The near famine of 1960-61 was officially blamed on a number of extraneous issues, such as the withdrawal of Russian aid after 1959 and a general lack of support for the Party’s policy, but never on the policy of the Great Leap Forward itself. Since Peking could not bring back Russian aid, the CCP turned to address the problem of creating the “new man,” totally selfless and dedicated to a common socialist ideal. The campaign was called the socialist education of the people.
But, as Shao Ch’üan-lin reminded us, the bulk of the population anywhere, at any time, tends to stay politically in the middle. There are neither heroes nor villains—just ordinary people with their faults and virtues. Shao was promptly condemned. Ch’en Yün’s play reflected the same theme by showing the difficulty of persuading youths to go to the countryside and stay there. They prefer urban amenities to the rigors of a frontier mining area. Ch’en Yün, too, was condemned. In Ou-yang Shan’s novel, the first part of his ambitious multivolume saga, the young intellectual hero of the 1920s showed interest in some bourgeois ladies, but, according to his critics, the typical underground Communist comrade, even in the 1920s, should have been class-conscious enough to reject such temptations. Li Ying-ju’s novel was greeted as a model of socialist literature when it first appeared in 1960, but now the critics found fault in its depiction of some Communist underground workers fighting against the japanese and Chinese traitors in the 1940s. Ma Feng had been enjoying great popularity with his proletarian stories, but the drive to root out the “middle characters” attacked his characterization of the hero in “I Knew Three Years Ago” as a satirical smear on the correct proletarian hero image.
Some writers, however, escaped the current round of condemnations. Liu Chen was left alone to present us with a beautiful portrait of two female characters: a wise older comrade and the brat of a “little red devil” whom she patiently brings up. Hu Wan-ch’un, later one of the literary henchmen of the Cultural Revolution in Shanghai, gave voice to an aging worker troubled by alienation, a subtle problem not usually recognized in socialist literature.
On the eve of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, the new literature, developed for over twenty years by two generations of trained writers, had reached a good measure of maturity. The following group of selections demonstrates that the harvest during this period was quite abundant—particularly in poetry, which had remained relatively free from controversy.
Ma Feng was born in Hsiao-yi, Shansi Province, to a poor peasant family. Before finishing his elementary school education, he joined the Communist anti-Japanese guerrilla forces at the age of sixteen. In 1943 he began writing for two newspapers in his home state. His first noted work, “The Story of Chang Ch’u-yüan” (1944), received a literary award. A year later came his novel The Heroes of the Lii-liang Mountains, which was organized episodically in the mode of the classical Chinese novel Water Margin. In 1949 Ma Feng was in Peking studying at the Central Literary Workshop directed by Ting Ling. During the next five years he worked for the Chinese writers organizations and published three collections of short stories on farm life. He returned to his home province in 1956 to assume the post of vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, Shansi branch.
The year 1958-59 was the most important period in Ma Feng’s literary life. All his earlier stories were considered lacking in depth. “I Knew Three Years Ago,” published first in Sparks (January 1958), marked the beginning of a new trend and style in his writings. His 1958-59 stories (published mostly in People’s Literature and Sparks) dealt with the new agrarian society, and in them he began to emphasize plot development and character depth, trying especially to avoid stereotypes. He stressed the importance of writing on contemporary Chinese life; he disagreed with those who followed any foreign style of writing and insisted on writing with a Chinese, local flavor.
However, during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, “I Knew Three Years Ago” became one of the prime targets for criticism because it exhibited the “middle-of-the-road characters” propounded by Shao Ch’iian-lin, who was under severe attack at the time. As a result, Ma Feng disappeared from the literary scene and was not cleared until 1973. By 1977, his new works began to appear. Among his well-known collections of short stories are Chin-pao’s Mother, Village Feud, and My First Superior.
Since its first publication in 1958, “I Knew Three Years Ago” has undergone some minor changes, which bear no significance to the story’s major theme or style. The following translation is based on a version published in A Bumper Crop of Short Stories (Peking, 1959). —L. D.
On my way to Chen Family Village, my mind rambled with thoughts of: “Have there been any changes during the four years since I’ve left it? Will my old friends still recognize me? And Uncle Chao, the stockman—how’s he doing?”
The autumn harvest was already at its end and the fields were a deep autumn color. I didn’t care to stop to enjoy the scenery but pedalled my bicycle hard so that I could fly to Chen Family Village in a flash.
