity myself. I wanted to say something to him, but already I was unable to. As soon as I opened my mouth, blood spurted forth. I knew it was all over. I forced my eyes open and looked at the driver’s robust face. It displayed both anger and disgust....*
. . . . . . .
The conversation terminated abruptly. Before I knew it, my visitor had seized his “documentary evidence” and departed without so much as a goodbye. I felt both excited and tired, as if I had just awakened from a bad dream. Who was this person? Did his plight deserve much sympathy? What did his story illustrate?
I inquired about the drum singer from a woman comrade in charge of work in literature and art, and was told that she was really pretty good—on the up-and-up, talented, and desiring to progress. She’d been assigned to a choral work brigade by the Union of Workers in Literature and Art, and had left the foster mother who’d prevented her from entering the Communist Youth League. The woman comrade frowned and interrupted me as I started to speak of K’ang Min-fu. “Stop, I know all about him,” she said. “A bourgeois playboy through-and-through, self-seeking and self-centered, quite willing to give up his work—his family, too—for a woman—just one more person ultimately headed for his list of victims. Treats women like playthings, as his private property. Men like him are hopeless!” I was a little angry, although I knew the woman comrade’s heart was in the right place; this seemed to be completely from a woman’s viewpoint. I wanted her to see the problem from the political standpoint. I asked her to investigate the matter further.
Only a few days later, on the eighth of June, the People’s Daily published a memorable editorial. The workers began to speak; the anti-rightist struggle had begun. The intensity of the campaign gave me so much work to do that I could not get through it all. That really was an extraordinary summer! Even now, as heavy snow falls while I write the postscript to this story, I need only think back to those days, and to the vehement and combative scene at the time, to feel myself break out in a fever. As I learned more about the rightists, I began to see how similar to them my visitor was; his goal was only to live for himself. I came to loathe him, but gradually he faded from my memory.
When the woman comrade returned to brief me on K’ang Min-fu in October, after the anti-rightist struggle had won a complete victory and everyone bore a new and healthy joy, I reacted as if I had swallowed a fly at the mere mention of his name. He had gone to be rehabilitated through labor,* it turned out—had requested it himself. His school had not permitted him to return, and after going through the Anti-rightist campaign, he too seemed to feel that this was the only road he could take. After my initial shock I felt immediately that it could have turned out only this way. This was the sole possible, and necessary, outcome. I sighed, relieved.
The drum singer now had a baby girl and was getting by very well. She had freed herself of her foster mother’s influence by making accusations against her to the Union, and by making her the object of a struggle session out on the street. Proprietor Wang had been reprimanded and warned he would be dealt with if he ever committed another offense. K’ang Min-fu, on the other hand, had visited the drum singer in the hospital and pressed her hard to marry him; otherwise, he would take the child! “That woman comrade really had determination and courage,” my woman colleague concluded. “She gave him a slap in the face and he fled.”
She laughed as she spoke. So did I.
Translated by Jeffrey Kinkley
Liang Pin came under Communist influence when he was young. As a student at the No. 2 Normal School in Paoting, Hopei Province, he participated in the anti-Japanese movement directed by the Communist Party in 1931. This resulted in his expulsion from the school. Thereafter Liang spent time in Peking, and was jailed briefly in 1934. Released from prison, he entered a drama school in Shantung Province. His literary career began in 1935. By 1943 he had published a dozen novels and plays, but his reputation as a major author did not spread until the appearance of his Keep the Red Flags Flying. This novel was highly praised in the early 1960s, and then condemned by the Proletarian Cultural Revolutionists a few years later. He resumed publishing in 1977 and his new novel, Turn Over, has been greeted with enthusiasm.
Keep the Red Flags Flying, conceived in 1953, was published in 1958 as the first of a projected six-volume work (only the first three volumes have been published) depicting the early Communist struggles in China. The novel, set in Hopei Province in northern China, portrays the peasant struggles in the 1920s and the student movements of the early thirties. In center stage are the Chu and Yen families, which for three generations have suffered at the hands of the local landlord, Feng Lao-Ian. But the young hero, Yen Chiang-t’ao, having been nurtured by class oppression and subsequently motivated by Communist ideology through Chia Hsiang-nung, rises to lead the peasants to oppose the pig tax. The following is the climax of this episode. —E.Y.
On that day, with the cloudless blue sky above and the yellow earth beneath, after breakfast Chiang-t’ao walked over to Ta-yen Village to call for Yen P’ing. Quietly they slipped out of the house together, Yen P’ing carrying a small bamboo basket stuffed with leaflets and posters hidden under her red scarf. Passing the pond, Chiang-t’ao said, “That will never do. You’ve got to change.”
“Change into what?” Yen P’ing asked.
Chiang-t’ao, looking her over, observed, “Even though we are going to the New Year’s bazaar, hardly anyone else will be dressed like you. Look at you, wearing a long dress and leather shoes.”
Yen P’ing pulled up the corner of her dress a little, glanced to the left and then the right. Without a word she ran back to the house and put on a pair of canvas shoes, a plain blue jacket, and replaced the red scarf with a coarse hand towel. Then she ran out breathlessly shouting, “Look! How’s this?”
“That looks more like a village girl, but not quite,” Chiang-t’ao replied.
“Why not?” Yen P’ing anxiously stared at him as if to force him to tell her what else about her did not look exactly like a village girl.
“Your face is too pale, your hair too black, too long and shiny.” He shook his head, then added, “You just don’t look like a village girl.”
Yen P’ing became angry and punched him on the back. “You tell me,” she demanded, “what do I look like?”
“A lady, a student!” He ran, with her in pursuit. Catching him by one of his ears, she asked, “What are farmers like?”
“Farmers work hard, live simply, and have a straightforward disposition. All year round they labor under the sun and expose themselves to the wind. They eat nothing but husks and vegetables. Their faces are ruddy and their bodies strong. But you?” He turned around to look at her. Yen P’ing’s face was perspiring freely in her effort to keep up with him, but, pouting, she said, “I’d like to be like that!”
Chiang-t’ao said, “In that case, you’re okay. Hurry up, comrade, try to catch up with the revolutionary ranks!” Yen P’ing listened and felt that what he said had a double meaning which eluded her.
The two of them walked single file along the highway leading to town. Entering the city gates, they saw that this year’s crowd was larger than ever. The butchers and vegetable vendors cried out, trying to attract customers. Peddlers of New Year’s pictures sang at the top of their voices to get attention. Chiang-t’ao and Yen P’ing elbowed through the crowd, pushing this way and that until they reached the firecracker market on the south side of the city. There Ta-kuei, with a red-tasseled spear in hand, was standing atop a cart, gesticulating and shouting. Meanwhile, Wu Lao-pa and Erh-kuei set off an assortment of firecrackers and rockets, shooting them high into the sky. The smoke filled the air with excitement. The crowd swelled. Mounting the cart, Chiang-t’ao blew a whistle. People in throngs rushed out from livestock, cotton, and vegetable markets, shops and restaurants. Ta-kuei, standing next to Chiang-t’ao, raised his sturdy arm with fist clenched and declared, “The meeting to oppose the pig tax will now begin....”
Swirling red and green leaflets and posters appeared in the streets and lanes. Yen P’ing, carrying her bamboo basket, went around distributing them. She would toss a bundle of leaflets high into the sky, then watch as they soared in the wind and slowly drifted down. Some in the crowd reached for them with outstretched hands and read them aloud, while others, their faces glowing, looked up, eager for the speech to begin. Chiang-t’ao shouted at the top of his voice, “Friends and fellow villagers, we slave all year round just to make ends meet. Now they even want to tax our New Year’s pig.”
For a while he spoke to them about resisting the pig tax, then he said, “Rent for land and soaring interest rates are sucking our blood. Surtaxes imposed on land levies are grinding our bones. And now this pig tax is more painful than being skinned. We work like cattle and horses, struggling in the mud, water, wind, and fire....
“When we weed the fields, hunched over and hands on the hoe, we bend double. The hot sun bakes dirty oily sweat out of our backs. We toil from spring to fall. After we pay the rent, what else have we got but empty pockets? By late autumn, we still don’t have padded jackets. Even in winter, when it is freezing cold and snow is piling up, there is no smoke coming from our chimneys after dark. We borrow money. In three years the interest equals the principal. We pay interest in advance! We pay compounded interest! We pay compounded over compounded interest. It gets higher and higher and we sink deeper and deeper in debt....
“When the new year arrives, creditors crowd around. They break down our doors to demand payment. We get up before daylight, there is no food in the wok. A cangue* weighing a thousand catties on our back. How we tillers suffer!”
He stopped, panting for air. Chia Hsiang-nung, dressed in an old sheepskin jacket, was sitting on the cart with his snow cap pulled down. Only his eyes were visible. No one recognized him. Chiang-t’ao bent down and whispered a question. Chia Hsiang-nung whispered back. Chiang-t’ao straightened up to resume his speech. “Warlords are constantly fighting among themselves; how long will this last? Corrupt officials! They only care to fatten their pockets. They couldn’t care less whether the peasants live or die. They scrape every last penny from us. They scrape and scrape. They won’t stop even after they have scraped away three feet of dirt!”
Panting as he spoke, he noticed Yen P’ing standing near the base of a short wall. Her glowing eyes were fastened upon him. His heart skipped a beat. Blinking, he saw golden spots dancing in front of him. “My poor and suffering compatriots,” he cried out, his voice rising to a metallic shrill, “what can we do to overcome all this?”
Chu Lao-chung, eyes wide open, was watching Chiang-t’ao in the crowd. “This child has grown up,” he thought. “What he says makes sense.” Suddenly shaking his arm, he shouted, “Let’s get organized and act!”
“Right!” Chiang-t’ao shouted back. “When sorghum sprouts are planted close together, neither wind nor rain can knock them down; if they stand apart, they will be leveled by strong wind. So we must get organized and be strong. Now we propose to fight against the pig tax and to knock down Feng Lao-Ian. Do you agree?”
Yen P’ing was watching him from below. He usually struck her as being a little feminine—when he sat down, he was demure; walking, he was graceful. With his fine-featured face, well-defined eyebrows, and big black eyes, he was a model of refinement and composure. But today he was standing in front of this large crowd. Each word he spoke struck at their hearts like lightning. He stirred their thoughts and caught their attention. She could not understand what kind of strength he had.
Suddenly she felt her face burning; she trembled and her heart throbbed with happiness. She blushed as she secretly whispered, “Chiang-t’ao.” She realized that in the history of China, many a hero had come from among ordinary people. The young man standing before her might very well become a future heroic figure. Her heart swelled with pride while perspiration dotted her forehead. She could no longer control herself. Like everyone else in the crowd, she shook her fist and shouted: “Long live the Chinese Communist Party!”
Thousands of hands were being raised in front of her; thousands of flags were waving. And the crowd cried out like the first peal of spring thunder.
Yen Chih-ho, from his place in the crowd, was watching his son become a hero in everyone’s eyes. Tears coursed down his cheeks as he remembered Yün-t’ao. “If he were here,” Yen Chih-ho thought, “he would do even better; but what a pity, he is locked up in prison for life.”
When Chiang-t’ao raised his hands, the crowd raised thousands more in response. With tears in his eyes. Yen Chih-ho jumped up and shouted, “Good boy, right you are.”
Chu Lao-chung nudged Yen Chih-ho and said with a smile, “You watch, this boy is going to get somewhere!”
“You never know from whose family outstanding sons will come,” Yen Chih-ho said.
Ta-kuei, a broad-nosed, thick-lipped young man, leapt three feet into the air. Landing with a thud, he shouted, “Down with the pig tax. Down with that bully and bad landlord, Feng Lao-Ian!” Under the glaring sun, the crowd shouted in unison, sounding like the current roaring down a great river. “We want to settle old scores with Feng Lao-Ian! We want to settle old scores with Feng Lao-Ian!” Waves of shouting reached places far away.
Chang Chia-ch’ing, Chu Lao-chung, Yen Chih-ho, Wu Lao-pa, Ta-kuei, and others formed a cordon protecting Chiang-t’ao and Chia Hsiang-nung. They were in high spirits and prepared for battle. Their spears and swords glistened, threatening to drink the blood and devour the flesh of their enemies.
Chiang-t’ao directed the demonstration according to Chia Hsiang-nung’s plan. Vendors stopped doing business as thousands of people watched the imposing ranks marching down the main street. The entire street was filled with farmers marching along in great strides and students singing the Internationale. When the first ranks reached the Tax Bureau, the last had not yet left the firecracker market. Chiang-t’ao ran to the head of the column, with Yen P’ing at his heel. He blew his whistle; the demonstrators rushed forward, knocked down doors, smashed windows, and broke into the Tax Bureau. Hearing the commotion, Feng Lao-Ian turned pale. He jumped over the wall and fled. Feng Kuei-t’ang also scrambled over the wall and ran through alleys leading to the back door of the county government building, losing his shoes and hat along the way. The door was locked; he climbed over a low wall and ran to the office of the magistrate. Wang K’ai-ti asked, “What happened? You lost your shoes and hat.”
“The Communists have started a riot,” he answered. “They have broken into the Tax Bureau.”
“What?” asked Wang K’ai-ti, his eyes wide open.
“The opponents of the pig tax have rioted!” Feng said.
Wang K’ai-ti rushed to the door shouting, “Send out the police and security guards at once.”
Meanwhile Chiang-t’ao was directing the demonstration from the rooftop. “Fellow villagers,” he shouted, “the landlord has escaped. Now what?”
Ta-kuei, glaring, shook his muscular arm and strong fist, and screamed hoarsely, “Now the oppressive landlord is down; let’s go to the county government building and root out the corrupt officials!”
“We’ve not yet overthrown the cruel landlord,” Chiang-t’ao shouted back. “We must continue to hit him hard.”
He blew his whistle again and gave directions. The crowd surged toward the county government building. Chang Chia-ch’ing and his monitors kept close to Chiang-t’ao and Chia Hsiang-nung. Ta-kuei and his young companions, today, under the leadership of the Communist Party, spoke their minds for the first time in their lives. Talking, laughing, running, and jumping, they were intoxicated with joy. This was Yen P’ing’s first experience with the masses rising in revolt; there was something sacred about the scene which moved her to tears. She was wiping them with her handkerchief. Because she was slender and being swept from side to side by the crowd, Chiang-t’ao quietly took her arm.
No one but Chang Chia-ch’ing noticed this. He placed his lips close to Chiang-t’ao’s ear and whispered, “Who’s that?”
“A comrade like that?” Chang Chia-ch’ing grinned and patted him on the shoulder.
Chiang-t’ao took hold of his hand and said, “Don’t talk rubbish, eh?”
“Protecting you is okay,” said Chang Chia-ch’ing. “But I can’t protect her.”
The demonstrators moved on, then they stopped. Chiang-t’ao rushed to the head of the column to see what had happened. Mounted police in black uniform and security guards in yellow military uniform were lined up, blocking the way. They flashed their shining bayonets and snapped the safety catches on their rifles. They looked like mad dogs with bloodstained snouts ready to devour their prey. The crowd panicked and halted. Wu Lao-pa signaled Chiang-t’ao to climb up onto his shoulders. Chiang-t’ao pounded his chest and shouted, “Don’t be afraid! Don’t be afraid! If troops come, we’ll fight back. If water comes, we’ll dam it. You with the guns, you take aim at me here!” He continued pounding his chest. When the people saw that the police and security guards dared not fire at Chiang-t’ao, they regained their confidence.
Yet the security guards did not retreat; the demonstrators could not move on. Chiang-t’ao jumped down from Wu Lao-pa’s shoulders and shouted, “Comrades, follow me!” And with defiance in his eyes, he led the demonstration forward. Suddenly two sparkling bayonets were pointing at his face blocking his way. Chiang-t’ao, with his hands behind his back, opened his eyes wide and fearlessly glared at the glittering tips of the bayonets. His courage struck home and the demonstrators followed suit.
Chu Lao-chung saw that the bayonets leveled at Chiang-t’ao would soon be thrust into his eyes. He ripped off his padded jacket, and rushed over with a stick.* With one blow he knocked both bayonets to the ground. At once five or six more bayonets descended upon him. He fought back. Soon he was surrounded by countless bayonets, and he was losing ground. He shouted, “Charge, comrades! Even if it’s a mountain of swords, we shall overcome!”
Ta-kuei, with his thick neck thrust forward, shook his arms and shouted, “Down with the thugs of the corrupt officials!” The crowd echoed. Their cries shook heaven and earth.
Chang Chia-ch’ing, Ta-kuei, and other young monitors of the demonstration picked up their spears and rushed forward. Because the troops did not have any order to shoot, the monitors soon broke their ranks and drove them into the courtyard.
Chu Lao-chung shouted, “Comrades, let’s go in!”
They rushed into the courtyard, they crowded into the hall, they climbed all over the roof.
Chu Lao-chung stood in front of the crowd, shook his fist and shouted, “Corrupt officials, come out and meet the public.” The demonstrators echoed his shout. The police and security guards made threatening gestures and held their ground.
“Comrades!” Chu Lao-chung continued, “If they hurt one of us, what shall we do?”
“Kill them all!” the crowd responded.
“Very well,” Chu Lao-chung shouted, “get your weapons.” The demonstrators armed themselves with hoes, bricks, and rocks and took up combat positions like tigers out on a hunt.
When the magistrate saw such a multitude of petitioners, he dared not show his face. The security guards and police formed a cordon around the building. The demonstrators waited for a long time before the magistrate sent out a message: “For the time being, no pig tax will be collected.” Chiang-t’ao demanded that he repeal the tax outright. The magistrate said he did not dare without instruction from the provincial government.
Chiang-t’ao noticed that it had been a long day for the demonstrators, who had had just one meal and were all exhausted. He asked Wu Lao-pa to give him a push to get onto a stone stele nearby. He talked from his perch; “My fellow countrymen, my old fellow townsmen! Now you have seen our power, haven’t you? We scared the daylight out of those bad landlords and corrupt officials. But if they come again to collect the pig tax, what shall we do?”
“Kill them right there and then!” Shouted Chu Lao-chung, again jumping up, and again yelling at the top of his voice.
“Down with the bad landlord Feng Lao-Ian!” roared the crowd.
Chiang-t’ao tilted his head to one side and imitated Chia Hsiang-nung’s gesture as he shouted, “Abolish the license fees! ... Oppose the salt price hike!... Abolish usury! ...” But his raised right arm was trembling.
“You want to get rid of all the bad landlords and corrupt officials? Then join the Peasants Association!” said Chiang-t’ao. And the crowd responded, “We want to join!”
“Comrades,” said Chiang-t’ao, “don’t walk home alone. Watch out for the bad landlords. They are out to get you. Watch out for the police; they are waiting to arrest you!”
[The demonstrators’ victory is short-lived. Feng Lao-Ian soon files a lawsuit against them. Meanwhile, Chiang-t’ao and his schoolmates at the No. 2 Normal School are absorbed in another issue—protesting the Kuomintang government’s nonaction against Japanese invaders. The closure of the school does not drive away the student demonstrators, but a police blockade threatens them with starvation, which becomes effectively divisive among the students.]
During the past several days the Kuomintang branch at the city mobilized the students’ parents to keep a vigil in front of the besieged school, where they tearfully demanded to see their children. Their soft talk undermined the students’ resolve. Some of them secretly negotiated with the police, sneaked out, and went home. The enemy’s political offensive showed its effect.
The wavering of some students during the past few days had given Lao-hsia reason to be concerned. He could neither eat nor sleep. One night he went up to the dormitory to look for Chiang-t’ao, but he could find neither him nor Chang Chia-ch’ing. Alone he paced back and forth in the corridor. After a while he stopped, resting both his hands on the railing. The noise of the city had subsided. Everything hushed. Thousands of twinkling stars above matched the thousands of gleaming city lights below like red flags strewn all over the sky and below....
While standing there he remembered the high price he had paid during the past few years at the No. 2 Normal School. For the sake of the revolution and freedom, many comrades had even had to sacrifice their own education to make this school what it was now. In the course of the revolution the No. 2 Normal School had written a glorious page, but today it was facing disaster. It appeared that they would have to abandon it for a life behind bars. Distress filled his black eyes.
There he stood, with his hands behind him. By and by he felt a warm hand reaching for his. He turned to find Chiang-t’ao placing an arm over his shoulder. In the darkness, Chiang-t’ao noticed a sad smile on his pale, thin face. “Are you feeling well?” he inquired.
“It’s nothing,” Lao-hsia replied, shaking his head.
The magnificent Milky Way and the quiet city at night captured Chiang-t’ao. “Well, we may have to leave this dear school,” he said with a sigh.
Any young person, particularly during his school years, would cherish the school that nurtured and educated him—its buildings, trees, ponds, and wells—with the same feelings that he had for his home. The thought of leaving would melt his heart; no matter how many years had passed, he would still recall with fond memories many meaningful events that had occurred there.
“I don’t want to leave,” Lao-hsia mumbled slowly. “I cannot bear such a thought.”
“For the revolution,” replied Chiang-t’ao. “But as for our struggle, the aim ought to be clearer.”
“It’s very clear.” Lao-hsia was surprised. “Having armed ourselves, we wait for negotiations.”
“Wait for negotiations?” Chiang-t’ao asked. “Isn’t that rather opportunistic?”
Taken aback, Lao-hsia started blinking. After a long silence he nodded. “Perhaps. But I still don’t quite understand. Paoting is an important center of communication and the heart of revolution of this entire region. The No. 2 Normal School is the revolutionary fortress in Paoting and a fulcrum in student movements. We can’t just let the enemy take it. Our heroic action already has had influence on the people in Tientsin and all over North China.” His subtle tone revealed the determination of the Party leadership. His heart was afire as he, with his hands behind him, paced back and forth, and his calm eyes shone with confidence.
Chiang-t’ao, with his questions somewhat frustrated, hesitated for a moment. “Yes,” he said. “In our demand for resistance against Japan we should be more resolute.” He was watching Lao-hsia, trying to gauge his feelings.
