Encouraged by the rapid economic improvement of 1957, the Party announced the second five-year plan in January 1958, and in November initiated a Great Leap Forward as one of the Three Red Flags (the other two being the People’s Commune and the General [policy] Line). The official goal was to overtake Great Britain and America in certain aspects of material wealth within a limited number of years, and for that purpose every effort was to be redoubled. Grain yield was to be increased tenfold and steel was to be manufactured in every backyard. While the self-reliant, heroic spirit was admirable, the net result was a near famine in 1960-61. But any opposition to the Great Leap Forward on the ground that it was not realistic was ruthlessly crushed; even the powerful voice of P’eng Teh-huai, one of the ten most meritorious generals, was silenced, and he died in ignominy.
In support of the Great Leap Forward, a nationwide campaign was launched to encourage and collect folk songs; literally thousands of them were printed and distributed in 1958-59. They praise the glory of the new society and the Party, and rejoice in the productive labor of the people. Hsieh Ch’i-kuei’s “More” is an example. Other poets, old and young, wrote on a large variety of subjects, ranging from Chang Yung-mei’s tale of some peasants recalling their past grievances against cruel landlords and discussing the power in their hands now, to Kuo Hsiao-ch’uan’s musings over the immensity of the stellar universe. The forms range from Chao P’u-ch’u’s classical tz’u to Ch’en Yi’s short and nimble quatrains.
Chou Yang, the Party’s spokesman for cultural and literary affairs, urged the writers to advance toward a truly proletarian literature, and some models of it were created during these few years. Liu Ch’ing’s The Builders describes the cooperative movement in the countryside around 1953, showing the correctness of the Party’s agricultural policy. Chao Shu-li’s old peasant hero, whose hands are invincible and indestructible, and T’ang K’o-hsin’s young factory worker, elated by his ability to teach his expertise to his superior, are labor heroes to be emulated.
But again, as the writers began to feel expansive and started writing with less restraint, their works also reflected imperfections in the new society. Chao Hsün’s play highlights the problems of a discharged army officer who, upon returning to his home village, finds his wife married to his brother by order of the village chief, and the entire village poor and backward as ever. The play, completed in 1958, was held up by the editor of the national Drama monthly for two years, and then printed with a call for criticism of its erroneous viewpoints. A wave of denouncements followed, condemning the play as an antiwar and anti-Party expression. To add fuel to the fire, the critics went on to bring back earlier works with similar flaws. Yüeh Yeh’s play, first published in 1956, now became another “poisonous weed” to be eradicated, because the principal character in it, a high-level cadre, divorces his peasant wife to marry a more educated woman, a nurse he has met in the hospital. The play’s artistic competence and the fact that the plot involves a universal problem of marital alienation were not enough to redeem it. Sun Ch’ien’s story, published in 1958, was also picked as a target. It is a story of another discharged soldier who finds his home villagers extremely backward. His effort to spread the Communist message among them meets only frustration and resistance. The story moves at a fast pace; the characters are very convincing. But these qualities did not win the critics’ favor.
Chao, Sun, Yüeh, and other writers like them were labeled revisionists because the Party considered them to be advocates of modification of the current policy.
The publication of Together through Thick and Thin in 1956 won popularity for Yüeh Yeh, because the play treated with considerable artistry the tragicomic entanglements of life that awaited the Communist cadres who had just emerged from peasantry to an elite status. Unfortunately, the author’s effort to be faithful to what he saw as real—the human foibles to which all, including the Communists, are susceptible—could not be tolerated by the Party orthodoxy. In 1960, when the campaign against revisionism in literature gained intensity, Yüeh Yeh’s works were severely condemned. The charge was that he championed the universality of human nature, which defies the class theory.
Five o’clock p.m. in March 1955. In the capital city of a province in North China.
On stage we see a fairly good-sized living room, which is on the second floor of the newly constructed dormitory for cadres in the Provincial Party Committee. This is the new residence of MENG SHIH-CHING, Assistant Director of the Rural Work Department under the Province’s Party Committee, and his family. Almost anyone would judge these quarters to be quite good, with the possible exception that the walls and woodwork have been painted in colors a bit too loud. It is not known which “high class” decorator deserves the credit for this “contribution.” The living room also serves as the dining area. Slightly left of center on the back wall (upstage) is the door to the hallway, which functions as the main door to this apartment. There are two other doors on the right side of the back wall, one to the room used by the servant (who takes care of MENG HUA, their eight-year-old daughter) and the other to the kitchen. The door on the right-hand wall leads to a bedroom. The sofa, dining table, chairs and stools, etc. are scattered about the living room at random. Furthermore, every piece of furniture is piled high with unopened luggage, books, picture frames, dolls, and all kinds of household articles, indicating that the occupants have just moved in and have yet to get things settled.
CHIA HSIU-LING, the governess (and housekeeper) in this family, enters from the door to the kitchen carrying a large white porcelain bowl filled with steaming soup. The bowl is so hot that she comes on stage gasping and sucking in air through her teeth. No more than eighteen or nineteen years old, she’s quite pretty with glossy black hair, a peaches-and-cream complexion, large eyes and lips; her eyebrows are a bit on the thick side.
[Someone is knocking at the main door]
CHIA HSIU-LING [Carrying the steaming tureen of soup in both hands, she yells out toward the door) Whew—. Come in please! (As she speaks, some soup spills onto her hands and is so hot it stings them. This makes her all the more unsteady and more soup spills over the edge of the bowl to her hands. She can’t control it enough to be able to set it down, and finally she cries out from the pain)
[The person outside in the hall has heard her cries and, pushing the door open, enters. This is CHI TA-CH’ENG, a messenger boy for the Provincial Government. He’s a clumsy and impulsive young fellow and hurries right over to CHIA HSIU-LING. Taking the large soup bowl from her he sets it down on the dining table. She waves her hands up and down through the air just like a raven beating its wings and blows on them. CHI TA-CH’ENG turns back toward her and also helps blow on her smarting hands)
CHIA HSIU-LING [Hurriedly hiding her hands behind her back) Thank you. Who are you looking for?
CHI TA-CH’ENG (Without looking carefully at the person to whom he’s speaking, quite respectfully) I take it you must be Comrade Hua, wife of Director Meng?
CHIA HSIU-LING Hua ... no, she’s not at home.
CHI TA-CH’ENG Then you are ...
CHIA HSIU-LING I’m the governess here.
CHI TA-CH’ENG The governess? I know all the governesses around here. How is it I’ve never seen you before?
CHIA HSIU-LING I’ve only arrived today.
CHI TA-CH’ENG There, you see? I knew I hadn’t seen you before. [He sits down to chat with her) What street are you from?
CHIA HSIU-LING I ... uhh, no, that street of ours doesn’t have any name.
CHI TA-CH’ENG That’s funny! What street in this city doesn’t have a name? How could the mail be delivered? Do you mean to say that we now have some unauthorized streets?
CHIA HSIU-LING [Blowing on her hands again) I ’m from the country.
CHI TA-CHEN Oh! You’re one of those who are “drifting into the cities without permission or good reason.”
CHIA HSIU-LING NO, I’m not! I have a letter of introduction from the village government and I ’m not “drifting in”! I have a “good reason,” which is that they’ve disbanded the Agricultural Producers’ Cooperative in our village and that’s why I came here to find a job. Do you want me to show you that letter of introduction?
CHI TA-CH’ENG That’s all right, no need to trouble yourself over that.
CHIA HSIU-LING (Keeping the conversation going and very much on equal terms with him) Where do you work?
CHI TA-CH’ENG (Points back over his shoulder[at the satchel on his back] with his thumb)
CHIA HSIU-LING (Not understanding his gesture, looks behind him and sees a chair there) In a ... in a carpenter’s shop?
CHI TA-CH’ENG (Perturbed) Huh, what do you mean a carpenter’s shop? I’m a messenger for the Party Committee. I work with Director Meng. (At this he recalls his own job and hurries to swing the bag he’s carrying on his back around in front of him; now he takes out a large envelope and another small one) Here’s one stamped with the word “urgent”—you understand that means it’s something that can’t wait, don’t you? Right, that’s this big one. I just took it over to Director Meng’s office and they told me he had already left for home. Now I’m giving it to you to give to him. As soon as he gets home, you will give it to him immediately, instantly, and without any delay, okay? If Comrade Hua Yün, Director Meng’s wife, comes home first, you can just hand this over to her right away and she’ll know how to deal with it. This small one is an ordinary letter, just a regular piece of mail; all you have to do is to see that they get both of them, all right?
CHIA HSIU-LING (Taking the letters from him) Okay.
CHI TA-CH’ENG (Expertly slinging his letter bag back around to where it normally hangs behind him, tugs on his cap and is about to depart, when he feels thirsty) Would you happen to have some water here?
CHIA HSIU-LING Yes, of course!
CHI TA-CH’ENG Where?
CHIA HSIU-LING In the water pipes; you can have as much as you want.
CHI TA-CH’ENG NO, I meant boiled water, to drink. I’m thirsty.
CHIA HSIU-LING Uhhh, I can have some for you in a jiffy. How would it be if you just sit down for a minute and I’ll put some water on to boil for you?
CHI TA-CH’ENG Forget it, I wouldn’t want you to go to all that trouble. [As he heads out the door) Be seeing you, Comrade Chia Hsiu-ling.
(HSIU-LING looks at the letters she’s holding, unable to decide where to put them, when she suddenly remembers she has left something cooking on the stove and runs into the kitchen, taking the letters with her) (A brief pause)
(HUA YÜN comes in from the main door looking very tired and leading her daughter, MENG HUA, in by the hand. HUA YÜN at thirty-one still looks no more than twenty-four or twenty-five. She is tall, full-figured, and pretty. The spring outfit on her is of good material and well tailored but conservatively colored. Her hair has been given a permanent but so subtly that it looks completely natural. She has large eyes beneath slender eyebrows with very long eyelashes and teeth as lustrous as white jade behind those gleaming red lips. Her manner of expressing herself is just as crisp and adroit as her way of doing things. Because she is more gifted than most people in many aspects, she frequently betrays a certain sense of superiority. She tends to find fault with others for being too slow or clumsy precisely because of the quickness of her mind and deftness of her hands. Her personality inclines toward impatience; she doesn’t like to play second fiddle to anyone and she is stubborn and unyielding on the surface, but actually she’s relatively fragile and willfully unpredictable. MENG HUA, eight years of age, is very bright and pretty, just like her mother, but also has something of her father’s masculine temperament. She has the best and prettiest clothes of anyone in the family)
HUA YUN (Heaving a sigh and taking off her scarf, she sits down on the sofa) Aiya! Well, that’s one more thing taken care of anyway. (MENG HUA takes off her jacket, folds it neatly and lays it to one side) Aiya, just look at all this stuff heaped up around here! That Hsiu-ling, I told her to get all this picked up and she hasn’t even touched it. Hsiu-ling, oh, Hsiu-ling!
MENG HUA [Looking about the room, then pushing open the door to the bedroom) Mommy, Daddy still isn’t home yet!
HUA YUN [Glances at Jier watch) I knew he wouldn’t get back ahead of us. Hua, my pet, please sit down and rest a bit, won’t you?
MENG HUA It’s really no fair! We agreed everyone should be back here at six o’clock. Mmmm, I’m so hungry. [She sees the soup and other food on the table) Mommy, the soup’s already on and everything!
HUA YUN What? She made the soup first? What about the other courses? (Walks over to look) And nothing’s been covered up, it’s all getting cold. lust look at what a mess we’re in, getting transferred to a new job, having to move, changing the governess, it’s such a bother!
MENG HUA I’m happy!
HUA YUN YOU little imp, you’re just saying that in order to be contrary, aren’t you?
MENG HUA NO, tomorrow I get to go study in a new school, Mommy. Aren’t you happy? [She pulls at her mother) Aren’t you, Mommy?
HUA YUN I’m happy, I’m happy. Hmmph! In order to get you enrolled in a new school, Mommy’s run her legs off today until they’re ready to break, but your father hasn’t lifted one little finger in this.
MENG HUA He’s busy!
HUA YUN SO? Mommy’s not busy too? As soon as he’s transferred to a new position, our whole family’s sent into a tizzy and we have a thousand and one things to do too: you have to be admitted to a new school and I have to tag along in Daddy’s footsteps and also get myself transferred to a new job here. Oh, I hope to heaven this time we will settle down and stay in one place!
MENG HUA Not me, I hope Daddy will get transferred every day!
HUA YUN What’s that?
MENG HUA ThenI could go traveling with Daddy [Making grand sweeps with her arms and declaiming like a poet in recital) to every part of China.
HUA YUN Heh, this father and daughter pair certainly are made for each other! Nonetheless, Little Hua, come over here and sit by Mommy. I want you to know that this time we’re going to stay put right here for a few years! Your Daddy worked in eastern China for more than four years, but he’s a northerner and he missed his home area and Grandma a lot. His home village is not far from here.
MENG HUA Grandma, Grandma ... [Her little mouth starts to pout) I’m already eight years old and I still don’t know what Grandma Meng looks like. It’s no fair!
HUA YÜN You? Even I have yet to meet Grandma!
MENG HUA How come Grandma has never come to live with us?
HUA YÜN Your father wrote so many letters to her, asking her to come, but she never did. She said she couldn’t bear to leave her old home and also objected to the weather in the south being too hot and rainy. She said she wouldn’t ever get used to it.
MENG HUA I got used to it. Mommy, I got used to living everywhere we lived, didn’t I? You count ‘em up! Harbin, Shih-chia-chuang, Tientsin, Shanghai, Nanking, Hangchow ... Uhh, oh, yes, yes there was also “Ch’i-ch’i-ha-erh”?
HUA YÜN (Laughs) What do you know about Ch’i-ch’i-ha-erh? After you were born we stayed there only two months before we moved away.
MENG HUA But that still counts as having been there, Mommy, I’ve been there too. Isn’t that right, Mommy?
HUA YÜN (Laughing) Yes, you may count it as your hometown.
MENG HUA Hopei is Daddy’s home province, Kiangsu is Mommy’s home province and Ch’i-ch’i-ha-erh is my home town. Mom, since joining the revolution how many places have I been to?
HUA YÜN What? What? Joining the revolution?
MENG HUA That’s right, Mommy, haven’t I been growing up right along with the revolution?
HUA YÜN (This time really having a good laugh) Yes, yes, if you figure it up like that, starting from when you were born, you already have a revolutionary history of eight years and two months.
MENG HUA Aiya! I’m dying of hunger! Why in the world hasn’t Daddy come home for supper yet? It’s just too mean of him! (The sound of someone knocking on the door)
MENG HUA (Jumps up) Daddy’s here! (She runs over to open the door)
(CHANG LAN-O, an accountant in a department store, slowly sticks her head in the door. She’s forty-two years old, quite plump, and a believer in helping nature out with heavy applications of all man-made resources available for beautifying oneself Waved hair, painted eyebrows, rouged lips—there is nothing subtle about her use of cosmetics. She is forthright and outspoken in character, quite contented with her lot in life, “zealous in pursuit of the public interest,” and always ready to socialize)
CHANG LAN-O (Halfway in through the door) Is this the place? (She discovers HUA YÜN there) Oh, Hua Yün, can it be that I’ve actually tracked you down?
HUA YÜN (Peering a moment to make out who it is) Lan-o? Is that you, cousin?
CHANG LAN-O Aiya, I heard you had arrived. I’ve been saying how I must come see you but have been so busy. It’s been years since I’ve seen you, Hua Yün. You’re looking healthier than ever and have put on some weight, haven’t you? Ah, look here at me, Hua Yün, wouldn’t you say I’m a bit thinner than before?
HUA YÜN (Constrained by politeness) Yes, I’d say so. How are you?
CHANG LAN-O [Noticing MENG) Who have we here? Is this your daughter? What’s her name?
MENG HUA I’m Meng Hua. How do you do, Auntie?
CHANG LAN-O Very well, thank you. Such a good little girl! (Cupping MENG HUA’S face in her hands) If you aren’t just a little replica of your mother! [Turns back toward HUA YUN) She’s just as pretty as you! (HSIU-LING enters with a hot dish of food)
HUA YUN Hsiu-ling, Little Hua is hungry, would you serve her some food ahead of us so she can have something now?
MENG HUA Mommy, I’ll go wash my hands first and maybe Daddy will get back right away.
HUA YÜN That’s fine, dear, you go do that. (HSIU-LING sets down the dish of food and exits with M ENG HUA)
CHANG LAN-O [Sitting down, she notices HUA YÜN’S scarf draped over the sofa) My goodness, Hua Yün, are you still so partial to green? (HUA YÜN gives her a noncommittal smile. CHANG LAN-O scrutinizes her) What’s this, are you pregnant again?
HUA YÜN [Laughs, partially at the question and partially because this older cousin on her mother’s side is still the same as ever) No! (She pulls her jacket smooth and sits down, now changing the subject) You and your husband are both very well, I take it?
CHANG LAN-O He’s just fine except he’s never at home.
HUA YÜN Where does he go?
CHANG LAN-O He’s still in that same old line of work—he works in commerce, has to travel all over the place, you know.
HUA YÜN Are the two of you still getting along as well as ever?
CHANG LAN-O [Tickledpink at this) Hmmph! Every time he has to go off on business he says he can’t bear to leave me, simply can’t do without me, but when it comes time for his departure he somehow manages to do just that. Who knows what he really feels? To tell you the truth, I’m beginning to have my doubts about him.
HUA YÜN (Laughing) How can you say that? After being happily married all these years?
CHANG LAN-O No, Hua Yün, according to what I’ve seen and figured out, there are men who are just terrible, they get married one day and divorced the next, married then divorced, divorced and then married, just like casually changing partners in a dance hall. On the other hand, my old Chao is not so bad. He’s not brave enough to pull anything like that.
HUA YÜN (Doesn’t want to continue in this vein) How’s your job? Are you still working in accounting?
CHANG LAN-O Yup, accounting! At first I worked at the People’s Bank but now I’ve been transferred to a department store. (She looks around) This apartment’s pretty nice. Aiya, things are still in a mess, it really looks like you just moved in. (Walks over to a mirror and turns first one way and then another, all the while admiring herself) Hua Yün, that outfit you’re wearing is too plain. Now’s the time of our happy, new society, we should get a little more dressed up. Oh, yes, where’s your husband?
HUA YÜN (A bit lonely and downcast) He still hasn’t come back. Haven’t I just been waiting and waiting for him to get back so we can eat dinner? By the way, have you had dinner?
CHANG LAN-O I’ve eaten, thanks. Actually, I’m on my way to the theater but since it’s still early I thought I’d drop by and see you. Also I’m waiting for someone else. Hua Yün, you’ll never guess what! Who do you think is taking me to the theater this evening?
HUA YÜN How should I know?
CHANG LAN-O Liang Shang-chün! Do you remember him? You certainly must remember him. He still isn’t married.
HUA YÜN I thought I heard a couple of years ago that he had gotten married.
CHANG LAN-O No, he’s never married. Gosh, he surely has come up in the world. He’s an editor at a newspaper and also is a writer. Now, there is someone whose star is on the rise! He simply pulls money in by the bushel for his manuscripts and is quite the man about town. And when he holds forth on some subject, I can’t even understand him.
HUA YÜN Yes, when it comes to writing, we’d have to say he is talented. I read one of his pieces somewhere recently.
CHANG LAN-O (Laughing) You see, you still do notice him. Did you know that he, Liang Shang-chün, asked me about you? He told me that there had been a time once when he was ardently pursuing you and that it was a very heavy blow to him when you hit it off with old Meng and then got married to him.
HUA YÜN (Tries to stop her) What’s the point of going into all that?
CHANG LAN-O He’s heard that you’ve come here to work and he’d very much like to see you. We arranged to meet here first this evening in order to see you and then we’ll go on from here to the theater. He’ll probably be here any minute now.
HUA YÜN (Somewhat uneasy) Oh?
CHANG LAN-O (Lighting a cigarette) Ai, human relationships are all so hard to figure out.
HUA YÜN But this room is in such a state. [She begins to arrange the chairs when there’s a knocking at the door)
CHANG LAN-O (As if she were master of the home) Please come in.
(As the door opens, LIANG SHANG-CHUN walks in with a winning élan, a smile playing at the corner of his lips. He’s thirty-nine years old, of medium height, as natty as can be, with a lightweight coat worn over his beige-colored Sun Yat-sen suit. His face has the shape of a melon seed, wide at the brow with a pointed chin, and if you look very closely you can detect a few shallow pockmarks pitting his cheeks. These are, however, not at all ugly and actually add that little something to an already handsome visage. Upon seeing HUA YÜN, he quickly transfers the books and magazines to his left hand and extends his right one to shake HUA YÜN’S)
LIANG SHANG-CHÜN Hua Yün, Hua Yün, how are you?
HUA YÜN (Her face a bit flushed for some strange reason) Very well, and how are you, Shang-chün? [She tries to pull her hand back but it is still held tightly in his grip)
LIANG SHANG-CHÜN I’m just fine, too. Aiya, it’s been such a long time, hasn’t it? (After repeatedly squeezing and shaking her hand, he finally releases it)
HUA YÜN That’s for sure. Please have a seat, won’t you? We’ve just moved in and things are in quite a jumble.
CHANG LAN-O (Laughs) Aiya, seeing the two of you together, well, it truly seems like witnessing a reunion full of historic significance.
LIANG SHANG-CHÜN Lan-o, have you been here long? Hua Yün, don’t trouble yourself, we have to go right away. There’s not much time left.
HUA YÜN You’ve been writing quite a bit in these past few years.I really admire people like you who have accomplished something.
LIANG SHANG-CHÜN (Glibly) Don’t say that. I haven’t done anything worth mentioning in recent years, partially because I’ve been working as an editor and that leaves me little time for writing, but also because things in general ... well, they just aren’t very stimulating and so I’m not inclined to write. And if one wants to write something that will really “come to grips with life,” it’s not so easy to get it published; consequently, I don’t write much of anything nowadays.
HUA YÜN When I was in the south I read your articles and I thought they were very good.
LIANG SHANG-CHÜN (Excitedly) No, those things were all very superficial. Now I feel very strongly about the importance of having pieces which boldly come to grips with life. Otherwise you publish something one day only to have it forgotten by the next and there’s simply not much point to it. That’s why I’ve been making plans recently to go down to the countryside for a while and then put some serious work into writing something truly worthwhile when I come back. As for being criticized, I’ve got that one pretty well figured out. Someone criticizes you, you criticize them right back. You can’t get anywhere at all unless you’re willing to struggle!
CHANG LAN-O (Yawns, then suddenly remembers to look at her watch) Say, comrade writer, the performance is about to start, don’t you think we’d better get going?
LIANG SHANG-CHÜN Yes, yes, let’s go. Hua Yün, you must come over to our place someday soon, okay?
CHANG LAN-O Don’t worry about that, she’ll come over. Hua Yün, Liang Shang-chün is now renting a room from us, ahh, this tenant of ours, um, he doesn’t pay rent but he has all kinds of critical suggestions about the place. We must go now or we won’t see any of the first act. They’ve now made it a rule that no one will be admitted after the curtain rises.
LIANG SHANG-CHÜN Well, let’s be off then.
CHANG LAN-O Hmmph, probably I’ll have the dubious pleasure of seeing a play without its first act just because of this little reunion. We’ll be seeing you, Hua Yün.
HUA YÜN (Walking them to the door) Good-bye. I won’t see you down the stairs if you don’t mind. (CHANG LAN-O takes LIANG SHANG-CHÜN’S arm and is saying something to him as the two of them exit)
(HUA YÜN turns back and, heaving a sigh, goes to sit down on the sofa. She knows she will still have to wait awhile longer. MENG HUA comes bounding into the living room from the kitchen)
MENG HUA Mommy, I’ve had my dinner in the kitchen. How come Daddy ... (At this point the main door opens without warning and in walks MENG SHIH-CHING, MENG HUA’S father. He is thirty-nine years old and is the Assistant Director of the Party Committee’s Rural Work Department. Tall and strongly built, he is wearing a black wool uniform. As usual he has ignored the proprieties not only by leaving the high, tight-fitting collar of his jacket unbuttoned but even by leaving his shirt collar open at the neck so that the rumpled neckline of his undershirt spills out into full view every now and again. He has a square-set face and because of his deep preoccupation with his work, his sideburns are becoming shaggy, while the wrinkles connecting the nose to the mouth corners, which indicate a determined will, are becoming ever more deeply etched into his face. Beneath the slender, arched eyebrows a pair of large eyes sparkle with intelligence and honesty. His is a mind that focusses on the important things and skips over trivialities and petty concerns. He works conscientiously and hard from dawn to dusk)
MENG SHIH-CHING (Carrying a large, brown briefcase under his arm while tearing open a big envelope, he enters, looking calm and unruffled) How’s my Little Hua? (He bends down to look at his daughter)
MENG HUA Daddy! Daddy’s home. (She reaches up to throw her arms around his neck and demonstratively, noisily covers his face with kisses)
MENG SHIH-CHING (Picks his daughter up in his arms and gives her a kiss) Have you had your dinner?
HUA YÜN (Becoming animated and cheerful) She waited for you so long, she got hungry and ate ahead of us. (Taking her husband’s briefcase and papers out of his hands) Let’s eat right away, what time is it getting to be?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Setting down MENG HUA) I’ve already had dinner.
HUA YUN Now, really, you agreed that we would wait for you and have dinner together and you didn’t even call to let us know you wouldn’t be back for dinner.
MENG SHIH-CHING We don’t have our phone hooked up yet here, now do we? Several old comrades unexpectedly turned up and I had to go to dinner with them. If you haven’t eaten yet, you’d better eat right away. (So saying, he picks up his briefcase and papers and takes them over to the sofa, where he sits down and starts going over them)
HUA YÜN [Sighs softly, then walks over to switch on the lamp, pours out a cup of tea for her husband and takes it over to him) Why don’t you take a break when you’ve just gotten home?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Has not yet understood the import of his wife’s words) Umm, I’m not tired. (He takes the cup of tea and automatically puts it down on the floor while continuing to read) Little Hua, wouldn’t you like to come over here and keep Daddy company while he’s working? Now don’t squirm, just watch Daddy write, okay? (He takes out his fountain pens and jots down comments in the margins of the papers he’s reading)
HUA YÜN (Sits down facing her husband) You don’t have anything on for tonight, do you? I mean, you won’t be going out?