Then Chiang-t’ao’s thoughts became clearer. To be sure, the young people of this region had all supported this movement and extended its influence, but because of the shape the struggle had taken now the students could no longer wait; they must act at once. “The revolutionary tide has risen all over the country,” he maintained. “The establishment of the Chinese Soviet Republic and the expansion of the red areas ought to inspire the people.” Frowning in deep thought for a moment, he continued; “We are not cooperating with workers and peasants but fighting alone with our strength exposed. Wouldn’t such action harm the revolution?”
He started pacing with Lao-hsia. Lao-hsia’s face became grave. “Your question is very much to the point!” He gazed into space, unblinking. After a considerable pause he conceded, “Yes, there may well be an element of opportunism in this.” He did not finish. The present situation could well be compared to a drum, which, if punctured, can no longer work. They had underestimated the cruelty of their adversaries. When the enemy announced the list of political criminals, they did not run away. On the contrary, they assembled themselves in the school as if to wait for arrest. At this point he was not prepared to bare this thought, but said, “Right now, our job is to prevent right-wing sentiment among the revolutionary ranks and to fight courageously and stubbornly. If we waver, there’s going to be trouble. Once we leave these walls, we will be arrested immediately.” He slowly raised his head to look at Chiang-t’ao.
At that time, the enemy, the Kuomintang, was marshaling its forces in preparation to attack the red areas in the south, and actively suppressing anti-Japanese movements and arresting the young activists in the north. After the students had maintained ten days of stubborn resistance on campus, their schoolmates off campus held press conferences in Tientsin and Peking to publicize their cause. But the authorities showed no sign of coming to terms....
To Lao-hsia, for years student movement had been this way: closing schools, demonstrations, petitions, and extensive propaganda; when those who were in authority decided to save face, they would initiate negotiation. Yet today the situation was different. “I understand what you mean,” he said. “But have you thought through how we can break out? The enemy has regular troops out there, but we have neither an inch of iron on hand nor support from the outside. That to me is risky.”
“The way I see it,” commented Chiang-t’ao, “it’s better to break out than to wait, because waiting amounts to suicide.”
“Waiting is opportunism, while breaking out is adventurism.” Lao-hsia said after a pause, “If you agree to this logic, either way it’s suicide. There is no hope!” Chuckling humorously, he led Chiang-t’ao downstairs.
They stood hand in hand in front of a map. This had become their old habit in recent years. Whenever they discussed revolution, they would draw red lines on the map around the regions occupied by the Red Army and circle the abandoned areas with blue lines....
When the comrades working in the Kuomintang areas saw the red regions on the map, it warmed their hearts as if the red ones were their home and motherland.
Lao-hsia made a circle on the map. “Look,” he said. “Whose territory is this?”
Chiang-t’ao’s feelings became mixed. He always had respect for Lao-hsia, who had come from Ching-hsing, where his father and elder brother were miners and members of the Communist Party. From the very beginning he was simply taught by his social class background, and did not come to the No. 2 Normal School until he joined the Party. Though sparing in speech, he loved to ponder questions deeply. All year round he wore a pair of shoes and socks made by his mother and a faded gown of homespun variety. He was a simple but compassionate fellow and a responsible Party member. The victories won by several student protests at the No. 2 Normal School could not have been without his leadership. Because of his ingenious strategies, the second student protest from start to finish lasted for only three days but succeeded in having the Department of Education remove the corrupt principal—an unprecedented victory! But now that the enemy had devised different tactics, Lao-hsia continued to follow the old line and could not leap a single step forward.
As the question of line entered into his mind, Chiang-t’ao regretted that when they were opposing the “Leftists’ Adventurism,” they did not grasp the new spirit, nor did they purge the attitude of wanting instant success. At the moment the wisdom of the comrades had not caught up with the new line of thought, which caused their struggle to face the present predicament. He no longer wanted to continue this line of thought. “I’ll go to stand guard,” he said and walked away.
Lao-hsia, from his place by the door, watched Chiang-t’ao’s shadow until it completely disappeared in darkness before he returned to sit on his bed to rest. He thought: the prospect of leaving the school and handing it over to the enemies would never get the group’s approval; in fact he himself could not bear to agree.
A student who had been on guard brought a letter to him which had been thrown in from the outside. After one quick glance at it he backed up a few steps to lean against the wall, his hand trembling. He placed his other hand over his eyes for a moment, then began to read the letter.
The Provincial Party authority had decided: “Anti-Japanese guerrilla activities will be expanded on both sides of the Hu-t’o and Chu-lung Rivers on the plain of Hopei Province. The Special Party Committee has decided to withdraw the student protesters from the No. 2 Normal School and reassign them to the countryside to support the guerrillas in Kao-yang and Li-hsien.” Lao-hsia heaved a long sigh and said resolutely, “It shall be done!”
Alone, Chiang-t’ao had continued to wonder whether or not he was guilty of right-wing reaction in his thinking. But after reading the directive from the Special Party Committee he immediately said with conviction, “This is right!”
His frowning forehead suddenly relaxed and a smile appeared on his face. With the letter in hand he went to the northern building to look up Chang Chia-ch’ing, who was sleeping in his bed. He put the letter in his hands.
Without waiting for Chang Chia-ch’ing to finish reading, Chiang-t’ao said, “I’m one hundred percent behind this excellent strategy.” His eyes shone as he paced around the room. “What happens to this school is less important than the affairs of the nation. Being boxed in within these school walls is not as good as expanding guerrilla warfare in the countryside....”
Chang Chia-ch’ing finished reading the letter.... He sat up abruptly and glanced at Chiang-t’ao. “Beware of defeatism!” he said. “We must protect the anti-Japanese fortress and the interests of young students.” He waved his arm, chopping up and down. “Do reactionaries want to starve us? So long as one of us is alive, let’s break out and charge the Public Security Police Office.” Tears came to his eyes as he shouted breathlessly.
When Chiang-t’ao saw Chang Chia-ch’ing’s rousing anger, he understood that even though the time for the old line had passed, the old line of thought still remained. Yet how noble was his revolutionary zeal! “We ought to have a broader view,” he said. “We can’t grow grain on the school playground....”
Chiang-t’ao said, “This is the new line! We must consider problems according to the new spirit. In order to preserve the revolutionary seeds, we should conserve our strength. We must recognize that in a revolution sometimes we advance and sometimes we retreat; at other times we may go in a circle or take a detour. The enemy, seeing this superficially, may think that we have withdrawn in defeat. Yet when the seeds sown on dry ground receive spring rain, they will germinate and become thousands of seedlings. In the sun and wind they will blossom and bear fruit. On the other hand, if we lose these seeds ...” He proceeded to explain in considerable detail the importance of preserving the anti-Japanese strength and the seeds of revolution.
Chang Chia-ch’ing stood up, cutting Chiang-t’ao short, “Oh, my God! You and your circles and detours again! Why can’t we take the straight path? Afraid of bloodshed? Fear death? I have no fear of anything, not even the corrupt power which placed this cangue upon me.” He was thinking: If you went this way, he would say that way is correct; if you went that way, he would surely say this way is correct. If not too much to the left, then too much to the right—this revolution is surely tough business!
“Our struggle is to fortify further the revolutionary foundation,” he said thoughtfully. “We are not to sell ourselves short; we cannot put all the eggs in one basket.” He sat down and continued, “What if you break out, charge the Public Security Police, and land in jail? The revolutionary ranks will only lose a comrade, that’s all!”
They could not reach an agreement. They had to wait until they held a meeting to reach a decision.
[The students accept the Party directive. They prepare to break out for the countryside to join the guerrillas. But the Kuomintang army takes them by surprise. In the course of violent struggle many students are wounded, arrested, or killed. The first volume of this long novel ends with the imprisonment of Chiang-t’ao and the escape of Chang Chia-ch’ing, his comrade-in-arms.]
Translated by Edmond Vee
Tu P’eng-ch’eng was born in Han-ch’eng of Shensi Province to a family of poor means. Since his father died while he was young, Tu was brought up by his mother and had to work while attending school. His formal education ended upon graduation from a junior middle school in 1937.
In the following year, at the age of seventeen, Tu joined the Chinese Communist Party and became involved in its revolutionary activities. Shortly afterwards, he went to Yenan, where he enrolled for further training at the University of War of Resistance against Japan. Upon completion of his schooling, he was assigned to work in a rural area and engaged in the development of the frontier. In 1942 he was transferred to work in a factory.
In 1947 he was attached to the Northwestern Field Army as a war correspondent for the New China News Agency. During the numerous campaigns he witnessed, he gathered voluminous material, which became the reservoir for his creative writings.
His full-length novel, Defend Yenan, was published in 1954. This work of more than 350,000 words earned him great acclaim throughout the People’s Republic of China and was hailed as an outstanding novel of military life. Tu gave a fictionalized account of several major battles in the defense of Yenan and favorably portrayed a number of leaders in the Chinese Communist Military High Command, including P’eng Teh-huai, Wang Chen, and others.
In Peacetime, his second major work, was a medium-length novel about the life and times of workers during the construction of the Pao-chi to Ch’eng-tu Railway. Published in 1958, it also brought him widespread critical praise. He was generally regarded as having excelled in his in-depth presentation and analysis of the “contradictions” among people.
Tu’s best-known short stories include “The Natives of Yenan” (1958) and “Traveling through the Ling-kuan Gorge at Night” (1959).
Defend Yenan, nationally recognized in the 1950s, was labeled a “poisonous weed” in the 1960s because it upheld the heroic image of Marshal P’eng Tehhuai, an outspoken critic of the Great Leap Forward movement. However, both the memory of P’eng (who died in the mid-1960s) and Defend Yenan were officially restored to honor in 1978, and Tu P’eng-cheng has since resumed his writing. —M.H.T.
1. THE OLD COUPLE
Lü Yu-huai had, by order of his superior, come to a project office of the railway to assume his post as Party committee secretary. Upon his arrival, he found none of the comrades in charge were present at the office. He put down his luggage and went out to tour the area. The hills both in front of and behind the office were work sites; next to the office were dormitories for workers and staff, a motor pool, and a row of warehouses. In front of the warehouses was a parking lot, where five or six workers were unloading cement from a truck that was parked at one end of the lot. As they were unloading, they yelled, “No. 400 cement, 250 sacks! No. 200 cement, 700 sacks!”
An old man, who had just directed the unloading operation, sat by the gate of the warehouses. He had a dark and long face. On his slightly upturned chin was a bushy beard that looked both curly and yellowish, as if it had been singed. His blue uniform was full of oil stains and rust spots. The most eyecatching feature about him was his shoes, which must have weighed two catties. There was a piece of paper on his knee. He was exerting great efforts to note some figures upon it. With a tobacco pipe in his mouth, he looked rather clumsy, and he moved so very slowly that he looked like a mentally retarded person.
The workers shouted, “Old Chief, don’t get the figures mixed up!” The one who was addressed as “Old Chief” removed the pipe from his mouth and knocked it against his shoes. That was his answer. This “Old Chief” would probably not lose a single screw if he was to take care of supplies, Lü Yu-huai thought. But to put him in the position of chief of supplies would never do. Those who take up the position of chief of supplies at construction sites must all be the most capable and the most patient people. They must have long legs, long hands, sharp ears and sharp eyes; they must be able to handle complaints and endure hardships and at the same time be articulate and diplomatic. Otherwise, they could never hope to secure the supplies the others could not secure. “They’ve assigned the wrong man!” Lü Yu-huai lighted a cigarette, walking away aimlessly while musing upon the subject. “Comrade, I see you are walking quite spryly. Are you going to the market or to the temple?” a woman shouted. Lü Yu-huai took a careful look and saw a woman about fifty who was sitting in the lotus position by the entrance of a cave-house near the motor pool. She was stitching a shoe sole. Lü Yu-huai smiled and walked toward the old woman.
“Haven’t you got eyes?” she asked, with her shoe sole pointing at the wall in front. Lü Yu-huai saw the words on the wall, “Smoking Strictly Prohibited!” Quickly he extinguished the cigarette with his fingers. Pulling a long face and sewing the sole, she pulled the thread so hard that it screeched. It was obvious that her anger had not yet dissipated. Lü Yu-huai said, “Auntie, you sound like you are from Yenan. Perhaps we’re from the same hometown!”
“From the same hometown, what’s so good about it? Can you eat it? Look, that was very close, wasn’t it? —You dare to smoke right in front of a gasoline dump.” Although she was reprimanding Lü Yu-huai, her tone was much softer and she was trying to size up Lü to see if he was really from Yenan. Lü Yu-huai sat by the old woman and asked, “Are you, Auntie, a warehouse guard?” She broke into a smile and said, “I am really an emperor!”
Some ten or more supply trucks were driven into the parking lot in front of the warehouses, with horns honking and dust flying. A hundred or more movers were rushing about to unload the supplies. Shouting and calling rang out everywhere all at once. Hei Ch’eng-wei, the old chief, suddenly turned into another person. He shot up, stuck his pipe between his neck and his collar, and shouted, “Hey, you! Little Hei’s mother, come on, give me a hand!”
As if she had just gotten an emergency order, the old woman threw down her sole, dusted herself, and hurriedly walked toward the parking lot. The words “Come on, give me a hand” may not mean much to others, but to this old woman, they would always stir up strong feelings.
A long time ago, the chief of supplies, Hei Ch’eng-wei’s father, exchanged two pecks of corn with a refugee for a child bride for his son. Later, this couple, with their four shoulders, carried the burden of poverty. During those years when they might have a cooking pot but no rice to go into it, there was hardly any joy and hardly any love. Since they were sworn in under the Red Flag by Liu Chih-tan, however, they began an extraordinary life. During the twenty years that followed, the words “Come on, give me a hand,” once uttered by Hei Ch’eng-wei, could make this woman carry out any mission with all her might and her life. It might be that she had to disguise herself as a beggar in order to sneak into the very center of the White Army to gather intelligence; it might be that she had to travel through a territory fraught with imminent danger in order to transmit an urgent message to the Red Army under the command of Liu Chih-tan; it might be that she had to carry a spear on a patrol so as to let her husband lead a unit of red guerrillas, under the cover of night, to attack the enemy, who were sound asleep.
Once the old woman walked into the parking lot, the movers exchanged glances among themselves, as if they were saying, “Be careful! The old lady has come to the front line!” At this time, some drivers had their engine hood open and were doing some repairs. Movers were running back and forth; members of the supply staff were shouting. Hei Ch’eng-wei, chief of supplies, fully energized, looked like a young man. With a notebook in his hand and a half-length pencil behind his ear, he jumped onto a truck, as though he were directing an assaulting army advancing from all directions, and shouted, “You young fellows, don’t you drop the parts!” “Don’t get the No. 400 cement mixed up with the No. 200 cement!” “Say, Hui, you little rascal, if you don’t listen to my instructions, I’m going to twist your ears!” His voice sounded like thunder that drowned out the roaring of trucks and the noise of about a hundred workers. He frequently sent his strong and efficient wife to the most important post, saying to her, “Hey, you, Little Hei’s mother, take charge of those moving the cement!”
The old woman, like a combat-seasoned soldier, would immediately run to the cement-movers and very speedily straighten out whatever chaotic situation there might be. None of the young workers dared to make trouble or disregard the old woman’s directions. Lü Yu-huai cried “Bravo!” in secret. He had been running from one construction site to another for five or six years, yet he had never seen an old couple who were as well coordinated with each other as they.
As the old woman had just helped her husband with the unloading of supplies, a group of women yelled, “Old Comrade, hurry up! No. 203 is due!” What a busy day! The old woman quickly went to the other side, where she tidied up the soles and threads and withdrew into the cave-house. She then emerged with a black kerchief wrapped around her head and locked the door with a bang. She walked over and threw the key to the chief of supplies, saying, “Old Hei, I may be coming back at midnight or when the cock crows; there are some steamed buns in the steamer and some pickled greens in the jar. Go get them yourself when you’re hungry!”
Hei Ch’eng-wei, the old man, simply sat there, speechless, and caught the key in his hands. Once again he had that clumsy, spiritless look. Holding the already extinguished tobacco pipe in his mouth, he was slowly filling in some figures.
“Take me to the Forty Kilometers!” The old woman crossed an irrigation channel and reached the highway. As she waved her hand, a supply truck came to a sudden stop. “Hurry up and get in, Old Comrade!” The driver was full of smiles. He let the old woman sit in the cab, as though the fact that she would ride in it was the greatest honor to him.
As the truck zoomed away, a cloud of dust blocked Lü Yu-huai’s vision. He hit his palm with his fist and said aloud, “What a capable old woman!” Admiration, respect, and excitement now so overwhelmed him that even when the dust stirred up by the passing trucks blanketed his face and body, he did not feel it at all.
He turned to those women who were standing by the entrance of the cave-houses to find out more about the old woman. They said that although she was a housewife of a staff member, she was a very important figure, holding more than ten positions: secretary of the Party branch for the workers’ families, chief of the family association, committee member of the union, head of the resource conservation squad, volunteer midwife ... whoever’s wife was to give birth to a child, the old woman would be on call to render service, rain or shine. Her services were not only hygienic but also safe. Besides, she would not accept compensations. “No. 203 is due!” meant that she was called upon to take care of the birth of child No. 203. Along the hundred-some li stretch of railway work area, she was one of the most senior Party members, thus she was called “Old Comrade.” Since she had been called by that name for so long, most people had forgotten her real name. Even at the time of the union’s committee membership election, her name appeared on the roster of candidates as “Old Comrade.”
Having heard what the staff and workers’ wives had said, Lü Yu-huai reflected upon it for a while and thought the whole thing most interesting. He turned around and looked into the cave-house through a window crack. He saw that the cave-house where the old woman lived had been expanded from a small cave. There was a large k’ang, at the head of which was a stove. The stone slab on the stove was rubbed gleaming bright. Beside the stove was a small wooden rack, upon which were placed bowls, chopsticks, ladles, basins, jars, and a small wooden steamer for steaming buns. The smell of pickled vegetables drifted out through the window cracks.
All this reminded Lü Yu-huai of those hills and mountains in northern Shensi Province, of the old pagoda and the ancient city walls of Yenan, and of those hamlets in the mountain gulches. It was the place where he was born and the place where he fought. He was familiar with and loved every tree and every blade of grass. Now it was the seventh month of the lunar calendar, when the rice and millet plants in the Yenan area had grown waist-high. One could, from time to time, hear the sonorous and melodious folk songs from the farms and woods.
2. OLD FRIENDS MEET AGAIN
At night, when Lü Yu-huai heard that the project director had returned, he walked toward the office. As he walked, he wondered what the director, with whom he was to work, was like, how his disposition was, and how well he could work.
As he entered a workshed, he saw a man bending low over some reports, now quickly scribbling a few lines on paper, now hurriedly working an abacus, and now making a telephone call. When he saw Lü Yu-huai enter the room, he stood up, shook Lü’s hand, and said, “You are ...?... I... am Hei Yung-liang.”
Lü Yu-huai was dumbfounded. He gazed at Hei Yung-liang’s face for a while, stepped back a little, looked at Hei again, up and down, and said, “You ... let me think ... you are ... Comrade Hei Yung-liang! Isn’t your childhood name Little Hei? You are from Li’s Gulch of Tung-ch’uan in Yenan? Say, am I right?” It was Hei Yung-liang’s turn to be surprised. Holding the reports above his head and with his eyes blinking in confusion, he couldn’t recall anything at all for a moment. Lü Yu-huai stared at Hei Yung-liang. He thought of a hometown saying, “Tall mountains produce handsome looks.” It had been ten years. Little Hei might have gone through all sorts of struggles, yet his cleancut air, his handsome looks, and his intelligent eyes remained the same as before. Lü said, “Little Hei, how forgetful you are! Don’t you remember that in 1947 ...” It suddenly dawned upon Hei Yung-liang. “Oh, yes, you are Lü ... Lü ... LÜ YU-HUAI! Gee, I really didn’t expect it was you!” He pushed aside the forms and abacus, handed Lü a cigarette, grabbed a tea mug to pour some drinking water, and said, “Old Lü, let me tell you, my dad and mom are both here!”
It was late at night when Lü Yu-huai emerged from the home of the chief of supplies. After he returned to his quarters, he couldn’t fall asleep, no matter what. Events of the past presented themselves vividly before his mind’s eye.
It was in the latter part of April 1947, after the bandit troops of Chiang had occupied Yenan for more than a month, that the Northwestern Field Army destroyed one division of enemy troops in the vicinity of Yenan. As the battle concluded, the Field Army had to move quickly to another front, preparing themselves for continuing battles, and consequently left Lü Yu-huai, who carried four wounds on him, and ninety some other wounded personnel to a guerrilla unit. The leader of that guerrilla unit was known as Little Hei.
The moon was shining upon the wavelike hills. Scattered rifle reports disturbed the tranquillity of the night. Red signal flares flashed across the distant sky. Lying here and there on the hills were twelve wounded people. Most of the wounded had been carried away by members of the guerrilla unit. Little Hei was waiting for their return to move the last batch. The situation suddenly turned tense. Gunshots came closer and closer, gradually pressing in from the east, the west, and the north.
Little Hei, clasping the rifle in his arms, stamped his feet in desperation. Then he remembered that among the wounded was Company Commander Lü Yu-huai, who might have some idea about what to do. Little Hei went to Lü Yu-huai’s stretcher. He squatted down and lifted the quilt; he saw Lü’s face, ashen from excessive loss of blood. Lü did not say a word; he merely touched the hand grenade that was placed beside his head.
As time went by, the situation became worse; bullets were whizzing overhead. One could see many vague human silhouettes moving atop the northern hill. Needless to say, they were the enemies. Little Hei felt his heart pressed against his throat! He loaded his rifle, prepared to shoot.
Suddenly, a human silhouette appeared on the slope. Little Hei felt chills all over him. Swiftly he took the prone position, stuck his rifle barrel out, and shouted, “Who’s there?”
The man who was walking along the path on the slope not only did not stop but walked even more slowly and more steadily, as if he were counting the steps while he was walking. Little Hei shouted, “Who’s there? Halt!” He was breathing hard and was about to pull the trigger. The man spoke up, “Who! Who! You, good-for-nothing, lived twenty some years for nothing. You don’t even recognize your own dad!” Little Hei jumped up. He was at once delighted and anxious. “Hurry up! Listen, bullets are whizzing by!” As he walked, Hei Ch’eng-wei said, “Little Hei, your dad is about halfway through his life, and he’s made friends, you know, particularly with those bullets.”