MENG SHIH-CHING Uhh, that’s right. Oh, no, wait a minute, it’s nothing special but I do have to run over to the Agricultural Institute at nine o’clock just for a little while.
HUA YÜN At least I got the problem of transferring Hua into a new school here settled this afternoon.
MENG SHIH-CHING Oh, really? That’s nice. (HUA YÜN still has something to say, but, noticing that her husband is completely absorbed in his papers, she is a bit put out and, getting to her feet, is about to leave him alone when he asks her)
MENG SHIH-CHING By the way, was there any mail for me today?
HUA YÜN No, nothing. (She stands there waiting for SHIH CHING to ask her something about her day)
MENG SHIH-CHING Little Hua, sit still there while Daddy goes to get something. (He gets up and starts off toward the bedroom door. HUA YÜN can’t take any more of this; tears well up in her eyes and she sits back down. MENG SHIH-CHING finally realizes something’s amiss) Why don’t you have your dinner?
HUA YÜN I’m not hungry.
MENG SHIH-CHING Is something the matter?
HUA YÜN (Won’t look at him) What do you think? (MENG HUA stares wide-eyed at her parents for a minute and then has the good sense to make herself scarce; she runs toward the bedroom)
MENG SHIH-CHING That’s a good girl, Hua ... you play by yourself awhile and Daddy’11 come tell you a bedtime story by and by.
MENG HUA All right. (She exits)
HUA YÜN As soon as you get home, you throw yourself into your work. What about me? Do you even remember that there’s still someone named Hua Yün in this world?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Tenderly) Do you really think I could forget that?
HUA YÜN But you haven’t shown a bit of concern over the problem of my job. I’m just as serious about my work as you, you know?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Walks over to stand behind his wife’s chair) Isn’t it all settled that you’re to work in the main People’s Hospital of this province?
HUA YÜN But I don’t want to be the head of some section in the hospital; I want to do professional work.
MENG SHIH-CHING It’s already more than a year ago that you raised this issue. If you don’t meet all the requirements, I just don’t see what can be done about it.
HUA YÜN If I always have to do administrative work and sit in an office, how can I ever meet the requirements?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Still very gentle and considerate of her feelings) Weren’t you given the chance to take the medical school entrance exam? If you weren’t one of those selected there’s nothing anyone can do.
HUA YÜN If I have no chance to study because I’m doing administrative work all the time, of course I’m not going to pass the entrance exam.
MENG SHIH-CHING Hua Yün, every time I hear you talking like this, I feel you aren’t seeing things as clearly as you might. I think you’re placing too much emphasis on the external factors! You’re not strict enough in the demanding of yourself ...
HUA YÜN So here it comes again, my subjective willpower is insufficient, is it? I’m so tired from my job at the hospital every day that I’m completely beat, and yet instead of being able to rest when I get home from the office, I still have a million and one housekeeping chores to do. You’re certainly not about to take on any of the housework. Now you tell me just how in the world I’m supposed to be able to study up? Hmmph, we who are born to be women are always behind the eight ball anyway. Let’s just take the question of changing jobs. Whenever you men get transferred or switch jobs, we women have to go right along with you. Why is it that I always have to give up my job and tag along with you?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Laughs just like a kid) Okay, okay, from now on I tag along after you, how would that suit you? If you want to become a student and go back to school again, I’ll go with you. Just think how amusing it will be for a woman student to be dragging her hubby along to class with her. [He takes her face in his hands from where he is standing behind her) You lovable little fool!
HUA YÜN (Smiling through her tears) Don’t touch me, someone might come in. (She twists around to rest her cheek against her husband’s chest) Shih-ching, oh, don’t always pontificate to me about those grand principles. I want you to talk to me about the feelings in our hearts. You know that I’m all stirred up and unsettled. But even so you won’t help me find a way out. No, you only know how to be your same old Assistant Director.
MENG SHIH-CHING [Caressing his wife’s hair) What is it you’d actually like to do?
HUA YÜN I’d like ... I’m thinking about switching into some artistic line of work. What would you think of that?
MENG SHIH-CHING If you think it’s feasible then go ahead.
HUA YÜN Yes. I’m already thirty-one this year, and how I regret not having made up my mind sooner. Just think of all the old friends who’ve made a name for themselves and accomplished big things. Whenever I see any of them I really feel embarrassed.
MENG SHIH-CHING There’s no need for that. One does not do a job well for the sake of impressing other people!
HUA YÜN (Pulls away from him) You always have the truth on your side, don’t you?
(HSIU-LING enters with two sealed envelopes)
CHIA HSIU-LING Comrade Hua Yün, let me give ...
MENG SHIH-CHING Whose are they? Mine! (He takes them from HSIU-LING) When did these arrive?
CHIA HSIU-LING Late this afternoon.
MENG SHIH-CHING (Patiently) From now on I want you to give anything that has come that day to me as soon as I get home. Exactly! Whenever an envelope has a big red “urgent” stamped on it, you must give it to me right away, don’t set it down anywhere, do you understand?
CHIA HSIU-LING Yes, I do. That kind is a “special delivery.”
MENG SHIH-CHING That’s right!
HUA YÜN Hsiu-ling, you may serve the food now, I want to eat. (HSIU-LING politely acknowledges this and exits, only to return in an instant with the food. As HUA YÜN sits down at the table, SHIH-CHING has again become engrossed in his work ... he tears open that letter and reads it. HSIU-LING goes back into the kitchen)
HUA YÜN [In a normal tone of voice) Shih-ching, that “darling” elder cousin of mine, Chang Lan-o, stopped by today. And besides her, there was also an old acquaintance, I wonder if you remember him? Liang Shang-chün dropped in for a bit too.
MENG SHIH-CHING Oh, yes. (As he turns over the pages with his attention riveted, pondering their contents, he gradually begins to talk out loud)...experience of rectifying the cooperatives ... cutting back, guard against the risks of rushing ahead too fast This is just like Chekiang. Is the whole country in the process of pulling back? (Hepicks up the document and writes comments on the margins)
HUA YÜN (Starting to eat) Shih-ching, you won’t forget now, will you? You’re going with me to the hospital tomorrow morning. The two of us will talk things over with the hospital and get it settled that I’m to enroll in classes in order to prepare for the med school exams. You promised to go with me.
MENG SHIH-CHING Look at this, it’s a directive, I’m afraid I won’t be able to go with you, tomorrow morning the Party Committee is having a meeting to discuss the issue of decreasing the number of Agricultural Producers’ Cooperatives. You go ahead and go by yourself!
HUA YÜN (Half-beaten and feeling very let down) I just knew it was going to be like this.
MENG SHIH-CHING This, now look, Yün, really there’s ...
HUA YÜN (No longer able to eat, she puts down her rice bowl and heads toward their bedroom) All right, all right! I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.
MENG SHIH-CHING Hua Yün, look here, there’s a letter from my mother. (He rips open that smaller envelope) Hmm ... the cooperative in our village had been operating very well....What’s this? The county magistrate went down to our village and forced them to split up the cooperative....what the hell is going on there?
HUA YÜN (She has gone over to him and, leaning from behind him, one hand resting on his shoulder, is reading it along with him) Hey, Grandma says she’s going to come see us.
MENG SHIH-CHING (Delighted) You’re right! Ha, ha, leave it to old Mom to think things through like this. She says that if she doesn’t see us now that we’re here, who’s to say we won’t be transferred to some distant place again one of these days and then she won’t be able to see us. (He hands the letter to HUA YÜN) To tell you the truth, I really have been missing Mom quite a lot. She had a pretty rough time of it after I left home. Ever since I was a little boy, I was the apple of her eye and she loved me something fierce! Even when I was naughty, so naughty I made her cry, she never could bring herself to give me even a little slap.
HUA YÜN You hardly need to tell me about how devoted you and your mother are to each other. In all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you cry except for two times when you were thinking about your mother.
MENG SHIH-CHING That never happened.
HUA YÜN Never happened? Think about it again. Back in 1945, that same year I met you (She immediately abandons herself to these happy memories) ...you were in that military hospital. We nurses were putting on that amateur theatrical performance to cheer up you wounded soldiers. I remember how after the performance was over and I had changed out of my costume, I went to see you. You were sitting there in front of the window thinking about something and the moon was so bright that night and when you saw me coming over to you, you started talking to me about the play and then you went on to talk about everything. When you spoke of your home village, you naturally talked about your mother and the tears ran down your cheeks.... I didn’t know whether or not I ought to give you my handkerchief, I just automatically took it out and was fumbling with it in my hands, but you, you wouldn’t make the first move and ask me for it; oh, no, you were too proud, you had to wait for me to make the first gesture ... you certainly were acting the big shot, weren’t you?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Also thinking back to those days) Ai, wasn’t it I who first reached out and took hold of your hand?
HUA YUN Yes ... but it was I who first leaned over to kiss you. (She starts to laugh) Do you remember, I barely murmured that your whiskers were prickly and you were so quick on the uptake that the very next day there was no one in the whole hospital who was as smoothly shaved as you! Weren’t you ever embarrassed?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Embraces his wife and kisses her face) Oh, well, you know all of my past secrets anyway. Of course you have the right to say these things. It’s really interesting to think back: going to school, afterwards teaching primary school in our county, fighting in the guerrilla forces, winding up in that hospital, meeting you, going to the northeast, then going down south, now doing this agricultural work, organizing cooperatives ... it all sounds so simple when you talk about it. I’m almost forty now and yet I still feel as if I’m not yet grown up.
HUA YUN Have you looked at the clothes you’re wearing? You need to change your undershirt and you never button up your jacket properly! ... I really have something to regret too. Why didn’t I change my profession back then and go into some type of work in the arts? Now it’s been ten years since then, I bet I would surely have done something worth mentioning by now!
MENG SHIH-CHING Back then everyone did say you had the talent for the stage, didn’t they? Why, you even got lots of love letters and proposals in each day’s mail. Hey, you were quite a big hit.
HUA YÜN I was too, but the strangest thing was that you never wrote a single line to me, nor did you ever give me the pleasure of hearing a single word of praise from you; even so, I went right ahead and fell blindly, head-over-heels in love with you!
MENG SHIH-CHING (Jokingly) If you regret that, you’d better figure out what you want to do about it pretty soon, it’s still not too late.
HUA YÜN Ai, let’s not be too sure about that. (She discovers there’s still a piece of stationery in the envelope and when she takes it out and unfolds it, a snapshot falls out) Ooh, there’s a photograph in here too! Who is this? I seem to have seen this face somewhere before. (She reads the name on the back of it) It’s Meng Chen!
MENG SHIH-CHING (Looks at it) It sure is! The rascal. He’s practically a man now!
HUA YÜN He says here in the letter that he’s now in middle school. He writes a very good hand too! Your son’s going to accompany Grandma up here. He knows how to say the right thing, this lad, says he’s eager to see his younger sister but he doesn’t mention anything about his mother. Uhh, I wonder how your “feudal missus”* has been getting along recently?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Not at all happy to have this subject raised, reaches out, and HUA YÜN hands him the snapshot and letter from his son) I don’t know.
HUA YÜN Meng Chen looks very much like you. Let’s see, he’s already fifteen or sixteen!
MENG SHIH-CHING Yup.
HUA YÜN (Teasing him) I got it. Why don’t you take back Meng Chen’s mother and the two of you can live together like a good old happy couple. I’ll take Little Hua and go back to Kiangsu.
MENG SHIH-CHING If I could live with a woman like that who doesn’t understand a thing, I wouldn’t have ever gotten together with you. Just as in my decision to marry you, comrade, there was nothing casual or impulsive about my decision to divorce her.
HUA YÜN But everything has to change someday. Perhaps you should marry the one you divorced and divorce the one you married.
MENG SHIH-CHING (Laughs) Do you know, this reminds one of the opening line from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which goes, “It is said that when the forces under heaven have been divided for a long time they must coalesce; when they have been united for a long time they must split asunder.” (MENG HUA comes running out from the bedroom)
MENG HUA Aiya, Daddy, I’ve been reading in there and have already read through two whole comic books and you still haven’t come in. The two of you are talking on and on out here without stopping. Hmmph! You seem to have so much to say to Mommy and so little to say to me! (Her little mouth again begins to curl into a pout)
MENG SHIH-CHING Aiya, sorry, sorry, I do apologize to this young lady of ours. Come and let me teach you a riddle.
MENG HUA (Happy) Yeah, Yeah! Mommy, you try it too!
HUA YÜN I think we’ll let father and daughter work out the riddle while I try to put away some of this mess. (HUA YÜN straightens things up while SHIH-CHING and little HUA sit down to one side)
MENG SHIH-CHING Now listen, I’ll tell you four things in the four lines of this riddle and you have to guess what they are, okay?
The eldest sister calls out up in the tree;
The second sister jumps high with fright;
The third sister carries a stick, you see;
The fourth sister lights her lantern bright.
MENG HUA Ha, ha, what is it? Are the four sisters playing a game, Dad? Is that it?
MENG SHIH-CHING Mmm, no, each of the lines I spoke stands for a different thing, altogether there are four different things.
MENG HUA Ennn ... I can’t get it. Won’t you tell me the answer now?
MENG SHIH-CHING I’ll tell you: “The eldest sister calls out up in the tree” stands for a cicada; “The second sister jumps high with fright” means a grasshopper; “The third sister carries a stick, you see” stands for the praying mantis; and “The fourth sister lights her lantern bright” ...
MENG HUA (A naturally gifted child, she instantly hgures this last one out) It’s a firefly, isn’t it, Daddy?
MENG SHIH-CHING That’s right, that’s it, very clever of you. (He again opens his briefcase and takes out more papers to work on)
MENG HUA Who taught it to you? That’s a great riddle, Dad.
MENG SHIH-CHING Your grandma taught it to me.
MENG HUA Grandma is really smart! (She tries to repeat it to herself) “The eldest sister calls out up in the tree” is a grasshopper, is that right, Daddy?
MENG SHIH-CHING (His mind elsewhere) Uh-huh, that’s right, clever girl.
MENG HUA “The second sister jumps high with fright” is a praying mantis, right, Dad?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Responds without thinking) Absolutely correct, right.
MENG HUA Aiya, that “third sister” who carries a stick has to be a praying mantis, too. Then what is it that “jumps high with fright”?
MENG SHIH-CHING Huh? It’s a firefly.
MENG HUA No, it’s not! If it’s like this, then you’d have eldest sister, second sister, and also third and fourth sisters all calling out, jumping around like crazy, carrying long sticks and everything!
HUA YÜN (Losing patience, throws down the thing in her hand and leads MENG HUA toward the main door) Come on, Little Hua, Mommy will take you outside to play. (Remonstrating with her husband) If you consider your time so damn valuable, don’t bother to go through the false motions of paying attention to us!
MENG SHIH-CHING Don’t talk like that, all right? Don’t you know that cold porridge and cold rice are much easier to take than cold words and cold comments?
HUA YÜN Even a few cold words and comments are more than we’re likely to get out of you during the whole day!
(MENG SHIH-CHING is going to say something else but then restrains himself HUA YÜN is just about to lead MENG HUA out the door when from the other side of their main door is heard the robust voice of an elderly woman)
OLD MRS. MENG (From outside the door) Shih-ching! Yoo-hoo, Shih-ching! Aren’t you home? Aren’t you going to come out and help me carry in these things?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Listens very attentively to that voice) Hey, isn’t that my mother’s voice? Mom’s here! Aiya, can it really be? (He rushes past HUA YÜN and MENG HUA to the door, throws it open, and stands excitedly in the doorway greeting his mother) Mom, dear old Mom, it’s really you!
(OLD MRS. MENG, smudged with the dust from her journey, enters carrying a big bundle of things tied up in a piece of homespun cloth with a floral pattern. She is already sixty years old, but because she does demanding labor all year long, she’s still strong and vigorous. Her face is a large square one like her son s and her complexion has been burnished a ruddy red by the sun. There’s still not much white in her hair. She’s wearing a new outfit of clothing, and all this, combined with the fact that it’s in her basic nature to be cheerful, makes her look not a day over fifty)
MENG SHIH-CHING (Hastens to take the large bundle from her) Come on in and rest yourself, Mom. How are you?
OLD MRS. MENG I’m fine, just fine (Her glance falls on HUA YÜN) SO this is young Hua Yün, is it? (In her eyes practically everyone’s name should be prefixed with “young”)
HUA YÜN ....
MENG SHIH-CHING Greet mother, Yün!
HUA YÜN Mother, you’re finally here!
MENG HUA Daddy, what’ll I call her?
OLD MRS. MENG (Laughs heartily) As soon as I saw her, I knew she had to be my granddaughter. She looks like me, yes, she does, she looks like me! Granddaughter, come here and let Grandma have a good look at you. (She picks MENG HUA up in her arms) You call me Grandma, you silly little thing!
MENG HUA Grandma? You mean you’re Daddy’s mother, you’re my grandmother?
OLD MRS. MENG Uh-huh, that’s right. That’s something that will never change in your whole life, I’m your “grandma”!
MENG HUA (Not the least bit shy) Aiya, Grandma, Daddy just taught me that riddle about the four sisters and I’ve got it all jumbled up. Will you teach me how to get the four of them straightened out?
OLD MRS. MENG Sure, I ’ll teach you lots and lots of them. (She walks over to the large bundle she’s brought with her from the countryside and, after poking about in it for a while, fishes out a large triangular steamed dumpling stuffed with brown sugar) Granddaughter! Come over here and get this “t’ang-san-chiao” sugar dumpling from your old Grandma. Go ahead, silly girl, take it. Grandma gives it to you, you can eat it.
MENG HUA Grandma, I ’m full.
HUA YÜN She’s just had her dinner and we don’t let her snack in-between meals!
OLD MRS. MENG What diffence does that make? Little kids can eat one of these without any problem at any time of the day. Their tummies will digest them in no time at all. Take it.
(MENG SHIH-CHING signals to HUA YÜN. HUA YÜN has no choice except taking it from the grandmother on behalf of her daughter)
HUA YÜN Say thank you to Grandma. (She gives the steamed dumpling to MENG HUA, who takes it and stands there, fully aware of the situation, holding it in her hand but not eating it)
OLD MRS. MENG Oh, Shih-ching, you’d best go out now to meet her. She’s carrying a great big basket and was coming on along behind me, she should be getting here by now.
HUA YÜN Uhh, Mother, who are you talking about? Didn’t Meng Chen come along with you?
OLD MRS. MENG No, it’s Meng Chen’s mother who’s come along. MENG SHIH-CHING Huh? ... Oh, well then, I suppose I better go help her. (He exits)
(OLD MRS. MENG looks unblinkingly at HUA YUN, who becomes flustered and busies herself aimlessly arranging things here and there, her emotions in a whirl)
OLD MRS. MENG How are the two of you getting along?
HUA YÜN US? We’re just fine, Mother.
OLD MRS. MENG That’s all right then.
MENG SHIH-CHING (Offstage, his voice heard coming from the rear on the other side of the main door) Let me, let me give you a hand with that!
WOMAN’S VOICE (of Liu FANG-WEN offstage) It’s not necessary, we’re already here, it’s fine!
(MENG SHIH-CHING pushes open the door and quickly steps aside to allow LIU FANG-WEN, his former wife, to enter carrying a large, heavy basket with netting serving as its lid. LIU FANG-WEN is thirty-seven, of medium height and a sturdy build. Her oval-shaped face is of a very ruddy complexion and she has a pair of bright, inquisitive eyes. Her hair is thick and black, no longer wound into a bun but cut short. She does farm work all year long and thus moves with the quickness and sureness of a man. However, she is very good-natured and obliging, and there’s a certain special aura about her that appeals to people, which comes from her unassuming self-confidence and the iron will underneath her gentleness)
OLD MRS. MENG Set it down and have a rest, Fang-wen.* (She turns to her son) After we got off the train, I told her to hire a porter to carry it for us but she wouldn’t hear of it, wouldn’t consider spending any money for that.
LIU FANG-WEN It’s not so heavy. Mother, which room are you going to be using? Where should I put this?
OLD MRS. MENG You silly, I’ve only just arrived here. I haven’t had a chance yet to learn the frying pan from the stove, so how would I know where they’re going to put me up? (She glances out of the corner of her eye at her son and HUA YÜN) Anyway, just as long as they don’t expect me to sleep outside in the courtyard, anywhere will do. Just set the basket down for now and catch your breath. We’ll worry about that later!
(LIU FLiuFANG-WENANG-WEN sets the basket down out of the way for the time being, straigh tens up, pats her hair into place and turns round to look at SHIH-CHING. He evades her glance. She transfers her gaze to HUA YÜN. FANG-WEN already knows full well who this must be and she says nothing. MENG HUA gives her mother a puzzled look and then looks again at FANG-WEN. FANG-WEN opens wide her arms in an inviting gesture to MENG HUA, who is instantly attracted by her motherly affection and goes over to cuddle up close to FANG-WEN. This child is very sensitive and since none of the grown-ups are saying anything, she also keeps quiet and just stands there gazing up intently into FANG-WEN’S face. Everyone stands there awkwardly, all at a loss for something to say)
MENG SHIH-CHING (Breaking the ice) Mother, wouldn’t you like to freshen up a bit? Hsiu-ling, Hsiu-ling, hurry up and draw some water! (Stage dims)
A few hours later the same evening, the same place. OLD MRS. MENG and her son, SHIH-CHING, are sitting on the sofa catching up on things. The living room has been straightened up a bit, and there now is a single bed set up, which LIU FANG-WEN is making up as MENG SHIH-CHING and his mother reminisce about the old days. [He tells her that their old family friend Shuai Chien-hui, who once lived in their home and was so poor his toes stuck out of his shoes, has risen through the ranks to become vice-minister of logistics for the People’s Liberation Army and is in Peking, only a few hours away by train. Awkwardness is in the air. LIU FANG-WEN tries to leave to spend the night elsewhere, butO LD MRS. MENG won’t permit it. We learn that FANG-WEN, her first daughter-in-law, has stuck by her through the very hard times during the war with Japan when SHIH-CHING was off fighting in the guerrilla forces and that OLD MRS. MENG is convinced she would never have survived except for FANG-WEN’S loyalty and help. The old lady begins to assert herself and orders that everyone is to stay and be nice to everyone else.
HUA YÜN feels quite threatened at the sudden appearance of SHIH-CHING’S first wife, while he tries hard to avoid any conflict with his mother. He reassures her that he feels nothing toward LIU FANG-WEN and that FANG-WEN has nothing to do with them. But this totally unexpected event forces him to reveal to HUA YÜN for the first time that when he went back to his native village in 1952 and finally obtained a legal divorce from his first wife, he was pleasantly surprised to find LIU FANG-WEN quite amenable to the idea, and he felt constrained to honor her sole demand: that he not tell his mother about the divorce, since it would needlessly cause the old lady a lot of heartache. Thus OLD MRS. MENG still believes that both LIU FANG-WEN FANG-WEN and HUA YÜN are legally married to her son. HUA YÜN is deeply hurt that SHIH-CHING has hidden this from her for more than three years.
We pick up the scene from the point where LIU FANG-WEN has come out from the kitchen, where she has been with OLD MRS. MENG. She and her former husband talk about the difficulties encountered in organizing and strengthening the Agricultural Producers’ Cooperative in their home village. It turns out thatLIU FANG-WEN is not at all the simple, subservient, traditional peasant woman in MENG SHIH-CHING’S memory. In fact, she has come up to the provincial capital not to see him and his family but rather to seek assistance from higher levels in opposing the county magistrate’s high-handed efforts to disband their cooperative.]
LIU FANG-WEN FANG-WEN (Telling him all about their co-op in clear and well-ordered fashion) After we first organized the cooperative everything was going along just fine. Except for a few households of landlords and rich peasants, everyone was very much in favor of establishing the cooperative. A couple of weeks ago, our county magistrate, Magistrate Chou, uhh, he’s none other than that old schoolmate of yours—later on I believe you and he taught for a time at the same school. His full name is Chou Ming-te. Well, to go on, Magistrate Chou led a work team down to our area to rectify the cooperative. First they rectified this and then rectified that and finally they rectified our co-op right out of existence.
MENG SHIH-CHING (Extremely interested) Please sit down, sit, sit down right here on this sofa and tell me all about it.
LIU FANG-WEN (Walks unabashedly to sit in a chair across from where he is sitting on the sofa) Aren’t you working here in the provincial government? Do you happen to know where I can find the offices of our province’s Party Committee? Are they easy to locate?
MENG SHIH-CHING [Surprised at discovering a totally new woman in his former wife) Sure, the Party Committee is easy to find. Uhh, would you please go on telling me about this matter of rectification of the cooperative in our village?
LIU FANG-WEN From where I stand, Old Chou’s way of doing things is highly questionable. As soon as he got to our village, he would only listen to what our backward elements had to say and he arrived at his conclusion just like that: he feels that the problems confronting our cooperative are simply too numerous. He says the presence of so many problems might disrupt production. That means the best thing to do is break up the cooperative as soon as possible.
MENG SHIH-CHING What are the real problems in your cooperative?
LIU FANG-WEN That’s exactly the point at issue here! They never got things straight. Even if there were problems, they never even took the trouble to investigate whether or not these problems could be gradually resolved if we all got together to work at them. If you ask me, this was nothing but forsaking the spirit of positive leadership. As soon as old Chou arrived, he put forward the proposition that we were developing too fast, that we did not have a sufficient foundation of mutual assistance. In point of fact, the level of mutual assistance in our village can be considered damn good. Besides all the rest of it, he claimed that the masses are split into factions between the east and west ends of the village and that the Party members there are not united firmly enough, thus if we went ahead with the co-op, we wouldn’t be able to sustain it. Since his work team had this kind of opinion, it was first proposed in the Party meeting that ...
MENG SHIH-CHING (Interrupts) Huh, you’ve been admitted to the Party?
LIU FANG-WEN [Laughs) Yes, you haven’t kept up with things back home. I was accepted by the Party in 1950.
MENG SHIH-CHING [Just heard another surprise) Oh?
LIU FANG-WEN Right, anyway, at the Party meeting he first proposed that if we’re going to keep the cooperative we should split it into three little ones according to household. The majority of Party members were opposed to this idea.
MENG SHIH-CHING Why?
LIU FANG-WEN This would amount to disbanding the co-op! You’ve forgotten, I suppose, but in our village a great majority of the families living in the west end are poor peasants, the northern section is composed entirely of established middle peasants and the east end is where the landlords and rich peasants live. If we organize ourselves into three separate small cooperatives along these lines, the two in the northern and eastern sections of the village will lack leadership activists and inevitably these three co-ops will turn into one for the poor peasants, one for the middle peasants, and one for the rich peasants. If that happens, how would we ever be able to carry out the “class line”?
(SHIH-CHING is lost in thought over what he has just heard. HUA YÜN has changed into her pajamas and comes out from the bedroom. She is stunned to see the two of them having such a cozy conversation. She struggles to control herself and pretends not to have noticed anything)
HUA YÜN Shih-ching, have you forgotten? Don’t you have to run over to the Agricultural Institute for something this evening?
MENG SHIH-CHING Hmm? Oh, ahh, I’m not going now. (He doesn’t even turn to look at her but continues listening to LIU FANG-WEN. HUA YÜN is about to say something else to him but catches herself and angrily whirls around to go back into the bedroom)
LIU FANG-WEN (With no interruption of her train of thought) Old Chou wasn’t interested in anyone else’s opinion; no, instead he considered us all ideologically deficient, and, indiscriminately lumping the green-topped turnips together with the purple-topped garlic, he leveled a barrage of criticism at all of us. He immediately followed this up with the proposal that anyone who wanted to drop out of the co-op be free to do so. Of course, there were those members who hadn’t been firmly committed in the first place and who now began to “waver” at this point. As for the actively committed members, uhh, they felt that whereas we usually couldn’t get the county to send any leadership cadre down to us, now we finally got one but he turned out to be a little tin buddha. He’s full of pretentious airs and bent on giving us a hard time. He made them feel that no matter how we organized our co-op it was no good, and, well, this took the wind out of their sails. So our sunny skies got clouded all over right before our eyes and this one rumbling thunderclap shook our co-op apart at the seams.
MENG SHIH-CHING (so completely drawn into her account that he totally forgets their former relationship and the unhappy atmosphere that had descended upon his home earlier in the evening. He talks with her now just as one old friend to another) Was everyone willing to accept this?
LIU FANG-WEN About fifteen or sixteen households of active members in our cooperative are right now laying plans to reestablish it.
MENG SHIH-CHING So you feel that old Chou’s way of handling things was not the correct one?
LIU FANG-WEN He did not actively lead everyone along the path to socialism. Even when everyone wanted to go in that direction he wouldn’t let us. So what could be correct about it? (She laughs) I even told him off!
MENG SHIH-CHING What is your role in the cooperative?
LIU FANG-WEN The group elected me as ... vice-chairwoman of the co-op. The chairman is Yü-hou.
MENG SHIH-CHING (Another surprise) You? Well, a vice-chairwoman of the co-op?
(MENG SHIH-CHING can hardly recognize her as that young woman who once was the cause of so much frustration for him—no, actually it was their arranged “feudal marriage” that had caused the trouble. This woman sitting there facing him was someone totally different; she was a vigorous and capable chairwoman, enormous vitality radiating from her very being)
MENG SHIH-CHING (Pouring a cup of tea) Have some tea, won’t you?
LIU FANG-WEN (Now this is also something completely new for hern My goodness! No, you have it. I’ll help myself when I want some.
MENG SHIH-CHING (Pouring out a second cupful) Go ahead, I’ll drink this one.
LIU FANG-WEN (Lifts the cup to her lips and takes a sip, then hurries to stop MENG SHIH-CHING, who is about to drink some too) It’s boiling hot; you’d better put it down and let it cool off a while. You don’t like to drink it so hot.
MENG SHIH-CHING You still remember all my little peculiarities, don’t you?
LIU FANG-WEN (Lowering her head) How could I forget them? In the old days you wouldn’t touch tea that was the least bit hot. That time I served you a hot cup of tea you pulled an ugly face and said that I must be trying to scald you to death giving you such a hot cup of tea. You really scared the wits out of me and I rushed to pour your tea from one bowl into another to cool it down for you. Only after I got back to my own room did I dare to cry my heart out.
MENG SHIH-CHING (Embarrassedly) Actually I didn’t know what I was doing then. It was that feudal marriage system that was to blame. I shouldn’t have been so mean to you.
LIU FANG-WEN I wasn’t blaming you, was I? ... (She takes something out of her basket and affectionately hands it to SHIH-CHING) Here’s some of our homestyle steamed cake you love to eat so much. We came away in such a rush I didn’t have time to make any more of it for you.
MENG SHIH-CHING Thank you very much.
LIU FANG-WEN You used to neglect your meals even when we served up the food you liked best. Now that you’re so busy with your work I’m sure you’re even more likely to forget to eat. Little Hua’s mother should be told that she needs to constantly remind you to be sure and eat your meals.
[OLD MRS. MENG emerges from HSIU-LING’S room to find her son and LIU FANG-WEN getting on famously, and she discreetly withdraws, a gratified smile on her face. FANG-WEN tells SHIH-CHING all about his childhood friend, CHAN YU-HOU, chairman of their village’s cooperative, who has been so good to SHIH-CHING’S mother over the years that he’s now practically like an adopted son. SHIH-CHING tells her that he is the assistant director in the Rural Work Department that CHAN YU-HOU has told FANG-WEN to seek out in the provincial capital. She is quite relieved to learn this but is wondering whether he approves of what she and the other villagers are doing in going against the leadership of the county. Although still very new in the job here, SHIH-CHING tells her that he suspects she and the other activists have done the correct thing.]
MENG SHIH-CHING When I was working in Chekiang Province, I took exception to the casual disbanding of cooperatives with the result that I was criticized just as you have been. But before I had time to gather more dramatic evidence to support my view, I was transferred up here. I think our village’s experience in the rectification of the co-op will help to clarify this problem a great deal. We’ll go together to the Party Committee tomorrow, but since the secretary of the Party committee has gone to Peking for a meeting and we don’t know exactly when he’ll be back, we’ll first speak with Director Wang of the Rural Work Department.
LIU FANG-WEN [with rising spirits) Okay, that’s fine. (HUA YÜN enters again from the bedroom door. She has not fallen asleep and has been anxiously waiting up for SHIH-CHING)
HUA YÜN Say, Shih-ching, it’s getting to be quite late, isn’t it time to sleep?
MENG SHIH-CHING No, you go ahead. I have to go tomorrow morning ... to go with her to the Party Committee, and there are still some matters that I must go over carefully with her.
HUA YÜN (Very hurt) Tomorrow morning I have to go to the People’s Hospital, so I won’t wait up for you any longer, I’m going to sleep now.
MENG SHIH-CHING Fine, fine, you go ahead and get a good night’s sleep, okay? (HUA YÜN bites her lip very hard for a moment and then, with tears in her eyes, exits)
MENG SHIH-CHING (TO FANG-WEN with great animation and enthusiasm) Go on, give me all the details of the problems in our village. I also want to hear about any problems you know of in the county leadership, the more detailed the better. [He takes out a small notebook to jot things down)
LIU FANG-WEN Right!
[The same setting three days later. OLD MRS. MENG and HSIU-LING are enjoying a friendly contest of wills, in which the sprightly old lady, with her pungent and colorful peasant tongue, is protesting not being allowed to help out with the housework, and the servant, who already adores her, tries to keep her from lifting a finger. HUA YÜN returns early from work and learns that LIANG SHANG-CHÜN has stopped by looking for her and that her husband and his former wife have gone out on yet another attempt to have their meeting with DIRECTOR WANG. OLD MRS. MENG has no idea whether they’ll be back for dinner or not. HUA YÜN receives a phone call from LIANG, who invites her out to dinner. He wants her to read something he’s written that has appeared in the newspaper that day. She accepts the invitation and tells her mother-in-law that she will be dining out.
The messenger boy,CHI TA-CH’ENG, shows up with two more letters for Assistant Director MENG and wants to see HSIU-LING. This time she has some boiled water already prepared for him if he’s thirsty, and he likewise reveals his romantic interest in her by giving her a “top priority special delivery” letter in a flowery pink envelope.
SHIH-CHING and FANG-WEN, both looking unhappy, enter just as HUA YÜN is going out and there is another awkward moment between her and SHIH-CHING before she coldly walks out the door. SHIH-CHING and FANG-WEN have finally succeeded in seeing DIRECTOR WANG, and we learn that the county magistrate, CHOU MING-TE, has beaten FANG-WEN to the punch by first sending in a written report and then following that up by personally calling on DIRECTOR WANG yesterday.
MENG SHIH-CHING is deeply perplexed by the fact that his new superior, DIRECTOR WANG, has taken the side of COUNTY MAGISTRATE CHOU in regarding the co-op in his home village as a negative model. LIU FANG-WEN is angry and unwilling to back down.OLD MRS. MENG is a bit concerned to learn that FANG-WEN was so bold as to argue openly with their county magistrate.FANG-WEN explains to OLD MRS. MENG about CHOU.]
LIU FANG-WEN Mother, you just can’t imagine how that man speaks out of both sides of his mouth at once. He doesn’t act a bit like a leader in the Communist Party—all he does is play the big shot and throw his weight around. He won’t consider listening to anything the masses have to say, nor is there any lie that he wouldn’t tell.
OLD MRS. MENG What’s all this? What did he say?
LIU FANG-WEN He said ... he said that YÜ-hou and I are so charged up about organizing the co-op purely for the sake of personal gain, and, and he said that the two of us ... the two of us are unwilling to split up!
OLD MRS. MENG What sort of talk was that? This old Chou, hmmph! Well, how about that Director? Wasn’t there a Director Wang who was also present? What did he say?
LIU FANG-WEN AS far as I can tell, Director Wang’s bureaucratism is no joke either.
OLD MRS. MENG (Sighs) Oh, dear me! When you reap wheat you get stiff at the waist, and when you carry a load on your carrying pole you get a sore shoulder; every occupation has its hazards and those who became officials are always going to have a touch of bureaucratism. A candy-peddler beats a gong —every line has its own way of doing business. There is always too much to be done in any job and you can’t expect the stick to hit the exact center of the drum every time, now can you? We must try to be a bit more tolerant.
LIU FANG-WEN Mother, I can be tolerant of anything else but just don’t ask me to be tolerant of bureaucratism. Just think of it! Without investigating or seriously thinking through this matter, Director Wang just insisted that the way we organize the co-op is like weaving a dozen nets in your mind before having a single thread in your hand—it’s futile. Therefore he completely agrees with old Chou in tearing down our co-op. And that’s not all, today he even decided to have old Chou report on the experience of rectifying our cooperative!
OLD MRS. MENG Say, Shih-ching, what’s going on here? (MENG SHIH-CHING is pacing back and forth deep in thought and does not make any response. OLD MRS. MENG continues looking at him) Hey, Shih ... (FANG-WEN quickly signals her with her eyes not to ask him anything right then) All right, all right, it’s not my place to interfere and I don’t understand all this anyway. (OLD MRS. MENG walks out into the kitchen)
LIU FANG-WEN [Pours out a glass of water for SHIH-CHING) Are you hungry? I could heat up some steamed cake for you. (SHIH-CHING shakes his head) When do you think the Party Committee Secretary will actually come back?
MENG SHIH-CHING [Pacing up and down) Uhhh, hard to say.
LIU FANG-WEN (Growing more and more disgruntled all the time) Hmmph! There seems to be no more point in waiting for him. These officials always find it easier to get together and work things out among themselves rather than with common people like us anyway. Even when the Secretary does come back he’ll be just the same as the others and won’t want cadres like us from the little villages to be giving reports. Like the others he’ll no doubt say something like “Of course, it is unquestionably praiseworthy to take the initiative in moving forward to socialism, however ..
MENG SHIH-CHING NO, he would not!
LIU FANG-WEN What do you mean he would not? It’s clear to me that all you officials stick up for each other.
MENG SHIH-CHING Don’t talk nonsense.
LIU FANG-WEN (Feels somewhat unfairly treated) Well, just when I was being criticized by Director Wang and Magistrate Chou this afternoon, how come you, the Assistant Director, didn’t have a single thing to say?
MENG SHIH-CHING Umm, that is ...
LIU FANG-WEN I understand.
MENG SHIH-CHING Don’t let your imagination run wild and don’t worry! Nothing’s been settled yet and even if it were, we could still raise our objections and have things reconsidered. The higher levels have their own basis for making decisions.
LIU FANG-WEN (Her determination surfaces) You’re trying to tell me they still haven’t reached a final decision? Director Wang has already declared County Magistrate Chou’s methods to have been the correct approach. All right, you have your approach and we have ours. When I get back home we’re still going to proceed with the organization of our own co-op. I’m going to head back home today. You people way up here can just sit back and study and think things over all you want!
MENG SHIH-CHING NO, I had already decided before this that I’d have to go myself.
LIU FANG-WEN Really? You? (The phone rings and SHIH-CHING goes over to answer it)
MENG SHIH-CHING Yes ... Oh, Director Wang, yes, what can I do for you? ... You want me to preside over the meeting to hear Magistrate Chou’s report? ... I... Director Wang, I was just meaning to consult with you on this. No, no, it’s not that, it’s just that I’ve only recently arrived and am not yet familiar with the situation, that’s why I didn’t say anything. I think it would be best for me to go down there and have a look.... The sooner the better If I could get away immediately that would be even better, yes....You agree? In that case I wonder if the meeting to consider his report shouldn’t be ... oh, you’ll preside over it yourself? Yes, yes. Splendid No, I won’t be taking anyone with me. All right then. I’ll try to see you and discuss a few things with you before I head down there Right. Goodbye.
LIU FANG-WEN (Has been listening all along) You’re going to go?
MENG SHIH-CHING (Hanging up telephone) Yes!
LIU FANG-WEN (With bated breath) Where will you be going?
MENG SHIH-CHING To take a look at our village as well as our county seat.
LIU FANG-WEN Really? happy she’s about to burst into tears) Aiya, this is really wonderful news, really wonderful. I haven’t handled things very well on this trip up here, it’s true, but if I’ve succeeded in getting the Assistant Director of the Rural Work Department to come down, that’ll go a long way in making up for it with our villagers!
[LIU FANG-WEN suddenly realizes that in his dedication to his work, SHIH-CHING is forgetting about HUA YÜN’S feelings. She tries to persuade him to delay his departure for several days, whereas she will leave immediately. SHIH-CHING, seeing his former wife in a totally new light, refuses to hear of her moving out to spend the night elsewhere and tells her how close he feels they are becoming. He asks her to forgive any of his past misdeeds.
FANG-WEN is touched; she cries as they address each other by their personal names for the very first time, while bitter memories of almost twenty years are laid to rest. Again it is FANG-WEN who catches herself up short as she realizes that this cannot be allowed to develop any further. She insists on returning to the village that very day. She goes out to purchase some things the villagers have asked her to bring back. OLD MRS. MENG enters in time to hear the last exchanges between SHIH-CHING and FANG-WEN.
HUA YÜN returns shortly after SHIH-CHING has disappeared into their bedroom. She is shocked by OLD MRS. MENG’S insistence that all the Mengs, includingFANG-WEN, move back to the village and live together as one big happy family.]
HUA YÜN What are you saying?
OLD MRS. MENG Haven’t you figured it out yet? Well, don’t worry about a thing. I’ll take charge of everything for you and see to it there’s no discrimination between who was the first and who was the second or between elder and younger wives. You’ll both live with me and neither of you will have any cause to complain about the other. When three hearts live together in harmony, even dirt changes into gold. Since ancient times there have been countless examples of people living wonderful lives together like that!
HUA YÜN But it’s always been one husband, one wife ever since the ancient times just as it’s always been one horse, one saddle. What you’re talking about is against the law in our new society!
OLD MRS. MENG Against what law? A family living together?
HUA YÜN It’s against the marriage law.
OLD MRS. MENG Bah! We in the countryside have studied the new marriage law, too, and it’s no use at all to us. It doesn’t matter, if there’s any trouble, I’ll take care of it. You mustn’t just pay attention to the law, child, heaven’s justice and human nature are equally to be observed.
HUA YÜN (Feeling humiliated herself and realizing the futility of explaining things to the old lady, speaks half to herself] Humiliating, it’s downright humiliating! I won’t stand for it!
OLD MRS. MENG My goodness, don’t tell me you haven’t noticed it? Shih-ching and Fang-wen have been coming and going everywhere together. Do you think they can be separated now?
HUA YÜN Mother! Don’t be silly! They got divorced years ago!
OLD MRS. MENG What? Divorced? Who says so?
HUA YÜN (A little regretful about her slip of tongue, but never willing to stop halfway in anything) You’re the only one who doesn’t know!
OLD MRS. MENG Can this be true? I certainly am going to have this out with Shih-ching! That heartless, ungrateful knave Ch’en Shih-mei!*
[OLD MRS. MENG upbraids her son for divorcing LIU FANG-WEN, who has been like a devoted daughter to her for all these years. MENG SHIH-CHING scoldsHUA YÜN for upsetting his mother, who, in turn, accuses them both of conspiring to drive FANG-WEN away. FANG-WEN returns with her purchases, ready to to go back to the village. OLD MRS. MENG feels that even her “filial daughter” is abandoning her.
Quite beside herself now,HUA YÜN is very rude to LIU FANG-WEN, who picks up her luggage and leaves. The second act ends in a serious fight betweenHUA YÜN andMENG SHIH-CHING, both of whom are now questioning the viability of their marriage.]
[A Sunday evening a little over a month later in the posh but garish living room of CHANG LAN-O’S home. LIANG SHANG-CHÜN has invited HUA YÜN to come over for a visit and hints to CHANG LAN-O that he’d like to have an opportunity to discuss something very important with HUA YÜN alone. CHANG LAN-O is very bored, her husband being away from home on business most of the time, and she seems to take pleasure in telling LIANG SHANG-CHÜN things to build up his hopes of starting something with HUA YÜN.
From their conversation, we learn that SHIH-CHING has been back to his home village for over a month without writing to HUA YÜN. HUA YÜN has moved with MENG HUA and HSIU-LING into quarters at the hospital provided for employees there. LIANG SHANG-CHÜN has been writing articles filled with extravagant praise of the hospital and intended for HUA YÜN’S eyes. His claim that he has no ulterior motive fails to convince CHANG LAN-O. He tells her the long story of how he had fallen for HUA YUN back in 1945 in the liberated area where the three of them were at the time, but he lost out toMENG SHIH-CHING. LIANG goes on to recount a self-serving tale of how a second woman seduced and promptly abandoned him which made him hate all women—all except HUA YÜN. He pretends to want CHANG LAN-O to keep his undying love for HUA YÜN a secret.
LIANG goes out to meet HUA YÜN and while he’s gone she arrives. CHANG LAN-O behaves just as he knew she would: telling HUA YÜN many things that would appeal to her such as the new screenplay LIANG says he’s written—a love story up to “international standards,” for which HUA YÜN would be the most suitable female lead. Finally she tells HUA YÜN thatLIANG is still in love with her.
Now it’s HUA YÜN’S turn to confide in her elder cousin and we learn of her great anguish since her husband had gone back with his mother to the MENGS’ native village.
LIANG returns. He tells her that he’s been down to the countryside gathering materials for his articles. As soon as CHANG LAN-O leaves, LIANG tells HUA YÜN that he’s been to Chin-p’ing County and has even stayed two or three days in T’ung-lin Village, MENG SHIH-CHING’S hometown.]
HUA YÜN Really?
LIANG SHANG-CHUN Originally I went there to see whether or not Agricultural Producers’ Cooperatives should immediately be set up on a widespread basis. The Rural Work Department of the Party Committee has been of two different minds and has been having intense debates over this issue, hasn’t it? Moreover, Comrade Meng Shih-ching personally went down there.
HUA YÜN According to what you saw, should the cooperatives be established there without further delay or not?
LIANG SHANG-CHUN (Shaking his head) Before long the newspaper will carry an article by me, you might want to watch for it. The opinions and methods of the Chin-p’ing County Magistrate, Comrade Chou Ming-te, are well worth serious consideration. I talked at great length with him for several days. That comrade is very capable, and having seen the worsening of the problems there, I’m in substantial agreement with his point of view, namely, that positive steps have still to be taken there in order to prepare the necessary conditions. This is especially true in T’ung-lin Village, which has rushed things in a reckless fashion. If not corrected, soon enough it’s going to prove a great mistake.
[LIANG SHANG-CHUN now proceeds to tell her that her husband’s serious problem is not his devotion to the co-op, but rather his illicit relationship with a woman.LIANG gives her a photo showing SHIH-CHING and FANG-WEN together. HUA YÜN is crushed. LIANG consoles her and offers himself as a refuge for her. She tells him she will divorce SHIH-CHING but will never again love or marry another man.
MENG SHIH-CHING shows up at CHANG LAN-O’S house looking for his wife. CHANG LAN-O and LIANG quickly leave HUA YÜN alone in the room just before SHIH-CHING enters. He is suntanned, thinner, and a bit gaunt. He tells her that his silence had been due to his illness and that he’s had time to think things over on his sickbed. Now that they’ve both had time to cool off, they should try to talk things out. He starts an apologetic and serious analysis, but HUA YÜN is in no mood to listen.]
HUA YÜN I have no time to quarrel with you. It is all very clear.
MENG SHIH-CHING (Becoming stern) I must remind you that you’ve been doing the wrong thing!
HUA YÜN What? Well, all right, let’s just add things up, shall we? I completely gave you the best years of my youth. I sacrificed my own career in order to accommodate you, I... (Begins to cry at the injustice of it all) You’re right! I have been doing the wrong thing! I married the wrong person!
MENG SHIH-CHING (Angrily) Shut up! (HUA YÜN has not expected SHIH-CHING to be so harsh and stares at him wide-eyed) Aren’t you ashamed to even say such things? (He takes a couple of steps toward her and berates her) You speak of sacrificing your youth, sacrificing your career very frequently, well, okay, you’ve made some sacrifices. But would you just stop and think about this calmly for once. You didn’t make these sacrifices for anyone else, you made them for yourself! You’re always blaming me for letting life slip by, for not caring enough about the way we live. But what about you, you who care about the way we live so much? Take a good look, why don’t you, what kind of a life is it that you are so in love with? Paying no attention to our life at all is my mistake, but do you mean to tell me that being totally wrapped up in trivialities and petty concerns isn’t your mistake? Just how have you spent your time, your youth? You’ve spent it trying to figure out how to find easier ways to make a bigger and better splash rather than buckling down to the long, hard process of really learning something thoroughly. You aren’t willing to do the less demanding tasks and aren’t up to doing the more demanding ones. The development of your career has come to a standstill while resting in your own hands and has not been thwarted by other people! You better wake up!
HUA YÜN (Some of the things SHIH-CHING has just said would have struck home and made her take stock of herself, but other things have hurt her deeply and still others have produced a violent resentment in her; thus she sinks into a welter of very complicated and ambivalent emotions. For a moment she can V find any words to express herself, then she takes up one particular point out of context and fiercely counterattacks) Fine, fine! I’m overly concerned about trifles, I’m petty and superficial, I’m the one who’s wrong! I’m wrong! I’ll never be good enough for a big man like you who doesn’t waste his time worrying about silly little things. (She gets to her feet and is about to leave) Let me go!
MENG SHIH-CHING (Holds her back) Where are you going?
HUA YÜN Is that any concern of yours? This is not your home. Get out of my way!
MENG SHIH-CHING Hua Yün, why are you so pig-headed? (He reaches for her hand) Okay, I certainly don’t expect you to think through all these problems at once or to correct all past mistakes in a single day. I’ve already explained to the chief of the People’s Hospital and have requested a two-month leave of absence for you. Let’s take Little Hua and go down to stay in the countryside together for a while. You’ve not been out in the rural areas for many years now, and if you go down there and take a look around, it will gradually broaden your perspective and ease your mind. You will be able to see what the working people are doing these days. Life is bubbling down there now!
HUA YÜN (Dodges his hand) What? You want me to go down there?
MENG SHIH-CHING Yes!
HUA YÜN You want me to go with you and be your concubine?
MENG SHIH-CHING What are you talking about?
HUA YÜN Aiya, you really are very liberal-minded! I’m amazed that after blatantly thumbing your nose at rules and breaking the law, your face doesn’t show the least sign of blushing.
MENG SHIH-CHING What? What kind of crazy talk is this?
HUA YÜN You’re not crazy, you’re just pretending not to know. You hypocrite, go to hell!
MENG SHIH-CHING (He’s shocked by HUA YÜN’S attitude yet he still imagines that she is merely blaming him for having any contact with FANG-WEN) Oh, you’re still upset over ...
HUA YÜN You bet I’m upset. I cannot be anything but upset! It involves the law of the land. It involves my personal honor. I’m going to make it my business to be upset right through to the end!
MENG SHIH-CHING (Unable to restrain his anger) You really deserve a medal for narrow-minded petty jealousy!
HUA YÜN So I’m narrow-minded. Just exactly what have you done!
MENG SHIH-CHING (Calmly) Just because two people have gotten divorced, they can never say a word to each other again? They can’t have any contact even though their work makes it necessary?
HUA YÜN Just listen to these pretty words, such eloquent and dignified things you say! (To her, his calmness conhrms her worst fears) All right, from now on I will have nothing to say about your affairs, you can go talk to her until your tongue wears out and see if I care. You can go have contact with her for the rest of your life, it’s none of my business. Comrade Meng Shih-ching, I’m telling you, you go right ahead! From now on I’ll never ever make demands on you or complain; we’re no longer husband and wife!
MENG SHIH-CHING (Stung into uncontrollable rage) That’s fine with me! I’ve pampered you long enough. So it’s good-bye! (He sits down and searches in his briefcase for something) When I was over at your place just before coming here, I told Hsiu-ling to pack your things for the trip—this is the train ticket I bought for you. I thought we’d go together, but now it was all for nothing! (He tears the ticket into little pieces) Good-bye then! (He stands up and strides toward the door)
HUA YUN (Tormented, she starts to say something, then stops) You ...
[But he halts before walking out, and Scene One of Act Three ends with a long sad farewell speech to HUA YÜN. He wistfully tells her of all the places in the village that figure so prominently in his memories of childhood; he was looking forward to showing them to her. He urges her to take good care of herself and to tell LITTLE HUA that her Daddy will come to visit her whenever he can, after his return to the city in a couple more months.