When he reached the hilltop, he stood there erect like a wall. Little Hei grabbed him by his arm and said, “Dad, it’s terrible. I don’t have even a single stretcher-bearer. This ... this ...” Hei Ch’eng-wei drew his chin in, his forehead jutting out. With his eyes bulging like those of an ox, he said, “I really feel like slapping you! What are you afraid of? If the sky should fall, you have big guys to hold it up!” He turned around, tilted his hat backwards a little, raised his head, inserted two fingers into his mouth and whistled loudly. The sound of whistling provoked some fierce shooting from the enemy. Upon hearing the whistling, a woman around forty with a couple of dozen other women ran up the hill from the gulch. Excitedly Little Hei shouted, “Ma, you are really a life-saving Bodhisattva!” Hei Ch’eng-wei said, “Little Hei, without your ma, the fighting general, I imagine you’re going to flop today!” He turned around. Pointing at the wounded, he said to his wife, “Little Hei’s mother, come on, give me a hand!”
As Little Hei’s mother waved her hand, the couple of dozen women carried away eleven of the wounded; she herself and three other women carried the stretcher on which Lü Yu-huai was lying. Little Hei with his rifle marched in front of the stretchers; his father carried his rifle in one hand and walked behind. A long column of silhouettes under the moonlight along the ridge speedily and quietly headed toward the south. A moment later, enemies appeared on the hill where they had stayed. Bullets were in hot pursuit of the stretcher-bearers.
After midnight, they reached the wide riverbed, east of Yenan. Immediately before their eyes were the highway and the Yen River. Enemy trucks were running on the highway. Every single hamlet along the Yen River seemed dead. One could not hear any dog’s barking, nor could one see any lights.
Hei Ch’eng-wei watched a fleet of enemy trucks pass; he went around to reconnoiter the surrounding area. Then he ordered, “Little Hei’s mother, I’m going to run with my gun. You lead the stretcher team and follow me closely. Even if the sky falls and the earth caves in, don’t you stop!” The old Mrs. Hei, looking intently at her husband, nodded.
Hei Ch’eng-wei gave the second order, “Little Hei, you stay behind to cover us. No matter how many enemies come up, you must hold them for half an hour! Have you got the guts?” Little Hei said, “Okay!” With a hand on his son’s shoulder, Hei Ch’eng-wei shook him a little and said, “Listen to that, you sound like your dad all right!” Hei Ch’eng-wei led the stretcher team away. They crossed the highway, waded through the Yen River, and climbed the mountain.
Once Hei Ch’eng-wei led the stretcher team to the top of a hill, they stopped to rest. Everyone felt a little more relaxed, for they had finally left the enemy behind. The young women were still panting and cursing, “Old Hei, we followed you on this run; it will cost us ten years of life!” “Old Hei, you are the death of us—you, old devil, you are killing us!” Old Hei didn’t hear a thing. He and his wife were looking at the roads down the hill, looking at the Yen River, and looking at the East River of Yenan. One could see that the enemy machine guns on the opposite hill were sticking out their fiery tongues. Enemy trucks were flying, one after another, along the highway at the foot of the hill. Their headlights illuminated the dusty air. Under the moonlight, one could clearly see Little Hei in silhouette, lying prone by the bank of the Yen River, shooting.
Suddenly, Little Hei fired off several rapid rounds, got up, and ran toward the rear. After a few steps he fell. At this crucial moment, the enemies came down the hill, crossed the highway, and ran toward the river bank in pursuit. Bullets whistled over the heads of Old Hei and his wife. The women who were resting on the ground stood up in a hurry and ran toward Old Hei to watch the river banks. They saw the enemies in groups of thirty to fifty moving toward the banks. Machine guns and rifles were spitting fire. No one made any noise except the sound of heavy breathing. Bullets screeched in all directions. Old Hei waved his hand and angrily yelled, “Hit the ground!” Everyone except his wife lay down at once.
Old Hei kicked the ground and said, “Quick! Move the wounded forward quickly. There is a woods two or three li ahead. Once we get in there, everything will be okay!” Little Hei’s mother tugged at her husband. “You dead old man,” she said, “don’t you want our son?” Old Hei said, “You womenfolk have long hair but short vision! Let’s get the twelve comrades out of danger first, then come back to get Little Hei!”
“How mean you are!” she said, “Isn’t Little Hei your own flesh and blood?” Old Hei became angry. With his chin in, his forehead out, and his eyes bulging like those of an ox, he asked, “Which is more important, one life or twelve lives?”
She rushed over and snatched the rifle from Old Hei’s hands. “You people get away! If I could bring him to this world, I can save him too.” Old Hei blocked her way. He thought, if he hadn’t been concerned about the wounded, he would have long ago rushed down, and now there was no way for him to get away. On second thought, he reasoned with himself, “If she goes to get him, that should solve the problem all right. I’ll get the twelve wounded moving first. If we run into bad guys in the woods, I alone can handle eight or ten of them.” He took a look around and listened carefully. “Little Hei’s mother,” he said, “let me ask you, how are you going to save Little Hei?” Hugging the rifle, she looked at the river without saying a word. Her hair fluttered in the wind.
Old Hei took the gun from his wife and pushed her to the ground. He then dropped to the ground on his belly and fired off more than ten rounds in a stretch. That provoked the enemy to shoot back rapidly. After a while, the enemy saw no more gunfire or movement from this side, so they stopped shooting and seemed to be groping along the bank. Old Hei took out a box of matches and ran to the east, where he struck a match and blew it out. Repeatedly, he struck about a dozen matches. The enemy resumed shooting, not only with machine guns but with 60-mm cannon as well.
Old Hei handed the rifle over to his wife. “The enemy,” he said, “will not dare to advance within a couple of hours. Strike when the iron is hot. Hurry up and go!” She carried the rifle and, braving the heavy fire, rushed down to the gulch and groped toward the river bank. Old Hei, armed with some hand grenades, took the twelve stretchers to the dark woods.
After he came to, Lü Yu-huai in the stretcher felt unbearably thirsty. Through the tree branches he saw a bright moon and a few stars in the sky. He saw the silhouettes of those women who were on guard around the stretchers. Then his vision fell upon Old Hei. Old Hei had his small tobacco pipe out, but he seemed uninterested in smoking; he looked around and listened. Lü Yu-huai said, “Say, fellow-townsman, hurry up to help your old partner and your son!”
Old Hei felt as if he were being deep-fried or burned. How he wished to have a pair of wings so he could fly to the river bank! But when he heard the groans of the wounded, he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving them. Just to cover up his anxiety and to give some comfort to the wounded, he responded to keep the conversation going. “Company Commander Lü, you sound like a person from right here.”
“I’m a native of Kao-ch’iao-ch’uan, west of Yenan,” Lü said. Old Hei stood up, carrying the hand grenades. Absent-mindedly, he asked, “A native of Kao-ch’iao-ch’uan? What is your father called?”
“My father was called Lü Shih-teh. He...” Old Hei was surprised. He asked, “Say it again. Who’s your father?” Lü Yu-huai repeated what he had said. Old Hei ran over to Lü, lifted his cover, and said, “Gee... You’re Lü Shih-teh’s kid? Your father was...! Your father sacrificed his life in 1936 when the Red Army was in the Eastern Expedition! In the old society, your father peddled charcoal carried on a donkey and I worked as a blacksmith. The two of us were sworn brothers. It was he who sponsored me and my wife to join the Party in 1933. My good nephew, you...you... Gee! This is really one of those opportunities which you bump into but can never find if you start looking for it!”
If he hadn’t been badly wounded, Lü Yu-huai would have jumped up right away to give Hei Ch’eng-wei a good hug. He had not met Hei Ch’eng-wei before. But when he was just old enough to understand a few words, he would climb upon a neighborhood old man’s knees, listening to people’s stories about Old Hei’s superman feats. There was the story about how Hei Ch’eng-wei—he must have consumed a tiger’s heart and a leopard’s guts that time—bare-handedly fought his way through a huge army of enemy troops. They said that he once disguised himself as a poor cripple and carried a basket of chicken eggs for sale. A group of officers of the White Army jumped him for the eggs; he merely took out a hand grenade with which he effortlessly took five of them captive. There was also the story that as soon as the Central Red Army advanced to northern Shensi Province, Liu Chih-tan transferred this Red warrior of extraordinary courage out of his unit and made him the captain of Security Guards for the Party Central.
Suddenly, it seemed that something had just happened. Old Hei stood up and ran back, tracing his steps. The women followed him. Lü Yu-huai and the other wounded ones who were able to move a bit all struggled to lift their heads to watch. Sure enough, it was Little Hei and his mother, both wounded, holding on to each other and staggering along slowly. Their blood dropped on the road all the way....
3. THE WHOLE FAMILY
After dinner, on the second day after Lü Yu-huai’s arrival, Chief of Supplies Hei Ch’eng-wei and Project Director Hei Yung-liang took Lü to tour several major work sites. As they walked, Hei Yung-liang briefed Lü Yu-huai on his experience in the construction of railways through the mountainous region. Pointing to an already completed tall stone arch bridge in the distance, he further explained the merits of securing materials locally during the construction and summarized the history of stone arch bridges in China. Not only Lü Yu-huai looked to Hei Yung-liang with envy, but even the old man Hei Ch’eng-wei regarded his son, who had started as a shepherd, with respect.
Once they got on the slope, they were stopped by a cadre. In a matter of moments, a crowd surged around Hei Ch’eng-wei and Hei Yung-liang: director of the work district, chief engineer, supply staff—all in a water-tight circle around the father-and-son team. Knowing that he was not going to get away in a hurry, Old Hei sat himself squarely upon a rock, inserted the little tobacco pipe in his mouth, and began to smoke. As he finished one pipeful, he knocked the ashes out against the edge of his shoe, loaded up the pipe again, and continued smoking. With a broad smile, he glanced at the pipe and from time to time looked at the work sites in the distance. All those who were present knew that once Old Hei assumed that pose, even if you should jump three feet high and curse his ancestors of the past three generations, you would not be able to make him angry.
The cadres tried to talk all at once:
“Old Chief, no matter what, today you must give me 500 catties of explosives!”
“People handling supplies are always being treated unfairly. If you don’t give me a ton of steel rods, I’m going to take 2,000 workers to your home for dinner!”
A tall work-district director angrily said, “Explosives! If you don’t give me 500 catties of explosives, I’m going to resign!” Without moving his eyes away from the little tobacco pipe, Old Hei said, “If you resign, you don’t get paid. You’d better figure it out! As for the explosives, not until eight o’clock tonight will I be able to distribute 300 catties to you.” As if he had gotten hold of a treasure, the tall work-district director hurriedly said, “I’ll settle for 300 catties. A verbal statement is no proof. You sign a statement.” Again without moving his eyes away from the little dry tobacco pipe, Old Hei said, “The few characters I know were picked up during my manure-gathering years. They don’t look good when I write them on paper. We might as well let the director of the Seventh Work District sign it for you.”
The director of the Seventh Work District acted as if he had just been burned. He said, “Are you, dead old man, picking on me? I can’t even produce one catty of explosives!” Old Hei said, “No explosives? I’ve already sent people to your warehouse and moved away 300 catties.” The director of the Seventh Work District turned pale, as if an incomparable disaster had fallen upon his head. He demanded, “Who gave you permission?” Old Hei tugged a bit the jacket thrown on his shoulders, and said with a mischievous smile, “Head of the supply section.” The director of the Seventh Work District said, “This is outright anarchy! I’m going to fire him!”
Old Hei removed the jacket from his shoulders; he carried it in his hands and straightened his back. His face, which was as black as the bottom of a cooking pot, turned very serious. With his chin drawn in, his forehead jutting out, and his eyes bulging like those of an ox, he stared at the director of the Seventh Work District and said, “You can’t fire me, nor can you fire him. Right now, we can only dig something out of the eastern wall to patch up the western wall. I know, you people will manage through tomorrow. The day after tomorrow, if you can’t get through the day, you will come to see me all right. I, Old Hei, am not going to run away!”
Seeing that the chief of supplies was not going to budge, the crowd besieged Project Director Hei Yung-liang, making all sorts of complaints, cursing the manager of the supply depot and cursing the supply office of the engineering bureau. All along, Lü Yu-huai was standing nearby, listening, sizing up each one of the cadres. Then he took out a notebook and made a few notes.
After the cadres had left, Hei Yung-liang said, “We’re not going to the project area. Let’s return to the team office!” Lü Yu-huai and Hei Ch’eng-wei, together with Hei Yung-liang, returned to the workshed, which the construction team used as their office.
Lü Yu-huai, with his hands crossed behind his back, was looking at the wall charts and was thinking about something. Old Hei took out a pad and a pen, waiting for instructions. Hei Yung-liang paced back and forth for a while. Suddenly he pounded the table with his fist and said, “If I can be used as steel rods and explosives, then just chop me up and use me!” Old Hei said, “What a temper! I’ve told you many times: It’s easy to take on a hard job, but it’s difficult to deal with complaints!” Hei Yung-liang said, “It doesn’t matter whether you take on a hard job or you deal with complaints, it’s tough to go through it these days!” He did not at all hide his feelings before a subordinate like the chief of supplies. Old Hei said, “If you can lead me, you’ve got something better than what I have. But, I might ask you: Are supplies of every unit in this project area or just the supplies of our project difficult?” Noticing that Hei Yung-liang did not respond, Lü Yu-huai turned around and said, “I guess it’s probably difficult every day and every year. None of the units will find it easy!” Old Hei said, “Right! All day we fight about supplies. It reflects the whole situation of the country. We started out empty-handed.” Lü Yu-huai said, “Well put! Our business is to make progress in spite of difficulties, and to make progress quickly.” Hei Yung-liang nodded toward Lü Yu-huai and in a more relaxed tone said, “Dad, since you’ve explained it so clearly to me, you ought to repeatedly explain it to the cadres!” Old Hei knocked the table with his little tobacco pipe and said, “What do I say? Do I say that our lack of supplies is no fault of this chief of supplies but the fault of our superiors? Yung-liang, if we don’t do the difficult things, who will? If we don’t face up to difficulties, who will?”
Lü Yu-huai suddenly straightened out his back and looked at the chief of supplies. Through this tall figure he saw a history that covered a period of several decades—no, not just decades but quite a few great historic eras! Hei Yung-liang turned his head; he was touched. He took a look at his father and saw that his weathered face had become darker than ever before and his eyes all bloodshot. Yes, this old man had suffered more than anyone else: all year around, day and night, he traveled from one work site to another—from the project area to Sian, to Chengchow, to Szechwan, to the blazingly hot South, to the lumber mills in primitive forests—in order to secure supplies, to which he had totally committed himself, body and soul. Even this very night he was to travel, under the moon and the stars, to a railway depot fifty kilometers away, to crowd himself aboard the train so that he could reach Sian by daybreak. He would be walking back and forth in front of a certain office, waiting for dawn, and waiting for people to come to the office....
At this moment, Hei Yung-liang’s mother came in. She was carrying a small bag and a red rubber hot-water bottle in her hands. She took a look at the Party committee secretary, her husband, and her son Hei Yung-liang and asked, “Have you finished talking about your official business? Right. If you’ve finished, let me talk about a little private matter.”
The old woman had obviously stood outside the door for a while before she came in. She respected very much her son’s office; while in there she would never talk loudly, nor would she call Hei Yung-liang by his childhood name. She asked Old Hei, “Must you go to Sian tonight?” Old Hei smiled and said, “Is there still any question about it? I was born a busy man!” The old woman said, “You’ve been complaining about a stomachache all day long. When you board the train, get some boiling water from the attendant and pour it into the hot-water bottle to warm up your stomach. I’ve packed a few cakes in this kerchief for you. Gee, a man full of beard still can’t take care of himself.”
After Old Hei and his wife had left, Lü Yu-huai and Hei Yung-liang looked at each other and exchanged a few thoughts.
Intermittent sounds of explosion came from the distance like a rainless thunder. On the opposite hill several hundred workers were chanting while working. The dispatcher in the office next door was calling his colleagues at various work sites through a bullhorn to find out their work progress of the day. His voice was from time to time interrupted by the roar of the machines. All this sensitized the people in the office to how the whole project area was breathing, how it activated itself, and how the people were making progress at high speed.
Lü Yu-huai said, “From my point of view, hard-working people like Uncle Old Hei...” Hei Yung-liang smiled gently. Pointing through the window, he said to Lü Yu-huai, “There is another hard-working person!” Following the direction Hei Yung-liang was looking, Lü Yu-huai saw that the old woman, with her back against the wall of a warehouse, was standing there. She would sometimes look at the lights in the distance, sometimes at the moon above, and sometimes toward the left and then the right, like an alert and duty-conscious sentry!
Lü Yu-huai asked, “Yung-liang, what’s the matter with the old lady?” While contemplating his mother’s presence out there, Yung-liang gave Lü Yu-huai the following account: The supply warehouse was being watched by members of the supply staff, and, as the rule went, had very little to do with her as the wife of a staff member. Yet, whenever Old Hei had an occasion to leave his office, which was next to the warehouse, the old lady would go there beside the warehouse and stand guard. She wasn’t very clear about the supplies stored in the warehouse, their quantities, or their uses. She only knew that the warehouse meant life or death to her husband, to her son, and to all those involved in the project.
As our fellow townsmen in northern Shensi would say: A person who worries too much about anything will become mentally ill and turn a restless soul. At one time, Old Hei was home. In the middle of the night, the old woman roused him from sleep and said, “Say, Little Hei’s dad, go out and take a look. I don’t think the warehouse is secure. It might have caught fire!” He said, “Do you think I must go out and take a look?” She said, “You must go out and take a look!” “In that case, I’ll go out and take a look!” He well knew that if he should contradict her at this time, it would surely lead to a violent squabble. He threw his clothes over his shoulders, went out, and walked around. She relaxed and fell sound asleep.
At another time, she woke up from a dream and hurried out of bed. He asked, “What are you going to do?” She said, “I’m afraid guards at the warehouse drank again today!” He shouted impatiently, “I think you’re out of your mind, or else the devil must have got you!” The two of them sat up face to face, each threw some clothes over their shoulders, and pointing at each other’s chests, had a good quarrel. During their exchanges, she pulled a quilt and covered his leg with it for fear that he might catch cold. In the end, however, it was he, as always, who apologized and brought the dispute to a close!
4. FOREVER SO
On the third day after Lü Yu-huai’s arrival, Hei Yung-liang took him to several tunnels to find out the work situation there. When they emerged from Tunnel No. 2, the two of them were perspiring all over. They sat down under a large tree on the riverside to cool off.
At this moment, the resource conservation squad, composed of twenty some women and led by Hei Yung-liang’s mother, came over. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the old lady would punctually take these women to pick up the discarded supplies all over the project area. As they came to where Hei Yung-liang and Lü Yu-huai sat, the old lady told the other women to go ahead, while she herself put down her basket; it rested on top of Hei Yung-liang’s foot. Seeing that the basket was full of scraps of iron, screws, and various machine parts, Lü Yu-huai smiled broadly and said, “The resource conservation squad is really useful!”
She ignored Lü Yu-huai’s remark and angrily said to Hei Yung-liang, “Your wings are strong now. You can leave your father, but I can’t leave that bunch of old bones of his!”
“Ma, what’s the matter?” The old lady said, “Last night, you went to talk to your father? You even lectured him in that self-righteous manner of yours?” Hei Yung-liang said, “I was talking with the chief of supplies.” The old lady said, “You don’t say! What a fine distinction between the public and the private!” Hei Yung-liang said, “Ma, it doesn’t matter whether or not it’s a fine distinction between the public and the private. Anyway, we are all Party members and are all responsible to the Party!” He looked at Lü Yu-huai, as if asking for support. Looking at the mother and the son, Lü Yu-huai kept chuckling.
The old lady said, “Responsible to the Party? How many days have you been responsible to the Party? Your father’s got a very strong Party character. Don’t you think he is easy to take advantage of! Even the Central authorities, your father knows twenty some of them, let alone the sesame-size officials like you! All right, let me test you, the bureaucrat, how much supplies did the resource conservation squad of the workers’ families pick up during the first half of this year?” Hei Yung-liang said, “Nails, machine parts and the like came to a total of more than 8,000 catties.” He recited the figures without hesitation, thinking that would shut up the old lady. She asked, “Isn’t it a lot?” Hei Yung-liang said, “A lot! A lot! Do you mean to tell me that an old lady of your age would want people to praise you every day?” The old lady said, “A lot? Is a lot good or bad?” Hei Yung-liang said, “Good! Good! If it wasn’t good, why would the union commend you?” The old lady said, “Good! How shameless! If we picked up a lot, it proves that you discarded a lot. Yet, you are pompously managing production and are not embarrassed!” Hei Yung-liang said, “Ma, why are you fighting me? Do you think that I am so happy about everything that I feel like singing every day?”
The old lady saw her son’s work-worn, thin face and turned softhearted. Seizing this opportunity, Lü Yu-huai said, “Auntie, Yung-liang has been busy enough and has suffered enough hardship! Forgive him this time!” The old lady said, “Since the Party committee secretary says to forgive you, I’ll forgive you! Don’t think that your mother can’t think straight. Good or bad, your mother has been in the Party for twenty-four years. You ought to treat your father nicely. I’m really not afraid that your father might be working too hard.” She picked up her basket and walked off a couple of steps. “If we don’t work hard, who will?”
At this moment, a dust cloud rose and four or five trucks arrived at the supply warehouse on the riverbank. As the dusts gradually settled, Old Hei appeared. He was standing on a truck, looking all around for people to unload the supplies. When he spotted his wife, he was delighted and called out, “Little Hei’s mother, come and give me a hand!”
The old lady saw those full-loaded trucks; she knew Old Hei did not make the trip in vain; she knew that at this moment Old Hei was the happiest man in the world. She hurried toward the trucks. Hei Yung-liang looked at his mother’s strong back and said, “Ma, let me also give you a hand!” The old lady said, “Get away! Does your mother need help from you?” Hei Yung-liang looked at Lü Yu-huai and smiled. The two men followed the old lady.