HUA YÜN almost allows herself to cave in and make up with him but can’t quite bring herself to forgive him, and he leaves.]
[Act Three, Scene Two takes place two weeks later in the same CHANG LAN-O’S apartment. The living room has been specially decorated as if for some celebration, and there is a large round banquet table set up to one side. CHANG LAN-O is happily getting things ready for a party. Her forty-five-year-old short, fat husband, CHAO T’AO, just back from another of his commercial trips, sits on the sofa watching his wife bustling about. From them we learn that LIANG SHANG-CHÜN is playing host this evening to many of his famous friends from literary and theatrical circles. They also talk about LIANG SHANG-CHÜN’S increased effort to win HUA YÜN. CHAO T’AO, a wily fellow, warns his wife not to be too sure that MENG SHIH-CHING is as bad as she has been led to believe or that HUA YÜN feels anything more for LIANG than simple gratitude for his attention. CHAO suggests keeping out of this whole matter. CHAO speculates that LIANG SHANG-CHÜN is springing a “fait accompli” on her.
CHAO is right in his prediction. In the middle of a very boisterous dinner, HUA YÜN arrives. She is treated as the guest of honor and several of LIANG’S friends offer toasts for her engagement to LIANG. HUA YÜN, realizing the trap, is enraged. She slaps his face and storms out.]
[Acts Four and Five of the play bring it to a happy ending, with the help of an old and wise couple. HUA YUN goes to Peking to see SHUAI CHIEN-HUI and his wife, who are old family friends. Old SHUAI, an outspoken high official in the PLA, points out many mistakes HUA YÜN has made and questions whether SHIH-CHING has been the villain she believes him to be. Impressed by his good advice, she accepts his criticism and decides to go see MENG SHIH-CHING in his home village.
The higher levels right up to Chairman Mao have by this time overturned the rightist deviation of people like DIRECTOR WANG and MAGISTRATE CHOU; thus activitists such as LIU FANG-WEN have been vindicated. MENG SHIH-CHING and LIU FANG-WEN also come to Peking to visit old SHUAI after HUA YÜN has gone out to find SHIH-CHING. While alone in the SHUAI home SHIH-CHING causes LIU FANG-WEN no little consternation by proposing that they remarry. Throughout Act Four old SHUAI has resolutely advocated the obligation of marital loyalty, of sticking “Together through Thick and Thin,” first to HUA YÜN and then to SHIH-CHING.
HUA YÜN arrives in MENG SHIH-CHING’S village, meets his son, MENG CHEN, and sees LIU FANG-WEN expertly handle a couple of landlord elements trying to get into the cooperative. HUA YÜN learns that SHIH-CHING has been living in the home of CHAN YÜ-HOU all the time, except when he was sick and under his mother’s care in her house.
CHAN YÜ-HOU comes home; he and LIU FANG-WEN have been secretly sweet on each other for years.CHAN has been a widower for seven or eight years and his patient hopes for eventual marriage with FANG-WEN have been suddenly disturbed by the presence of SHIH-CHING in their village. FANG-WEN tries to explain her now somewhat confused feelings to YU-HOU and asks him to help her get through this situation.
HUA YÜN and LIU FANG-WEN finally have a heart-to-heart talk about their difficult situation. HUA YÜN now shows FANG-WEN the photograph of her and SHIH-CHING obtained fromLIANG SHANG-CHÜN in Act Three, Scene One. It turns out to be a fake photo. After HUA YÜN and LIU FANG-WEN have made their peace with each other, MENG SHIH-CHING enters and he and HUA YÜN achieve their reconciliation, both admitting their mistakes to each other.
Old SHUAI comes in at the end for a visit to this model village cooperative and OLD MRS. MENG now supports the new generation’s choosing their own marriage partners. She asks CHAN YÜ-HOU to be her “adopted son,” thus giving her blessing to his marrying FANG-WEN. Everyone is reunited and even HSIU-LING, the governess, who had decided to return to agricultural life as member of the co-op, will continue to see CHI TA-CH’ENG, the messenger boy, on holidays. The curtain falls on a happy resolution.]
Translated by John Börninghausen
Little is known of Sun Ch’ien’s life. He seems to have achieved prominence as a filmwriter just after the Liberation, publishing his scripts in newspapers and magazines. Two of his scripts, Harvest and When the Grapes Ripen, were filmed in 1952 by the Northeast Film Studio of the Central Film Bureau. In 1955 a novelette, Summer Story, appeared, primarily aimed at the youth audience, and in 1964 a collection of his short stories, The Lanterns of Nan-shan, was issued. His bylines indicate that he was in Peking in the early fifties but from the late fifties on, he was writing from Tai-yuan, Shansi, where, in 1966, he produced a short story for newly literate workers and peasants, “The Heroes of Ta-chai.”
Sun tends to focus on such themes as the struggle between progressive and conservative forces in the village, the tension between urban workers and rural peasants, and youth’s search for commitment in collective life. Most of his works derive from his experiences living among the people he writes about, and he tends to view individual or local problems in the context of a national movement. The orthodoxy of Sun’s Marxist thought is rooted in the simplicity of his material and psychological worlds, which is matched by the austerity of his descriptive prose. One is tempted to characterize his style as a kind of “verbal minimalism.” But far from resulting in a banal reductionism, it endows his best pieces with a tone of primitivistic authenticity. In general, his work represents one of the more successful attempts to combine the inner struggles of realistic fiction with the didacticism of the socialist romance.
“The Story of a Scar” first appeared in the magazine Sparks in March 1958 and was reprinted in a 1959 anthology, A Bumper Crop of Short Stories. In it, Sun adopts the narrative persona of an ingenuous PLA soldier who returns to his village after ten years only to confront the human distances created by time and the ideals of the Revolution. Exploring the intersection of family tensions and socioeconomic change, the author charts the conflict between the brother’s family and the pressures of the PLA demobilization, the state purchasing and distribution movement, and the collectivization of agriculture. The reader feels a fine, covert sympathy for the brother, whose traditional hopes for self-sufficiency are based on the experiences of genuine suffering and of small gains hard-won. The sister-in-law, however, is a stereotypical figure of petty-capitalist greed, so that the two of them come to symbolize the poles of sentiment and ideology within the narrator himself. The entire story of his progress through marriage and entry into the collectivist utopia involves the heroic transformation of his family and may be allegorized, in Maoist terms, as “solving contradictions among the people.” —R.S.
I’ve been a soldier in a lot of places, earned some scars and did a little bleeding. Take a look—here, on this arm, right where a Japanese sword cut a trench. Above the left calf here, Kuomintang bullets dug a couple of holes. And here, on my back, an American grenade tore out a piece of flesh.
I was discharged in ‘54 and went back home, figuring that I wouldn’t get any more wounds for the rest of my life. But who could have known that last autumn I earned yet another scar—this time on my shoulder, when I was brutally struck with a shovel. If I hadn’t ducked quickly enough, the blade would have split my skull in two.
When I was wounded before, it was with the army in battle; I might’ve gotten hit but we finished off the enemy. (You know in war, it’s kill or be killed and no one ever wins who’s afraid to bleed.) This time, though, the wound had nothing to do with the army or any battle. I got it in my own village. And the one who struck me wasn’t a Japanese, Kuomintang, or American GI—it was my own brother!
You don’t believe me? Well, it’s true, really, my own brother struck me with a shovel. Sound strange? It sure does when you first hear it but if you think about it a bit, it isn’t. I’ll tell it to you from the start ...
I was discharged in the autumn of ‘54, which made it a full ten years since I had left my village. Ah, ten years ... no easy matter: when I left I was a fifteen-year-old kid; now I’ve become a full-grown man. I might have aged but my heart caught fire when I heard that I’d be returning home. Actually, I had no parents in the village, not even a wife. Just a brother.
My brother’s name is Ch’en Hsiu-te and he’s ten years older than me. My parents died young, so I was brought up almost entirely by him. Our family didn’t do too well when I was young. My father left us only twenty mu of alkaline land, and, for a year, my brother and I barely scrounged out enough to survive on by our sweat alone. With no women in the house, we had to cook our own meals after returning from the fields and patch our own clothes too. You can pretty well see what a mess our lives were then. But my brother wasn’t bowled over by hardship; all by himself, he shouldered the burden for both of us. Even now, I still remember how bitterly my brother struggled. While I slept, without my even knowing it, he would make breakfast, grab a few corn buns, and go out to the fields. He would never come back for lunch or even doze off in the afternoon. Only when it got dark would he return, sweat streaming down his face, his lips parched and cracked. Picking up a ladle, he would gurgle down a bellyful of cold water before lighting the fire to cook dinner.
He was never much for talking; when he did, it was in retaliation. He never scolded me and he never beat me. Still, I was always scared of him. Don’t go thinking that he bossed me around—no, he never did. No matter how difficult things were, he would think of some way to see that I had enough to eat and some warm clothes. And for two years, when the harvests were pretty good, he even sent me to school.
Talk about the way he lived, well, it was frugal to the point where you just couldn’t get any more frugal. He didn’t smoke, drink, never bought a snack. Whenever we went to the temple fair, he would return with a hungry stomach. I remember that he was rather good-looking and had a strong body but he never mixed with the girls. Except for the necessary meals and sleep every day, his only pleasure was in working. That’s the way he lived and that’s how he raised me.
When I was fourteen, a flood overran the village. We hadn’t stored up any grain and things were tough. The next year, there was no rain all summer long and the crops were baked dry. It was in the autumn of that same year that the guerrillas of the Eighth Route Army came to our village and I joined up.
When I was about to leave, my brother pulled out four silver dollars from under the k’ang —all we had—and handed them to me. He said, “Take these with you.” I said, “There’s no food left in the house. If I take them, what will you use to buy food?” He said, “I’ll think of something, just take them.” Of course, I couldn’t, but my brother wouldn’t listen to anything else. In my anxiety, I began to cry and he cried too. We cried a long time but I couldn’t budge him—the only thing to do was to accept those four silver dollars. They were my brother’s lifeblood, I don’t know how much struggle he went through before he scraped them together; and how much he needed them then too!
With tears streaming, I left home and my brother ...
Even in those ten years away, how could I forget him, my only relative? I would think about him and often write him letters. From his replies, I knew only that I had a sister-in-law and a little nephew. But I knew nothing about how they lived.
When I received my discharge orders, I immediately wrote my brother. How much I wanted to see him—and my sister-in-law and my nephew! I used my bonus to buy them a lot of presents so as to give my brother a chance to enjoy himself.
The end of September was threshing time. As soon as I entered the gate, I was dumbfounded. Gosh! The entire yard had been turned into a threshing floor—there were piles of grain everywhere, like a cluster of mountain peaks blocking even the path. Just think how my father left us only twenty mu of that alkaline land; to produce all these crops from that would have surprised anyone.
I looked up and was even more dumbfounded. My brother was really something. He had somehow had the means to build a new two-room house with a tile roof and glass windows. Compared to this, our old two-room shack looked squat and miserable.
The yard was unusually quiet. At the foot of the western wall was someone pumping a bellows—“pa-ta pa-ta. “ I walked into the yard towards the sound, circling around a pile of kaoliang and was further surprised ...
There was a small awning by the wall and beneath it, a woman holding a child and pumping away. She was young—from the looks of her, not more than twenty—and pretty: large eyes, long lashes, and two shiny pigtails bouncing back and forth. I couldn’t believe that this was my sister-in-law, but I couldn’t doubt it either. To call that young girl “sister-in-law” was too much, but that’s what I had to do.
I braced myself and yelled out, “Sister-in-law!” She just jumped up, startled, and looked all around. When she saw me, she blushed like a red lantern, so embarrassed that she could hardly utter a word. Her blushing embarrassed me as well. So we both just stood there stiffly. My little nephew got scared and started to cry.
After a while, the girl, while pacifying the child, asked me, “Are you thirsty?” I said, “Yes.” “I’ll boil you some water,” she said.
I put down my pack and took out some pieces of candy, coaxing my nephew, “Come on, Uncle will hold you. Let Mama go heat some water.” When I said this, the girl blushed again and said, all flustered, “I’m not his mama, I’m his auntie.” I didn’t get it clear so I asked, “His auntie? What auntie?” She laughed. “His mother is my older sister.” I knew she didn’t seem like my sister-in-law. She was really my brother’s little sister-in-law. To tell the truth, she was pretty enough and though we’d just met, I liked her a lot; and from the looks of it, she seemed to like me. She asked me a lot of questions, such as how long I’d been travelling and so forth. We didn’t waste any time but told each other our names: mine is Ch’en Yu-te, hers, Liang Hsiao-feng. And I found out from her much about how my brother got rich.
Liang Hsiao-feng’s people lived in Hsi-chou Village, only about a third of a mile from us. They were originally middle peasants, quite well-off and living comfortably. Then, one year, both Hsiao-feng’s parents died from a sudden sickness, leaving the two girls with no means to survive. So Ta-feng, the elder one, married my brother. At that time, Hsiao-feng was still small and couldn’t get along on her own so she joined her sister in our house. Naturally, their land and household goods came along with them. Just think, with the property of two families combined, how could my brother not get rich?
Just as I was talking to Hsiao-feng, my brother and sister-in-law returned. How he’d changed, changed so much that even I wouldn’t have recognized him. Agewise, he was in his prime, but one look at him and you’d think he was an old man. He had two bushy eyebrows, bloodshot eyes; wrinkles with sweat running down them lined his sallow face while a few wheat husks clung to his curly sideburns. And when I looked at what he was wearing, it wasn’t much better than a beggar’s outfit. That belt around his waist was made of torn rags; a piece of rope would have looked better to me.
I don’t know what it was that struck me so painfully when I saw my brother’s appearance. My eyes smarted and I couldn’t bear it—I cried. My brother didn’t cry; he sat down and barely sighed. I heard my sister-in-law chuckling loudly, “How interesting! Ten years as a soldier and you’ve become an old maid—stop crying, uncle, and take out those nice things you bought so we can have some fun opening them.”
I held back my tears and looked up. Ah, how fat my honorable sister-in-law was, so fat she could hardly fit through the gate. Her eyes were small and puffy and her face, yellow and swarthy with dense clusters of freckles like specks of fly dung. It’s strange, but she and Hsiao-feng were born of the same parents. How come one turned out so fine and the other, so repugnant? I could never figure it out.
I repressed my disgust and called out, “Sister-in-law!” and then opened up my pack, taking out the presents I’d bought them. There were quite a few, wrapped in all kinds of colors, which were spread out on the table. They attracted everyone—Liang Hsiao-feng also came over holding my little nephew. My sister-in-law’s eyes lit up—she felt this one and poked that one. She seemed very excited. My brother chuckled as he gazed at the presents, continually saying, “Oh, no, you’ve bought so many things, so many things!” He couldn’t have cared less about the quality, all he had to hear was that it cost money and he would look stunned, shaking his head. My two-year-old nephew was choking on the piece of candy and kept trying to cough it up. Liang Hsiao-feng picked up a piece of cloth to admire and seemed to like its pattern. Just as she was relishing it, my sister-in-law snatched it away and scolded her, “Go fix dinner! What are you looking at? There’s nothing here for you!”
I didn’t understand what my sister-in-law meant. Maybe she was really disciplining Hsiao-feng, maybe she was needling me for not bringing something for her. Normally, I wouldn’t pay attention to this kind of thing, but I saw how Hsiao-feng just stood there, the red rushing into her face. I was moved, and normally I don’t lie, but under these circumstances, I couldn’t help it. I picked up the piece of cloth and said to my sister-in-law, “But this is for Hsiao-feng.” She was startled, then broke out into a guffaw, saying, “Well, well—barely through the door and now he’s in love. Hsiao-feng, he’s given you this cloth—’From a thousand miles, he’s brought but a feather; full of kindness though slight is the gift.’ “
The blushing Hsiao-feng ran off with the cloth. My sister-in-law sat down to suckle the child while my brother pointed to the presents and asked me, “Yu-te, how much did you spend on all these things?” I told him the amount and he was not too pleased. He glanced at me and said, “So you spent your whole retirement pay?” I said, “I spent a bit of it and saved some, but not much.”
Just as I was talking to my brother, my sister-in-law suddenly interrupted, “Ah, Yu-te, you were a soldier for ten years, how could you let them fire you?” I explained to her the reasoning behind the demobilization designed to increase production, but before I could finish, she cut in, “Well, sounds good enough, doesn’t it?—’Build Socialism in Your Own Home Town’—but it’s all phony if you didn’t bring any money home!”
Aha! So she said building Socialism was phony! I expected my brother to sternly criticize her then and there. But who would have thought that when he heard it, not only didn’t he get angry but he uttered “Hmm,” in agreement. Then he added, “Right, you worked hard for ten years and got nothing back for it!”
What a letdown. It looked like my brother and sister-in-law didn’t know what the Revolution was all about, as if I went off to fight in the army in order to make a fortune. If anyone else had said this to me, I would have gotten into a fight with him. But how could I start an argument after just coming home? I kept cool and said nothing.
I was lost in my thoughts for a moment when I saw my sister-in-law glance at my brother and he, as if obeying an order, looked over at me. Solemnly, he said, “So, Yu-te, you’ve come back ... do you plan to set up your own household or work together with me?”
This came so suddenly, so unexpectedly, that for a minute I was struck dumb. I looked at him stupidly—then I realized how he’d changed, changed so that he wasn’t even a shade of what he was ten years ago. Ten years ago, he could give me the only silver dollars he had for the road and now, now we were so distant, so far away from each other.
But I blamed my sister-in-law for everything because it was she who had thrown that first glance at him. I looked at my fat sister-in-law—she was anxiously awaiting my answer. So I controlled my anger, braced myself and said squarely, “I don’t even have someone to cook for me, how can I set up house by myself? Naturally, I’ll have to live and work with you.”
My brother registered no particular emotion when he heard this. He simply said, “That’s fine.” My sister-in-law was different. She seemed to be delivering a speech to welcome me. “That’s right, after all, two brothers—it should be this way! We’re like the water helping the fish and the fish needing the water. If we become poor, you won’t make much but if we become rich, you won’t be left behind ...”
Just then, Hsiao-feng called us in to eat. It was a typical home-style meal: kaoliang noodles sliced like thin fish and topped with tomatoes. I hadn’t eaten this kind of food for ten years. How much I had longed for this. But my home-cooked meal wasn’t so tasty and when I thought about what my brother and sister-in-law had said, it stuck like a bone in my throat. No matter what I ate, it was hard to swallow.
That evening, I walked about the village visiting a few friends I had known as a kid. When I got back, Liang Hsiao-feng had already swept our old house clean. Though it was a little mildewed, I slept on a cloud that night. The next day, as soon as it got light, I went out with my brother and sister-in-law to the fields. Farming had been my livelihood, but I was a bit rusty after neglecting it for more than ten years. I couldn’t keep up with my brother, not even with my sister-in-law.
Don’t be deceived by how fat and swarthy she was—she was merciless when it came to earning a living and could succeed at anything; and there was that mouth of hers. Even when she was wrong, she’d make it sound as if she was right. As for her heart, well, naturally I couldn’t see into her heart, but I had a feeling that it was as devious as an ant’s. If she were buying parsley worth five cents, she would bargain it down to three; she never suffered nor did she have any idea what suffering was all about.
I hadn’t been home for a few days when I realized that, in fact, my sister-in-law was the empress of the household. As for my brother, though he was the head in name, he was really just her executive. I hadn’t understood it at first, for how could such a stubborn man like my brother be hoodwinked by a woman like that? Then I realized it. How had he become rich after all? Wasn’t it all due to my sister-in-law? She had brought her property over to our family and, naturally, she brought along her ways as well. So the enterprise of the Liangs had merged with the frugality of the Ch’ens.
As for this frugality, I couldn’t find another family in town to match ours. Don’t think it was only my brother who wore such rags, my sister-in-law wasn’t much better, you know. She was a woman not past thirty but she felt no shame running about the streets in clothes whose patches were patched. This was how she dressed. As for food, forget it!
When I was young, didn’t my brother always refuse to come home for lunch? Now the whole family was like this. Every morning was like the La-pa Festival;* we had to eat before it got light and make it to the fields before sunrise. At noon, every day, it was the same couple of cold, stiff corn buns no matter how hard you worked. Whether you felt like eating them or not, it was still just two corn buns. By the time night fell, your stomach would be growling, throat dry, and you’d long to race home on horseback. Ah, and at home, they would fix something “good to eat”—if not noodle soup, then wheat porridge. These elixirs would quench your thirst just fine and you’d pour bowl after bowl of it to fill up, then turn around and take a piss while your stomach would rumble again. Fortunately, that patterned cloth turned out to have been useful. If Hsiao-feng hadn’t’ve deliberately scooped some thicker stuff from the bottom of the wok into my gruel at mealtimes, I’d’ve dropped dead from starvation that autumn for sure.
After the harvest, the village organized state purchasing and distribution for the first time and the masses elected me an inspector. As soon as I began the job, I realized what it meant to be put on the spot. Everyone else went along with it—only my brother was hard to manage. He refused to report the true figures of his harvest, but I knew what they were. So I expected what happened: his first report wasn’t even half of what he had produced. What would you have done in such a case? There was nothing I could do but explain the “General Line” to him and urge him to follow along the Great Path of Socialism. But while I pushed my side, he had his own notions: we two just weren’t striking the same chord. In the end, I had no choice but to try and frighten him. I told him, “If you’ve deliberately concealed your produce and it’s found out, then all of it will be confiscated.” After he heard what I’d said, he replied casually, “It doesn’t matter—no one knows how much we have.” I answered, “But I know.”
He glared at me when he heard this and looked like he was going to throw me a few punches or at least yell at me. I waited a while but he didn’t burst out—just spit, repressed his anger, turned and walked over to the Village Office.
My brother reported the full amount and I was glad, of course. But I didn’t expect that at lunchtime my fat sister-in-law would start beating the child and banging the pots around; she deliberately found faults to provoke me. Women are typically narrow-minded, but I didn’t get involved and kept calm. When she saw that I refused to get angry, it infuriated her even more—since she couldn’t budge me, she vented her spleen on Hsiao-feng. Just as she was calmly washing the pots, my sister-in-law pulled the scrub brush from her hand, threw it far away and started shrieking, “How come you use so much water when you’re washing? Are you afraid we won’t be broke fast enough? Huh! Eat and drink like an animal! You’ll be happy when the water’s boiling and there’s no more rice to put in it! I’ve reared a hairy devil in the house and now the evil days have arrived!”
Just listen to her. She’s obviously yelling at me—comparing me to a hairy devil as if to say that I’ve stolen her family’s fortune.
Now, Hsiao-feng was really a good girl. She didn’t let it upset her just because she received these unfair accusations, nor did she answer her sister back. She just blushed and looked at me with those telling eyes, as if to say: “I am taking it along with you, you see?”
After the produce was handed over, vouchers were quickly issued. My brother and sister-in-law received their money and carefully reckoned it; the government had set farm prices fairly and the state purchasing and distribution hadn’t hurt them a bit. They were both overjoyed and bought two pounds of fatty mutton for us, which we ate along with some fried rice-cakes in celebration of the harvest of ‘54.
After this operation was over, the Party branch planned to establish agricultural cooperatives. There was no question that I was to be actively involved, but I had no control over the situation in my own family; the matter had to be discussed with my brother. You see, state purchasing and distribution merely involved buying his produce and it was like cutting a piece of flesh off him. But the forming of cooperatives meant he had to give up his land and equipment and work together with everyone else. Do you think he wanted that? Of course not. Whenever this sort of thing came up, I had a hard job trying to convince him. I explained what the real reason for the poverty of the peasants was in the past, I explained about the instability of small economic units, I explained about the superiority of cooperativization and about the future prospects for socialist agriculture—I told him everything I knew.
It was just like when I tried to motivate him to report the actual amount of his crop: I pushed my side while he had his own notions, and we two just didn’t strike the same chord. The last time, though, I had some room to maneuver and when we got to the crucial juncture, I could frighten him into agreeing. But this time, other than out-talking him, I had no chips to bargain with. Joining the cooperative was voluntary. If he’d rather die than join, no one could force him. But as for me, what had I fought and bled for? Wasn’t it to enable the peasants of the country to enjoy a happy Socialist life? At this point, I was going to join the cooperative, of course, and firmly travel the Socialist road. So my brother and I locked horns and neither of us was about to budge.
My brother wasn’t one to say much, was he? Still, when he did speak, it was his final decision. Unless you were to crack his skull, he never went back on what he said. This time he thought for a long while and not only refused to listen to my arguments but used that unique manner of his to try and persuade me. He said, “Yu-te, farming is not like setting off firecrackers. There’s no room for a free-for-all. The saying goes, ‘You plant your own crops and raise your own sons.’ Enough said. I can’t understand why you want to get mixed up with that mishmash?”
“In order to raise more food,” I said.
“You mean that if we two worked together, we couldn’t raise more than them? No way. We’d only harvest more, not less! The way I see it, you’re willing to sweat and me—I’m not boasting—in anything else, maybe I’m not as good as the next, but when it comes to farming, I haven’t seen anyone as good. With your sweat and my experience, in two years we could take this property and really turn it into something!” I said, “That’s the capitalist road —our family may grow rich but the others will fail.” He didn’t understand what I was getting at, just blinked, stared at me uncomprehendingly and asked, “Then what do you think life is all about?”
“To work for your happiness, mine, everyone’s,” I replied. He half laughed, shaking his head and said, half jokingly, “Everyone says that but if anyone really tried it, they’d wind up starving.”
I really became angry and could no longer hold it back. “You only think of yourself ...” My words probably struck him in his most sensitive spot, for his expression instantly changed. I ought to say that my brother had great self-control. He didn’t yell or start scolding me. He just stood up and, without a word, went toward the door. As he reached it, he suddenly turned around and said to me, “So you’ve decided to join those bunglers?” I said, “I hope we all do.”
“So!—well, let me think about it a bit.”
He left. That night, he didn’t sleep too well. I kept hearing him cough and figured his thoughts were engaged in a terrible struggle. It must’ve been painful for his soul—cutting off the tail of capitalism is no easy matter. But I had faith that he would join us because we had chosen the right path.
The next morning I didn’t see my brother, but right after breakfast he came back with my uncle. My uncle was an old man of more than sixty. I remember that after my mother died, we didn’t have much to do with him aside from going over and paying respects at New Year’s. Today was neither a holiday nor a family occasion. What was he doing here, clear out of the blue? Aha! I had it! My brother had brought him along according to the village custom to preside over the dividing of the family property.
In all honesty, I hadn’t expected such a move from my brother. But I wasn’t afraid—what of it? Was I going to wind up starving? All right, if he wanted to split up the family, then I’d go along with it. I am single and don’t have to be bothered by a lot of those extra worries. But I was really unhappy inside. If I can’t even convince my own brother, how could I persuade others? Still, since he was dead set against joining the cooperative, what else could I do? All that was left was to split things up and let him stand outside the great gate of Socialism, sniffing the aroma.
My uncle wasn’t happy over the decision to divide the property: well, you know, its not so easy to split things up; the family had merged with the Liangs; I had spent a long time away involved in the Revolution and hadn’t added anything to the property ... I saw my uncle’s problem and said, “I only want the share that my father left me. I’ll accept whatever you decide to give. I’m not going to get angry even if you don’t give me anything.”
I had seen many brothers split up. In ninety-nine out of a hundred cases, they argue and even fight. After more than ten years of education in revolution, I naturally refused to upset family harmony over this. It’s strange but the desire to possess is an obstinate enemy and I had to struggle hard to overcome it.
On the day when we were to separate officially, many people crowded into our yard—they figured there was going to be a good show: if not a fist fight, then at least a big quarrel between me and my brother. Even though we didn’t fight or argue, it was enough of a spectacle, though. My brother, at least, tried to maintain some face. Only when dividing up the land did he spend some time picking and choosing; after that he was quiet. But my fat sister-in-law was really a greedy soul. If I picked up this, she said she had bought it; I picked up that and she said I had no use for it. But her best trick was when it came to choosing something good: she would claim it had come from her family every time. As for a silver locket I wore as a child (it was a present from my uncle), she insisted that it had belonged to some damn ghost of a brother of hers. Poison, isn’t she? Never mind about how much she took, she had to call me a “damn ghost” as well.
After we separated, I continued to live in my old house, but my brother seldom spoke to me and I hardly ever asked about them. But I couldn’t help going over to sit a while because there was a Hsiao-feng over there. I was like a piece of steel and she, a magnet. Unable to control myself, I would want to go over to my brother’s house just to see her. Who could have known that as I grew closer to Hsiao-feng, my brother and sister-in-law hated me even more ...
After more than two weeks of work, as we finally managed to make some progress in organizing the cooperative, my stomach had to act up, hurting me so that I couldn’t eat well for two or three days. On the fourth day, it got a little better and I felt hungry. When night fell, I left the office to return home and cook something to eat.
I was startled as soon as I entered the gate: the light was on in my house and there seemed to be someone in there banging away at something. Who could have opened the door? Who would have lit the lantern? And what were they doing there?
I bounded into the house and there was Liang Hsiao-feng bent over a table cutting noodles. Surprised, I softly called, “You?” Hsiao-feng turned and looked at me with her face all blushing. Bashfully, she said, “I’m making some noodles for you ... you’ve got to eat something!” I gazed at those light, fine noodles on the table and couldn’t say anything. The expression on my face was probably pretty funny at that moment and Hsiao-feng giggled when she looked at me. After standing there forever, I at last found something to say. “How come you knew I hadn’t eaten anything?”
“You used to go over to the pig sty every day to empty out your dish water but the last few days—its going on the fourth day now—I haven’t seen you washing dishes.”
Just think. A guy all alone finds a good woman who secretly cares for him. Who wouldn’t have felt something deep? But just as I was about to say something to Hsiao-feng, that fat sister-in-law of mine hollered over in the new house, “Hsiao-feng, where the hell are you hiding? The kid has the runs!”
Strange, the child has the runs and Hsiao-feng has to take care of it—what are you being fed for?
Hsiao-feng didn’t rush over. She finished cutting the last bit of noodles, then said to me, “When the water boils, cook them yourself, but boil them a little longer.”
The moment she went into the new house, I could hear my sister-in-law yelling at her. I couldn’t make out what it was about, but I felt that I was the one who had gotten her into trouble.
The next day, I didn’t think Hsiao-feng would come looking for me and wasn’t expecting her when she came over after dark to help me cook. It was like the day before—just when I wanted to say something important to her, there was hollering again from the new house. This time, it was from my brother himself.
Hsiao-feng still didn’t leave right away. She kept glancing quickly outside and in a low voice said, “Do you know why they won’t let me come to your room?”
“They’re afraid that I might be taking away their property.”
Really, I couldn’t understand what she was talking about—here I was trying to get to know her, why would I take away my brother’s property?
Hsiao-feng saw that I didn’t understand at all and punched me in mock anger, saying, “You’re really a melon-head! My family’s property doesn’t belong to my sister alone. If you and me get on well together, won’t she have to give me my share?”
Aha! So that’s what it was all about!
Before I could come up with a reply, Hsiao-feng said angrily, “As for them, they can’t control me. If they get on my nerves, I’ll serve them up something hot!”
Hsiao-feng left in a hurry. As usual, I heard my sister-in-law scold her and, as usual, it was a long time before I could fall asleep.
The next night, Hsiao-feng came over again. But this time, no one interrupted us early. About ten o’clock, that fat sister-in-law of mine “clop-clopped” over to my window and said furiously, “Hsiao-feng, why aren’t you home in bed?”
“Busy with what?”
“Trying to get a man!”
Who would have expected Hsiao-feng to say something like this! I was dumbfounded and so was my sister-in-law. After a while, she started crying and screaming, “Ai-ya! Don’t you have any shame?”
“If I did, I wouldn’t be here!”
“You’d better get yourself back over to your room!” Hsiao-feng didn’t yell but firmly replied, “I’m not going back any more!” My sister-in-law yelled back, weeping, “Then where are you going to sleep?”
My sister-in-law screamed like a slaughtered pig and ran off, “clunk-clunk” —I knew she was going back for reinforcements, so I quickly pleaded with Hsiao-feng. Ah, Hsiao-feng had the temperament of a pressure-cooker. Ordinarily, she could contain her frustrations, but just light a fire under her and she became a firebomb. If I hadn’t thought of sending her over to my aunt’s to hide from the storm, then the villagers would have really had a good show to watch.
The next morning, Hsiao-feng asked my uncle to mediate, just as my brother had, and arrange the dividing of the property between the sisters. Hsiao-feng wasn’t like me. She didn’t let anyone take advantage of her and made such a fuss that my sister-in-law had no choice but to give her her share.
After this, my brother and sister-in-law no longer acknowledged me; whenever they saw me, they looked away, as if they had run into an enemy. I can understand my sister-in-law’s attitude, but that my brother should also act this way—well, I just couldn’t figure it out. Hsiao-feng took her share with her. Wasn’t this right? Why get so angry about it? But if my brother insisted on staying angry, what could I do?
The end of that year, I married Hsiao-feng and we continued to live in my old house. With two families sharing the same yard, it was impossible not to bump into each other. Secretly, I would tell Hsiao-feng to try and be patient and avoid anything that would provoke trouble. But there were things we couldn’t dodge. Ah, that fat sister-in-law of mine; she loved money like her own life. Moreover, she had a disorder known as “having three hands.” Those household things of ours, which had never sprouted wings, would somehow fly away without a trace. One time, I was shovelling coal and laid the iron shovel down when I went back inside. No sooner had I gone in than I heard someone walking about the pile of coal. Immediately, I turned and went out. My sister-in-law had already picked up the shovel and was walking back with it to her house. I called to her to stop and she turned around, looked at me (not even blushing) and put on an act, “Why, you young people, never knowing how to put things away. If you leave a shovel lying about here, someone will be tempted to steal it without your knowing it—I’m just going to borrow it for a while, I’ll bring it back next time.”
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Hah! If I hadn’t’ve seen her and called out to stop her, it would have been as good as gone. So she needed to borrow it? She got three good shovels when we split up, why didn’t she use her own? Did she really need to “borrow” mine?
But this was a small annoyance, the big problem came later ...
Wasn’t there a small awning by the western wall of the yard? And wasn’t there a small iron stove with a bellows? The bellows had been left by my father and the stove came from my sister-in-law’s and wife’s family. When I divided up the family property with my brother, we didn’t divide these. Both families used the awning, the stove, and the bellows, which is to say, both families could cook on top of the stove under the awning. In the summer of ‘55, it was terrifically hot and we all moved outside to cook. Before long, we established the following procedures: breakfast and dinner, my brother’s family cooked first and we cooked first at lunch. That’s because my brother’s family didn’t eat lunch; even if they did cook something for lunch, it would be just a bowl of soup for my little nephew. During the summer harvest, Hsiao-feng and I were cutting wheat in the cooperative field, when one day, at noon, after we had finished working, we were both extremely thirsty. Hsiao-feng knew that I had stomach trouble and couldn’t drink cold water, so she set down her sickle and went over to the awning to boil some water. I set mine down, wiped away the sweat, and was just striking a match to light up when I heard my sister-in-law shriek like a witch. “Are you blind? Can’t you see the peas boiling on the stove? Why did you take my pot off? Put it back on!”
Hsiao-feng patiently replied, “You’re not going to eat the peas until later. Let us boil some drinking water first, then I’ll put yours back on.” My sister-in-law answered meanly, “That won’t do!” Now Hsiao-feng began to get angry. “Won’t do? Well, you’ll just have to put up with it! The fire doesn’t belong to you alone!”
“If it’s not mine, does that mean it’s yours?”
I didn’t get involved—when women argue, there’s no pacifying them—the more you do, the more vicious they become. I knew enough to keep out of it and let them argue awhile. Anyway, I wasn’t going to bother about them. Who expected my brother to come out and lend his voice? I heard him say to my sister-in-law, “What are you yelling about? Just take their pot off and that’ll be the end of it!”
This was too much, but I held my peace and didn’t go outside. My sister-in-law wanted to remove our pot. Hsiao-feng refused to give way. She screamed, “Don’t you dare move it!” Then all I heard was my brother say, “Why shouldn’t we—I’ll take it off then!”
I could have taken everything else, but I won’t stand for anyone trying to push Hsiao-feng around. Unable to control myself, I ran out the door just as my brother was removing our pot. Thud! He threw it to the ground. The pot broke and the water spilled all over. I went berserk, picked up a pole, ran over to the awning, and, in a few blows, beat the iron stove into fragments. When my brother saw me, he reached for an ax and, with a few chops, pulverized the bellows. Hsiao-feng and my sister-in-law were scared stiff and kept screaming, “Help!” My brother and I faced each other with weapons and were panting angrily—if people hadn’t run over and separated us, someone would have been killed that day.
I began to regret it right after the fighting stopped. I remembered how much I owed my brother; he raised me, and without him, I would have starved to death long ago. And no matter how backwards, conservative, and selfish he was, I had the responsibility to open his eyes. Sooner or later he would want to walk the Socialist road, and it was my responsibility to see that he changed. A Communist Party member taking arms against his own brother over peanuts and chicken feed—it still bothers me when I think of it, even now.
Okay, so we two brothers had destroyed our own stove and bellows. Now we had no place to cook and all we could do was each build a small outdoor stove near his house with some clay. Since there was no bellows, they weren’t easy to use, and we fretted every time we wanted to cook. And whenever we did, it reminded me of that useless argument, weighing on me like a rock.
To tell the truth, I was thinking of apologizing to my brother right afterwards, but, frankly, I lacked the courage. When your heart’s tied up in knots, you become agitated and for no reason at all, I got into an argument with Hsiao-feng. This made me even more upset. Somehow during this time, there had to be a drought. For the first ten days of summer there was no rain, nor any during the second ten. By the time autumn arrived, still no rain. The crops in the cooperative were so dry that their leaves began to curl, all yellowed, as if scorched by fire.
Since I was so involved with the work of the cooperative, I just put aside family troubles. I ran over to the County Committee to report on the situation and to the County Bank to borrow funds. After much effort, I was finally able to bring back two water pumps. Later, I had to go over to the Veterans’ Agricultural Station to borrow another one. We set up the three machines by the riverside and pumped up water onto the land. For three solid days and nights, I didn’t touch my bed. But by the morning of the fourth day, we had irrigated all the land. The crops thus watered turned colors again, like a patient who begins to recover; though his face isn’t much to look at, there’s life there.
At noon, I took a rest and had my fellow-workers irrigate the crops a second time as I went back to the village, exhausted and hungry. It felt like I couldn’t move my feet anymore. When I reached the village, I could see my brother and sister-in-law hauling water to irrigate their corn fields. Though their land was close by, it was still about a third of a mile from the well. The sun was cruel that day and they were both sweating all over, their clothes drenched. I don’t know why, but suddenly I felt pity for them. I decided I would help them.
I called out and my brother stopped dead in his tracks, staring at me. I said, “We’ve already finished irrigating our land. Why don’t you use the water pumps in the afternoon?” My brother set down his water buckets and looked at me in disbelief; then he replied, “You people in the cooperative have support from backstage; you can afford to use those machines but our base is small—we can’t afford those things.” I said, “Brother, don’t get ornery. You can’t beat the cooperative. Right now, it’s important to save the crops and with three water pumps, you can irrigate your fields in half the afternoon. Look, can’t you see the superiority of the cooperative now?”
At my mention of “the superiority of the cooperative,” his face suddenly fell. “Are you still trying to get me to join the cooperative?” he said. “I was thinking of something like that—you should join after the autumn harvest. Better early than late.” He abruptly picked up the buckets, turned around, and went off. After a couple of steps, he turned and angrily said, “You hate it that I don’t go broke fast enough—you’re always trying to poison me!” I asked him, “When did I ever try to poison you?” He didn’t answer my question but only spit and walked off, saying, “I figure I raised you for over ten years for nothing. If I had known it would turn out this way, I would have fed your food to the dogs.” He walked off in a huff as I stood there, unable to say anything ...
After five days, the heavy rain we’d hoped for fell and the crops were saved. There was a bountiful harvest for the cooperative that autumn because we had irrigated the land twice during the drought. Most of the household farmers suffered a shortage; the only exception was my brother. He had paid attention to farming techniques and put out a lot of sweat so that despite it all, he was able to raise a moderately good crop.
But the general harvest was not too good; there was a shortage of food and a black market quickly grew. At first, I thought it was those landlords, rich peasants, and profiteers who were stirring up the market. Hah! I never thought that my brother and sister-in-law were among those speculators.
Not long after the harvest, Hsiao-feng told me, “Today, brother brought back a cartload of grain—I think he must have gotten it from the black market.” I said, “He has enough grain of his own, what does he need to buy more for?”
“How stupid can you be? If you buy in the autumn and sell in spring, you can get double the price.”
“No, you see what a blockhead my brother is. How could he get involved in speculation?”
“Don’t go treating him like a saint. If he were such a good old boy, he wouldn’t have fought with you about dividing up the property and then when it was divided hid the cash away so that you didn’t get a share. As I see it, they’ve lent out the cash for high interest.”
“No way. They know well enough that the government won’t allow any usury.”
“They know well enough that the government won’t permit a black market, but isn’t that where they bought the grain?”
Hsiao-feng and I didn’t reach any conclusions that evening, and, since we were still busy with the harvest, forgot the whole thing. Then, one night when it was already very late, I was just coming back from the office. Hsiao-feng hadn’t gone to bed, which I thought was strange, so I asked her, “How come you’re not sleeping?” She answered, a bit depressed, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“What’s that? Is something wrong?”
“Of course there’s something wrong. Do you know where Wang Yu-fu and Wang Yu-lu’s work-checks are?”
“Certainly. In their house.”
“In their house?—they’ve used their checks to pay off debts.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Their checks were bought by their creditors. You’re only concerned with distribution procedures. You have no idea whether they can get food or not!”
“Is this true?”
“You’re still in the woods. By the time you figure the whole thing out, Wang Yu-fu and Wang Yu-lu will have been forced to let others take away their grain.”
“Well, who would do such a dirty thing?—who’s their creditor?”
“Who else? That honest brother of yours and my precious sister.”
I cried out in surprise. Hsiao-feng went on, “They’re thoroughly evil. Last summer, Wang Yu-fu’s mother died. Your brother wanted to buy that piece of land of theirs east of the village, but they didn’t want to sell, just mortgage it. Your brother was really vicious: he insisted on fifty percent interest and on including in the contract that if the money wasn’t paid on time, then they must surrender the land. There was nothing the Wang brothers could do but sign, so they borrowed a hundred and twenty yüan from your brother. This summer the mortgage came due and the Wangs asked your brother to be lenient and wait until the autumn harvest for repayment. But your brother and sister wouldn’t agree to anything except paying off their debt with their work-checks.”
“Those rotten eggs!” I blurted out. Hsiao-feng said, “The rotten part is still to come. Don’t we all get one-fifty a day for working? Well, their checks were accepted at eighty cents per man/day!”
A fire erupted inside me beyond control. I turned to run outside as Hsiao-feng asked me, “What are you going to do?” I said, “I’m going to find them.”
“They’re not home.”
“Where did they go?”
“They must have gone again to collect their debt.”
I ran out the gate toward Wang Yu-fu’s house. I couldn’t help wanting to grab them both right away—they’ve abused people too much. With their few dirty coins, they try to undermine our cooperative. Profiteering, exploiting, speculating—it was outrageous!
At the entrance to an alley, I saw a black shadow walking toward me. It seemed to resemble my fat sister-in-law, so I hid in a dark spot and observed her. As she got closer, I saw it was her all right, and, under the moonlight, I could see that she was shouldering half a sack full of grain. I called out, as if confronting an enemy, “Halt!” My sister-in-law cried out in surprise and fell down, flop! Just as I was about to grab her, she suddenly jumped up, threw off the sack and ran. But do you think that fat body of hers could run faster than me? Before she got two steps, I grabbed her by the collar. She turned around and as soon as she saw me, she bristled. “What are you trying to do?” she said.
“You know yourself—where did you get that grain?”
“None of your business. Anyway, I didn’t steal it.”
“You’re worse than a thief. You’ve bought up work-checks from the cooperative. Do you know what law you’ve broken?”
“What law have I broken? When you kill someone, you pay with your life, and when you owe money, you pay it back. It’s always been like this. Are you telling me that when you join the cooperative, you can run away from debts?”
Didn’t she sound tough? As if she hadn’t committed any crime at all but was involved in an honest deal. I ordered her to accompany me to the District Office. She said, without batting an eyelash, “Let’s go then. One has to be reasonable no matter where. I’m not afraid of you!” I said, “Fine. Go reason with the District authority and let everyone listen to your dirty deeds.”
I pulled my sister-in-law along over toward the District Office. Midway, my brother caught up with us. He was panting heavily and glared at me with his two giant bloodshot eyes, stared at me full of hatred, as if it wasn’t they who were guilty of trying to destroy the cooperative but me. He asked me loudly, “Where are you taking her?” I said, “To the District Office.”
“Are you going to let us live or not?”
“Who isn’t letting you live?”
“Then let her go!”
“After she explains everything, she can go home, of course.” My sister-in-law said angrily, “I’m not afraid no matter where we go—come on!”
After a few more steps, my brother caught up with us again. He said threateningly, “Are you going to let her go or not?” I said, “No.”
“All right! If I can’t make anything from this, you won’t either—I’m going to kill you, you ungrateful thief!” He whipped out an iron shovel from behind him. It happened more quickly than I can tell. I could see the shiny blade in the moonlight come slicing toward my head. I ducked quickly—that is, my head ducked but not my shoulder. I felt the shovel fiercely strike me, then immediately fell unconscious ...
When I came to, people were lifting me onto a stretcher. Hsiao-feng was bent over me, crying. I wanted to tell her that I wouldn’t die, but I couldn’t speak. My brother and sister-in-law along with my little nephew were lined up, kneeling beside the stretcher. From the looks of it, they seemed to be begging me not to accuse them in court. When I thought about how brothers could come to this, I felt bitter about it and couldn’t stop the flow of tears. I remembered how good my brother once was to me and I wanted to give him a chance to live. So I nodded toward him in sympathy. I forgave him ...
That winter, every village was caught up in hoisting high the banners of Socialism, and the cooperativization movement had reached its crest. When I returned from the hospital, my sister and brother-in-law had followed the tide and joined the cooperative.
Of course’, my brother is a fine worker but not a very good member. But I think he will improve. He just needs time.
Nowadays, our two families still share the same yard, but we don’t fight. My sister-in-law and Hsiao-feng even see each other a bit; but there’s still a lot separating us.
And now I understand that Socialist reconstruction in the villages is no easy matter, nor is it much different from fighting on a battlefield. The only difference is that on the battlefield, you fight an enemy, while in the village, you fight not only enemies but also your own kind—and this struggle can sometimes be a bloody one.
So that’s how I got the scar on my shoulder.
Translated by Richard K St rass berg
For over twenty years—from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s—Chou Yang was the chief guardian and implementor of Mao Tse-tung’s literary and cultural policies. He took charge of the series of relentless campaigns that ruthlessly purged the ranks of China’s most creative writers. Then suddenly, in the summer of 1966, he, himself, became one of the chief victims of the Cultural Revolution.
His rise and fall from power can be explained by his personification of the Party organization man. Born in Hunan in 1908, Chou Yang attended Ta Hsia, Great China University, in Shanghai. In 1928 he went to study in Japan, where he became a student of nineteenth-century European literature. While there, he was arrested for participation in a leftist demonstration, and he returned to Shanghai at the end of the 1920s. Shortly thereafter, he became a Communist Party member and an organizer of the Party’s cultural activities in Shanghai. In 1934 he was the Party representative in the League of Left-wing Writers. Though he had sharp clashes with Lu Hsün and some of his disciples, he was closely associated with the May Fourth Writers. He was not a creative writer, but, in addition to his organizational work, he wrote literary criticism and translated a number of Russian works, among them Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and the writings of the nineteenth-century populist Chunyshevski.
With the Japanese bombardment of Shanghai in 1937, he, along with a number of his colleagues, went to Yenan. There he quickly rose to power in the Party’s cultural organs. He became director of education of the Communist-controlled Shensi-Kansu-Ninghsia Border Region, president of Yenan University, and dean of the Lu Hsün Academy of Arts. Soon after the 1949 Party takeover, he was listed as vice-chairman of several literary and cultural organizations and as deputy director of the Propaganda Department. But he wielded more power than his official positions signified. Unofficially, he assumed responsibility for tightening thought control not only in literature but in virtually every sphere of intellectual endeavor, particularly the humanities, social sciences, and creative arts.
Despite Chou Yang’s efforts, dissident writers and intellectuals continued to express themselves. In the relative relaxation of the early 1960s, some May Fourth writers and intellectuals indirectly criticized Mao’s policies of the Great Leap Forward in discussions of history, literature, and ideology—the very areas for which Chou was responsible. Mao, in 1962, 1963, and 1964, demanded a campaign to stamp out this criticism, but Chou and his associates responded only in a very superficial manner. Chou feared not only the dislocations of another campaign but also the fact that if he waged an intensive drive, it would have repercussions in his own bailiwick, from which the criticism had come.
When Mao delegated his wife, Chiang Ching, with the support of a group of young ideologues, to reform the traditional opera, which had been a medium for some of the criticism, Chou blocked her interference in his realm. Consequently, when Mao launched the Cultural Revolution against the Party hierarchy, the attack on Chou was second in ferocity only to that on Liu Shao-ch’i—perhaps because of the very personal nature of the previous struggle.
However, as can be seen in the piece reprinted below, “The Path of Socialist Literature and Art in China,” Chou’s purge was for reasons of ideology as well as power. This piece reflects his efforts throughout his career to balance a belief in mass literature with a concern for professional literature, a commitment to political standards with respect for artistic standards, and an interest in collective needs with an interest in individual needs. As Mao, in the mid-1960s, took a more radical course by calling for a new mass culture in conjunction with the Cultural Revolution, Chou’s balanced approach, fashioned partly out of commitment and partly to follow every twist in the Maoist line, became subversive.
Shortly before his death, Mao approved the rehabilitation of Chou Yang along with other Party officials. He was listed in January 1978 on the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Late in May of the same year he played an active role in the Third Congress of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles in Peking. He is now deputy director of the Academy of Social Science. —M.G.
(Report Delivered to the Third Congress of Chinese Literary
and Art Workers on July 22, 1960)
Literature and art are a form of ideology belonging to the superstructure; they are a reflection of the economic basis and are the nerve center of the class struggle.... On the ideological front, we must raise still higher the revolutionary banner of Marxism-Leninism and oppose the reactionary ideological trends of modern revisionism; we must, by means of a protracted and unremitting struggle, make a clean sweep of the political and ideological influences of the bourgeoisie among the masses, and greatly enhance the communist consciousness and moral qualities of our people. Our literature and art should become keen instruments for educating the people in the spirit of socialism and communism, in the spirit of proletarian internationalism.... We should explain how sharp struggles have been waged, in the literary and art circles of our country, between the proletarian line and the bourgeois line, between the communist world outlook and the bourgeois world outlook.
SERVE THE WORKERS, PEASANTS AND SOLDIERS,
SERVE THE CAUSE OF SOCIALISM
That literature and art should serve the workers, peasants, and soldiers is the proletarian line in literature and art. It is sharply opposed to the bourgeois line in literature and art. This is why it is looked upon with hostility and is hated by all reactionaries and revisionists both inside and outside the country. Hu Feng called this line “a Dagger”; the Yugoslav revisionists revile it as a “Persecution” of writers.... And in the eyes of bourgeois men of letters, literature and art are the monopoly of a small number of the “upper class,” their private property; from their point of view literature and art should praise none but the bourgeoisie and bourgeois intellectuals, should prettify the corrupt way of life of the bourgeoisie and propagate bourgeois individualist ideas and low tastes. How can they, these “literary aristocrats,” be willing to portray or serve the masses of workers and peasants? ... This struggle started, e.g., with the criticism of the film The Life of Wu Hsün* in 1951, proceeded to the criticism of the Studies of the Dream of the Red Chamber† t and the repudiation of the ideas of Hu Shih and Hu Feng and the exposure of Hu Feng’s counterrevolutionary clique, down to the struggle against Ting Ling and Ch’en Ch’i-hsia’s anti-Party clique and other rightists in 1957, and following these, the repudiation of revisionist trends in literature and art. This series of struggles on the front of literature and art is a reflection in the realm of ideology of the class struggle in our country during the period of the socialist revolution and socialist construction. ...