As Lü Yu-huai helped Old Hei unload the supplies, he said, “Auntie, you’ve helped Uncle Old Hei step by step. You ought to help me and Yung-liang a little.” She cast a glance at Hei Yung-liang and said, “Hmm, this dead old woman is rapidly getting out-of-date!” Lü Yu-huai said, “Hey, Auntie is treating me like an outsider.” The old lady burst into loud laughter. She said, “Outsider? You’ve long been a member of the family. When we finish unloading, I’ll make some fried cakes for you and Little Hei! You’ve been traveling all these years but probably haven’t forgotten the yellow wine our fellow townsmen like to drink!” She turned to helping Old Hei, directing a hundred or so workers in the unloading of supplies.
Those sturdy and strong young fellows were once again exchanging eye-signals among themselves, as though they were saying, “Be careful! The old lady has come to the front line again!”
Old Hei looked at the several truckloads of supplies. He seemed twenty years younger. His physique was robust and his movements were agile. He would now leap onto a truck with a whiz, and now jump down from it with a bang. With a half-length pencil behind his ear, he waved his writing pad in the air and was incessantly hollering, “Got to be careful moving those explosives!” “Say, you dumbbells, put those steel rods in Warehouse No. 3!” The voice of his hollering overpowered the noise of machines, the work-chant of the crew tamping the dirt foundation, and the fracas of the movers.
Watching her old companion, the old lady felt that he was the only hero in the universe.
While looking on at his father and mother, Hei Yung-liang felt incomparably excited and proud.
Lü Yu-huai observed Old Hei, the old lady, and Little Hei. He realized that it was these broad and sturdy shoulders that had been supporting this vast nation. It had been so in the past, it is so at present, and it will be so forever!
Sian, April 1958
Translated by Maurice H. Tseng
The Song of Youth (1958), having gone through three editions, the last in 1977, is possibly as popular today among the youth of the People’s Republic of China as it was in the early sixties, before the Cultural Revolution when it came under severe criticism. Its author, Yang Mo, came from a middle-class, intellectual family. Her father, a traditional scholar, was once president of a private university in Peking. Declining family fortune and a family decree that she marry against her wishes forced Yang Mo to leave home. She worked as a store clerk for a brief period, then taught grade school in a rural area in Hopei. By 1935 she was in Peking working with underground Communist revolutionaries. During the war against Japan, she worked with guerrilla units in North China. Liberation brought her back to Peking to concentrate on writing, for the press and for the screen. She was one of the very few writers active in 1973, though her work had been criticized at the height of the Cultural Revolution. With the downfall of the Gang of Four, she continued to be in public circulation, leading delegates of writers to travel abroad and appearing at literary gatherings, sometimes with her celebrated movie actress sister, Pai Yang. In 1979 Yang Mo was completing her new novel, Dawn Is About to Break in the East.
Yang Mo’s It Happened in the Reed Pond (1950) is a collection of short stories recording her wartime experiences of 1937-45. The Song of Youth apparently has made autobiographical use of much of the author’s background. It tells of the struggles of underground Communist workers in the 1930s when the Nationalist government refused to fight against Japan after Manchuria was seized. The plot focuses on the young heroine, Lin Tao-ching, whose bourgeois background parallels the author’s. The story begins with Lin Tao-ching running away from home to avoid an arranged marriage to a corrupt Kuomintang agent, Hu Meng-an (who shows up later in the story as her persecutor). In her attempts to escape further snares in her personal life, she becomes involved in a liaison which plunges her into deeper despair, until she is politically awakened by a young Marxist, Lu Chia-ch’uan. Through his tutelage, Lin Tao-ching finds herself and her faith in Communist ideology. But before she confesses her love for him, Lu, betrayed by a Party renegade (Tai Yü, who appears in the following episode as the lover of Wang Hsiao-yen, Lin’s closest friend), is captured, tortured in jail, and finally killed. However, Lin Tao-ching’s faith in the Party gives her courage to carry on. Having proved her loyalty to the Communist cause through many tests and persecutions, she is finally granted Party membership at the recommendation of Comrade Chiang Hua (who becomes her lover in the end). She undertakes the assignment to agitate student movements in Peking. The story ends on a triumphant note, signified by the Communist-inspired mass student demonstration of December 9, 1935, protesting the ineffectual Nationalist government during national crises.
One night in late November, heavy snow was besieging the inclement northern region. Huge snowflakes, rolled up by the cold wind, danced continuously in the silent night along the deserted, empty streets. Braving the blizzard, Chiang Hua came to Lin Tao-ching’s lodging and knocked.
Tao-ching was writing under the lamp, a coal stove burning warmly by her side. Seeing Chiang Hua, she quickly helped him brush the snow from his clothes and poked the coal in the stove.
“Still snowing? It must be terribly cold!” She rattled merrily and poured a cup of boiled water for him. “Do you know, Chiang, that the Student Government at Peking University was established today? What’s more, it has decided to join the Peking-Tientsin Student Union.”
Chiang Hua was warming himself by the fire. He watched Tao-ching and smiled in silence as if he had already known the facts. But Tao-ching continued: “Thanks to your help and encouragement, the work at Peking University has really turned out better than anticipated. After years of lethargy, the masses are being activated again. I don’t know how it is on other campuses, but to realize the principle of a united front against Japanese aggression at Peking University is not going to be simple. Even some of the Party members can’t understand it—they regard it as a policy of surrender. In the past, the progressive students only talked among themselves about saving the nation; they called conservative students traitors and would not have anything to do with them. The situation has now changed. All the middle-of-the-roaders are being organized and mobilized, and the reactionaries are isolated. Wang Hsiao-yen appeared crushed at the second election assembly of the history students. She bowed her head and did not dare look at anyone when that monkey, Wang Chung, was exposed for base treachery by Li Shao-t’ung, who read aloud in front of all those fellow students the evidence showing that Wang Chung had been receiving funds from the Kuomintang. It was a receipt discovered by Wu Yu-p’ing, a classmate of Wang Chung. The students were so aggravated that our success at the election became a sure thing. Oh, it was great.” Realizing that she was over-enthusiastic, she caught her breath and stopped. She began to wonder why she always turned into a babbling child whenever she was with this handsome staunch comrade with a large frame. Why the difference between talking with him and talking with others? Suddenly she felt embarrassed. Trying to calm herself, she said slowly in a low voice, “I am sorry, Chiang. Didn’t you say a while back that you had something to tell me? But I haven’t been home much the last few days, and now I am monopolizing the conversation. Talk to me, and I’ll listen.”
Now it was Chiang Hua’s turn to become shy. Should he tell her or not? His dark face reddened. He wrung his large hands again and again over the fire, as if by this movement he could conceal his surging emotions. Except for a brief infatuation during his high school years, this twenty-nine-year-old man had never experienced so strong a power of love as he did now. He had learned to live without love. But he must not waste any more time. Why must he deny himself and continue to suffer and perhaps cause the suffering of his beloved? So thinking, he raised his head and gently held Tao-ching’s hand. Suppressing the tremor in his voice, he whispered, “Tao-ching, it is not about work that I came to see you tonight. I want to ask you a question. Do you think this relationship between us can be something more than comradeship?”
Tao-ching watched Chiang Hua’s worked-up, flushed face, so unfamiliar to her. Suddenly she recognized the love and suffering hidden in his eyes. It became very clear to her now. Her suspicion had been confirmed. Now was she feeling ecstatic, joyful, or sad? She could not tell how she felt exactly. But she sensed a quickened heartbeat, dizziness, and a weakness in her knees. Tears welled in her eyes. Could this steadfast comrade, whom she had admired and respected, soon become her lover? Yet it was not he who had occupied her dreams all these years. But she should not hesitate any longer. A Bolshevik like Chiang Hua was indeed worthy of her love. Could she find good reason to refuse this man who already loved her? She raised her eyes and looked at Chiang Hua silently for a while, and then answered meekly:
“Yes, Chiang, I like you very much.”
Chiang Hua, who gazed at her expectantly, stretched out his arms and embraced her.
The night was getting late. Chiang Hua had no intention of leaving. Tao-ching, nestling next to him, finally reminded him:
“Aren’t you going? It’s already one o’clock. Come back tomorrow.”
Chiang Hua watched her with elation. He drew her closer and whispered in a shaky voice, “Why chase me away? I am staying.”
Tao-ching rose to her feet and walked outside. Suddenly she felt confused and even experienced pain at hearing Chiang Hua’s words. Outside it was still snowing. The roof, the ground, the trees, and the entire universe were enveloped in white. Tao-ching stood in the quiet courtyard, her feet planted deep in the snow, her thoughts rising and falling like tides between excitement and self-doubt. In her anticipated happiness she was also feeling an unexpected pain. The image of Lu Chia-ch’uan, blurred by the passage of time, suddenly and unexpectedly invaded her mind with an extraordinary force. She could not forget him. No, never. But why must the memory of him come back at this particular moment to disturb her? Right in front of her floated his deep, flashing eyes, floated the image of him crawling stubbornly on the jail floor, with broken legs.... Tears streamed down her face. The snowstorm only heightened the complex, conflicting emotions warring in her breast. And she had hoped to drive away her entangled emotions with the cold air! Before she was herself again she returned to her room, feeling cruel about having left Chiang Hua waiting alone for so long.
Once inside, she moved toward him with visible excitement and said tremulously, “Are you really staying?... Then stay.” Embarrassed, she threw her head against his broad shoulder and locked her arms around his neck with all her might.
At daybreak, when the two were still roaming in their sweet dreams, they were aroused by the sound of rapid knocking—it was not loud, but rapid with urgency. They sat up simultaneously, exchanging questioning glances in the gray dawn.
“Do you have any important document? Give it to me, I’ll swallow it.” Tao-ching whispered anxiously, while searching under his pillow.
“Calm yourself!” muttered Chiang Hua, who picked up his clothes and went toward the window. Standing sideways, he peeped out through the crack of the door.
Following the knock came a thin, female voice: “Tao-ching, open the door! It’s me—Hsiao-yen....”
“Hsiao-yen?” Chiang Hua turned from the window and quickly dressed. Without taking time to put on her jacket, Tao-ching ran to open the door. Hsiao-yen staggered inside as soon as the door was ajar. She was not wearing her glasses; her hair was disheveled. She paid no attention to the man standing behind Tao-ching, but fell into her friend’s arms at once and wept uncontrollably. This gentle, levelheaded young woman had lost her usual restraint. She sobbed and sobbed, all tears and no words, as if her heart were torn to shreds with grief and despair.
“Hsiao-yen, calm down, and tell me what happened.” Tao-ching’s voice was gentle and sincere, as if there never had been any rift in their friendship. Hsiao-yen, whose tears had dampened Tao-ching’s shoulder and back, did not answer. Tao-ching said no more, but quietly held Hsiao-yen’s shaking body and gently stroked her convulsing chest.
“Tao-ching, I... I have wronged you. I tell... you,” Hsiao-yen finally blurted out, trying hard to control herself. But her words were choked by sobs again. After another long wait, she wiped away her tears and resumed:
“That rascal Tai Yü is the real traitor, a running dog...I just found out!” To speak aloud her discovery caused a flood of new tears. At last she was composed enough to tell Tao-ching and Chiang Hua of her shocking experience.
Tai Yü had told Hsiao-yen that he was the Communist Party secretary in charge of the Peking area. Hsiao-yen was in love with him and believed in him, so that when she lost contact with Tao-ching, she was completely under his deceptive influence and had painfully made a 180-degree turn in her opinion of Tao-ching’s loyalty to the Party. Gradually, however, her impression of Tai Yü began to change. She found him erratic in behavior and frequently despondent. Sometimes he could still speak convincingly, commanding her respect; at other times he would hem and haw, and was full of contradictions. Frequently he also reeked of liquor and smelled of women’s perfume, and his excuses were flimsy when he was put on the spot. Hsiao-yen’s suspicion of his private life led her to question his political credibility. Was he really a Party-designated secretary of the Peking area as he claimed? Was her own Party membership authentic? Were Wang Chung and his lot, who sabotaged the Student Association of the Peking University, good or bad guys themselves? What exactly was Lin Tao-ching’s political stand? Puzzled, Hsiao-yen became more vigilant over Tai Yü’s behavior.
Having made up her mind to get to the bottom of Tai Yü’s secrecy, Hsiao-yen proceeded in all directions. To begin with, she never knew where Tai Yü lived, nor met any of his friends or relatives. It would not be possible to find out anything about him through Wang Chung and company. Hsiao-yen became more and more uneasy. But love—her very first love and youthful dream—would not allow her to sever their relationship, but drove her to prove to herself that all her doubts were but a figment of her imagination resulting from her own narrow-mindedness. She would be so happy if only she could confirm what he said he was—a good and loyal comrade, dedicated to serving the Party. She was not destined to have such luck, however. Evil fate had plunged her into the abyss of despair; the magic mountain created out of her life’s blood collapsed and melted away like thin ice, leaving hardly a trace.
On the first occasion when she secretly followed him into an alley off Ch’eng-hsiang Lane outside Hsüan-wu Gate, she saw him knock at a vermilion door. A middle-aged woman, skinny but seductively dressed in a fur coat, came out. He tried to hold her hand, but she pushed his hand away. Instead, she pinched his cheek and said, “Go in and wait for me.” As she sauntered away, Tai Yü abjectly went inside.
Hsiao-yen was beside herself with rage. What was that woman to him? His wife? His mistress? Why, then, did he tell her, Hsiao-yen, that he loved and adored her? Moreover, she saw genuine passion in his eyes.
After her discovery, she would have nothing to do with him for days. Tai Yü showed suffering and shed copious tears. When Hsiao-yen asked him about the woman, he said she was a comrade who had to be in such a disguise to elude the enemy, and that their relationship was confined only to business. Hsiao-yen was not fully convinced, but in her misery she continued to accept his “guidance” and helped him to undermine innocent fellow students at Peking University.
It was not until the meeting of the History Student Association, when Li Shao-t’ung read aloud the content of the receipt which proved that Wang Chung was on the payroll of the Kuomintang, that Hsiao-yen fully realized that she had been deceived. A few hours before she came to Tao-ching, Hsiao-yen was feeling at her lowest. Tai Yü, thoroughly intoxicated, called on her. Before he could sit down steadily, he muttered something unintelligibly and fell over on her bed, dead to the world. Now came Hsiao-yen’s opportunity. She searched his pockets and found a letter, a document of some sort in secret code, and a list of names of students from various campuses. She read the letter. Suddenly she was thunderstruck and felt as if she were being electrocuted.
The letter was from Hu Meng-an in response to his “Brother Yü” (such was the salutation). In it Hu told Tai Yü to put his mind to his work in Peking, and if he carried out Hu’s order faithfully, he would be assured of a bright future. As to the request of a transfer to Nan-ch’ang, it could not be done at the moment, since it would disrupt the network of the system. Everything became crystal clear to Hsiao-yen now. Obviously, the list contained names of leftist students and revolutionaries targeted for arrest. That document proved Tai Yü to be a secret agent for the Kuomintang. He was the real traitor and renegade who had falsely accused others, such as Tao-ching, of betraying the Party. In an insane rage, Hsiao-yen struck Tai Yü’s face with her trembling hands again and again until they became numb. But Tai Yü could not be aroused.
With the evidence she found on Tai Yü in her hands, Hsiao-yen stumbled to the courtyard. Supporting herself against a bare lilac tree, she stood in the bleak winter night until the wee hours of a new day. Between two and three A.M., Tai Yü appeared in front of her. Still drunk, he grasped her and carried her half-frozen body into her room. Kneeling beside her, he wept and said that he was unworthy of her and of the Party. Shamefaced, he accused himself of being weak, and admitted his crime. Hsiao-yen, lying stiffly on the bed, cold and numb to the core, no longer felt for him. She did not utter a single word. To her the whole world had come to an end, and her life was over. But Tai Yü would not let her alone. He wept and swore that his love for her was real, that if there was any human feeling left in him, it was his love for her, that the only ray of sunshine that remained in his sullied soul was her love, her goodness, her noble image.
To his pleading, Hsiao-yen felt numb and unmoved. To get away from him, she paced back and forth. And back and forth Tai Yü followed her. Crazily, he pleaded, begged, cajoled. He admitted that his cowardice had done him in and that he had failed to live up to the Party’s expectations. The enemy, he said, had taken advantage of his cowardice and had forced him to the evil abyss from which there was no return, and that he had betrayed his comrades out of necessity and self-preservation. He told her that the woman she had seen was a secret agent who had a hold on him and demanded that he satisfy her lust; that he could not help but obey her, or else he would be eliminated; that when he fell in love with Hsiao-yen he wanted to free himself from his evil bondage and lead a life of freedom with her and shun the perilous path of cloak and dagger; and that was why he had written to Hu Meng-an asking for a transfer; that if only he could escape from that woman’s grasp, he would marry Hsiao-yen and be her loving husband and never leave her side.... Hsiao-yen did not listen any more, but tried hard to think of a way to get away from people like him.... She lay her head on the desk, feigning sleep. Tai Yü rambled on and on for a long time and finally stumbled away in his drunken stupor. The minute he was gone, Hsiao-yen ran over to see Tao-ching.
At this point, Hsiao-yen concluded her narration with another flood of tears: “My life is over. It is finished. Please help me!”
“No, Hsiao-yen, your life is not over. You can start afresh.” Tao-ching responded calmly and softly, as she wiped away Hsiao-yen’s tears. “Odd, how did you know my address?”
Hsiao-yen held Tao-ching’s hand, her tortured face showing a glimmer of a smile: “I also followed you secretly in the past ... but I never told him, that ... that fraud, that swindler! Oh, Tao-ching, please tell me, what am I to do? And what should I do with him?” She looked at Tao-ching and then at Chiang Hua, wiping her red, swollen eyes.
“Let me ask you, Hsiao-yen,” Chiang Hua cut in for the first time. Nodding to her, he added, “We have met before, haven’t we? Now, tell me, where are the papers you found on him?”
“He took them back,” Hsiao-yen sobbed.
“Oh.” Chiang Hua fell silent. A little while later he said, “Hsiao-yen, I must remind you that the problem with Tai Yü doesn’t concern your personal fate alone. Your grieving is not going to help the imminent danger. Do you understand what I mean?”
“What are you saying?” Hsiao-yen opened wide her tearful eyes. “I did not think of anything else; I simply wanted to tell Tao-ching that I was wrong about her ... and that I wanted her to forgive me.”
“Oh, forget it,” Tao-ching said, squeezing her friend’s hand. “You are exhausted, Hsiao-yen. You had better lie down for a bit,” said Tao-ching and, with Chiang Hua’s assistance, she supported Hsiao-yen to her own bed.
“Possibly this is what will happen,” Chiang Hua speculated quietly. “After Tai Yü sobers up, he will regret what he said in his drunken delirium. His confession will become a burden to his mind. Besides, those important documents had gone through your hands. Then, based on logical deduction, Hsiao-yen, if you are no longer willing to be used by him, he will be afraid of you. He will even hate you and treat you like an enemy. Have you thought of that?”
“No,” Hsiao-yen responded, with her eyes closed, her face deathly pale. “He wouldn’t ... he couldn’t ... He loves me....”
Tao-ching, leaning by Hsiao-yen’s pillow, could no longer restrain herself. “Hsiao-yen,” she interrupted, “haven’t you changed your opinion about him yet? Can you still hope for his love and pity even now? This is really preposterous.”
Hsiao-yen did not respond; tears flowed from her closed eyes.
Chiang Hua, standing by the bedside, finally broke the silence; in a low voice, he spoke gravely: “Hsiao-yen, no matter what, it is best to be on the alert. Not only you, but all the progressive students on every campus. Judging by the blacklist you saw, the secret agents must have prepared even more drastic measures to deal with us. I think you and Tao-ching should both find a place to hide for the time being. You had better tell your parents to go into hiding too ... By the way, do you remember any of the names on that list?”
“No,” replied Hsiao-yen, wiping her eyes. “Except those of Li Shao-t’ung, Hou Jui, Li K’uei-ying, and, of course, hers,” pointing at Tao-ching.
Tao-ching drew close to Hsiao-yen and said gently, “See, even such a person as Li K’uei-ying is on their list, which goes to show you how mean and vicious they are. You must be convinced of that ... So take Chiang Hua’s advice, and let us hide ourselves.” And, wiping Hsiao-yen’s tears with her own handkerchief, she continued, “Hsiao-yen, you have no idea how much I suffered when we drifted apart.... Now that we are together again, I can’t tell you how happy I am. But enough of this. Right now we had better talk about what to do next. You must go into hiding with me for a few days.”
“I would like to talk with him just once more,” Hsiao-yen said to Tao-ching with a pleading look. “Believe me, I won’t ever trust him again. I’ll be back shortly.”
“No, I can’t let you do that. We are leaving right now!” Tao-ching’s tone was firm. “In case he knows my address, he just might come here to look for you.” Pulling Hsiao-yen up by the hand, Tao-ching turned to Chiang Hua and said, “Why don’t you go first? Hsiao-yen and I will leave right after you. We’ll be staying with a schoolmate for a while.”
Chiang Hua looked at Tao-ching with tenderness, as he whispered something into her ear; then he shook hands with Hsiao-yen and left.
“You two have to be separated because of me,” Hsiao-yen murmured despondently, as she watched the retreating backview of Chiang Hua. “Come, let’s leave. I won’t see Tai Yü again.”
December 8, 1935—the eve of the tremendous, historical December Ninth Movement! This day Tao-ching was in bed with a high fever. She was sleeping in a wooden bed in a newly rented room. At dusk, in this cold, dreary, small room, Hsü Hui, Hsiao-yen, and Hou Jui were huddling over a coal stove talking softly.
“When did she get sick?” Hsü Hui asked Hsiao-yen. “Did she see a doctor?”
“Yes,” Hsiao-yen whispered. “The doctor says she has influenza. Also she has been working too hard. Day and night she held discussions, instigated struggles against reactionary students, and aften skipped meals. No wonder her health has suffered as a consequence.”
“She simply overextended herself,” Hou Jui shook his head.
“You people should have taken better care of her!” said Hsü Hui, as she looked uneasily at the feverish girl, deep in slumber.
Tao-ching stirred. She opened her eyes and smiled at the three people near her bed. “When did you get here?” she asked, then turned to Hsü Hui; “Has the plan for tomorrow been fixed? Will there be any changes?”
“No, I don’t think so,” answered Hsü Hui, smiling. “But don’t worry about anything. You just take it easy.” And, stretching herself, she asked Hou Jui, “How many people from Peking University do you think will be at the demonstration?”
“Hard to say,” replied Hou Jui. “We are still recruiting tonight, and there will be others who can be aroused at the spur of the moment tomorrow. I. reckon there will be three to four hundred.”
Suddenly Tao-ching sat up in bed and said excitedly, “I think as soon as we start to move tomorrow, the suppressed volcano will erupt. A great number of Peking University students will take part in the march.”
“Hsü Hui just told you not to worry; what’s the matter with you?” chided Hsiao-yen, as she forced Tao-ching to lie down.
“Although northern China is large, there is no room for a peaceful desk! This is a powerful phrase in the leaflets we are going to distribute tomorrow,” Hsü Hui told the others in the room. “It reflects the anti-Japanese fervor of the masses. This time the Party’s slogans are all geared to the masses’ demand and their awakening.... I’m sorry, but I must go now. Hsiao-yen, go out with me for a while and then come back to look after Tao-ching.” After a couple of steps, Hsü Hui turned back to Tao-ching and said solicitously, “Take a good rest, and don’t get out of bed. I’ll see you tomorrow ... Oh, I almost forgot: I have a message for you from Chiang Hua; he’ll come to see you tomorrow after the demonstration. Now be patient.”
Before leaving, Hsiao-yen tucked Tao-ching in, while Hou Jui poured her a cup of hot water and put some more coal into the stove. Left alone, lying under her quilt, Tao-ching said to herself, “Ah, the volcano will erupt and tomorrow will soon be here.” At the thought of the coming struggle, she became excited. In her delirious condition, she kept shouting, “Volcanic, volcanic eruption.”*
Hsiao-yen soon returned. She slept next to Tao-ching to look after her. Before daylight, she rose quietly so as not to disturb her friend. While Hsiao-yen was groping for her clothes in the dark, Tao-ching awoke, and shakily she sat up and turned on the light.
“Tao-ching, you can’t get up.” Hsiao-yen tried to stop her. “You still have a fever—I just felt your forehead. You must not go out.”
Dressing herself, Tao-ching laughed. “My fever is gone. And I feel fine. I’ll feel even better when I start marching.”
Hsiao-yen flushed with anxiety. She held Tao-ching’s hand and said gravely, “Now you listen to me. Hsü Hui left you in my care. I have to answer to her. You really must not go out.”
“You have to answer to her, but who should I answer to?” retorted Tao-ching. “Now be a good girl, and let me be.” While washing herself and combing her hair, Tao-ching coaxed Hsiao-yen like a naughty child: “My dear sweet Hsiaoyen, don’t be so strict. Let me go! So many things need to be tended to. I’ve got to go. Do a good deed, and let us both be a part of today’s great event.” So saying, she dragged her friend by the hand and ran into the courtyard. Hsiao-yen had no time to wash up but helplessly followed Tao-ching outside. In her weakened condition, Tao-ching could hardly suppress her trembling. When she opened the gate a gust of bone-piercing wind hit her in the face and a sudden dizzy spell seized her. She reeled backwards. Fortunately, Hsiao-yen was alert and caught her in time. In the dark wintry dawn, with her arms around the unconscious girl, Hsiao-yen panicked, her heart pounding against her ribs, her limbs limp. When Tao-ching finally came to, Hsiao-yen tried to put her back to bed. But the sick girl refused to budge. Tearfully Hsiao-yen pleaded with her, “Please go lie down. If it is the success of the demonstration you are worried about, I’ll double my effort to make up for your absence. In case I shed blood, there will be your share too.” Tao-ching, leaning against her friend’s shoulder, was just about to say something, when suddenly in the silent dark sky of the cold dawn burst forth loud singing, sad and heroic, full of heartfelt fervor. Both listened attentively with solemn expression, to the moving, heroic song:
Laborers, peasants, soldiers, students, and merchants,
rise and defend our country!
Pick up your weapons—knives or guns.
March out of the factories, fields, and classrooms!
To the battlefield—and fight for our liberation.*
They had heard the same song numerous times; thus it was no longer fresh. Yet now, in the early morning air, before the burning flame of struggle ahead, they listened as if it were heard for the first time. It aroused them like the bugle call to advance in battle; their blood began to surge in their veins. Tao-ching wanted to speak, but her heart pounded so much that she could not utter a word. Steadying herself, she freed her arm from Hsiao-yen’s grasp and shouted urgently:
“Get going, hurry! I’ll wait for your good news ...”
After Hsiao-yen left, Tao-ching lay awake in bed all day. She listened to the voices that rose from the streets—earthshaking shouts of demonstrators’ slogans mingled with the roaring wind. They seemed to have come from the end of the world, and shook her heart and her small room. It was like a dream, and yet she felt sober in the middle of a wild storm.
It finally began to get dark; the wind was still roaring in the subzero temperature. Exhausted, Tao-ching curled up under the covers. She was just about to doze off when she was awakened by a sudden cold draft. She opened her eyes, switched on the light, and saw Li Kuei-ying and Wang Hsiao-yen in front of her bed, their teeth chattering as they hugged themselves from cold.
“Oh, you are back at last! How was it?” Tao-ching excitedly grasped their hands and struggled to sit up.
“D ... d ... don’t get up. We are too ... too cold ...,” came the trembling words from their trembling bodies. Their faces were the color of a purple turnip; ice hung from their hair like icicles on the eaves in front of the house. Li Kuei-ying’s fur coat was also caked stiff with ice. But their spirits were high, almost ecstatic, especially Li Kuei-ying, who smilingly opened wide her mouth, although she was unable to form words in her frozen condition.
“How did you get into this state? Exactly what happened to you today? I am dying of curiosity.” She picked up her own padded jacket from the bed and handed it to Li Kuei-ying, saying, “Look at your coat, it’s a sheet of ice! Quick, change into this.”
At first Li Kuei-ying smiled. Now she suddenly fell onto Tao-ching’s neck and began to cry: “Oh, Tao-ching, I have been living in a dream all these years. Only today did I come to understand ... understand how a person should live on this earth ...” She was too overcome with emotion to continue. Laughing and crying at the same time, she let tears stream down her beautiful face without restraint.
[There follows a detailed description of the day’s events related by Wang Hsiao-yen. When she is about done with her story, Hsü Hui comes in.]
[Hsü Hui] had changed into dry clothes, but on her forehead still dripped fresh blood. She went to Tao-ching’s bed and asked, “Hey! Feeling better? Has the fever broken?”
Tao-ching stared at the blood on Hsü Hui’s head, grasped her hand and said, “Hsü Hui, why didn’t you go to the hospital to have it treated? It is dangerous to leave the wound exposed.”
“Don’t be a mother hen,” smiled Hsü Hui, who deftly straightened out Tao-ching’s bedding. “It’s really not very serious. I haven’t had time yet. But tell me first if you feel better.”
“Oh, much better. But how was it? Was our loss great today? Did anyone get arrested?”
“Yes. Two co-eds from the Normal University are in critical condition from bayonet wounds. Many students from Peking University are injured too. One fellow student’s nose and lips were cut open. As to the arrests ... so far there are more than a dozen that we know of.”
“What’s to be done now?” Tao-ching was staring at Hsü Hui with visible anxiety.
“That is what I would like to know, too,” rejoined Hsiao-yen.
Hsü Hui rose. She looked for some water to drink. Seeing the teapot empty, she shook her head and asked, “Has your landlady gone to the march also? Not even leaving water for you to drink ... You wanted to know what to do next? We must stir up the masses even more widely and deeply. Make the student movement penetrate into every walk of life so that all the laborers and peasants will join the struggle. Now that the volcano has erupted, let it burn away all the evils and darkness in the world.”
Hsü Hui’s voice, at once melodious and solemn, made those words ring like poetry as well as a resolute pledge. The three women comrades raised their heads toward the dawning sky beyond the window.
Translated by Angela Palandri
A native of Hsiang-yin County, Hunan Province, K’ang Cho came from a well-to-do peasant family. He attended the Lu Hsün Academy of Art when it was founded in 1938. From 1938 to 1949 he worked with the guerrillas operating in Hopei and Shansi. Doing propaganda work as a writer of popular stories, plays, and songs, he took an active part in agricultural production and land reform with the peasants and experienced their hardships and heroism during the war years. After 1949 he served in various positions of influence, including an editorship with the Literary Gazette. In 1957 he was criticized for “distorting the image of Communist Party members” in his novel Dripping Water Wears Away the Rock, and he lost the editorship. In 1965 he was attacked for his advocacy of a literature depicting the negative aspects of Chinese society, for his support of theories proposed by Shao Ch’üan-lin, especially those on “middle characters” and “the deepening of realism,” and for his association with Chou Yang. Little was known about him after 1966, until People’s Literature published his “A Pledge to Study Anew” in October 1977. In it he recalls a series of meetings with Chairman Mao from 1938 through 1958 and vows to resume writing after a decade of silence.
K’ang Cho established himself as an important writer with the publication of his short story “My Two Landlords” in 1946. Kuo Mo-jo welcomed it as a nearly perfect work, equal in artistic merit to Chao Shu-li’s “The Rhymes of Li Yu-ts’ai” and “The Marriage of Hsiao Er-hei.” When a collection of K’ang’s stories, Spring Planting, Autumn Harvest, appeared in 1956, the well-known critic Li Hsi-fan* praised its “refreshing uniqueness and simplicity of style” and its successful application of traditional forms and techniques. Noting the psychological penetration K’ang achieves in characterization, Li attributed it to the influence of Western literature. Li also spoke approvingly of K’ang’s effort in showing the negative traits of his positive characters.
In reading K’ang Cho, the reader is likely to be impressed by the deliberate manner in which he fashions his prose and portrays his characters. Dripping Water Wears A way the Rock contains some truly remarkable descriptive passages, and few contemporary Chinese writers have explored the psychology of their characters as fully and painstakingly as K’ang did that of the heroine of this novel, Shen Yü-chih. At times it even appears that K’ang would purposely impede the flow of a dialogue to underscore the complexity of a character’s thoughts and feelings.
Besides the two books mentioned above, K’ang has published two other novels, Coal Mines on Black Stone Hill and East Is Red, and another collection of short stories. —W.K.M.
[The story focuses on the love that a beautiful and capable widow, not yet thirty, leader of the agricultural cooperative movement in a village on the border between Hopei and Shansi provinces, develops for a quiet, honest, hardworking but diffident neighbor widower, a veteran Communist serving as the accountant and manager of the supply and marketing co-op operated by the same village organization. Equally central to the story is the effort of the heroine to fight off the lusty advances of the Village Head, also a veteran Communist and a widower, who is sharp and competent, but shrewd, and who keeps his selfishness well disguised.
Much of the story’s color is derived from the various villagers’ reaction to the heroine, and their suspicion, or lack of it, of the villain’s evil deeds. All the actions in the story are propelled by the villagers’ effort to improve their life through the collectivization of farming—and the actual farm work itself, of course—and by the joyful revival of an ancient village festival called strike-iron-fire. The villagers compete at night, striking ladles full of molten iron to see who creates the best fireworks with the splashing spray of red-hot metal against the dark sky. It used to be a festival to facilitate meetings between boys and girls.
The setting is a village where a murmuring mountain spring flows all year long. The dripping water from a high cave has worn a hole in the huge flat stone below—a symbol of the patient farmers’ steady work to create their own life, the patient love of the heroine to win her man, and his patient dedication to the cause of socialism. This symbol is well observed by the heroine and others in the story; hence the title of the novel.
Before the episode presented here, the story has already introduced the following characters:
Auntie Fu and Yang the Ninth, a twice-widowed woman and an old bachelor, both around fifty. They remain very close to the heroine, Shen Yü-chih, throughout the story. They like to joke with everybody. Since they share the same compound with Shen, they look after her and her ten-year-old son’s welfare.
Little Liu, a high school graduate who disdains farm labor, and her boyfriend, Yang Chi-chi, vice-chairman of the agricultural cooperative and a newly inducted Party member. Later she leaves him and the village to seek better life and work in the city.
Old Uncle Jen, another veteran Party member since the War of Resistance and an old friend of Shen’s late father-in-law, whom she continues to look up to for comfort and guidance. He has heard the Village Head say that Shen is looking for a man to marry, and, at a meeting of the village’s Party branch leaders, he publicly announces this and Shen’s pending application for admission into the Communist Party. Shen is surprised by the news of her private life, and even more stunned by the way these two items of her private business are linked together. After the meeting, the Village Head follows Shen to court her, show himself off, and hint that he alone can help her join the Party. They have been walking and talking for a long time....]
Far and near, here and there, the rays of the sun scattered, worn and listless; before long, right before one’s eyes, they would quietly disappear. It would soon be dusk. An imperceptible cold wind cooled off the hot sweat on the travelers; they began to notice that the fur and cotton they wore could no longer resist the wind and the chill. But Shen Yü-chih did not feel cold. She kept hurrying in great strides as she started the climb up the slope.
“Uh, Yü-chih.” Village Head Chang Shan-yang, trailing Shen Yü-chih, climbed the slope. Suddenly he said, “That second thing your Old Uncle Jen talked about a while back, it seems to me, is probably something as important as your admission to the Party! What do you think?”
All this time Yü-chih had been as perturbed as she could ever have been by the matter. Hearing the Village Head actually speak about it again, she couldn’t help noticing a clump of thorn creeper on the roadside and felt at heart just as distraught as those tangled weeds. She stepped heavily on them; she pulled up a blade of withered grass and, tearing it up bit by bit, tossed it into the air. Then, picking up a rock, she flung it so hard on the slope that it tumbled all the way down. Finally she said, “That Old Uncle Jen of mine, it’s just like him! Why in the world should he bring up such nonsense?”
“But that is really serious business! Yü-chih, why do you talk like that?” The Village Head appeared extremely solemn. “You see, why didn’t we think of this important business of yours! Really ... hasn’t it been almost three full years since that Chun-wa’s Dad of yours [your husband] sacrificed his life? Ai, fact is I have never even thought of this!”
“As for me, this important business of mine, even I myself have never thought of it!”
“It’s just that ordinarily you wouldn’t have thought of it.” Once again as if face to face with Yü-chih, the Village Head stroked his fur hat and, stretching his face into a smile, said, “It’s just like your Old Uncle Jen said. We can already see the happy occasion of strike-iron-fire taking place right before our eyes. Would you still not have thought of it?”
“This is no longer the old days. Strike-iron-fire is only for the celebration of collectivization. It has never occurred to me that it could have any other meaning.”
“Look at you, how can you say anything like that ...”
“What do you want me to say?”
“Didn’t Old Uncle Jen say that you had already mentioned it to somebody else?”
“Whom did I mention it to? Have you heard about it?”
“Oh, my.” The Village Head widened his eyes, raised his brows, and cheerfully said, “Yü-chih, though I cannot claim to have treated everybody with affection, though I cannot say that I would have given you any concrete help, if I had heard about it, wouldn’t I have at least expressed some concern one way or another long before this! Yü-chih, you should understand me this much at least!”
“You sure have gone too far off the subject! Village Head, let’s not talk about this!”
Suddenly Chang Shan-yang looked startled, as though he were at a loss. Then all at once he worked himself into a peal of laughter. “Ha, ha, ha! Yü-chih, you are not a little girl; you are also a labor model; one would never have thought that you were still so backward and didn’t want to discuss the question of marriage with a man!” Smiling rouguishly he said, “Yü-chih, for better or for worse, I am a village head. Sooner or later you’ll have to register. I can certainly give you a hand! Now you ...”
“One, I am not backward; two, I am not afraid of men; three, I also know you are the Village Head.” Yü-chih was obviously somewhat agitated but she only shook her hair and, lifting a face that continued to shine—her face not changing color, her eyes not dodging any stare—she said in a perfectly calm manner, “I just do not wish to talk about such things!”
For a brief moment the Village Head was taken aback. Then suddenly he once more worked himself into roars of laughter. And leaping two steps, he rushed in front of Yü-chih. With one arm barring her way and a hand pointing at Yü-chih’s nose, he feigned pouting and cried out, “You, you look at you ...” Then, as if helpless and begging forgiveness he said, “OK, if you don’t want to talk about it we won’t talk about it. Heigh ... Yü-chih, no wonder some people say behind my back that I’m afraid of you! To tell you the truth, even though I wouldn’t admit it openly, at heart I really am a bit afraid of you! You are really...
“Village Head, what is the matter with you today ...?” For the first time Yü-chih blushed. Holding the skirt of her coat and turning swiftly, she scurried in front of the Village Head and strode on with the same big steps. “Why should you be afraid of me? That’s really odd!” she said. The Village Head continued to follow her, mumbling all the while. And flashing a self-satisfied smile, he made it look like he and Shen Yü-chih had always been on such familiar terms, that they had always been in the habit of joking and bantering together.
Shen Yü-chih, though steady and composed as usual, felt prickly all over. Her desire to differentiate between good and evil and her feelings of joy and hate intertwined in such confusion that it all became more difficult to sort out than thousands of skeins of hemp. The content of Old Uncle Jen’s talk today had certainly come as a total surprise, but it nevertheless fitted the old man’s habit of doing things. All the talk and action of the Village Head, however—the way he laughed and the cockiness with which he barred her way—not only caught her completely unprepared, but even made her, for the very first time in her life and in a way utterly unknown to her, feel fearful. She then thought of the possible reasons behind the Village Head’s concern for her, which she had dismissed a while back. Suddenly she raised her head and saw, not far off to the northwest of her village, the gloomy rock cliff and steep slope. And as if all at once that slope toppled on her, she, shaking all over, suddenly remembered that the wife of the Village Head happened to have died a little more than two years ago. But in her daily fleeting contacts with the Village Head, she had never even once felt that the death of his wife would have anything to do with her. Was the Village Head actually such a person? If he was such a person, what on earth ought one to say about him? ... Could it be that there was really something in the attitude he usually took toward the criticism she raised in village affairs? ...
Though Shen Yü-chih had never been in love, all these years she had known the joy and sorrow of love-stricken young girls in the village, the entangling, spellbinding, finer-than-needlepoint musings over a word, a glance, etc.—the kind of musing that causes one to lose one’s mind day and night—all these things she knew by the hundreds and thousands. Those butterfly-like maidens, on the k’ang at night, in the cool shade of a tree during the noontime break in the busy farming season, how they opened their hearts and bared their secrets in telling her countless stories and heartaches! In them there was the greatest glee and happiness, which sent tremors through one’s heart; there were sadness and hurt, which brought down tears unawares; there were incidents that aroused one’s hate to the point of madness and drove one to vomit in disgust; there were also events that others told with excited interest or streams of tears, but which left the listeners utterly unmoved. Some of these human concerns were strange and odd in myriads of ways; even though she could not fathom their mystery, most of them she could in an undefinable fashion understand. She had, moreover, helped others to analyze and speculate; she offered ideas and came up with solutions, which were almost always right on the mark. But, in this sort of thing, she had never heard, or seen, or thought of the kinds of advances that the Village Head had confronted her with! Would she really be afraid of them? That would be odd indeed! Well, she would deal with them as they came! Hadn’t she dealt with numerous situations so dangerous that she was on the verge of losing her life? Afraid? Humph ... but, ah, how much strain would that again place on her! Why was it that she had to expend so much of her thought and feeling on nothing?
As if calamity were hanging overhead, Shen Yü-chih went on walking for a while. Suddenly she saw her village, and as nothing had happened yet, she couldn’t help but let out a deep breath. And, turning the whole thing around, she even felt that the premonition she had just had was really self-torment to no purpose. How foolish! Turning her head she took a look at the Village Head. He was still the same as she had seen him over so many years and months in the past—solid, clean-cut, with a little of that put-on air of an old cadre, smoking a cigarette. Unconsciously she said, “We’ve arrived!”
She started to trot. But the Village Head abruptly called her to a halt, saying, “Yü-chih, just put your mind at ease about that problem of your admission to the Party! I’ll certainly ask for a speedy discussion. As soon as there is news I’ll stop by.” Then, catching up to her, he grabbed hold of her, and in low voice said, “Oh, I’ve forgotten another thing! You see, didn’t I start a mutual aid team recently? I’ve been considering that it didn’t really add up to much and have been thinking about joining your co-op with my whole team! Do you have any objections? You think about it for a while. The two of us will talk about it again in detail when we have time. Ah, there is, moreover, the problem of planning for increased production in your co-op. I also want to stop over to talk about it.”
This again was an unheard of, unexpected turn of events. But things like that could not upset Yü-chih. She nodded her head, agreed to talk about it later, and continued to run toward the village. But then remembering something, she said, “Ah, Chief, don’t forget to make proper arrangements for the strike-iron-fire!”
The Village Head slowed down his steps and steadily climbed up the slope. When he went past Shen’s village, he saw that she had not gone home right away but was chatting with her fellow villagers by the stream. He saw her dip her handkerchief in that icy water, rub it a couple of times, and, without wringing it dry, wipe her face with it. He couldn’t help sucking in a mouthful of cold air, thinking to himself, “Why is it that this woman is so unafraid of the cold?”
[After Shen returns home, she learns from Yang the Ninth how kind Chang Yung-te, the supply and marketing co-op manager, is toward her son, and how Chang’s own motherless child is neglected because Chang has been totally devoted to his job and service to the whole village. She begins to feel tenderly toward him, and the feeling is accentuated when, in preparing for the coming strike-iron-fire festival, the whole village wants to involve Chang, the champion at the last such festival fourteen years ago. Then she and Chang have a chance of talking together as they walk toward the neighboring village.