In our country, literature and art are no longer monopolized by a few, but have become the common undertaking of the broad masses of people of the various nationalities in our land.
... To open up the road for proletarian literature and art, Lu Hsün, Ch’ü Ch’iu-pai, and many other revolutionary writers and artists pioneered the way and even shed their blood or laid down their lives. Comrade Mao Tse-tung, on the basis of the actual practice in the Chinese revolution, has creatively developed the principles of Party literature formulated by Lenin by pointing out clearly that literature and art should serve the workers, peasants, and soldiers. As a result, our literature and art have undergone a fundamental, historic change.... The new age has set new tasks for our literature and art; the writers and artists of this new age cannot but take a new path in their life and creative activity, which is fundamentally different from that of writers and artists in the past—the path of integrating themselves with the masses of workers and peasants. This is the only way for writers and artists who are intellectuals not of proletarian origin to transform their former world outlook, establish a communist world outlook, and become truly the spokesmen of the working class.
Following changes in the foundation, the superstructure must change also. But changes in ideology that belongs to the superstructure take place much more slowly than changes in the foundation. This is why, after a socialist society has been established, the political and ideological influence of the bourgeoisie remains for a long time; while even in communist society there will still be struggles between advanced and backward, between right and wrong. This determines that ideological struggle and ideological remolding are long-term tasks. During the last decade, bourgeois ideas have been under constant criticism in our country, and revisionism has not been able to occupy a dominant position in literary and art circles in our country; but this does not mean they do not exist—they take their cue from the climate. When there is the least trouble inside or outside the country, they will start creating disturbances again, rising like scum to the surface of the water to spread their poison once again.
LET A HUNDRED FLOWERS BLOSSOM,
LET A HUNDRED SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT CONTEND
Regarding style, form, genre, and subject matter in art, however, we are for greater variety and encourage originality, while opposing monotony, rigidity, and narrowness. Our principle is the integration of uniformity in political orientation and variety in artistic styles. On the basis of his scientific analysis of the contradictions among the people in the socialist society, Comrade Mao Tse-tung put forward the policy of letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend....
The policy of letting a hundred flowers blossom and developing the new from the old not only has promoted the renovation of old traditions but also has made our new literature and art more national in character. More and more, our novelists and story writers are manifesting a national style in their language, characterization, and plots. Our poets, under the impact of the new folk-song movement, are striving to develop modern poetry on the basis of classical poetry and folk songs; hence there is a new trend in the style of poetry too. All kinds of painting and sculpture, in the same way, are demonstrating much more vivid national characteristics. Our modern operas have not only presented a new revolutionary content but become more national in form too.
Our literature and art not only put special emphasis on the portrayal of present-day struggles, creating images of contemporary heroes, but present outstanding characters in history from a new viewpoint.
As early as twenty years ago Comrade Mao Tse-tung proposed that we should evolve a fresh, lively Chinese style and Chinese flavor which the common folk of China love to see and hear. Our literature and art have a tradition dating back several thousand years; they reflect a rich fund of creative experience and they appear in our own national forms and styles that have developed over the past many centuries. If revolutionary literature and art possess no national features, if they cannot create new national forms suited to the new content on the basis of our own national traditions, they will not easily take root and blossom among the broad masses of the people. The national character and mass character of literature and art are interconnected and indivisible. Since the May Fourth Movement our literature and art have widely absorbed the experience of foreign literature and art, adopting many foreign forms and methods of expression; this was entirely necessary....
However, all art forms and techniques of foreign origin when transplanted to China must be remodeled and assimilated till they possess national features and become our own. Now our literature and art are more and more manifesting their national character and mass character. Distinctive national originality in literature and art is the concentrated expression of the creativeness of the masses, the sign of maturity in the literature and art of an age and of a class.
... Our literature and art are composed of these two elements, the works of professionals and those of the masses who create in their spare time. These two component parts together make up the splendid variety and wealth of our literature and art. Letting a hundred schools of thought contend has promoted the lively activities of free debate and mass criticism in literary and art circles and throughout the world of thought. We have launched, through debates, the struggle between two paths in literature and art, and at the same time have held helpful discussions on many problems relating to literary and art creation and theory. Through these debates, the Marxist viewpoint has consolidated its position in literary and art theory and criticism. During the last two years, in the departments of literature in universities and the art colleges, criticism on bourgeois theory and ideas in the teaching of literature and art has been carried out; and on the basis of this criticism, the students and the teachers have collaborated to produce works of literary and art theory and histories of literature and art
We have always held that letting a hundred flowers blossom means blossoming within the domain of socialism. The flowers to blossom are socialist flowers. We mean, through free emulation, to develop the socialist literature and art, and to oppose literature and art that are hostile to socialism. Letting a hundred schools of thought contend means contending under the guidance of Marxism-Leninism, means propagating and developing Marxist dialectical materialism and opposing bourgeois idealism and metaphysics through free debate
Just as Comrade Liu Shao-chi has said, letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is an extremely firm class policy of the proletariat.
Bourgeois rightists and revisionists have tried to utilize the slogan of letting a hundred flowers blossom to bring forth their poisonous weeds hostile to socialism....
When men’s world outlooks differ, their conceptions of beauty differ too. What we regard as fragrant flowers they consider poisonous weeds, while what we consider poisonous weeds they regard as fragrant flowers.
On the question of letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend, we differ from the doctrinaires too. The doctrinaires are cut off from the masses, cut off from reality; they do not understand dialectics; they do not admit that multiplicity exists in the world. They want only uniformity in political orientation, not variety in artistic styles; they allow only a single flower to blossom, not a hundred flowers. This is extremely harmful.
We advocate literary and art works depicting present-day struggles, and we encourage and help writers and artists to do their best to get in touch and familiarize themselves with the people’s new life and throw themselves into the heat of the people’s struggle. At the same time, each writer and artist can, according to his sense of political responsibility, his personal experience of life, his interests and special talent, decide what theme to choose and what forms of expression to adopt. The readers and audiences of the new age like stirring works portraying the life and struggles of their contemporaries, as well as fascinating stories from history and legend performed on the stage. They like stirring militant marching songs; they also like fine and healthy lyrical music and dances. The new age requires more and better paintings of revolutionary history, revolutionary genre paintings and figure paintings, but shouldn’t the new-style landscape paintings and flower-and-bird paintings also have a place in our galleries? The people need inspiration and encouragement in their spiritual life, but they also need things that give pleasure and delight.... We advocate using the methods of criticism and emulation to gradually eliminate works that are ideologically faulty or artistically inferior, in order to raise the ideological and artistic level of our works step by step. Socialist emulation in literature and art is the best way to encourage a multiplicity of artistic styles, develop various schools of art and expedite the raising of the quality of our works....
The elimination of poisonous weeds is a problem between us and the enemy. The existence of poisonous weeds is an objective reality. Their growth is decided by definite historical conditions. It is not possible to prevent them from existing and appearing. The problem is what is the most effective way to eliminate the harm caused by poisonous weeds. The revisionists are against fighting poisonous weeds; they are the protectors of all kinds of poisonous weeds; the revisionist current of thought is itself a poisonous weed, which does the greatest harm. They advocate the policy of liberalism and laissez-faire, “tolerance” and “compromise” on the cultural and ideological front, and their aim is to make socialist countries allow the capitalist reactionary culture to exist legally, to let it spread freely, to poison the people and youth. This, of course, we resolutely oppose. On the other hand, we do not approve of the method used by the doctrinaires either. They would ban poisonous weeds as soon as they appear; though the simple method of issuing administrative orders may have a temporary effect, it causes endless future trouble. It actually means allowing poisonous weeds to remain underground for a while, or allowing them to emerge in disguise to cause damage. This is another form of laissezfaire, which will not deal a mortal blow to the enemy. Our policy is: When poisonous weeds start to come out, we let them meet the masses as antagonists, and urge the masses to discuss them freely, so as to enable more people to recognize their true features, to sharpen the people’s sense of discernment and fighting ability....
Therefore we are not afraid of poisonous weeds and opposite views; we are not afraid of open debates, not afraid that correct views may at one time meet with attacks and misunderstanding.
THE INTEGRATION OF REVOLUTIONARY REALISM AND
In order that literature and art may better reflect our age and more effectively serve the broad masses of laboring people and the great cause of socialism and communism, we advocate the artistic method of integrating revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism.... The putting forward of this artistic method is another important contribution made by Comrade Mao Tse-tung to the Marxist theory of literature and art....
The fundamental difference between us Marxists and the mechanical materialists is that we, on the basis of a correct knowledge of objective reality, pay full attention to subjective activity, to progressive ideas and scientific foresight, and to the great significance of revolutionary vision. Is it not precisely because he is inspired by noble ideals that a proletarian revolutionary fighter braves all dangers with resolute fortitude? To us there is no limit to the revolutionary task of transforming the world; ...
In the age of proletarian revolution, new heroic characters can only be the advanced elements of the proletariat and the revolutionary people. Hence the creation of new heroic characters has become the glorious task of socialist literature and art.
Our literature and art should create characters that can best embody the revolutionary ideals of the proletariat. These characters are not the products of the writers’ fancy but new men and women emerging from the actual struggle. Their most admirable attribute is seen in the fact that they never are daunted by difficulties and shrink back, nor do they feel satisfied with the victories gained and so stop advancing.
Those writers with bourgeois prejudices have always held that the advanced characters among the masses of the people whom we describe are untrue to life and that only colorless “petty individuals” or low, negative characters are “true.” Their argument is that every man has some faults and defects, that there is a struggle between darkness and light in the depth of every heart; this is what they mean by the “complexity of the inner mind....” Of course they must have worries, inner conflicts, and shortcomings of one kind or another, or make this or that mistake; but they always endeavor to use communist ideas and morality as the highest criteria for all their actions. What has the so-called complexity of the inner mind which the bourgeois writers advocate to depict, got in common with the rich inner life of the laboring people of this new age? The so-called secrets of man’s mind that they want to reveal are nothing but an exposure of their own dark souls. Eager to depict weak-willed people and the petty affairs in which they are involved, they cannot see or are unwilling to describe the heroic characters and great struggles of today, or they force the low, empty souls of the bourgeoisie into the new socialist or communist men. Their works are shrouded in gloom, and they paint completely black the new life of socialist society and the fighting life of the masses. The result of this can only be to make people feel disappointed with socialist reality, and to foster a spiritual disintegration ... and collapse among the people of the socialist countries.
Our understanding of the question of “truthfulness” and “realism” is completely different from that of the revisionist. The revisionists often oppose tendentiousness in socialist literature and art under the pretext of “depicting truth” and “realism.” They deliberately set truthfulness in opposition to tendentiousness, claiming that tendentiousness hampers truthfulness; actually, what they oppose is only revolutionary tendentiousness in literature and art, and their aim is to replace it with the reactionary tendentiousness of the bourgeoisie.... How then are our literature and art to give a truthful reflection of this spiritual outlook of the masses, in other words, how are they to reflect the features of our age? Can we reflect it in melancholy tones, in pallid language and by petty, naturalistic methods? That is absolutely impossible. We must use heroic language, powerful tones, and vivid colors to praise and describe our age. The revolutionary romanticism in literature and art is the crystallization of the revolutionary romanticism in our people’s life....
Of course, life is full of contradictions. What is new in life always comes into being and grows up in a struggle against the old.
We face squarely the contradictions that exist within the ranks of the people in the socialist society; this keeps us from falling into the error of the nonconflict theory from the very start. Our literature and art must not evade defects and difficulties, ignore passive phenomena and negative characters, or water down the contradictions and struggles in life; such cheap optimism can only oversimplify life, presenting real, advanced people as lifeless men of straw. Works of this sort can arouse neither admiration for what is fine nor indignation against what is evil; they are still less able to induce men to think about life’s problems, and once read they are immediately forgotten....
Speaking of life and art, Comrade Mao Tse-tung further said, “Although both are beautiful, life as reflected in artistic and literary works can and ought to be on a higher level and of a greater power and better focused, more typical, nearer the ideal, and therefore more universal than actual everyday life.” ... Life in reality is the fount of literature and art, but literature and art should be on a higher level than reality; through images they reflect life and create characters; their aim is not passively to reflect reality for its own sake, but actively to reflect and impel reality forward and transform it....
REFUTING THE BOURGEOIS THEORY OF HUMAN NATURE
At present the revisionists are desperately pushing the bourgeois theory of human nature, the false humanism of the bourgeoisie, “the love of mankind,” bourgeois pacifism, and other fallacious notions of the sort to reconcile class antagonisms, negate the class struggle and revolution, and spread illusions about imperialism, and thus to attain their ulterior aim of preserving the capitalist old world and disrupting the socialist new world.... They use an abstract, common human nature to explain various historical and social phenomena, use human nature or “humanism” as the criterion of morality and art, and oppose literature and art serving the cause of liberation of the proletariat and the laboring people.... The old revisionist theorist Lukacs claimed that the humanistic ideal and principle are the “absolute criteria” in artistic criticism, and this so-called humanistic ideal or principle is “common human nature.” In China, Hu Feng, the earliest pedlar of these theories of Lukacs, said, “The socialist spirit is the humanistic spirit”; in other words, “a profound compassion for all mankind.” Feng Hsüeh-feng also claimed that man’s basic demand is “the friendship of humanity as a whole.” When the rightists were attacking us violently, Pa Jen once more brought out these old weapons to attack socialist literature and art, asserting that revolutionary literature and art lack “human interest” because they do not express “what men have in common” and “lack the humanism inherent in human nature.” We consider that in a class society there is no abstract principle of humanism that transcends the age and classes. In a class society, humanism as an ideology always possesses a class content of a definite age.
A section of the positive romanticist writers and critical realist writers of the nineteenth century brought stirring accusations against the seamy side of capitalism. Many of them also appealed for humanism. But because they were not able to shake off the limitations of their bourgeois and petty-bourgeois views, the humanism they called for was unable to go beyond the confines of private property and individualism.... Now some people within the ranks of Marxism have confused communism with bourgeois humanism, claiming that communism is the “highest embodiment of humanism,” the theory of socialism the “most humane” theory, as if there were some mysterious “humanism” that is an immutable absolute truth, as if communism were simply an expression of its final stage of accomplishment....
No Marxist, no genuine revolutionary, will propagandize abstract “humanism” and the so-called love of mankind. In a world where class antagonism exists, where there exist exploiters and exploited, oppressors and oppressed, there can be no “love of mankind” that transcends classes.
In their view, what is in keeping with bourgeois ideas, mentality, and way of life is human; anything else runs counter to human nature. If a work of literature describes the selfishness of certain characters, their schizophrenia or dual personality, then it accords with “human nature” and is “human.” If a work describes men who are free from all thought of private ownership and possess communist moral qualities, if it describes the selfless nature of the proletariat, then it is “unnatural,” lacking in “human interest,” and contrary to “human nature.” They have taken bourgeois human nature as the so-called common human nature.
Comrade Mao Tse-tung, dealing with the problem of how to approach the cultural heritage of China and other lands, has consistently opposed making a break with history and rejecting everything of the past, but at the same time he is against bolting things down raw and absorbing them uncritically. He proposes that, as regards past culture, we should take the fine essence and discard the dregs.
What we want to take over critically and develop is the tradition of progressive literature and art. The literature and art of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe and Russia made a great contribution to mankind, producing a number of great writers like Goethe, Balzac, and Tolstoy. The good works of critical realism and positive romanticism expose the evils of feudalism and capitalism, and in varying degrees express the feeling and aspirations of the people of the time.... At the same time there is much worth learning in the artistic techniques with which these works describe life. However, even in the case of these works, we should adopt an analytical, critical attitude, and we must also see their negative side. Although the progressive works of literature of nineteenth-century Europe criticized capitalist society, the great majority of them did so from the standpoint of bourgeois democracy, bourgeois humanism and reformism.... Many of the characters described in these works are individualist “heroes,” like Julien in Le Rouge et le Noir, who, because his personal ambition was frustrated, carried out a vengeful, despairing revolt against society, or like Jean Christophe, who relied on the strength of individual character and took the greatest pride in his loneliness. If young readers take these characters as their models, far from helping them to build up the new individuality with a collective spirit, this will serve only to destroy it, will simply strengthen old individualist ideas.... In the socialist society of today if anyone tries to pick up the old spears and javelins of bourgeois humanism and individualism, as the revisionists advocate, to “criticize” the new society and expose the “darkness” of the proletariat and the people, that is an act utterly opposed to the people and to socialism.... We should also analyze the ideas in these works tha once played a progressive part, pointing out which of them still retain a positive significance today, which are no longer suited to the present, and which under the new historical conditions have become reactionary. We must be selective too when we learn from the technique of past masters, and not copy it mechanically.
The new age demands a new literature and art. We want to paint the newest, most beautiful pictures, write the newest, most beautiful poems—this is the demand made on us by the age. Thus we must have our own new ideas, new techniques, new artistic methods, and new path for creation. We should learn from our predecessors, but we must not think poorly of ourselves.... The ideological and artistic standard of many works falls short of the masses’ level of appreciation, which is rising daily; some writings still have the shortcomings of formulism or writing according to abstract subjective ideas; modern revisionist views and various types of bourgeois ideas are still able to find a market among our intellectuals, writers, and artists; our heritage of literature and art still needs further réévaluation and editing; our experience in contemporary literature and art still needs to be further summarized, and our literary and art theory and criticism still need to be greatly strengthened.
In order to raise the level of our literary and art creations, we must at the same time raise the level of literary and art theory and criticism.... Our literary and art criticism is based on the standpoint of Marxism and takes the political standard as its first criterion, but at the same time we must make an accurate artistic analysis of the work and establish a scientific artistic standard of our new age on the basis of experiences summed up from our contemporary creative activities....
We have all the prerequisites for the creation of a magnificent culture.... We have beloved and respected comrades like Kuo Mo-jo, Mao Tun, and many other outstanding veteran revolutionary writers and artists, as well as large numbers of talented and promising young literary and art workers who are emerging constantly from the masses.... The nation that has produced Ch’ün Yüan, Szu-ma Ch’ien, Tu Fu, Kuan Han-ch’ing, Ts’ao Hsüeh-ch’in, and Lu Hsün will certainly continue to produce thousands of brilliant writers and artists of genius.
Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1960
Excerpted by Merle Goldman
Liu Ch’ing was born in Wu-pao, northern Shensi Province, and grew up during a time when China’s national sovereignty was steadily eroding. Already a member of the Communist Youth Corps, he participated in the December Ninth Movement of 1935, when thousands of young Chinese rose in protest against their government’s repeated concessions to Japanese expansionism. In 1936 he joined the Chinese Communist Party. Between 1937 and 1949 he worked in Northwest China, active in the cultural associations and as a cadre at the village level in the Shensi-Kansu-Ningsia Border Region. He took part in antilandlord struggles in the countryside, using this experience for his later novel, Sowing.
Throughout the 1950s Liu remained active as a writer, while holding office in several official literary and artistic organizations. In 1950 he published Discussion of the Mass Line During Land Reform. His novel Wall of Bronze, which deals with the fighting between Communist and Nationalist troops during the Sha-chia-tien campaign of 1947 in northern Shensi, appeared in 1951. Two years later, when he was serving as a member of the board of the Chinese Writers’ Association, he published another piece of fiction describing the same campaign, The Battle of Sha-chia-tien, and in 1956 he began describing agricultural collectivization in Three Years in Huang-fu Village. Part One of The Builders was published in 1959, and the following year Liu served on the Presidium of the National Assembly of Writers and Artists and as a member of the National Committee, the Third Congress, All China Federation of Literary and Art Circles. Part Two of The Builders, begun in the later 1950s, was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution, when Liu and his work were severely condemned. He resumed his writing in 1976 and published the first twelve chapters of the second volume in spring 1977. Death in June 1978 prevented him from completing his ambitious novel.
The Builders, Part One, reflects a time of changing political and artistic priorities in China. By 1953, when the story takes place, the violence of civil war and the turbulence of Land Reform had blown over, and cooperation had taken priority over confrontation during the campaign to form mutual aid teams among poor and middle peasants.
As sociopolitical priorities shifted, the writer of socialist fiction was expected to adapt to new realities and goals. In the new stage of development, one did not see hero and villain meeting in open battle, and there were neither military engagements to galvanize the reader’s attention nor open struggles against landlords to provide catharsis for frustration and anger. The immediate obstructions on the path to socialism were portrayed not as objectives to be attacked and smashed but rather as problems to be solved with patience and skill. As a reflection of this, characters in The Builders do not appear as purely good or purely evil, but as ordinary people, some likable, some very unlikable, whose positive and negative characteristics are closely correlated with the issues at hand in China’s step-by-step plan for socialist development. It is through them that the author attempts to turn political issues into vicarious experiences and to make his vision of the struggle of his times affectively intelligible to the reader. —W.B.C.
The Builders is concerned with events in 1953 in Frog Flat, a village in Shensi Province. Land has been redistributed, but the early spring grain shortage has left the poorest farmers without food to eat or seed for planting. The previous spring, short-term loans of excess grain had been made to needy farmers, but many of these are unpaid, and indebtedness poses a danger of dependency upon the wealthier peasants.
Liang Sheng-pao, an energetic young Communist Party member, is trying to mobilize support for his mutual aid team so that its members can increase productivity and break their cycle of dependency on the better-off peasants. Not everyone has unqualified sympathy for the project, however. Sheng-pao’s stepfather, Liang the Third, a good-hearted, rough-and-ready old peasant, admires Sheng-pao’s strength and determination but resents his pouring time and energy into projects that bring no visible personal gain. One such project is a trip to purchase a new quick-ripening variety of rice seed for the team members, which costs Sheng-pao precious hours of work time and brings no remuneration.
Kuo Chen-shan, the other Communist Party member in Frog Flat, considers Sheng-pao an upstart. Older and more experienced, Chen-shan has proved his zeal and effectiveness during Land Reform, but his leadership has been vitiated by concern with his own property and position.
Kuo Shih-fu, a well-to-do middle peasant, tries to undermine Sheng-pao’s efforts. Working behind the scenes in league with the rich peasant Yao Shih-chieh, he tries to lure team members back into their pre-1949 state of dependency.
Hsu Kai-hsia, a pretty peasant girl, is emotionally involved in the events in Frog Flat. As a Communist Youth League member, she respects Chen-shan, but her respect is cooled somewhat as she senses the erosion in his zeal for socialist development. By contrast, her admiration and furtive affection toward Sheng-pao grow as she sees him struggling to improve the poor peasants’ lot.
It is early spring, and the grain shortage among the poor peasants has become acute. A meeting is called to deal with the problem. Soon there develops a quiet struggle between two styles of leadership.]
After the gong fell silent, there was a burst of activity in the rice paddies and along the bank of the Kuan Canal. Shouts and answers, gates being pounded upon, dogs barking, and the conversations of people walking toward the school in a dusk not yet lighted by the moon all wove into a cacophony that covered the rice fields throughout the village of Frog Flat.
But as the smoke from evening cooking cleared above the fields, the village settled into silence. Those who wanted to attend the mass meeting had already arrived at the elementary school. Those who did not wish to go had already closed their gates tight, burrowed under their quilts, and could not be called out again no matter what.
The night was dark. The eye could no longer distinguish either the peak of Mt. Chung-nan from the valley below it or the cypress trees from the escarpment of Hsia-pao Village’s North Flat. Farmers walking along paths in the paddies could only see rippling water to the north and south joined to a sky brimming with stars.
After Babbler Sun, the Village Affairs Committee member, had finished beating the gong, he lit the kerosene lantern. The lantern, fully pumped and hung up on the rafter of the first-and second-year elementary school, gave off a steady hissing sound. Its dazzling rays reached every corner of the room, illuminating a blackboard mounted on the whitewashed wall, color posters, charts, portraits of leaders, and desks and benches sitting on the brick-lined floor, just as plainly as if it were day. In the room there were only about twenty-odd farmers in tattered clothing, looking poor as mountain dwellers, despite the fact that they lived on the plain. Some sat smoking uncured tobacco or hunched over desks fretting and sighing, while others took advantage of the bright light and leisure for “bandit extermination”—opening their tattered jackets to capture lice. At the suggestion of Kuo Chen-shan, some of the fruits of the Land Reform struggle had been set aside to purchase as common property a kerosene lamp to provide light for these brows furrowed with worry over the early spring food shortage.
But there was no cause for alarm here. When these twenty-odd people were dispersed among over one hundred families of farmers, you might not take special notice of them. They were those who only a few years earlier had had the very marrow of their bones squeezed from them by the landlords and the mechanism of Old China. The People’s Government could only give them land and loans to acquire draft animals and plant crops, and then call upon them to organize for production. It could not use sorcery to make them instantly rich. This point they themselves understood without explanation.
They could see that getting Incentive Grain Loans was a lost cause this year. The rich peasant Yao Shih-chieh and the leading well-to-do middle peasant, Kuo Shih-fu, had both failed to come, hadn’t they? The other middle peasants, both prosperous and average, who had extra grain were peeking out from the peach orchard or from concealment behind mud walls. If the two richest farmers could not be summoned to the meeting, what could they, who could only lend out a few bushels of grain every spring, accomplish by attending the meeting? If you can’t fell the large trees, you won’t get much firewood! What good will twigs and bits of grass do? To bed, then! Off with our clothes and to bed! As they undressed for bed they told their wives, “If our representative calls again, you tell him I already left for the meeting a long time ago.”
This was the most depressing mass meeting held in Frog Flat since Liberation!
After joining hands to sweep away the landlords, who had been cruel exploiters of poor peasants and a menace to middle peasants, farmers above the poverty level and those who were below it began to split off from each other. People like Yao and Kuo Shih-fu, who were powerful economically in the village, were doing their best behind the scenes to accelerate this split. The poor farmers sitting in the school couldn’t have put into words just what was happening, yet they sensed it keenly.
Some farmers who were somewhat better off had left, one after another, when they saw that the meeting was not going to take place, but these twenty-some farmers were not going to leave, no matter what. They wanted to take no course other than that of reliance upon the Communist Party and the People’s Government. Of course they could always get grain by writing a description of part of the land apportioned to them—its name, acreage, and limits—on a note for a grain loan and secretly giving it to someone with excess grain. But what a chilling, disappointing prospect that was! They felt that somehow it would be strange, awkward, and out of tune with the way their society was progressing, like a man turned around walking backwards down the road.