All the villagers admire and respect and are perhaps secretly in love with Shen, and because of that feeling Shen’s intention to marry someone, even if just a rumor, disturbs everybody. Even Old Uncle Jen hints that she should be careful about her reputation. Shen cannot sleep. She thinks of her late husband, who married her partly as a result of the last strike-iron-fire festival, and wonders what could be wrong with her wanting to get married again. Come the strike-iron-fire festival night, the fifteenth night of the lunar new year, the Village Head fails to score anything, but Shen and Chang Yung-te strike the molten iron and the sprays touch each other.
The Party branch secretary for the village, who theoretically outranks the Village Head, half suspects the latter’s lack of determination and enthusiasm to work for the village, despite his proven ability, but they are old comrades and have been through much hardship together. When the Village Head blocks Shen’s admission to the Party saying that her “style” is in question, meaning that her interest in remarriage is less than model behavior, the Party branch secretary acquiesces.
Meanwhile the Village Head continues to pressure Shen into marrying him. He passes word on to that effect through some of his close friends and then proposes to her himself but is turned down. The tension builds up within Shen as the villagers remain unaware of the Village Head’s scheme.
Shen and the one she likes, Chang Yung-te, have a second chance to talk in private when they both are called to the same meeting in the city, which is the county seat.]
The next day, Shen Yü-chih went to the city for a meeting. She started a little late. As soon as she got up early in the morning, she was tied up with Little Liu. Since Little Liu had quarreled with her boyfriend, Yang Chi-chi, a few days ago, her anger for some reason had still not died down. Actually what happened between them this time was at first the same old story. Seeing that Little Liu was making mistakes in farm work, Chi-chi criticized her for impatience; she then turned the tables on him and told him off for bad attitudes. Chi-chi then attacked her for not accepting criticism; she again retorted and charged that his criticism was not well intentioned, but an outright attack. Chi-chi held back for a moment, and began to point out patiently to her the various technical mistakes she had made in grafting the fruit trees. But perhaps because of her devil-may-care attitude, plus the fact that the mistakes discovered this time were bigger then usual, Chi-chi couldn’t help raising his voice and sounding a bit harsh as he spoke. Terms he was in the habit of using, such as “standpoint” and “attitude toward life,” slipped off his tongue a bit too readily. All of this once again provoked her. Well, the two of them soon found themselves arguing back and forth. Little Liu accused him of putting false labels on her, of looking down on and lording it over her, and of despotic thinking. In the end, she even said that she couldn’t take this kind of abuse anymore, that she didn’t want to have anything to do with this darn forestry technique, that she might just as well work as an accountant and that accounting was also a lofty form of labor. Chi-chi charged that she didn’t want to temper herself through labor, that deep down she lacked the determination to do so, that all she did was talk big and that even though she volunteered to learn the techniques, she in fact preferred ease and leisure. He even went as far as saying that being the way she was, what kind of intellectual could she be, and that if she kept this up there would be no future whatsoever for her. When their quarrel reached this level, it departed from the old routine and almost developed into a fist fight. And afterwards, even though the Party branch secretary and Shen Yü-chih talked the whole thing over with her many times, and even though Yang Chi-chi offered his apologies, Little Liu from beginning to end was unwilling to repair the rift. She really didn’t even want to go work in the field and even revealed in certain things she said a glimpse of her thinking that she didn’t want to waste her life in the village.
This was a sudden, startling change in Little Liu; it was also a startling change in the relationship between her and Yang Chi-chi. How did it start? Neither Shen Yü-chih nor the Party branch secretary could sort it all out. Shen Yü-chih even sensed that perhaps the cause could never be sorted out, because Little Liu had become rather unreasonable—no matter what you said she wouldn’t listen. It was just like that early this morning; if Shen Yü-chih didn’t have to leave in a hurry, it would be hard to say how long that girl would have kept pestering her. Ai, all this mess; in the final analysis, from which mountain did this wind blow? From which spring did this water flow?
After Shen Yü-chih set out on her way, she pondered the whole time on this piece of romance so full of twists and turns. Since there was a distance of fifty li from her village to the city, she used a wooden pole to carry her travelling gear and walked very fast, afraid that she might arrive too late. Coming down the mountain slope, up the west highway, and crossing the river, she was totally oblivious to everything around her, paying no attention to the scenery or people on the road. However, by and by she became aware that someone was driving a donkey, walking in front of her all that time, but she couldn’t care less about something that was none of her business. Not till she had covered a distance of almost ten li did she notice the donkey was stopping at a crossroads by the river and the man was fixing up the stepping stones in the crossing; then she saw that he was Chang Yung-te, and she remembered that the supply and marketing co-op manager, Chang Yung-te, had also been notified to attend the meeting in the city.... She had originally wanted to ask Chang Yung-te to set out together with her today, but she had missed him. Therefore, she hurried several steps and ran over to help Chang Yung-te fetch stones and lay them out as stepping stones.
After the two of them finished fixing up the crossing, they set out together. Shen Yü-chih thought up a couple of things to chat about, but before she said anything, he suddenly spoke first; he said, “Now spring has begun, and the water in the river has risen, but no one would fix up even something as little as the stepping stones.” As usual he was speaking in a tone neither cold nor warm, as if talking to himself. Only later did he actually turn to face Shen Yü-chih. “You see, this stretch of land, believe it or not, all belongs to our village. It seems that our village and your co-op ought to take charge of the road repair work for this section.”
“That sounds good.” Yü-chih realized that this was indeed something that ought to be done. “When we get back home, I’ll speak to the Party branch secretary about it. We’ll make some plans, then do it.”
“What’s more, this counts as sideline production! Fixing up bridges and repairing roads, I don’t know whether it’s the Department of Civil Administration or a separate Department of Transportation, there are special funds set aside for it,” Chang Yung-te said. “Ch’un-wa’s mom, this time why don’t you talk to them at the county office and vouch for the maintenance of a section on behalf of our village!”
“Yeah! That sounds good!” Yü-chih hurriedly said. “But I’d rather you talk to them!”
“I won’t do!”
“Ah? Why is it you won’t do?”
“Nowadays when you want to get things done, it’s still necessary to have a name!” Yung-te said. “It is hard to say whether I can talk them into it!”
“Then I’ll give it a try. But neither have I any ...” Yü-chih said, swallowing the word “name.” “Also, I had not even thought of this thing! Ai, when all is said and done I’m still not a ...”
Shen Yü-chih also swallowed the term “Party member.” For some time now she had somehow imperceptibly developed a certain feeling toward this man Chang Yung-te, that is, a solid respect for a Communist Party member. But now, cherishing this most unadorned respect toward him, in spite of herself, she thought of something and asked, “Brother Yung-te, you have already discussed the problem of my induction into the Party, haven’t you?”
“Oh, that. It was still only that several of us had an exchange of views. At the same time we’ve been gathering views among the Party members.” Chang Yung-te said, “Last night didn’t you come asking for me? I was going my rounds gathering the views of the Party members.” Yü-chih said, “Can you give me some of their opinions?”
“The Party branch secretary will give them to you,” Yung-te said. “Ch’un-wa’s mom, please don’t be anxious. Just go about your work as usual. Work as hard as you can! Even though it’s true that your problem has been delayed for a bit too long ...” He halted his step, stretched his arms and shoulders a little, and taking his time as usual said, “The Party will not wrong anyone! Even if it wrongs you now and then, in the long run it will not wrong you forever.”
Shen Yü-chih had lost count how many times she had heard this kind of commonplace talk. The Party branch secretary alone had encouraged, comforted her countless times. And she had indeed derived no small encouragement and comfort from this kind of talk. But now, more than ever before, she was touched by what Chang Yung-te said. In the past she did not know him; of course, there had been no reason for her to think that he would not say such things. But now that she had gained some knowledge about him, she would less expect someone in as worrisome a circumstance as he to be so solicitous to others. Besides, the tone and manner of his speech made one feel all the more that he was like a stream flowing deeply and softly over a great distance from the spring on the back mountain, on a quiet and clear night....
Only now did Shen Yü-chih discover that Chang Yung-te had a full load of mountain produce on the animal; he also carried a sack on his own shoulder; and even the roll of bedding she was carrying had at some time been transferred to the back of the animal. “You’re going to a meeting, aren’t you! Why bring the animal as well?” Shen Yü-chih asked.
“These are things which sooner or later I have to deliver to the county supply and marketing co-op. I’m going anyway; why not bring some!”
“But then why should you yourself also carry a sackful?”
“I’m used to carrying things! If I don’t, I’ll be going empty-handed. How awkward! How wasteful!”
Nimble of tongue as Shen Yü-chih was, suddenly she could not utter a sound. And Chang Yung-te went on to tell her that every time he went to the city it was like this. Going back to the village would still be the same, with a load on his shoulder and a load on the animal. Besides things he brought back for the supply and marketing co-op, families here and there in the village would ask him to bring back something. At any rate, it was really quite convenient; he was simply doing what he could. Then he said, “But I’m still a bit bureaucratic. I’ve rarely made any effort to work closely with your village. From now on, I’ll have to do better. If there is anything your village and co-op want to buy or fetch, by all means just let me know.”
They were now on the small path at the foot of the mountain slope. Yü-chih was, without thinking, picking the varicolored wild flowers by the slope; she was wondering how on earth could someone like the person directly before her have turned his family into such a mess? How on earth could it be that he hadn’t thought of joining the agricultural co-op? Last night she had already asked her son, Yu-ken, about these things; but even such an outspoken and open youth as Yu-ken was also hemming and hawing, unwilling to tell her why they did not join the co-op, unwilling to say anything about his family and his father.... A strong feeling of sympathy surfaced in Yü-chih. She couldn’t help asking, “Brother Yung-te, you are so concerned about everybody’s life; why don’t you join the agricultural co-op and help us make it better?”
“Hmm, this ...” Yung-te seemed to be a bit alarmed and confused; even that tone and manner of his which was, like a warm spring breeze, neither too fast nor too slow suddenly took on the qualities of the frosty sky of late autumn. Sighing, he said, “With a family as messed up as mine, how can you take heart for a better life?”
Now they had gone down to the beach of the river. Yü-chih said, “But contrary to what you just said, when it is someone else’s livelihood, you take it very much to heart indeed! Why can’t you yourself choose a wider path?” They had reached the head of a single-plank bridge. After crossing the bridge, Yü-chih went on again, “In this day and age, so far as the livelihood of us peasants is concerned, we certainly ought to be doing our best to get from narrow to wider places! We first crossed on the stepping stones, then the single-plank bridge, further ahead there will be the big bridge wide enough for mules and horses to pass through.”
Chang Yung-te was silent for what seemed a very long time. Then he said, “Most of us are surely heading for a wider path. I for my part earnestly hope that all of you will reach there soon. I’m more than willing to fix up the roads for all of you. But as for me myself”—he shifted the sack he was carrying from one shoulder to the other—“that family of mine is really so messed up that you can hardly carry it on your back. Ai, I’m already thirty-seven or thirty-eight; truth is I’m going backwards! I have crossed the big bridge and the single-plank bridge, and now I’m afraid I’m about to tread on the stepping stones!”
“Eh! Look at the kind of talk an old Party member like you has come out with ...” A moment of sadness overtook Yü-chih, as she let this remark slip. She wanted to retrieve it, but it was too late. Hastily she looked for his reaction, but since her view of him was blocked by the sack on his shoulder, she couldn’t see it. She only heard him say, “Your criticism is quite well-taken. But it’s difficult to be a Party member like me! Out in the village, you’re a Party member; back home you are still a peasant. When this one screams and that one curses you cannot even talk to them about principles! Besides, even within the Party, at times, principle cannot flow as freely as the water in the stream!”
When Chang Yung-te had finished speaking, he too felt that he had let his tongue slip; he should not have talked to her about things inside the Party. But concerning that family of his, that family about which he had never poured his heart out to anyone else, at this moment he actually felt that he had not yet spoken enough; he wanted to talk to her some more about it. All along he had been shy with women. Particularly with a woman as capable and beautiful as Shen Yü-chih—a woman whose behavior was said to have been less than perfect in the past—all along, he had kept himself even more aloof. Now that there had been circulating in the village the rumor that Yü-chih was looking for a mate, this naturally compounded his wariness. But then, she was so concerned about him—made shoes for his daughter, little Chiu-niu; even went so far as to let his son, Yu-ken, a non-co-op member, herd sheep for the co-op. And every time they saw each other she did her best to cheer him up with comforting words. He could see how she wished that she could help him reform that rotten family into something harmonious and attractive.... When in his entire life had Chang Yung-te ever received such solicitude? Besides, in looking for a mate, would she, in spite of all odds, come to him? Even if you wagered your head, no one in the village would believe this—just as no one would believe that the spring water in their village could be smelted into ironware of the neighboring town! One has to act according to one’s conscience; even a Communist Party member should respect feelings.... Therefore, Chang Yung-te picked out, after obtaining Shen Yü-chih’s consent, a spacious area on the beach with trees and rocks, to take a rest and to talk to her some more about the situation in his family. Shen Yü-chih helped him take the load off the animal; he untied the hemp fodder bag from the load and took care of the animal, and the two of them, one on the luggage roll and one on the big cotton jacket, sat down on the rocks under the trees.
The warm sun shone and the spring breeze fluttered caressingly. The waters in the stream were leaping and bouncing forward in glee; a fresh scent wafted from the beach, which was covered with wild flowers. There were very few travelers on the road; farmers were busy working on and below the slope. Once in a while a few robust youngsters burst into lines of folk songs in a falsetto so shrill that it seemed to bounce off the high heavens. While Shen Yü-chih was aimlessly picking the wild flowers by her side ... Chang Yung-te recounted for her the situation in his family.
He said that everyone knew that he had a finicky, snappy daughter-in-law, but the older that good-hearted mother-in-law of his grew, the more wearing she became. Already that Granny Hua of his could hardly do anything, but still everything had to be done her way. She was like a despot, leaving no room for you to give a hand or put in a word. Still, these two years things had improved a bit! Heavy chores, like working in the field and getting water, she no longer concerned herself with, but in everything else all you could do was watch her drag things out every which way. If you should say a word, or do a chore, the moment she found out she would threaten death and suicide, saying that you had given her up for old age, for being a good-for-nothing, and that you were hurrying her into the coffin!
But before she had gone into the coffin, who should come along but that finicky, snappy daughter-in-law as well! She was altogether something else, in no way like the young daughter of a farming family; all she cared about was her own eating, drinking, and powdering-up, and, worse yet, she wanted you to bring everything right to her. That old mother-in-law, who was forever afraid of being left out of doing things and was always taking charge of everyone’s business whether or not she herself would actually do it, made this finicky, snappy daughter-in-law the only exception. She treated her like an outsider. At every meal all the daughter-in-law did was sit there and eat, not lifting a single finger to help; the old lady would chew her out and cuss her under her breath. Then the daughter-in-law would retaliate and bawl the old woman out; but she would still be dissatisfied because the old lady was so deaf that they could not fight it out to a decision. The young woman then directed the flame of her fury toward her husband, Yung-te’s son, Yu-ken. He was a good son, but he also had his resentments, and it was also on account of this wife of his that the son nursed his resentment against his dad. This young woman was a wife arranged for the son when he was barely twenty by inflated count and eighteen by actual count, by his dad, who, in a fit of folly, trusted the words of a friend. The dad, Yung-te, had at the time asked the son for his opinions, and the son had personally gone to meet her face to face and agreed to the marriage. Only then did this arrangement bear fruit! How could you put the blame of bearing this blighted fruit entirely on your dad! Dad made a mistake, but neither could you totally blame your dad for wrapping up your marriage for you 100 percent, for violating your freedom of choice in marriage! Ai... the son would not forgive the dad and he carried his resentment to the point of not speaking to him ... Ai, this was how it was!
For the first time Shen Yü-chih understood a little of the situation in Chang Yung-te’s family. The hurt and sympathy she had felt for this man deepened. She recalled the conversation she had with Yu-ken, Yung-te’s son, the night before, and she asked, “Brother Yung-te, about Yu-ken’s sheepherding for our co-op, he must have told you about the terms I went over with him, hasn’t he?”
“There are also terms? He only told me one thing and that is you had given him the job!”
Smiling, Yü-chih said that because she had had a talk with Yu-ken’s wife, Yu-ken should, as much as possible, not sleep at the sheep farm but go home for the night. And at home, with heavy chores like hauling water and firewood, if both Yu-ken and his dad were not there, the young woman would get someone from a co-op member’s family in the village to give her a hand. Later on a little something would be deducted from Yu-ken’s wages to pay the helper back. Apart from these items, because the young woman was unhappy for lacking new clothes for the New Year’s holidays, Shen Yü-chih also promised that the co-op would buy a length of flower-print cloth for her to make a dress.
“This ... this ... you ...” Chang Yung-te exclaimed in a manner that was very rare to him. He was truly touched, but somehow still had some reservations. “Isn’t this making too much of a concession to that daughter-in-law of mine?” he said.
“Ah, a child who has not yet learned to walk, Brother Yung-te—how can you expect her to start running right off!” Yü-chih said. “She had also promised another thing! She said that if only Yu-ken would give her 800 or $1.00 each month for spending-money, and if only Granny Hua would ask her to do chores like pushing the millstone, she guaranteed she would do them! You should, in the same way as crossing the single-plank bridge, step by step, steady and firm, mobilize her to take part in labor!”
Chang Yung-te laughed. Who had ever seen him laugh! On that dark-red face of his, there seemed to shine forth a spark of noble, golden luster. He glanced at Yü-chih and saw that her bright red cheeks were glowing under the sun, reflecting a patch of the radiance of the clear, sunny sky. Chang Yung-te was feeling that this woman right before him was, if that were possible, even clearer and brighter than the spring waters in the village; he couldn’t help saying with gratitude, “The way you see it, perhaps that family of mine can still be reformed?”
“Well, that will have to depend on how you go about it! How can I say anything for sure?” All of a sudden, Chang Yung-te felt quite awkward. He saw the animal spill some of the fodder on the ground; he hurriedly stood up and went over to tidy things up. Yü-chih discovered that on the shoulder of that cotton jacket which passed for his luggage, the hole which was burned by her during the strike-iron-fire festival had not yet been mended, but was rent even bigger through wear and tear. She wanted to sew it up, but then it occurred to her that mending it in the city might not be that convenient; and back at the village, she could not be certain about an appropriate opportunity to do something as uncalled for as this.... She also noticed that the shoes he was wearing were worn beyond recognition and at the spot where he had just sat on that soft, loose soil before the rock, there appeared a pair of clear and noticeable shoe prints. When he was paying no attention she reached her hand over to measure the length of the sole. As if fearful that it might not be accurate enough, she picked up a twig, lined it up with the shoe prints for measurement once more, broke off the right length, and quickly put it in her pocket....
The two of them once again went on their way, walking along the ever-widening beach.... He told Yü-chih that the reason he had not joined the co-op was precisely because his daughter-in-law would not agree.... Yü-chih promptly promised to talk to the young woman again about it. Yung-te then added that the hilly land around here was too poor, and to get the co-op going would therefore have to depend on planning on all sides.... Forestry definitely still had to be developed a great deal more. They could find wild medicinal herbs in the mountains around their village. With so many travelers passing through the village, the co-op should open up a little rest stop for mules and horses. And on the mountain northwest of the village there was a stream of spring water flowing away to the back slope, which should be tapped by the co-op.
“Brother Yung-te, join the co-op fast!” Yü-chih was so excited she could only come up with these words. “You help me get that daughter-in-law of mine to join the co-op!” Yung-te too was saying, ever more earnestly. “You and I both spend a lot of time going to meetings outside the village, and we both know that the co-op itself is our future. It looks to me that before too long we could more than likely start up village-wide, more advanced collectivization!”
“That’s it!” Yü-chih said, but then she started to sigh, “Ai, it’s only that more and more I am feeling my ability is not great enough “
“How could it be that your ability wouldn’t be great enough! But, Ch’un-wa’s mom, let me say this ... ai, ai, this tongue of mine, how clumsy ...” He was straining so hard that his face got all red, and ... after repeated urgings, he said, “Let me ... say something stupid, Ch’un-wa’s mom! I was going to say that later on, even when we start up a village-wide co-op, there won’t be many in the village who will not support your leadership. But, but you know, I ... Now aren’t there people tossing, tossing around the rumor that you, you are looking for a man ... We, the several of us, have been talking it over. We are thinking that it would be better if you just, just quickly find a county or district cadre and go away, go away to work! People all say, come what may, you, you will in the end more likely than not have to find a ... find a respectable cadre; only then will it be fitting. Ai ... But then, there are many, many of us who ... all together ... nevertheless cannot bear to see you leave ...”
As Yü-chih was patiently listening to him, she was at the same time so agitated that she very nearly couldn’t lift her legs. She pulled out her handkerchief, wiped her face once. “Why should I leave?” she said with difficulty. “I’m still not sure whether I’ll look for a man! Besides, if I do, who has laid down the rule that I must find a county or district cadre? Which county or district cadre have I picked? All right, even assuming that I have found some big-shot cadre, I will not go away. Brother Yung-te, I will never leave the village! I must, together with all of you, keep the co-op going! Till the day I die, it will still be ‘keep the co-op going’ for me!”
Yung-te was so startled that the sack on his shoulder nearly fell off. Like reciting a spell, he said over and over in his mind: It’s all over! It’s all over! Have I gone mad or something? How have I become so wicked, so wicked that I have babbled things as unseemly as these! ...
Much later, he thought of something totally unrelated. “Ch’un-wa’s mom, I heard that Little Liu of your village doesn’t much want to stay in the village anymore ...”
“Oh.” Abruptly Yü-chih also awoke from the troubling confusion and said, “How come you too have heard about it?”
“That’s right. I’ve heard it from the Party branch secretary.” Yung-te was still trying hard to get a grip on himself. “Ch’un-wa’s mom, as you know, the postman has all along been delivering mail to the supply and marketing co-op. I discovered that in the past Little Liu hardly had anyone sending her letters, but recently, there have been quite a few for her! She even has it all worked out, asking me to hold them for her, so that she can pick them up herself every two or three days!”
“Oh! That ...” for some reason Yü-chih exclaimed.
“They all come to her from someone in a high school in the provincial capital!” In a flash everything became clear to Yü-chih, and abruptly she recalled that the change in Little Liu’s attitude toward Yang Chi-chi seemed to have begun gradually after she had entertained the guests from the provincial capital at the time of the strike-iron-fire during the Lantern Festival. Yü-chih threw everything else to the winds, only saying silently to Chang Yung-te’s back: You, ah, you are truly a good man!
They crossed a big wooden bridge, and, under a sun that had suddenly appeared even more radiant and boundless, along a beach that had become even wider and more open, they walked on toward the city only a short distance away.
[But the budding romance is hindered by the village elders’ (also Party leaders’) official warning against her move to become romantically attached to anyone, at least until she is formally admitted to the Party. She is certainly not to get involved with Chang Yung-te, who seems so diffident and meek. Though much of this is engineered by the Village Head with an ulterior motive, nobody except Shen herself knows it and she is honor-bound not to divulge it (each time after the Village Head approaches her and is rejected, he is always shrewd enough to exact a promise from her to keep the whole thing secret). Perhaps because everybody likes her too much, nobody wants to see her marry someone outside the village—and yet nobody, or very few can see her marrying beneath herself, to such a person as Chang Yung-te.
Then the Village Head strikes; he tries to rape her at night. She fights him off but is rather severely injured by a stone that the assailant flings at her. During the recuperation everybody becomes more sympathetic to her private wishes, and since the dreadful incident has speeded her formal membership in the Party, she gains enough confidence and succeeds in persuading her diffident boyfriend to be brave about the future. The whole village plans another strike-iron-fire to celebrate their wedding.
Two dark clouds continue to linger on the horizon, however. One is the fact that the Village Head remains unpunished, even though Shen has accused him before the Party branch secretary and Old Uncle Jen, because the higher-up in the city values peace and harmony within the Party ranks more than justice and exposure of corruption among village cadres. The other cloud is the uniformed minds of people like Little Liu, who returns defeated because she cannot find a job or schooling in the city. The story closes on a thoughful note as Shen listens to the running stream and wonders how long it will be before the whole village can be as thoroughly joyful as the strike-iron-fire festival should be, and the music of the murmuring water can sing a happy song forever.]
Translated by Wong Kam-ming
The study of poetry and art in France, imprisonment on political charges in Shanghai, and extensive travels in North China prepared Ai Ch’ing for his literary career, which was launched in 1936 with his first widely acclaimed poem, “Ta Yen Ho,” addressed to an illiterate nurse who had raised him. In plain but powerful language, Ai Ch’ing spoke of his love for the humble, suffering people in his motherland. He was consciously urging a revolution in Chinese poetry along the paths blazed by Whitman and Mayakovsky, and his own writing had the irresistible rhythm and emotional impact of those two poets.
In spite of his attachment to his native town in Chekiang, eastern China, by the time he reached Yenan in 1941 to work with the Communists on cultural assignments and to teach at the United University of North China, he had already adopted North China as his home. There was something about the bleak, harsh, ice-clad land of the north—something paralleling the “Mother Russia” image—and the decent, stoic people who tried to survive there that attracted Ai Ch’ing. It came through clearly in his landmark poem, “The Northland.”
He sang of the unself-conscious heroism of a plain soldier who fought for his country and for a great cause in “He Died a Second Time,” of man’s yearning for warmth and light in “Toward the Sun,” and of the promise of victory ahead in “The Bugler.” Such outpouring in the late 1930s established his position as one of the foremost poets in modern Chinese literature.
But he had also been steeped in Verhaeren, Apollinaire, Baudelaire, and Rimbaud, and when he published his critical work On Poetry (1940) he had developed a well-argued poetic theory, which had a significant impact on his generation of writers. His more complex and professional ideas about literature could not be tolerated by the Party’s strict policy of making literature serve politics and politics alone. The 1957 campaign to discredit him was among the bitterest and most protracted ever launched by the Communists, but by that time he had already produced over a dozen volumes to testify to his stature, including Wilderness, Herald of Dawn, Red Star—A Jewel, and Spring. He remained silent for twenty-one years, until his reemergence in 1978.
Since his return from the labor camps in Heilungkiang and Sinkiang, he has been publishing poetry again. His new works, such as “The Red Flag,” retain much of the earlier style that brought him fame and made him a much-imitated model in the 1940s. —K.Y.H.
Leaving West Africa,
I fly towards South America;
Underneath the plane,
A vast, boundless Atlantic ...
Today, no breeze blowing over the ocean,
The peaceful Atlantic,
Vast as a piece of ground glass,
Its surface, grey and white,
Not a ship, not a fleet,
Not even a single fishing boat,
As if we had returned to primordial times,
Lonely, desolate, and no signs of human beings;
The Atlantic sleeps deeply,
As if time did not exist,
And the world were not in turmoil.
It’s not just as simple as that.
In faraway, obscure places,
Beyond the reach of sight,
Lies danger everywhere.
The Atlantic in calm disguise
Is like the mythical Sphinx,
With a mysterious smile on its face,
Watching every traveler.
As she lifts up one of her front legs,
From her mouth comes a cryptic question.
Anyone unable to guess her riddle
Will drop dead before her instantly.
I seem to have come to a primitive jungle,
And I guard against a sudden ambush.
My head leans against the window,
My eyes stare down at the Atlantic,
Following the flight of the plane.
And I follow the flight of my mind.
Then, I see
The real Atlantic—
Wild waves dashing,
An Atlantic spreading its violence.
In this Atlantic ocean,
There are hostilities on every coast,
Polarities from island to island,
And hatred on every reef.
On the other side, I see in every corner of
The east and west coasts of the Atlantic,
Nerves that are more minute and complex
Than human nerves;
If we could slice a small piece from space
Like a piece of head cheese;
If every invisible, flowing wave of electricity
Were a line in space,
Then in this thin slice of space
Would be lines entangled,
Harder to unravel than a crazed woman’s hair.
Inside these colorful lines
Are concealed the plots of war,
And cruel, treacherous plans
Involving thousands of lives;
Or a scheme of
How to strangle a newly emerging nation With a dexterous diplomatic deal.
For how many years
Have you become the home of daring pirates,
The origin of colonialism, And the hotbed of world wars!
In those faraway seaports, We can see
Innumerable fleets at anchor,
From faraway, they look like cities at sea;
Every warship is waiting
For the crucial moment
To leave the seaport
And take off the cannon covers.
And on both coasts of the north Atlantic,
Inside the skyscrapers of some
Many people are busy calculating
The selling of loads and loads of fire arms ...
At night, in a lighted conference room
Of a certain building,
People hold secret meetings,
On how to invade a young republic,
And whether to arm a battalion
For Ngo Dinh Diem’s troops
Is more economical
Than to arm a battalion
Of Chicago’s jobless workers.
The airplane is flying over the Atlantic,
My heart beats with the plane engines ...
Life originally was a priceless treasure;
But in the eyes of the warmongers,
Life is not worth a single penny.
In their scales,
Each weight has to balance
A thousand-page book, full of names.
Imperialist warlords and financial magnates
Have become world catastrophes,
Their greed and ambition
Are larger than any king’s;
They want to hold the globe in their fat palms
Like a three-year-old child
Holding an apple;
They want to start a war at any time,
Like lighting a firecracker;
They want to take the fates of other nations
To start a large-scale game,
And they proclaim, “This is the will of the Lord,
” While chuckling in secret, knowing that they
themselves are the Lord.
But all these are about to pass beyond recall.
From Europe to North and South America,
From Africa to Asia,
And far-flung Australia,
Everywhere are fiery volcanoes exploding,
Cries for liberation and freedom
Higher and rougher than the Atlantic tides ...
We are facing a new era,
People’s relationships are changing,
Many concepts are given new interpretations,
Thousands of new people are reborn ...
We are workers from the factories, dockyards,
Railroads, and mines,
We are workers from the workshops, both big and small;
We are the cultivators of the land,
Men with sickles and hoes,
And men tilling virgin soil, ranching cattle.
Since the day we awoke,
We became the mind and blood of our country.
We are men creating a new history.
What is our wish?
We hold no fancy of wolves’ kindness,
Nor would we beg sympathy from bandits,
Hundreds and thousands of experiences proved to us:
Only through struggle shall we become victorious.
We work and create according to our wish,
What we have created belongs to us.
Like stacks of hay, we are many and simple,
Like a precipice, we bear the onslaught of the storm,
Like coal, we are quiet and hard,
And when the time comes, we burst into flaming fire ...
We are digging a grave for the old world,
Oh, listen, the giant is tolling the bell ...
We are the people working on the land,
We are the people turning capstans,
We knock down those who want to step on us,
We burn the idols who cheat us,
Our numbers increase,
There is nothing that can divide us,
We spread out to every corner of the earth,
To both coasts of the Atlantic,
And to the scattered archipelagoes.
We are everywhere.
We unite our labor with wisdom,
Leading us on are the shining truths;
“We have nothing, but will attain everything!”
All wealth will forever belong to us.
We’ve already built ourselves a new palace,
Our great labor has changed the appearance of the earth,
Marvels will be created from our hands,
All parasites will turn to dust.
Our will is as solid as rock:
We want no war.
Like a train, peace and friendship
Roar with laughter, rumbling forward ...
The riddle of the Sphinx is solved. At this hour,
A new Atlantic appears before us—
Shining in golden ripples.
There are waves of songs
Coming from the coasts and the islands,
Softly and yet steadily
They sing of the greatest wish of our age,
Following the ripples, they float afar,
To every man, in every place.
July 1954, first draft
October 1956, revised
People’s Literature, 11 (1956): 20-22
Translated by Dominic Cheung
The life and times of Feng Chih, who has been hailed by Lu Hsün as “the most distinguished lyric poet in China,” can be divided into three periods, which coincide with three prominent stages of modern Chinese history: the prewar period (1921-32), the war period (1932-46), and, finally, the postwar period (1946 to the present). Born in Cho-hsien, a small rural community in Hopei province, Feng went to study in Peking and started his poetic career as a lyricist, excelling in narrative poetry. During the war years in Kunming, Feng wrote his famous sonnets, which revealed his ambition to adopt a Western form for Chinese subject matter. After Liberation Feng’s poetic image changed drastically, from that of pure lyricist to that of people’s balladeer. The writing of the new ballads reflects the poet’s serious intention to accommodate himself to the needs of society and to the new demands made on poets.
During the Cultural Revolution, Feng continued to direct the Research Institute of Foreign Literature in the Academy of Sciences but ceased publishing serious poetry. Since the fall of the Gang of Four, he has brought out his translation of Heine’s Deutschland, Ein Wintermachen (1978) and a series of articles on “How to Adopt Western Materials for Chinese Use.” —D. C.
Countless visits have been made
To this old tower of T’ang;
Famous lines of the T’ang poets
Still vibrate in our minds.
The scenery of “the verdancy of the ages,”*
The sorrow of “a sudden collapse of the Ch’in Mountain,”†
They linger on this tower for thousands of years,
Directing the visions of the ascenders.
But when I, like the ancients,
Ascend to the top floor,
So charming is the scenery around me,
So bright the tower shadow on the ground!
In the green fields, there are red houses,
Beside the red houses, the green trees grow;
Nearby are fields and gardens, and schools,
Faraway are shops and factories.
People point to the course of the Ch’ü River,
All dried up for a thousand years,
Soon it will be filled with clear running water,
And then, its old countenance will return.
The Wei River to the north will turn clear,
The Ch’in Ranges to the south will bow down to us,
The Pao-Ch’eng Road* breaks through ancient dangers,
No more worries over horses unable to advance.
Our country is intact—
No one will ever again stand on the ancient plain
Facing the lovely setting sun,
Regretting its final fall.†
The sun sets and rises incessantly,
Sian becomes fresher each day,
Magnificent is the people’s Sian now—
Surpassing by far the imperial Ch’ang-an of T’ang.
The T’ang poets left eternal lines
For the magnificent but desolate Ch’ang-an;
We will write the new poetry of socialism
For the people’s city of Sian.
Poems of the Last Ten Years, pp. 54-56
Translated by Dominic Cheung
Ho Ching-chih achieved fame when he and Ting Yi transformed a local legend into the opera White-haired Girl (Yenan, 1945), which won a prize from the Communist authorities and was awarded the Stalin Prize in 1951. In that work as well as in his poetry, he demonstrated an adroitness with shun-tien-yu or hsin-t’ien-yu (literally “follow the drift of the singer”), a folk-song style popular in North China. The form is exemplified by the rhymed couplets of his “Song of the Landscape of Kweilin” (see pp. 534-35).
Next to White-haired Girl, Ho’s best-known work is the 1200-line poem “Song of Lei Feng” (1963), the life story of a young model soldier with boundless devotion to Chairman Mao. The image of the hero remained untarnished through the Cultural Revolution, and so did Ho’s song, which was among the first to be reissued after the Cultural Revolution in 1972 and was again reprinted in 1977.
The son of a poor peasant of Shantung, Ho was one of the few nationally established literary figures who avoided disgrace during the 1960s. He dropped out of sight for a short period around 1975, but since 1977 he has been serving as vice-minister of cultural affairs in the central government. —K.Y.H.
Oh, not to remember the past
I come to the Gorge of Three Gates
Straddling over where King Yü jumped his horse:
See, yellow water rolling, rolling
Hear, excavator thud-thud.
of hot tears welling,
of blood boiling, a thousand degrees!
Upon the Gorge of Three Gates
the sky-breaking, earth-breaking
Beneath the Gorge of Three Gates—
For millions of years unmoved
Rock in mid-torrent!
Oh, the past, where to?
Torrents: a million horses come.
Heroes of the past, innumerable!
See, sky-filled war-fires
Hear, earth-shaking war-drums
Pointing into the distance
The Great Wall
Ten thousand miles of sharpened bamboo-poles...
Red flags fling into dance!
The past goes, the present comes
heroes and worthies
Mid-torrent in the Yellow River—
Erect, immortal for millions of years,
The backbone of a nation!
Oh, today is not the past!
Red flags descend upon Chingkang
Change the entire landscape of the nation!
See, new makeup of the Yellow River
Hear, thundering footfalls
To startle them from their dreams
No match to these heroes!
Since five thousand years ago
Who has seen
Magic axe of celestial skill!
One shout across a million miles:
To raise a skyward monolith!
Singing Aloud, pp. 22-24
Translated by Wai-lim Yip
My heart, don’t pound so hard,
And the road dust, don’t block my view....
I grab a handful of the yellow dirt, and won’t let it go,
Clutching it tight, close to my bosom.
... Many were the times when I dreamt of returning to Yenan,
In dream my arms embraced the Pagoda Hill.
A thousand, ten thousand times I’ve been calling you,
—Mother Yenan is here now, right here!
The Tu Fu Creek sings, and Willow Grove Village smiles,
The fluttering red flags are beckoning me.
White towels around their necks and waistbands red,
My dear people meet me, taking me across the Yen River.
I fall into their arms, arms stretched wide,
Too much to say at once, my tongue is tied
... Past Twenty-li Village, Willow Grove nears,
I’m home again, after ten long years.
The trees have tops, branches, and deep, deep roots,
My kinfolk live in these familiar rivers and hills.
When the lambs suckle they look at their mother,
It’s the millet here that fed me and made me grow.
Eastern hills’ grain and western hills’ rice,
The books in my hand, the red flag on my shoulder.
She taught me all that, holding my hand in her hand,
Then, she sent us to cross the Yellow River.
The road of revolution ran endless miles,
Wherever I went I always thought of you....
Rice wine, wheat fritters, and charcoal fire,
On the warm k’ang we all sit around.
People crowd into the cave, packing it tight,
Footsteps are still sounding outside the gate.
Old Grandpa enters, still panting hard,
“Dreamed of a letter ... and woke up to find you here!”
The dear ones have come together again face to face,
Tears of joy well up in everybody’s eyes.
In defending Yenan you’ve had much strain,
Look at your hair, greyer now than then.
Youth Corps Party secretary shows in the commune director,
A shepherd boy in those years, a grown-up man now.
Clean white paper on windowpanes, red paper flowers,
Children push forward to shake hands with me.
Thousands of words accompany each mouthful of wine,
Like the surging waves on the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers.
The revolution has developed much in the last ten years,
How can one finish telling about these many long days?...
Even if I had hundreds of eyes and thousands of legs,
It wouldn’t be enough for me to see with and walk with.
A big mirror is the clear sky above my head,
Reflecting the whole city of Yenan in my heart.
Street upon street, each wide and smooth,
Building after building draped in colorful banners.
Strings of electric lights shining bright,
Rows of green trees greet spring breeze....
In contrast to the past I can’t recognize you,
Mother Yenan you have put on a dress brand new.
Red flags on Yang-chia Peak are flying high
And revolution surges across the land, reaching the sky.
His footprints are still fresh below the Pagoda Hill,
Chairman Mao has ascended the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
The lamps in the Jujube Garden light up men’s hearts,
The rolling Yen River keeps shouting “Forward, March!”
Red Guards, Youth Corps, and the Red Scarves,
One after another march the generations of heroes.
In long strides we walk on the road of socialism,
The glorious Yen River will continue to march ahead,
Then wings will grow on my body, and clouds under my feet,
I will come back again and see Mother Yenan again.
March 9, 1956, Yenan
Singing Aloud, pp. 1-5
He didn’t come back until very, very late.
The casket carriers, grave diggers had all left,
But he sprawled on the newly dug grave, weeping.
Even those trying to comfort him had gone, long gone,
He still stayed there, his voice hoarse for all that crying.
He didn’t come back until very, very late.
The owls in the woods were stirred up by his weeping.
Night had descended over the wilderness,
No stars, no moon,
November, winds howled like wolves.
He didn’t come back until very, very late.
Cold gusts of wind whipped him. He struggled up
From the newly dug grave, and walked out of the woods.
Cold wind pushed him, he couldn’t see the road.
November, a night in the village, a night of unending sorrow.
He didn’t come back until very, very late.
The burial was over, forever underground lay the dead
That had been his brother, his only kin.
Now the debtors were waiting for him at his hut,
To divide up his property, that half -mu of land.
He didn’t come back until very, very late.
Passing in front of his hut, he kept going,
Going through one stretch of wilderness, and another.
The November cold wind howled—
He walked on, toward a faraway place, far from his homeland.
The Night in the Village, pp. 13-14
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
(For a general note on Li Chi, see p. 178.)
The 2000-line poem May Festival tells the first part of the life story of Yang Kao, an orphan shepherd. Abused by landlords, he runs away to live with a blind storyteller, from whom he learns the arts of storytelling and balladry. The blind minstrel is also an underground Communist cadre. Thus the boy is brought up as a “Little Red Devil,” working for the Red Army during the 1930s and 1940s in North China, fighting against the Japanese and Kuomintang troops. The title, “Wu-yüeh tuan-yang,” literally “Dragon Boat Festival of May,” is taken from the name of the heroine, a girl born on the festival day. The poem is based on a true story. The following two excerpts are chapters 33 and 40 of the last section. —K.Y.H.
Since the liberation of the city of Chen-ching
All the white bandits disappeared from that area.
Green Willow Village, no longer a ghetto of the poor,
People received land, horses found grass, everyone happy.
Though liberated, one couldn’t forget past sorrow,
Black cloud still covered over one-half of the sky.
Millions upon millions of poor brethren in white area,
Continued to be fried in boiling oil.
Thus young men, one after another, joined the army,
And women made shoes and socks to aid the war effort.
They milled rice, prepared flour, delivered food,
To support our Red Army to march on the Heng Mountain.
That day people were in the middle of a meeting,
A stretcher was carried to the front of the village.
Folks gathered around to look and inquire about it,
They saw a wounded red soldier lying in the litter.
With the stretcher also came a letter to Village Chief,
Asking the villagers to keep and nurse the wounded.
Every family wanted to take him, they nearly quarreled,
As the old lady and Tuan-yang insisted on their turn.
“Too many people in your house, too noisy,” they said.
“Our house has only two of us, just right to keep him;
Village Chairman, you say, isn’t this only fair?
Please let us take him home, for we would never give up.”
Village Chairman nodded, and the old lady smiled,
Little Tuan-yang ran ahead to get blankets ready.
The stretcher was carried to their cave-house door,
And the old lady placed the wounded on their k’ang.
When she carried the wounded, she suffered a shock,
This heavily injured one was no bigger than a child.
She studied him carefully again and again, but he was
Blood-smeared all over, and was beyond recognition.
Cold, cold were the little man’s hands and feet,
His eyes closed, no motion at all, no speech.
Tears flowed from her old eyes as she watched him,
From her heart flowed curses on the white brutes.
She put her ears close to his ashen face,
He was still breathing, and his heart throbbed.
She hurried to call Tuan-yang to heat some water,
And with a cotton swab they washed his bloodstains.
Cuts and holes covered his body up and down,
A big gaping one replaced one of his knee caps.
Her heart skipped a beat as she dressed the wound,
The little man lay unconscious under her blurred eyes.
But the more she looked, the more he looked familiar,
Yet she just could not recall where she had seen him.
Could not recall, no, she couldn’t, though
she tried, And wondered if he was the one seen on Tuan-yang Day.
Fight the Japanese
No word from Yang Kao, since he left,
Green Willow Villagers waited and worried.
Even water in the creek sometimes dried up,
Yet their waiting seemed to have no end at all.
Some say Yang Kao had seen Chairman Mao,
And the latter had sent Yang Kao to a hospital.
And there he had his leg completely cured, but
Immediately he returned to his outfit on the front.
Some say Liu Chih-tan* knew he could tell stories,
Thus ordered him to work with the propaganda team.
He could tell stories and sing songs, so he moved
From rear to front, urging support for the war.
Some saw him, actually saw him, with their own eyes,
Amidst the red troops marching in the Eastern Expedition.
When Liu Chih-tan died in action against the Japanese,
Little Yang Kao was with him, right at his side.
The Eastern Expedition led the Red Army back to northern Shensi,
A Drama Corps for Resistance War replaced the propaganda team.
Some saw him on stage then, performing such hits as
“Twelve Sickles” and “Checking Safe-Conduct.”