They sat in the schoolroom with righteous determination to follow the Party and the government, because they supported the Party and the government it led with all the determination and enthusiasm the hearts that beat beneath those tattered clothes could muster.
Look! To the east of the schoolroom, Township Party Branch Secretary Lu Ming-ch’ang and Kuo Chen-shan were standing in the shadows by a field of alfalfa having an animated conversation. Surely they were thinking of a solution. Perhaps they were discussing calling a mass meeting another day? Or perhaps they were discussing using agricultural loan funds to combat the spring food shortage? Perhaps ... at any rate, they wouldn’t leave without thoroughly explaining the problem to the group. And then there was Liang Sheng-pao, who took the timid, hard-working Iron Man Kuo—the only middle peasant who attended the meeting—out to the peach orchard west of the schoolroom with militia leader Feng Yu-wan in tow. There they were, squatting in the shadows beneath a peach tree that was about to bloom, Sheng-pao and Yu-wan cornering Iron Man, wishing they could hold him down and pour certain thoughts into his head! Surely they were trying to talk him into something.
As the two Communist Party members of Frog Flat worked separately for the benefit of the recently liberated farmers, why shouldn’t these poor farmers wait patiently? They had especially great hopes placed in Kuo Chen-shan, Chairman and village representative. With his quick and agile mind he would find a solution. Compared to Kuo Chen-shan, Yao and Shih-fu were like children. Their belief in Kuo Chen-shan was the concrete manifestation of their belief in the Communist Party. They were pragmatic people, unused to dealing with abstractions.
Those who avoided the meeting—the “go-it-alone” families—thought that since they had twenty or thirty mu of land, an ox, and two or three able-bodied men, they could get by on their own and so were masters of their own fates. There were even some who chatted condescendingly about the Communist Party actually having some good points: being reasonable, not abusing people verbally or physically, neither imposing a lot of taxes nor oppressing the common people. How absurdly nearsighted! They were hoping that history would stop in its tracks and that the New Democracy would last forever. They were afraid of the word “struggle” and hated to hear strange-sounding words like “socialism.”
The group now sitting in the schoolhouse, the farmers who had formerly been pressed down at the bottom of the scale, would have been only too glad to put socialism into practice the very next morning. If history were to stop in 1953, after the redistribution of land and other means of agricultural production, then they would soon return to their tragic pre-1949 fate. The Communist Party would not allow it! Chairman Mao was brilliant: as he inventoried and redistributed all property and possessions, he rectified the party and prepared to advance. These poor peasants would march steadfastly forward behind the Communist Party. They could no longer be satisfied with a few acres of land, nor with having their stomachs only half full, nor with having a new padded jacket once every ten years, nor with shoulders bruised and swollen from the carrying pole. Such nonsense! Only fools wanted that. They believed that Chairman Mao Tse-tung would see them through.
They waited with perfect calm under the strong light of the kerosene lamp. Their calmness showed their inner composure, because they were quite free from anxiety. Even though their parents’ blood and their childhood environments had made them different in temperament and character, poverty had made them one in thought, feeling, and bearing. This made more than twenty people like a single person. In their peasants’ minds a single thought was forming, and in their hearts a single feeling was stirring.
Lean, solemn, and determined in bearing, Kao Tseng-fu sat on a bench behind the first row of desks. His arms, covered by sleeves through which the cotton padding showed, were wrapped around the sleeping Little Ts’ai. He sat there hating that crafty neighbor of his. He had rapped on Yao Shih-chieh’s black gate until his knuckles ached before a distant answer to the effect that Yao had gone to Huang-pao Town had come from Yao’s wife in the main building. The devil! He himself had seen Yao at nightfall. But what could he do? That large black gate was closed tighter than a drumhead without even a crack to peer through, and speaking to him through the closed gate was a woman. He hated himself for not being able to serve the people better as their representative. If it weren’t for his having to take on the woman’s work of cooking, if it weren’t that caring for Little Ts’ai tied him down, that rich peasant Yao would never have escaped the meeting. He could have squatted in Yao’s compound before nightfall and waited for him to finish dinner so they could go to the meeting together. If only he could get that wealthy peasant to the meeting, Kao would have plenty to say to him: “Why aren’t you helping needy families get through the spring food shortage? You have no surplus grain? Where has your surplus grain gone? Could it be that you sneaked it into Huang-pao Town to lend out at high interest? Speak! Tell the truth! As soon as Land Reform has blown over, you’ve gone back to exploiting!” But what could he say now, with that rich peasant already sleeping with his wife on his fancy lacquered k’ang?
A disheartened expression appeared on Kao’s thin, harried face. He didn’t know how he was going to get through the spring, how he could get money for fertilizer before time for summer rice transplanting came. To him the coming months looked dark as the night outside. Yet, though Kao was suffering real privation, Fate could not defeat this unfortunate man, because he, like the poor peasants and former hired hands around him, placed hope in the government, which had given him land and a loan for a draft animal. While he was doing both a man’s and a woman’s work to keep alive, and carrying out the duties and errands of Township People’s Representative, it was this hope that sustained him.
Kao was exhorting Jen the Fourth, who sat hunched over in the first row of desks: “Old Jen, your place is a long way from here, and you’ve got a bunch of kids there. You’d better leave early. Can’t you see? Tonight’s meeting isn’t ever going to begin at all.”
“No!” Old Jen looked upon attending meetings as a show of support for the government and the Party. Taking a pipe with a brass mouthpiece out of his thick-tongued mouth, he spoke, giving off a spray of saliva as he did: “Let’s wait for our team leader and leave with him.”
“Oh, yes. You’re waiting for Sheng-pao. Right! With Sheng-pao’s mutual aid team you don’t have to worry,” Kao said enviously.
“We aren’t worrying,” old Jen admitted. “It isn’t that we can hold our own so well. We’re relying on our good neighbors. They say ‘A near neighbor is worth more than a distant relative,’ and it’s true! If it weren’t for Sheng-pao taking the bunch of problems involved in a permanent mutual aid team onto his own broad shoulders, do you think I could keep from worrying? I’d be more worried than any of you, and that’s the truth! After Spring Grave Visitation we’re going into the mountains.”
Old jen’s words and his satisfied air stirred up an intense interest among the shabbily dressed poor farmers in the schoolroom. They swarmed up from the desks in the rear and gathered at the front where they had detected a ray of hope.
But when they had found out all about the plan of Sheng-pao’s mutual aid team for going into the mountains, all they could do was envy him. Their huts were scattered in every corner around the Kuan Canal and the upstream area. Their neighbors—tenant or semitenant farmers who had had a little bit of background in crop raising before—had gained or increased their holdings during the Land Reform, and this put them on an equal footing with the longer established middle peasants, whom they now imitated by devoting themselves to increasing their family wealth. They were only willing to join with their poverty-stricken neighbors in organizing seasonal, temporary mutual aid teams. They would not be like Sheng-pao, who put himself wholeheartedly into working for the common good.
Those twenty-odd men who had formerly suffered as hired hands or performed odd jobs for their livelihood were now together, discussing whether to form their own organization. “Let’s organize a group and get Kao to lead us!” lean and lanky Wang Sheng-mao suggested, his eyes shining with excitement.
“Where are our draft animals?” interjected short, fat Iron Lock Wang. “Let’s look before we leap!”
“We won’t use animals. People can pull the plows, all right?” said Li Chü-tsai enthusiastically.
Then Yang Ta-hai, a stern ruddy-faced farmer with little tolerance for careless talk spoke: “Nonsense! I’ve seen two people plowing dry land, but that won’t work in a paddy.”
“Then what can we do?” several people asked in a discouraged tone of voice.
“This is really a bad spring!” Kao gave a depressed sigh, “Let’s see what the Party members have to say.”
“Anyway, Chairman Mao won’t let anyone starve,” someone in back said with an unconcerned air. When they looked back they saw it was not one of them. It was Pai Chan-k’uei, a former corporal in the Nationalist Army. When had he come in?
While they had huddled close together, rubbing ragged shoulders with each other, to discuss the “two-man plowing” technique, there had been two other people in the schoolroom. Babbler Sun was crouched against the north wall, busily filling out forms by the lamplight so that Party Branch Secretary Lu could take them back to the township office when he went. Pai was sitting on the bench nearest the back door smoking a cheap black cigarette. Sure! That was him with that nonchalant expression on his narrow face.
With Little Ts’ai still sleeping in his arms, Kao turned to Pai, who had been an assistant squad leader in a supply company stationed at Huang-pao Town during the first stage of the War against Japan, and asked him, “Pai, when did you get back?”
“Yesterday,” Pai replied, puffing on his cigarette.
“On what business?”
“Collecting junk, as usual.”
“You gathered junk during the day. Where did you stay at night?”
“In a friend’s room.”
“The one who runs a junk shop. You think I have any high-class, distinguished friends?”
“What street in Sian does your friend live on?”
“Min-le Park.” Pai was still responding, but his expression had changed from unconcern to unhappiness. Clamping his cigarette between his fingers, he demanded angrily: “What do you mean, anyway, interrogating me like this? You aren’t a security officer, and you aren’t a militia commander, either!”
“I’m a People’s Representative,” Kao said calmly, with a stern expression on his face.
“You don’t represent the Upper Bank area, so you’ve no authority over me.”
“I’m representative for all of Hsia-pao Township!”
Two pairs of eyes locked in opposition. A cold, penetrating glare shot forth from Kao’s eyes and fixed itself on Pai’s gaunt, ashen face. “All right, forget it!” the group advised. “Why get angry over nothing?” But the People’s Representative, ever loyal to his social duties, didn’t consider this getting angry over nothing. He didn’t like a man of bad background, turned farmer late in life, mixing with his needy peasants year after year.
Before Liberation, when the Nationalists conscripted soldiers, and farmers could hire able-bodied men to take their places, Pai had “sold” himself five times. Each time recruits set out from the local division’s area he had been able to escape. After Liberation, during Land Reform, he had shown a madman’s zeal, but this former assistant squad leader had not been able at all to develop his talents in the new society. He had not reached his goal of becoming a village cadre.
This is the sort of “farmer” he was: In 1942, when the Nationalist troops stationed in Huang-pao Town had set out for the Chung-t’iao mountains in Shansi, his mistress, Turquoise, hid him until they were gone. Then he began to do odd jobs around Frog Flat. When setting up a grindstone he would put the shaft in backwards, as if the draft animal could push the grindstone with its head as it turned the mill! Once when he was plowing, he was not even aware when the plowshare dropped off. Finally, discovering what had happened, he had to dig through the whole field with his hands searching for the lost piece. Toward the end of the war against Japan, he drifted into selling himself into the army. After Liberation he brought home soybeans he had pulled up from the banks around his paddies and hung them, stalks and all, in the crotch of a tree in front of their hut. When the notoriously amorous Turquoise, by then his wife, wanted to cook some, she would take a stick and knock off as many as she needed. They had no children, so they went to the market in Huang-pao Town together and, just like “enlightened couples,” man and woman would sit together in a restaurant sharing mutton and steamed buns like equals. The previous winter when the Property Inventory Team had come to the village to check on implementation of Land Reform, it was Pai who had taken the megaphone from Babbler Sun and announced to the whole village, “It’s the second Land Reform! No need to go to the mountains now!” He had opposed having needy farmers go into the mountains for charcoal and wood after autumn planting and had agitated all over the village to have Yao Shihchieh and Kuo Shih-fu reclassified as landlords, since they were making more of a killing than the “slender” landlords in former days. Only after Kuo Chen-shan had given him a severe talking to did he begin to behave a bit better. He and his wife had been given four mu of land during Land Reform, though Kao felt that they weren’t real farmers. The soft full flesh of Turquoise’s cheeks was too much like the flesh of her rump!
Right must triumph over wrong! Pai’s droopy eyes retreated. Feigning contempt, he finally turned his head—upon which an old skullcap was perched—and faced another direction.
Kao pursued the spoils of victory: “I’m a township representative. Can’t I ask you questions? You’ve collected junk in Sian, and now, since it’s not planting time, or harvest, either, just what did you come back for?”
“Is that any business of yours?” Aroused once more, Pai glared with his heavy-lidded eyes at Kao.
“Whether it is or not,” said Kao, “I’m asking you. You mean I can’t ask?”
Humpbacked old Jen stood up. He plucked the pipe from his whiskered mouth, smiled and spoke, emitting a spray of saliva. “The truth, now! I’m not too blind to figure this one out! Pai, while you were in Sian you must have figured it was time to start maneuvering for new Incentive grain loans here. Right? Tell us!” Pai laughed through his tobacco-stained teeth. “There’ll be no loans this year,” said Jen. “You’ve come for nothing.”
“Even if there were grain loans, you wouldn’t get any, Pai,” said Kao without a trace of sympathy. “Feeding you last year and the year before was a real mistake. How do you qualify as a needy peasant? At the market you’ve nothing better to do than stuff yourself at restaurants.”
Pai could stand no more. His well-trained, agile body sprang to a standing position. The group thought he was about to have it out with Kao, but he stalked out of the room instead. The sound of his swearing came in from the courtyard: “Little bastard’s getting big for his britches! What kind of a people’s rep ... !” The rest of what he said was cut off by the closing gate.
Kao was so angry that sparks shot forth from his eyes. It was all too obvious that he was the one being sworn at. He wanted to set out in pursuit, but he had Little Ts’ai sleeping against his chest. And the others advised him that there was no need to go up against someone of Pai’s type. Furthermore, even though Pai wasn’t a village cadre, after Liberation in movement after movement he had followed right behind the most active elements. He had been fearless, had moments of genuine enthusiasm and borne his share of hardships. But Kao was unconvinced. He said, “That fellow is no damn good! Two years ago when he got a grain loan, what did he say? ‘We ate at the landlords’ expense during Land Reform and at the rich and middle peasants’ expense with the grain loans.’ You can tell that when he took out that loan he had no intention whatsoever of repaying it. We can’t let him mix in among us and pretend he’s a needy peasant. And so what if he wasn’t accepted as a village cadre? If he got accepted as a cadre, I’d quit being one!” Kao’s responsible attitude aroused real admiration in the group. No matter how desperate his circumstances became, he remained upright and pure, like the white poplars along the T’ang River, which towered above all the elms, willows, and thorny locusts, their branches brushing the white clouds softly floating in the blue sky. By tacit consent he had become the representative figure of these needy farmers, and they were watching him to see how he got through the spring food scarcity, hoping then to follow his lead.
Time began to weigh on these farmers, and they became restless. Outside, over by the alfalfa field, Secretary Lu was still talking with Kuo Chen-shan. What were they saying? Were they thinking of how to call another meeting, or giving up on the grain loans, or thinking of another way to help the needy farmers? No! The two Party members over in the clover field had no solution other than grain loans and mutual aid teams. Their superiors had repeatedly stressed using certain funds only for certain purposes and would not allow agricultural loan funds earmarked for the promotion of seven-inch plows, “Liberation” model water wheels, chemical fertilizers, and insecticides to be lent to needy peasants so that they could buy grain. Such loans would violate policy, damage agricultural production, and bring charges of improper and illegal conduct against the perpetrators. The small relief fund had been established only for pitiful old people who through a sudden stroke of fate had lost their entire means of support. They were considered separately. There were only a couple such cases in the village, while there were ten times that number of needy families. How could relief funds be used to solve the problem? No, solutions would have to be devised in terms of more production.
Kuo Chen-shan’s robust body loomed large in the shadows of the clover field. His whiskered cheeks were taut, and his teeth ground together in hatred toward Yao Shih-chieh and Kuo Shih-fu, two bastions of “go-it-alone” forces, one looming on the east side of the Kuan Canal, the other on the west. He was saying that if these bastions could not be stormed and taken, it would threaten his authority, and it would endanger every future project in all the five villages of Hsia-pao Township.
“If we could only get them to the meeting,” said Chen-shan disconsolately to Secretary Lu, “I’d be able to solve this. The masses are with me, not them. A few words from this mouth of mine and they’d have to come up with some grain. And I’m not bragging either! Who’d have guessed that those two stick-in-the-muds would be slipperier than eels and not come to the meeting at all!”
Kuo Chen-shan stood hulking in the field, smacking his work-hardened hands together in anger. Two feet away, facing him with a flashlight in hand, was Secretary Lu. As he listened the expression on his wrinkled face betrayed disapproval of this monologue by Kuo Chen-shan. The Communist standing there in a gray padded uniform jacket was Hsia-pao Township’s most uncompromising character, despite his unobtrusive manner. Even when work went successfully, Lu did not boast about the part he himself had played. Only those who wanted to cover up their failings when work went badly would boast. As Party branch secretary for Hsia-pao Township, he dealt with many people and had ample experience in observing this sort of person.
Lu was the same age as Kuo Chen-shan, but smaller and rather ordinary in appearance. Though his uniform was quite distinct from farmer’s clothing, he could not alter his rustic appearance—thick hands, large feet, arms and legs sinewy from work, a curved back, and shoulders rounded from the carrying pole. China has millions upon millions of this sort of comrade. Whether they dress in coarse woolen clothing, generals’ uniforms, or even field marshal’s attire, they are still affable, straightforward, and entirely without affectation, men who stay close to the masses.
Secretary Lu chuckled quietly and said with frankness: “Chen-shan! Let’s not get bogged down on Yao Shih-chieh and Kuo Shih-fu. If they were more progressive, what would be left for us Communists to do? Take a closer look at what you yourself have done. For example, after we held two meetings at the township level to set things up, you failed to do thorough groundwork here. You’re being lax, Comrade, and you’re not taking suggestions made at the township level seriously enough. If you had mobilized some ordinary middle peasants who have a few pecks of grain to lend out by talking to them individually, we never would have been caught in this stalemate, would we? Chen-shan, this won’t do! From now on you must work harder and more painstakingly.”
Kuo blew a long breath out through his hairy nostrils. “Ai! Lu, old friend, you can’t clap with just one hand, you know! There are only two of us Communists in Frog Flat, and our comrade Sheng-pao is so wrapped up in production that he ignores politics. When the first meeting was called, he was off in Kuo-hsien buying rice seeds, so young Huan-hsi came to listen in. After he came back he didn’t even contact me. That little rascal has gotten a bit arrogant since he joined the Party—”
Secretary Lu could not listen any longer. He spoke to this man, with whom he was on good enough terms to joke and tease, with considerable bluntness. “Ai-ya-ya! My dear Bomber [Kuo Chen-shan’s nickname], your thinking is getting moldy! Even after the Party Rectification Campaign you say that cooperative farming has nothing to do with politics! Have you forgotten what Secretary Wang said at last winter’s Huang-pao Township Party Branch meeting? Simply getting grain quotas delivered, continuing to issue agricultural loans, filling in statistical forms, writing introductions for people taking cases to court, witnessing applications for marriage certificates—that’s not dynamic political activity. We Party members are often told not to get bogged down in administrative details, but to organize the masses and lead them in production. You should make a clear distinction between production by mutual aid teams and the go-it-alone variety. You say that Sheng-pao ignores politics and doesn’t contact you? Well, you should take the initiative in helping him!”
A fine sweat broke out on the bridge of Kuo’s nose, and his whiskery face turned red. His group was called a mutual aid team, but in actuality it was the private, “go-it-alone” form of production. Even in the darkness, Secretary Lu could detect his embarrassment.
Kuo stood speechless for a long time. With his large, coarse hands he rubbed the stubble-covered face under his skullcap, hoping thereby to control the feverishness he felt in his head. As he finished rubbing his face, he finally—thank heavens!—thought of a position he could take to cover his failings. “Lu,” Kuo began, in a voice oozing patriotism, “I think that when our country declared an end to Land Reform, it was quite a mistake, wasn’t it?”
“Ever since it ended, Yao Shih-chieh and Kuo Shih-fu have been on their way up again. In ordinary farmers’ homes at New Year’s and other festivals, they put food on the offering table for their ancestors’ spirits. The rest of the time they worship the deed to their land. That makes it hard to get projects going.”
“Then how would you do it? Have Land Reform every year? Get rid of all the middle peasants? Pull everyone down to the same level?”
“Look, you! Do you think I don’t understand anything about policy? I’m not saying we should have Land Reform once a year, but we shouldn’t declare Land Reform ended, either.”
“So we can keep the whole countryside nervous?”
“Actually only the wealthy and well-to-do middle peasants would be nervous.”
“Ordinary middle peasants wouldn’t be nervous?”
“Well, they’d be nervous, but it wouldn’t interfere with production.”
“And would you keep the masses of poor farmers up in the air about the situation, unable to plan their next step forward?”
Quick-tongued Kuo Chen-shan was left without words. Controlling his anger, Secretary Lu admonished Kuo in a voice that was sharply critical yet more concerned than hostile. “Comrade! Don’t start finding fault with the Party Central’s line. We should take a closer look at how we ourselves are carrying out our work and whether our thinking has become corrupted. When you were peddling earthenware you travelled to a lot of places and saw a lot more than most farmers. But there’s a distance of heaven and earth between your experience—mine, too, for that matter—and that of our comrades in the Party Central. We’ve seen pictures of Marx and Lenin so often that their faces are familiar to us. But just what did they actually say? Do you know? You don’t? Well, let’s take an honest look at ourselves. I’ve heard that you’ve had some business dealings with Han Wan-hsiang, who has the brick and tile kiln by North Gate in Huang-pao Town. You should remember who you are!”
“Who said I’ve had dealings with Han Wan-hsiang?” Kuo was getting tense and angry.
Secretary Lu calmly and patiently explained: “If you’ve had no dealings there’s no cause for alarm. Now go to the classroom and announce that the needy peasants should go home. Tell them that after every village in the Township has met we’ll discuss possible solutions. Go on, now. I have a padded jacket and you don’t. Be careful you don’t get chilled.”
“Who said I had dealings with Han Wan-hsiang?” Kuo persisted, ignoring the chill in the air.
“We’ll talk about that later. Don’t keep the needy peasants waiting!”
“No! I have to know who’s spreading stories about me!”
“Don’t worry! The Party Branch Office will get to the bottom of these stories about business dealings. Go adjourn the meeting now!” As he spoke, Secretary Lu flashed his light down a small path that led through the clover field, and, snuggling his padded jacket around his shoulders, he stalked off angrily.
Kuo handed an unexpected disappointment to the needy peasants who had such hope in him. He ran up to the classroom door, hastily announced cancellation of the meeting, and then ran off after Secretary Lu. He didn’t even pause to pick up the form Babbler Sun had filled out. He wanted to find out just who in the township office was putting him in a bad light.
After Babbler Sun had taken the kerosene lamp away, the poor farmers gathered around Liang Sheng-pao in the darkness of the schoolyard. Several abruptly demanded that Sheng-pao’s mutual aid team be expanded. This caught Sheng-pao unprepared, and he stood surrounded by his shabbily clothed neighbors, rubbing the back of his neck with his hand, a forced smile on his face. “Neighbors,” he said in embarrassment, “The mutual aid team has just gotten organized. This is my first year as team leader, too. Next year—let me work at it for a year, and next year if you think I do my work well enough, we’ll talk again. I’m young and untrained, so I’m afraid I might get everyone into a bad fix.”
“We’ve got eyes. You did a good job buying the rice seeds,” said Li Chü-ts’ai.
“Don’t just be nice to the few neighbors around you,” smiled tall, lean Wang Sheng-mao.
“Our huts may be far away, but our paddies are right next to yours!” said the solemn-faced Yang Ta-hai.
Sheng-pao really felt awkward. He felt closer to this group of people than he did to his own family. He was afraid that if he went ahead and took them into his team there would be too many to manage. Also, if he took several new members who had no draft animals into his team, working power would become a problem. No, it simply wouldn’t do. He remembered the experience shared at the county meeting by Wang Tsung-chi, model peasant from Ta-wang Village, Tou-pao District: “To become good, mutual aid teams should be small at first.” He couldn’t be brash and begin something without a firm foundation. But, looking at it from another angle, he felt deep sympathy for these needy peasants who had weak draft animals—or none at all—and who could not plow and plant unless they teamed up with someone else. Their middle-peasant neighbors—former tenant or semitenant farmers—traded their draft animals’ force for manpower in the seasonal mutual aid teams, getting real benefit from the bargain. During the slack time that followed planting these needy peasants became frantic with idleness, yet no one organized them to earn supplementary income. Thus they were unable to shed the label of “needy peasant,” and every spring they ran short of food. Their demand not only aroused Sheng-pao’s sympathy, it awakened his sense of obligation as a Communist to help the masses through their difficulties as well. He felt it would be shameful to sneak away from this group of men in ragged clothes.
“Yu-wan!” he shouted.
“Hey!” answered Feng Yu-wan from the darkness behind the group.
“Yu-wan, come here,” said Sheng-pao. “Let’s discuss whether we can revise this plan of ours.”
Sheng-pao and Yu-wan had taken advantage of the time before the meeting to take Iron Man Kuo into a corner behind the schoolroom and talk him into lending two tan of grain to needy peasants in his election ward. This would allow those neighbors who were in dire straits to keep feeding their families for the time being, while they helped with the shipment of brooms, to be made from bamboo cut by the team, out of the mountains by Sheng-pao’s mutual aid team. Now Sheng-pao was thinking of changing his plan. He could have those who were originally going to carry brooms cut bamboo for handles instead. Then another group could do the carrying. This way all the needy peasants in the village could be helped, and part of the problem at hand could be solved.
“Where will the new group get food for their families?” Yu-wan asked doubt-fully.
“We’ll think of a way!” Sheng-pao thought hard. Then he said again, even more emphatically: “I’ve got a way! As soon as we commit ourselves to delivery of the brooms, the marketing co-op will give us an advance. They won’t make us wait until we’ve delivered a certain number of brooms to get the cash. No, a community project like the co-op will be more flexible than that. So if we do it this way, the food shortage won’t be nearly as bad, and that’ll give us a chance to think of our next step.”
As they heard Sheng-pao and Yu-wan talk, the group began to bubble with happy excitement. With Sheng-pao lifting their crushing burdens, they suddenly felt free and light. In the light of the newly risen moon they gazed steadily at Sheng-pao’s full face with joyful, grateful eyes. They felt like embracing him and kissing his face. There was such a good and sympathetic heart beating in his breast!
Each group member wanted to be first to join in:
“So will I!”