Clever as ever he was, and his voice ever clear,
Everybody cheered his shows, applauded his songs.
Those who had seen him said he had grown up now,
But still like a rubber ball, lively, and bouncing.
“Why didn’t you ever write us?” some asked him.
“That’s not true!” he complained, eyes popping out.
Upon each transfer I wrote and sent a lengthy letter,
Even asked people to bring books to Tuan-yang!”
Others had a different story to tell, they said,
During the Eastern Expedition he was wounded again.
As the Red Army withdrew from Shensi, Yang Kao died,
Leaving, on the Yellow River bank, his dried bloodstain.
All these are but hearsay, don’t know which to believe,
Or which is completely false, which more or less true.
The old lady refused to accept the death of Yang Kao,
A tall tree with deep roots, her faith hard to shake.
In August 1937 the Red Army was reorganized
Into the Eighth Route and marched to the front.
Boats busy ferrying the troops across the Yellow River,
Rushing the red soldiers eastward to stop the Japanese.
As one of the boats reached mid-river with a load of troops,
Suddenly one heard someone sing aloud on board.
Ah, it’s a “Little Red Devil,” he sang really well,
Sitting on the boat’s edge, with a carbine on his shoulder.
A cheerleader led the group, he started shouting—
“Good or not good?” The crowd yelled, “Good!”
“Great or not great?” he asked again, and the crowd
Responded with repeated requests of encore and encore.
“Little Red Devil” could not refuse any longer, he
Put down his carbine, and he pushed straight his cap.
He opened his mouth to the wind, to the roaring waves,
Like a red flag unfurled, his voice fluttered in the wind.
“The whole nation involved in a total war,” he sang,
“All of us, everyone of us, march to the front.
Two great commanders stand at the rampart on city wall.
Who are they? Standing majestic are Chu Teh and Mao!”
The song over, the boat approached the other bank.
Leaping off the boat, the troops were like tigers
Swooping down from the hill. Here came the Eighth Route Army
To raise the red flags all over the Tai-hang Range.
This song fills a volume, entitled Tuan-yang of May.
Let me pause a minute, let me have a smoke.
If you want to know what later happened to Yang Kao,
Next time we’ll make a fresh start on a new chapter.
July 7, 1958, Lanchow, Kansu Province
May Festival, pp. 106-108, 132-35
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
College-educated Li Ying turned to a military life with gusto. He emerged as a most promising army poet by the end of the 1950s. The first collection of his poetry, Field Combat Verses (1951), fared well; it was followed by several more volumes of poetry, culminating in Red Willow, which brought him nationwide praise.
The soldier’s voice in his works carries a good measure of refinement, and yet it remains robust enough to flatter the proletarian readers. His lines invite the reader not so much with action and heroism as with his fresh response to the wide horizon ablaze with a rising sun over the Gobi desert, or to the shimmering blue that spreads around Hainan Island and stretches to infinity. In his poetry there is much joy of life made worthwhile by the growth of a new nation; there is also a wonderment about nature that comes close to the classical standard. —K.Y.H.
The clouds race in long strides over the sea’s face,
And on the sea’s face rises a sweep of noisy fog,
And the rain falls—the rain, an impenetrable wall,
Tightly, ever so tightly seals all the roads.
Braving the high waves our fleet is ready to depart,
Under signals from the lighthouse that show comradely concern.
But no roadblocks raised by the waves could trip us,
No cables tossed down by the rain could hold us back.
Red Willow; p. 5
The guns are hushed, after roaring at Quemoy,
Now louder we hear the roar of the sea,
And the gunners leap off their firing positions,
Wiping their sweat of pride.
A drop of sweat, thousands of pounds heavy,
For it nurses the flowers on the battlefield;
Heavier still are the artillery shells
That explode to rock the islands off shore.
Camouflage nets, swinging in the breeze;
Singing voices rise high from the trenches.
They take a sip of warm boiled water,
And in laughter they watch Quemoy ablaze.
At the third night-watch, falling stars like rain;
How many of them drop in the soldiers’ bosoms?
A disc of moon hangs on the gun’s lips—
A round lantern for the victory herald.
Red Willow, pp. 19-20
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
Very few of Mao Tse-tung’s poems were known before the official release of nineteen of them in the Poetry Journal in January 1957. By now about forty of his poems have appeared in complete or partial English translations, including those by Robert Payne and others (1947), by Kai-yu Hsu (1963), by Jerome Ch’en (1965), by Wong Man (1966), by Barnstone and Ko (1972), by Paul Engle and Nieh Hua-ling (1972), by Wang Hui-ming (1974), and by the editors of Chinese Literature (1958, 1963, 1966, and 1976).
On the occasion of the official publication in 1957, Mao wrote an injunction against the imitation of classical Chinese verse forms by young Chinese poets. He discussed poetry with a few people, such as Ch’en Yi (who was foreign minister until his death in 1972), stressing the need to adopt “thinking in images” as the only effective approach to good poetry, whether classical or modern. He did not persist in warning the poets against writing in classical Chinese verse forms, however; neither did he actively promote their doing so, except by his own demonstration—his verses were all in the mode of T’ang shih (quatrains or eight-line regulated verse) or Sung tz’u (lyrics of irregular meter), mostly the latter. More specifically he stated that pai-hua poetry had been a failure during the past decades, and that the future seemed to lie with folk songs completely free of esoteric, cryptic allusions.
The following are fresh translations, noticeably different from all extant versions. —K.Y.H.
Before me in chill autumn
The Hsiang flows north
Past Orange Isle.
A thousand hillsides one red blaze,
Layered woods dyed through,
Wide river green to the depths,
Bucking the current, a hundred sail.
Hawks attack the open sky,
Fish leap in the shallows,
All Creation strives for freedom, battling the frost to prevail.
Across the vastness of earth
Who decides, win or fail?
We were a hundred once roamed these trails.
I recall the crowded years, the towering ideals,
Students together, young,
In the time of our flowering,
Quick to rant and rail,
Setting the land to rights
With stirring words—
Plain dung to us were the lords of ancient tale.
Flying against the midstream current
Our oars like flails?
Violet indigo blue green yellow orange red—
Who waves this silken banner high overhead?
Slanting sun after rain,
Mountain verdure fresh again.
That year’s battles were hard,
Farm walls still bullet-scarred.
Hillside and pass, adorned by war
Lovelier now than before.
West wind strong
Wild geese honked across the sky; frosty morning moon,
Frosty morning moon.
Broken clatter of horses’ hooves,
Bugles’ mournful tune.
They said this pass was iron-bound
But striding out we took it in one,
Took it in one.
Green crests like a sea,
Blood the setting sun.
Drenching rain on northland Yen,
White waves dash the sky.
Off First Emperor’s Island, fishermen
Lost to sight in the sea’s infinity—
What course for them?
Trace back millennia to when
Ts’ao Ts’ao whipped legions by
“Eastward to Tablet Rock”: his poem then
Sang of a wind that still “whines drearily”;
What’s changed is men.
I lost Yang, the “poplar”; you, the “willow” Liu:
Poplar and willow lightly floated through the nine heavens’ blue.
They sought a gift from Wu Kang, captive in the moon;
Wu Kang bore them in his hands a cup of cassia brew.
Ch’ang O, the lonely goddess, her sleeves to full width drew
And danced through endless realms of sky for two souls just and true.
Then swift report arrived from earth of the tiger overcome,
And sudden tears as flying rain drenched the firmament through.
I drank the waters of Changsha,
Now enjoy fish of Wuchang;
Ruled a bar across river’s miles,
Stretched sight horizon-long,
Preferring beat of wind and wave
To aimless stroll in idle court:
These hours to me belong.
The Master’s words at stream-side: “
Thus ever does it run.”
Wind-sway of masts
Repose of Tortoise and Snake
And a great plan begun:
North and south across nature’s moat
Bridged by a soaring span.
West, we erect new cliffs of stone
To block the rains of Witch’s Gorge:
Calm lake from sheer walls sprung.
If still the Goddess flourish,
What changes since she was young!
Hundred leagues locked in ice,
Thousand more of whirling snow.
Within the Great Wall and beyond
Vast without end;
Yellow River, upstream and down
Suddenly quelled in its flow.
Mountains, writhing silver snakes,
High plateaus like waxen mammoths
Strive the heights of heaven to outgrow;
Then the sky clears,
Brightens the gown of banded
white With crimson glow.
By hill and stream enchanted so
Gallant suitors in throngs came bowing low.
But the Lord of Ch’in and Wu of Han
The founders of T’ang and Sung
Had wits too slow,
The favored master of the world,
Genghis Khan, could win
No prize but eagles with his mighty bow.
All went their way;
Figures truly grand
Our age alone will show.
NOTES ON SELECTED POEMS BY MAO TSE-TUNG
“Changsha” (1925): All the poems in this short selection use metrical patterns of the genre known as tz’u, “lyric.” These patterns were widely used by poets of the Sung dynasty (tenth to thirteenth centuries), and Mao learned them as a schoolboy in Hunan. Each pattern has a “tune-title” based on the wording of the original song. So, although Mao titles this poem “Changsha,” the name of the metrical pattern is Ch’in-yüan ch’un, “Spring in the Ch’in Garden.” The poem “Snow” (below) uses the same pattern. The number of lines and their varied lengths, the tonal pattern, and the rhyme scheme are all strictly prescribed. The present translations retain the original rhyme schemes and attempt to indicate typographically the metrical patterning of short and long lines.
Mao had studied in the Teachers’ Training College at Changsha, capital of his home province of Hunan, and returned there on a revolutionary errand some seven years later. His poem of reminiscence is now inscribed on a huge tablet in a park on Orange Isle, which parts the waters of the great Hsiang River as they flow north past Changsha to join the Yangtze. The first stanza is typical Mao, full of vigorous action. The poem ends with a wry recollection of idealistic young students “rowing against the current,” which is still very much his own situation as a young revolutionary in 1925.
“Tapoti” (1933) and “Loushan Pass” (1935): Most traditional Chinese poetry about war, from the classic Book of Songs on, stresses hardship and human waste and yearns for peace. But these poems are in a heroic vein, celebrating hard fighting against Chiang’s Nationalists around Tapoti in Kiangsi Province in 1929 and the crossing of Loushan Pass in 1935 during the Long March. The first line of “Tapoti” lists the colors of the spectrum, familiar to every schoolboy. It was a brilliant stroke on Mao’s part to recognize this as the metrically perfect opening to one of the most common lyric patterns, P’u-sa man, “Strangers in Saint’s Coif.” The pattern of “Loushan Pass” is Yi Ch ‘in O, “Remembering Ch’in O.” The three-syllable first line recalls “Great wind rises,” the opening line of a celebrated poem by Liu Pang, founder of the Han dynasty in the third century B.C. B.C.
“Snow” (1936): Mao’s most majestic poem offers a panorama of China’s winter landscape in the first stanza and of her long history in the second. The poem is organized around the image of a bride, red-gowned, in the Chinese fashion, by the glow of sunlight on snow (and also by the red flags of Communism). The warrior-emperors of the second stanza, beginning with the First Emperor, the Lord of Ch’in, who built the Great Wall, all sought the hand of this bride but proved unworthy and “went their way.” Bridegrooms “truly grand” will be found only in the present age, when the people (under their Communist leaders) have become masters of their own country.
“Peitaiho” (1954): To the tune Lang-t’ao sha, “Wave-washed Sands.” Ts’ao Ts’ao, mighty general of the third century, after establishing himself as Emperor Wu of Wei, rode through the coastal settlement of Peitaiho to the defense of his northern frontier. He composed the following poem, to which Mao here alludes:
East to Tablet Rock
To gaze on the mighty sea:
How the waters toss,
The mountain-isles rise sheer.
Thickly clustering trees,
Herbs in rich array;
Drear whine of autumn wind,
Giant billows rear.
From this place begin
Journeys of sun and moon,
Milky Way’s shining stream
Seems to flow from here.
Let this joyous song
Make my great purpose clear.
Mao’s purpose in this allusion is to contrast the harshness of unchanging nature, and of the northern territories’ brutal history, with the advances under his own leadership in the world of men.
“Reply to Madame Li Shu-yi” (1957): To the tune Tieh lian hua, “Butterflies Woo the Blossoms.” Yang, meaning “poplar,” is the surname of Mao’s first wife, K’ai-hui, executed by the Nationalists in the 1930s; Liu, meaning “willow,” refers to Liu Chih-hsün, who died in action with the Communist forces in 1933. Liu’s widow, Li Shu-yi, wrote a poem on his death and sent it to Mao, who wrote this reply. Mao deftly relates the two martyrs to Wu Kang and Ch’ang O, figures of ancient legend who achieved immortality only at the cost of exile to the moon. Then he tempers the sorrow of the old bereavements with a celebration of “the tiger [i.e., the Nationalists] overcome,” so that the tears of the last line represent the martyrs’ joy at the success of their cause.
“Swimming” (1956): This poem, to one of the great lyric meters, Shui-tiao ko-t’ou, “Water Music Prelude,” is full of allusions. Lines 1-2 refer to a third-century folk ditty that protested a transfer of the capital: “Rather drink the water of Chien-yeh,” it ran, “than taste the fish of Wuchang.” Mao substitutes his own Changsha, which has a famous old well, for Chien-yeh (modern Nanking), and brings out the symbolic nature of his swim across the Yangtze (at Wuhan in May 1956): he has unified the land and can rejoice in both water and fish. “Nature’s moat” (second stanza, line four) is a historic epithet for the Yangtze, but the moat is now reduced by the new Wuhan bridge. Another proud achievement is the new reservoir, taming the storms of Witch’s Gorge on the upper Yangtze, whose willful and wayward “Goddess” was described by the poet Sung Yü in the third century B.C B.C. The “Master” quoted in stanza one is Confucius, whose words suggest a changelessness that Mao refutes: “Tortoise and Snake” (hills on either bank of the Yangtze at Wuhan) may sit there forever, but his new regime is actively rebuilding the landscape.
Translation and notes by Cyril Birch
One tends to associate Pien Chih-lin, a fine poet who brought much of Verlaine and Valéry into Chinese poetry, with the academe of a bygone era, but he is still in Peking and continues to be active in his own way. To be sure, the pace of life since 1949 has not allowed him to return to his quiet musing about the universe and his own position in it: so far he has not found a comfortable bridge between the feverish building of irrigation ditches and the symbolist world of his Leaves of Three Autumns, Fish’s Eye, or Han Garden.
Fortunately, his interest in translating Western literature can be, to some extent, accommodated in the present scheme of things. For some years now, he has been on the staff of the Research Institute of Foreign Languages and Literature, a division of the Academy of Sciences. When I saw him in Peking in 1973, he looked even healthier to me than he had thirty years ago. He told me that he was translating Shakespeare for a politically sanitized college edition. What he really wanted to write, he said, was a full-length novel depicting the metamorphosis of the Chinese intellectual from a pre-1949 bourgeois into a member of the new socialist nation. Although he had vowed as early as 1940 to write such a novel, he has yet to complete it.
Meanwhile, a few lines occasionally take shape in his mind. When he writes them down, they still exhibit the compact syntax and condensed imagery of his earlier work, as shown in the following selections. In December 1978, he drastically screened his own poems for a new anthology, which he preferred to call his collected works rather than selected works. He intended to save a total of less than a hundred poems, and he wrote a long preface analyzing the process of his own development as a poet. —K.Y.H.
On the way to the Reservoir, first plunge into the sea of humanity—
Blue tide crashing through the barren pass!
Men come from a thousand households: the movement
Of a hundred streams converges on the sea.
Throwing off your overcoat, grab a carrying-pole;
In the sea of humanity, take a bath in a sandstorm.
Offer a drop of sweat for the Reservoir—
Happy hearts beating like fish frolicking.
Poetry Journal, no. 3 (1958): 10
“What’s that you’re doing,
Spadeful after spadeful?”
“Don’t think I’m just digging—
I’m shutting off the roar of mountain floods!”
“What’s that you’re doing,
Shovel after shovel?”
“A quarter million irrigated mu
Are welling up in my palm!”
“And you, you too, shouldering
Basket after basket?”
“I’m raising a lakeful of live fish,
Lighting the villages with electric glow!”
“Each hand joining a thousand hands,
Each step joining a step further,
Each man has become a giant—
We are building the Ming Tombs Reservoir!”
Poetry Journal, no. 3 (1958): 10
Fish shouldn’t float into houses;
Thickets are for birds to nest in.
Know, Great Water: you will never again go berserk,
Knocking the flowers off young branches.
Move! The fish don’t want a crystal palace;
The birds will go uphill—into paradise.
We’ll fix up a lake-bed in the valley
And embrace the Great Water—make it our mirror.
Today we work the soil beneath the lake.
Tomorrow we’ll climb the slopes, plant saplings,
Build houses, install electric lights, water the soil;
We’ll set out fish nets in the Great Water.
You, Great Water, will have it all:
Houses shining in your bosom,
And trees, trucks, airplanes,
Smiles of labor and of leisure.
Poetry Journal, no. 3 (1958): 12
Building a reservoir, should one wear goggles?
Where the River of Sand comes from, sandstorms are heavy!
In the hollow of the storm, a Reservoir is appearing—
Just as we had planned!
Every spadeful starts a small sandstorm;
The sandstorm of a million spades has covered Heaven!
Actually, these goggles are telescopes:
Blue mountains, green waters before our very eyes!
Poetry Journal, no. 3 (1958): 12
The Emperor, having analyzed the feng-shui*
Returned to his court and designed a vista:
“Let my bones be enclosed by four mountains;
All future tombs to extend from here!
The Wen-yü River is Dragon’s vein! Established here,
Our sovereignty will stand for countless generations.
Even in death we shall command awe:
Once loose these waters, and the commoners will be as prawns!”
But the People turned the tables, penned in the waters.
Household on household they opened up the mountains,
Putting trees on every mountain, green in every tree,
Sending a fragrance of grain south over the countryside!
The Emperor said, “Thanks to my foresight,
Adding a lake will be auspicious”—
Not realizing his thirteen little curios*
Would serve to decorate the People’s vast garden!
Poetry Journal, no. 3 (1958): 12
Translated by Lloyd Haft
Tsang K’o-chia, who had been the most influential voice in pai-hua poetry in the 1950s and 1960s and a major force behind the national Poetry Journal until the Cultural Revolution shut it down, returned to the revived Journal in 1976, but his published works have been restricted to a few unoriginal, politically appropriate short pieces.
Nurtured by the Crescent School poets, Tsang struck out in a direction all his own. By the 1930s his plain, almost gaunt, but strong lines, crying out man’s humiliation in a tormented era, had already left their mark on the development of modern Chinese poetry. In the late 1930s he turned to a search for the earthy, honest notes that vibrated among his homeland villagers in Shantung, and for the subdued but true color of the subsoil of China.
He has devoted his life to poetry—editing it, writing it, helping others to write it. The long list of collections to his credit includes earlier works such as The Brand and The Zero-Degree of Life and more recent ones such as Cheers and Triumphal Return.
Like most other writers, during the Cultural Revolution Tsang was out in the countryside of Hupeh, digging dirt (but in small quantities because of his poor health). He returned to Peking in early 1973, claiming to be much healthier than ever before. He still looked, as he always had, very much the image of his own gaunt, tense verse. He was watching and waiting for a chance to give his remaining years to poetry, and at that time he spoke with some hesitation. But he should be much more open now—now that he has reemerged on the scene, at such a glittering assembly as the Third Congress of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles in Peking in May 1978. Some of his earlier works are being reissued. —K.Y.H.
Your seventy-year-old form, like an old tree,
In feudal mud buried for sixty years,
Now is left with a crippled leg,
An everlasting, painful remembrance.
Sitting upon a red wooden stool,
You mix dung ladle by ladle into water,
And watch it flow from one plot to another,
Making the vegetables in the plots grow green and tender.
You are used to hearing the sad song of the pulley,
Which has calloused your palms.
Today, the well is still the same one as then,
But now the Liberation-brand waterwheel sings out another kind
Old man! When I look at you,
It is like seeing a green shoot sprout from a bare tree in spring.
You, old member of the cooperative,
Supported by one leg, still you continue on toward socialism.
The Countryside, On High Tide, pp. 204-205
Translated by Kenneth Koziol
Tsou Ti-fan was born in Hupeh Province, where he spent his childhood years in extreme poverty. At the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war, he left to study in Chungking. It was at this time that Tsou aligned the style of his lengthy poems with the narrative poetry of Tsang K’o-chia and T’ien Chien. His poetry collections during the war years included The Carpenter Shop, The Determined Gambler, River, Blue Sky and the Forest, and Snow and the Village. After 1945 his new collection, Across, marked a transition from the simple narration of events to the expression of dissident feelings of social injustice. In his “political poems” Tsou arrived at a preference for socialist ideology, and after Liberation he emerged as a socialist writer. In his poetic themes he now emphasizes the existence of the “middle characters,” who are neither heroes nor petty people, but representations of an “intensified reality.” Through the study of these village characters in Tsou’s poems, we come to know the real, positive, silent contributors to a better China. —D.C.
By the water trough,
The production brigade leader introduced me to a grey-haired villager:
“This is the cultural education head of the village.”
He put down his hoe,
And gripped my hand,
Compared to you people,
I’m just an illiterate.
“Look here, ‘Production’s Great Leap Forward,’
Yesterday, I took it for ‘Production’s Great Importance,’
Aye, to read is harder than to act,
I studied the whole winter long, but learned only a few words.”
“But in acting, you’re number one!”
“Ah—in the old days,
A little song-and-dance gave relief to the poor people.
We worked like dogs all year round
Earning not even a winter jacket for our back,
Nor food to fill up our empty belly.
To stage a show
But the inhuman landlord,
Demanded heavy stage rent from us poor people...
Oh, tonight we have a show,
Why don’t you come and see.”
Kerosene lanterns hung on the stage,
Tobacco pipes glowed in the crowd—
A wintry night, cold wind, out in the open,
He starts to sing on the stage,
In this spacious, open-air theater.
He sends his voice
South of the mountain,
To the faraway forest,
To all the lighted windows in the village ...