“You’ve got to take me!”
The school yard suddenly bustled with life and activity. Kao Tseng-fu, his tattered sleeves around a newly awakened Little Ts’ai, stood in the midst of the group, advising them to quit trying to outdo one another. Though he kept a calm exterior, he felt deeply moved. Like a spirited horse who sees another horse dashing away, he could not contain his own impulse to run forward. Seeing Sheng-pao’s courage in doing what he knew to be right left a loyal, sincere man like Kao Tseng-fu so inspired that he trembled. With Little Ts’ai still in his arms, he nudged Sheng-pao, saying, “Sheng-pao, let me organize the men from the Kuan Canal area to carry brooms. You just handle the bamboo-cutting group.”
The group voiced unanimous support for this, but Sheng-pao asked, “With Little Ts’ai tying you down, will you be able to go into the mountains?”
“You don’t need to worry,” Kao replied. “Don’t worry about whether I can go into the mountains. That’s my problem and I can solve it best myself. You just organize your bamboo cutters, and I’ll take care of transportation!”
On the way home, Old Jen the Fourth let out sigh after sigh.
“Fourth Uncle,” said Sheng-pao, “What’s on your mind?”
“I’m thinking that you’re young and full of imagination,” Old Jen said, emitting his usual spray of saliva. “Taking on a project as ambitious as this—are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
Sheng-pao spread his hands wide, and with an expression so full of grief he seemed about to cry, he said, “What could I do? Seeing those needy peasants about to starve was real torture for me. If a Communist didn’t take care of them, who would?”
[The failure of Kuo Chen-shan to get grain loans for the needy peasants encourages the well-to-do middle peasant Kuo Shih-fu and his rich peasant crony Yao Shih-chieh to become bolder in cultivating disaffection among members of Chen-shan and Sheng-pao’s teams. Chen-shan, though frustrated in his attempt to build up personal property—as a Communist his business activities are curtailed—dares not leave the Party, his only protection against retaliation from the enemies he made during Land Reform.
One day news comes that a competing mutual aid team has become self-reliant through a bamboo-cutting expedition. Feeling encouraged and challenged, Sheng-pao’s team sets out for the mountains. They leave young Jen Huan-hsi behind to work with an agronomist who will arrive while the team is gone. The bamboo-cutting project is beset with hardship and danger—one member is hurt—but the group remains in high spirits and works harmoniously. By contrast, back in the village the visiting agronomist finds jealousy, mutual suspicion, and general noncooperation among the middle peasants, who bully and harass Jen Huan-hsi as he carries out his duties.
In his relation with Kai-hsia, Sheng-pao is a sterling model of Communist dedication but a rather reluctant suitor. Their romance almost bursts into flame late one balmy evening but ends on a tentative note after duty and devotion quickly reassert themselves.
Things are going well at the end of Volume One, with Liang Sheng-pao’s ascendency as a leader established, the road toward self-sufficiency found for poor peasants, and the beginnings of improved agricultural productivity—the fast-growing seeds—introduced. The problems, though attacked successfully, are far from solved. Loose ends are left dangling, to be picked up and woven into Part Two, which deals with the next stage of agricultural collectivization, the establishment of agricultural cooperatives.]
Translated by William B. Crawford
When Chao Hsün finished his Homecoming in 1958, the Hundred Flowers thaw had already been chilled again and Party authorities promptly suppressed the manuscript. Two years later the antirevisionist movement was building toward another flood crest; the Party-directed editors of the Drama Monthly printed the play with a call for criticism to identify the “serious errors” in the author’s line of thinking. Criticism indeed followed, in a series of denunciations attacking Chao Hsün for his failure to depict a single positive character in the entire four-act play, in which even the veteran Communist cadre, a rehabilitated People’s Liberation Army officer, wavers when faced with a broken home and the chaos in a supposedly liberated village. The work, the critics claimed, was intended to expose the dark side of the new socialist society.
Homecoming fed the fire of the 1960 literary purge, but Chao Hsün returned to public life in the spring of 1978 after the downfall of the Gang of Four.
[This is a play in four acts, five scenes, a prologue, and an epilogue.
The prologue opens on a mountain trail, whereT’UNG SHU-LAN, a middle-aged village woman, reminisces with the old village head,WAN PAO-SHAN. T’UNG has married MA HSING-WANG, her former husband’s brother, because her husband, MA HSING-KUO, was reported killed in Red Army action nearly twenty years ago.WAN says he has just heard about an old Red Armyman returning to the village and wonders who he could be. A little later MA HSING-KUO enters and passes by T’UNG, nearly rubbing shoulders with her, but they do not recognize each other.]
That evening, immediately following the prologue. At MA HSING-WANG’S house. On stage one sees the living room of his home, in which there are several pieces of rustic furniture. In the center are the ancestral tablets and the tablet of “Heaven, Earth, Emperor, Parents, and Teacher.” One door leads outside; one side door leads to the bedroom; another side door leads to the kitchen. MA HSING-WANG and TIAO SHIH-KUEI are hiding grain. SHIH-KUEI is standing waist-deep in a hole in the ground, and HSING-WANG is bringing the grain to him bag by bag.
TIAO SHIH-KUEI how much more is there?
MA HSING-WANG Only these two bags.
TIAO SHIH-KUEI Come on, hurry up, there’ll be people coming soon. (HSING-WANG gives him a bag. Someone knocks on the door. The knocking becomes more and more insistent)
SUN ER-NIANG ( Calling from outside) It’s just gotten dark. What are you two doing in there?
TIAO SHIH-KUEI Sun Er-niang is here. Hurry! Hurry! (HSING-WANG gives SHIH-KUEI the last bag)
TIAO SHIH-KUEI Don’t let her know I ’m here. (SHIH-KUEI crouches down in the hole. HSING-WANG puts the cover on the hole, places some things on top of it, and goes to open the door)
SUN ER-NIANG My God! It sure was hard to get you to open the door! What are you doing behind a locked door?
MA HSING-WANG It’s dark, why shouldn’t the door be shut? What do you want, Er-niang?
SUN ER-NIANG Look, HSING-WANG, can the price be raised on that deal you were talking about?
MA HSING-WANG The price is set. I’m only in this for other people. The price is a lot higher than the government’s standard price.
SUN ER-NIANG HOW you talk! If I weren’t out for a little profit, would I be taking this risk? If I’m caught, then I’ll be charged with selling grain on the black market, instead of selling it to the government as surplus.
MA HSING-WANG go sell it as surplus then! It’s an honor and the price is high too.
SUN ER-NIANG All right, you win. I’ll sell it to you. (SHIH-KUEI knocks on the cover from underground)
SUN ER-NIANG What is under there?
MA HSING-WANG A rat, a really fierce rat.
SUN ER-NIANG That creature steals your grain. You’d better get a cat right away.
MA HSING-WANG I advise you to sell, Er-niang. The price isn’t low. Really, in a couple of days they’re going to check very carefully, and you won’t be able to sell even if you want to.
SUN ER-NIANG YOU people are really something. All right, it’s a deal, as long as it’s cash on delivery—not a minute late in payment.
MA HSING-WANG There won’t be any mix-up. You won’t be shortchanged a single cent.
SUN ER-NIANG Then it’s settled. You go and get it.
MA HSING-WANG Okay! But you shouldn’t talk about this matter with anyone else, because if it leaks out, we’ll lose both our lives and money.
SUN ER-NIANG you don’t need to say that. I know I talk too much, but not about everything—for heaven’s sake! (SHIH-KUEI sneezes underground)
SUN ER-NIANG What’s that? That rat again? Your rat isn’t afraid of people.
MA HSING-WANG Yes ... yes, it’s the rat. I ’ll get a cat right away. You go on home. I ’ll go and get a cat this evening. No ... no, I ’ll go and get the grain at your house.
SUN ER-NIANG You’re really sharp! In a few days, Hsing-wang, you’re going to be very rich.
MA HSING-WANG Yes, but I wish the money’d stay with me though. I ... (Realizing that SHIH-KUEI has been shut up underground too long) You’d better go!
(ER-NIANG still doesn’t want to leave. She wants to ask about something else, but HSING-WANG finally gets her out tl\e door. SHIH-KUEI has been continually pounding on the underside of the cover. HSING-WANG comes back and takes the cover off the hole)
TIAO SHIH-KUEI God! You almost suffocated me! How come you got started with her on cats and rats and everything else at a time like this!
MA HSING-WANG She wouldn’t leave.
TIAO SHIH-KUEI The tongues of people like her are too loose. Don’t get too involved with them in the future.
MA HSING-WANG She looked me up.
TIAO SHIH-KUEI And besides, people like Ta Lao-niu are so poor that even an oil press can’t squeeze a drop out of them. Why did you loan grain to him?
MA HSING-WANG That day his wife was here crying her heart out ...
TIAO SHIH-KUEI And you felt sorry for her? We’re not running a charity.
MA HSING-WANG They’re willing to pay interest ...
TIAO SHIH-KUEI Look, don’t capsize the whole damn boat trying to catch the big one. We don’t want to do it that way anyway. Let’s get this grain off our hands immediately. This time we’ll double our money.
MA HSING-WANG Okay, let’s get this batch together and go.
TIAO SHIH-KUEI By the way, Hsing-Wang, you see that this is such a good business, how come you don’t chip in on it?
MA HSING-WANG Where could I get the money?
TIAO SHIH-KUEI Well, Shu-Ian has ...
MA HSING-WANG She doesn’t have cash.
TIAO SHIH-KUEI If she has valuables, that works just the same.
MA HSING-WANG She probably has several bolts of cloth.
TIAO SHIH-KUEI Cloth is all right too!
MA HSING-WANG I’ll see when she comes home. She’s tight-fisted.
TIAO SHIH-KUEI Okay, I’m going. Lao Chu will be here in a moment. We’ll go to make contact together. Put that cover back on and make sure it looks all right. (Takes a look) Hm! Is this place safe?
MA HSING-WANG Don’t worry, everyone knows I haven’t got a cent to my name. Who would imagine that I have grain stored in my home?
TIAO SHIH-KUEI YOU still ought to be careful. (Exits quickly) (HSING-WANG covers up the hole and arranges things on top of it. SHU-LAN enters carrying firewood)
MA HSING-WANG Why haven’t you cooked dinner yet?
T’UNG SHU-LAN I went to cut firewood. You’ve just been sitting here doing nothing. Couldn’t you start a fire?
MA HSING-WANG Shu-lan, I happen to have something I want to talk to you about.
T’UNG SHU-LAN (Picking up some wild vegetables) Would you sort these wild vegetables?
MA HSING-WANG Are we going to have that wild vegetable mush again?
T’UNG SHU-LAN If we don’t eat that, what will we eat? You haven’t gotten rich ...
MA HSING-WANG Listen, we have a chance to get rich now. There’s a business deal, an extremely profitable deal, but we are short of capital. Could you contribute some money?
T’UNG SHU-LAN Where do I get the money?
MA HSING-WANG You’ve been spinning and weaving all year. Isn’t that money?
T’UNG SHU-LAN It’s all gone for the grain we ate.
MA HSING-WANG you don’t mean to tell me you are that generous—letting us eat it all up? Don’t be pig-headed. If you give it to me, I’ll guarantee that within a month you’ll have two bolts for every one.
T’UNG SHU-LAN This time I’m not going to be fooled.
MA HSING-WANG But this time won’t be like the other times, I guarantee ...
T’UNG SHU-LAN NO matter what you say, I don’t have the money. (Wants to go)
MA HSING-WANG Don’t go. Tell me, where is the cloth you wove?
T’UNG SHU-LAN I don’t have any, I tell you.
MA HSING-WANG All right, since you won’t tell me, I ’ll go look for it myself. (Goes into the bedroom)
T’UNG SHU-LAN HSING-WANG, don’t mess things up. (Exits with him) (A rummaging noise comes from the bedroom)
T’UNG SHU-LAN (From the bedroom) What are you doing? I can’t give it to you ... I can’t.
(HSING-WANG comes out of the bedroom carrying two bolts of cloth and some yarn on the bobbin. SHU-LAN comes on stage, clutching at him)
T’UNG SHU-LAN I won’t give it to you no matter what. I worked hard to scrape up a little, and you squander it.
MA HSING-WANG Let go! Let go! Or else I ’ll get rough.
T’UNG SHU-LAN Give me back my cloth ... give me back my cloth.
MA HSING-WANG Goddamn you! (Forcefully throws her off. SHU-LAN falls down, then gets up again and runs straight at HSING-WANG, but is kicked away by him. HSING-WANG smugly exits. SHU-LAN lies on the ground weeping. The more she thinks about it, the more hurt she feels. Finally she bursts out wailing. HSING-KUO appears at the door. He halts there and looks around for a long time)
MA HSING-KUO Is this the home of Ma Hsing-wang? (SHU-LAN is crying sadly with her head bowed. She neither sees nor hears him)
MA HSING-KUO (After a while) Is this Ma Hsing-wang’s house? (This time HSING-KUO’S voice is a little louder, and he comes a step closer. SHU-LAN raises her head and looks at him with tear-filled eyes)
T’UNG SHU-LAN Who are you looking for? (Seeing that he seems to be a soldier, she is somewhat surprised)
MA HSING-KUO I’m looking for Ma Hsing-wang’s house.
T’UNG SHU-LAN (Seeing that a soldier has come to look for MA HSING-WANG, she wonders what he has done wrong now) He’s not home. Why are you looking for him?
MA HSING-KUO Not for anything in particular. (Puts down his backpack) I’m ...
T’UNG SHU-LAN (Sensing something) Who are you?
MA HSING-KUO I’m his brother—Ma Hsing-kuo.
T’UNG SHU-LAN Oh! (Shocked, she steps back)
MA HSING-KUO Who are you? You’re not ...
T’UNG SHU-LAN I’m Shu-lan.
MA HSING-KUO Shu-lan, it really is you! (He steps forward, eagerly trying to embrace her)
T’UNG SHU-LAN Hsing-kuo! (Steps back) Is it really you?
MA HSING-KUO Yes, I ’ve come back.
T’UNG SHU-LAN Are you ... a ghost, or a person?
MA HSING-KUO Look (Laughing) , how could I be a ghost?
T’UNG SHU-LAN (Comes forward) Even if you’re a ghost, I ’m not afraid. I know you’re dead. You sacrificed your life for the revolution. Everyone says so. I just don’t believe ...
MA HSING-KUO Well, they’ve misinformed you.
T’UNG SHU-LAN Hsing-kuo, I know that you saw I’ve been suffering, I’ve been miserable, and you came to comfort me.
MA HSING-KUO I’m not a ghost; I ’m alive!
T’UNG SHU-LAN Even if only your spirit could come back and have a talk with me, my heart would be very comforted. Whenever I saw you in my dream, you never looked as real as today. Come closer, I want to take a good look at you.
MA HSING-KUO Take a good look and see if I ’m a ghost or a person.
T’UNG SHU-LAN (Turning up the lamp wick) Yes, you’re alive, not a ghost. Ghosts don’t have shadows.
MA HSING-KUO If I were a ghost, I wouldn’t have come back.
T’UNG SHU-LAN Hsing-kuo, this isn’t a dream?
MA HSING-KUO It’s not a dream, it’s real.
(T’UNG SHU-LAN bites her hand hard)
MA HSING-KUO What are you doing? Shu-lan ...
T’UNG SHU-LAN (Her hand is bleeding) My God!
MA HSING-KUO (Abruptly grabs her hand) It’s all bloody. What’s wrong with you? Shu-lan!
T’UNG SHU-LAN This isn’t a dream.
MA HSING-KUO, no it’s not a dream. It’s real.
T’UNG SHU-LAN You’ve come back alive! You’ve really come back! Hsing-kuo, I waited for you ... it was so hard to wait! (Falls on Hsing-kuo’s chest crying)
MA HSING-KUO (Also unable to restrain his tears) Shu-lan, you see we’re together again? You shouldn’t cry anymore; you should be happy.
T’UNG SHU-LAN Yes, I ought to be happy. (Raises her head and smiles tearfully) But I still can’t help crying. (Bursts out wailing)
MA HSING-KUO Then go ahead and cry to your heart’s content. Oh, I left you all at home for twenty years. You can never get through crying about that hardship.
T’UNG SHU-LAN Hardship—I wouldn’t know where to start talking about that, but things were bad for you too while you were away!
MA HSING-KUO It was both bitter and hard, but after all, we survived and we finally won the victory!
T’UNG SHU-LAN Victory! Hsing-kuo, do you remember when you left you said, “Shu-lan, someday we’ll fight our way back!”
MA HSING-KUO Today I ’ve fought my way back, but many of my comrades didn’t come back.
T’UNG SHU-LAN You’ve come back after all. You’re not leaving again, are you, Hsing-kuo?
MA HSING-KUO NO, I’m not leaving. We’ll be together forever. We’ll build socialism together in our home village.
T’UNG SHU-LAN Then these twenty years of hardships I’ve endured in your family haven’t been in vain after all.
MA HSING-KUO ( Looking around) Is this house new?
T’UNG SHU-LAN It was burned down three times by the Kuomintang. Afterwards we had to live in caves or ruined temples. The best places we had to live in were straw huts. After the liberation the government built these few rooms for us.
MA HSING-KUO Shu-lan, how is everybody in the family?
T’UNG SHU-LAN Dad passed away a long time ago. After you left, the White Troops often came to stir up trouble. They knew we were a Red Army family, so they arrested Dad and locked him up for quite a few months. He suffered a lot. They beat him until he almost died several times over. We had to pay to get him out, but he was already in terrible shape, and later he got sick and died.
MA HSING-KUO (After a moment lost in thought, he asks indignantly) And Older Sister? After Mother died, Older Sister became our mother. When we were little, she saw that we were fed and clothed; when we grew up, she urged us to join the revolution. At that time she was the head of the Women’s Organization of this area!
T’UNG SHU-LAN Older Sister just died about a month ago. Her coffin is buried in the patch in back.
MA HSING-KUO Older Sister suffered all her life. She managed to make it to the liberation, but she still didn’t live to see any happy days ...
T’UNG SHU-LAN Older Sister had to beg for food for more than ten out of the last twenty years. Whenever she got some food, she gave a mouthful to the old folks, a mouthful to the youngsters, and often went hungry herself. At that time it was hard to beg for food too! The landlord’s family wouldn’t give us any. Sometimes they would even curse us, and call us bandit women, or communist women, and spit in our faces.... The other poor people didn’t even have enough for themselves—how could they have any food to give us? Who knows how many times Older Sister cried about you. Afterwards, when she heard that you had died, she went blind from crying. When she was near death, she took my hand and told me never to leave the family. “If you leave, the whole family will disappear,” she said.
MA HSING-KUO ( Wiping away his tears) When I was away I often thought of her. I hurried home and yet I won’t even get to see her once. Mother brought eight children into this world, but there are only three of us left. What about Hsing-wang? Is he still okay?
T’UNG SHU-LAN For the first several years after Hsing-wàng returned from the Red Militia, he didn’t let out a peep. He just worked the fields, and behaved like a peasant. Later ...
MA HSING-KUO What happened later? He’s still alive, isn’t he?
T’UNG SHU-LAN He’s still alive, but his heart is dead.
MA HSING-KUO What?
T’UNG SHU-LAN He doesn’t want to work. All he wants is to get rich. Just now he cheated me out of two bolts of cloth.
MA HSING-KUO Does he live here?
T’UNG SHU-LAN Um hm.
MA HSING-KUO I heard he got married!
T’UNG SHU-LAN Uh hm. (Lowers her head)
MA HSING-KUO Does he have any children?
T’UNG SHU-LAN Yes ...
MA HSING-KUO Where is his wife?
(T’UNG SHU-LAN remains silent)
MA HSING-KUO (Realizing) Oh ...
T’UNG SHU-LAN Hsing-kuo, you mustn’t blame me ...
MA HSING-KUO NO, Shu-lan, I’ll never blame you. Twenty years ... I couldn’t expect you to remain a widow for twenty years.
T’UNG SHU-LAN NO, I could have waited for twenty years, or even longer, but they told me ... they fooled my by telling me ... (Starts to cry again)
(OLD VILLAGE HEAD hurriedly enters. SHU-LAN sees him coming and steps aside, wiping her tears)
WAN PAO-SHAN Hsing-kuo! Hsing-kuo! You’re really back. I was afraid that you were dead and that you wouldn’t come back!
MA HSING-KUO If I weren’t alive, how could I have come back? Old Chairman, how have you been?
WAN PAO-SHAN I’m an Old Ch’eng Yao-chin,28 getting old but still hanging on. I’ve made it through even the very worst. If I were meant to die, I would have died several times already, but I wasn’t meant to die. (Sees SHU-LAN SHU-LAN) Shu-lan, why are you still wiping tears? (Remembers) Oh, Hsing-kuo, you can’t mistreat Shu-lan. As a wife, she’s even more virtuous than Chao Wu-niang.t Really, if it hadn’t been for Shu-lan, your family wouldn’t be here. She and Hsing-wang ...
MA HSING-KUO I know all about her and Hsing-wang, and I don’t blame her at all.
WAN PAO-SHAN During those awful days, the White Troops were really inhuman. If they didn’t rape or slaughter our women here, they sold them. This child, Shu-lan, was determined, and for months and years on end she didn’t come home. She lived in a cave like an animal.
MA HSING-KUO That must have been awful for you, Shu-lan.
WAN PAO-SHAN A while back, there was a person from this village named Ch’in Le, who became separated from his outfit and came home. He said that he saw you get killed while crossing the great Snow Mountains and Grasslands. Many people urged Shu-lan to remarry, and Hsing-wang agreed with them. I thought that if she were with Hsing-wang she would still be in your family, and it would still be the same people. At first Shu-lan wasn’t willing. Afterwards, I had to come and urge her before she consented.
MA HSING-KUO Shu-lan has done nothing wrong to me or my family. If there’s any blame, I should take it for being very irresponsible toward Shu-lan and my family.
WAN PAO-SHAN you can’t be blamed either. If it weren’t for you—some of you sacrificed your families, some of you sacrificed your lives—how could there be a today for us? (To SHU-LAN SHU-LAN) Has Hsing-kuo eaten yet?
T’UNG SHU-LAN Ah, you see I’ve been talking so much. I even forgot to fix dinner ... (Exits)
MA HSING-KUO I’m not hungry ...
WAN PAO-SHAN Hsing-kuo, come here and let me take a good look at you. You have aged a lot, son, and gotten thinner. What’s this?
MA HSING-KUO A wound.
WAN PAO-SHAN Has it healed completely?
MA HSING-KUO Completely.
WAN PAO-SHAN Son, you soldiers suffered a lot away from home!
MA HSING-KUO Didn’t you often say that revolutions start with suffering but end in happiness?
WAN PAO-SHAN YOU still remember that. I also remember what you said when you were leaving: “I’m determined to fight to the finish for the revolution. If the revolution doesn’t succeed, I won’t be back.” You are quite a man; you kept your word. You really didn’t come home until the revolution succeeded!
MA HSING-KUO Old Chairman ...
WAN PAO-SHAN NOW I’m not the chairman of the village soviet anymore. I ’m the village head.
MA HSING-KUO It doesn’t make any difference whether you’re called Old Chairman or Old Village Head. After all, you’ve been taking care of this area for the past twenty years. (Takes a letter of introduction out of his backpack) Here, according to the regulations, is my letter of introduction for my rehabilitation.
WAN PAO-SHAN Don’t you think I can recognize you without any letter of introduction?
MA HSING-KUO It’s not that, Old Chairman. When I joined the Red Army, it was you who gave me a letter of introduction. Now that I’ve come back from the army, I’m giving you another letter of introduction. That’s leaving with everything in good order, and returning with everything in good order.
WAN PAO-SHAN you are the only one of the soldiers I was responsible for who had a round trip ticket! (Reads the letter) Hsing-kuo, it says in the letter that you were wounded seven times, and your health is not very good. Now that you’ve come home, your duty, I’m afraid, will be to take care of your health first!
MA HSING-KUO NO, I can still work. I started out as a hired hand, and even though I haven’t been doing it for such a long time I can still do some work in the fields.
WAN PAO-SHAN YOU fought for the people for twenty years and your health isn’t good. It’s not too much for you to rest for a while. The people can afford to take care of you!
MA HSING-KUO Old Village Head, if I had wanted to rest, I wouldn’t have come back from Yenan. If I didn’t do any work all day and just let our country take care of me, I’d get sick no matter how healthy I was.
WAN PAO-SHAN Although land reform has been carried out here, there was too much destruction during the war, and in this short time we haven’t been able to recover. We’ve got only a few people, but lots of rocky hills on our land. Life is still very hard now!
MA HSING-KUO I didn’t come back just to enjoy myself. There are still things I want to talk over with the county leaders. This letter of introduction is written to the county too. Do you think I should also make a trip to the county office?
WAN PAO-SHAN you don’t need to go. Just let us make contact and that’ll do. (Reads the letter) Oh, Hsing-kuo, so you were a Red Army regimental commander too! That’s not a low rank either.
MA HSING-KUO Old Chairman, from now on, please don’t ever tell anyone that I was a regimental commander.
WAN PAO-SHAN This isn’t a fake credential. It’s a national rank. You earned it with your heroic, life-and-death exploits. Why can’t I talk about it?
MA HSING-KUO What’s the point talking about being a regimental commander? I haven’t had a hoe in my hand for so many years. When I try to be a peasant again, I won’t be as good as other people. And there are also a lot of new cadres here. If you tell other people, they’ll think I’m showing off my old rank. It gets in the way of our work.
WAN PAO-SHAN Okay, we’ll keep it a secret for the time being, but when it’s necessary, we’ll announce it.
MA HSING-KUO This also involves my transfer to the Party unit here. When I go to the county to clear up my transfer, I will discuss my work assignment.
WAN PAO-SHAN Why worry about work? I’ve already arranged work for you. Why should it be a problem?
MA HSING-KUO, NO Old Chairman, I still do have problems.
T’UNG SHU-LAN (Enters) Dinner’s ready. How about if I serve it out here? Why don’t you have a snack here too, Old Village Head.
MA HSING-KUO Let’s eat in the kitchen.
WAN PAO-SHAN I’ve already eaten. Let’s talk while we eat. (The three of them exit together. After a while
HSIAO-SAN and his mother, HSIAO-SAN NIANG,*