After passing Red Bean Village, a newly built irrigation ditch appeared before me. From the distance, I saw three or four people along the bank busily working on something. As I got closer, I saw that they were patching up holes in the dike. Just as I was about to push my bicycle across the bridge, someone suddenly shouted to me, “Hey! Aren’t you Old Ma? I haven’t seen you in years!” He ran up to me, talking. I stopped.
The man was in his forties, slimly built with thin lips and a pointed chin. He wore a pair of old-fashioned, wire-rimmed dark glasses. His shoes, socks, and trouser legs were splattered with mud. He looked familiar; it seemed we’d met before but I just could not recall it at all. He reached me in three or four steps and shook my hand warmly. I asked him, “Is this a new ditch?”
“Yep. Today’s the first day we’re letting out the water,” he said. “Are you going to our village? Great! We’ll talk tonight then!” I racked my brains: he sounded like someone from Chen Family Village but who was he? What was his name? No matter how hard I tried, I just could not recall.
When I crossed the bridge and got on my bicycle, I heard him saying to the others, “Come on! Let’s check the eastern side again. I knew all along the new ditch would not. . .” I did not hear the rest; the moment I heard the four words, “I knew all along,” I immediately remembered—it was Chao Man-tun of the Chen Family Village Agricultural Cooperative. No wonder he looked so familiar! Whenever Chao Man-tun was mentioned, I would recall the many stories about him. He was really a character!
Chao Man-tun’s nickname was “I Knew Three Years Ago.” This phrase originated from a woodcut-printed farmer’s almanac decorated with a water buffalo in spring plowing. In the old days it was sold near the end of the year. It was commonly referred to as “I Knew Three Years Ago” because a three-year lunar calendar was also printed in this booklet. As to how Chao Man-tun got this for his nickname, there was a story behind it:
He was a smart cookie and really knew how to manage affairs for himself. He was very calculating and nobody could take advantage of him. When sowing in the springtime, he could tell whether it would be better to harvest millet or kaoliang for that year; if you wanted to engage in some small business during the slack season, he could tell whether it would be more profitable to sell fruits or vegetables. Although such speculations had no guarantee, they were eighty to ninety percent accurate.
He was alert, sociable, and knew more than the average, simple-minded farmer. Therefore he frequently loved to show off in front of people. No matter what others would say—be it about cows or horses, or national affairs, or even about such matters as physiognomy—he could always put in his line and keep talking about it. One would think he knew everything, but this was not so. Sometimes he pretended to be an expert on things and would exaggerate wildly, making things up in order to fool people. But sometimes he would slip and make a fool of himself.
One year, he was going home with a group of young men after having seen an opera at Red Bean Village, which was five li away. While on the road, they talked about the opera, The Wise Verdict of Judge Pao, and praised Pao for his fairness and for his iron-faced impartiality. In order to reveal how well-read he was, Chao Man-tun said, “Of course! If Judge Pao didn’t have such abilities, why would Emperor Ming of T’ang make him prime minister?”
They were overheard by Uncle Chao from behind. Now, Uncle Chao was well known as an opera fan and could be considered the historian in Chen Family Village. Although he had never read any history books, he had thoroughly memorized such historical romances as The Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, The Cases of Judge Pao, The Five Girls of Tang, and The Yang Family Generals. So, after he heard Chao Man-tun’s comments, he smiled and said, “Boy! That’s really great!—making a Sung dynasty man into a T’ang dynasty minister!”
When Chao Man-tun realized that he had been caught, he immediately defended himself, “So what? T’ang and Sung are not that far apart in time!”
Not only did Chao Man-tun love to hold “big discussions” occasionally, but he sounded as though he had foresight and as though everything turned out the way he had predicted. Whenever something went well, he’d always say, “I knew all along it would be so!” But if something went wrong, he’d say, “I knew all along it would turn out bad!” Eventually, the phrase, “I knew all along,” became his pet expression. So the people gave him that nickname.
“I Knew Three Years Ago” was the oldest member of the Chen Family Village Agricultural Cooperative. He voluntarily became a charter member when the agricultural cooperative was formed in the spring of 1951. Everyone thought it was strange, because the other eight charter members were either poor peasants or new middle peasants since the Land Reform of 1947-50, while Chao Man-tun had always been a middle peasant. Furthermore, when the village was in the process of forming an agricultural cooperative, he went around bad-mouthing it. Even up till the day before the eight families held their meeting, he was still saying to the people on the streets, “Even brothers split their homes. Now seven or eight families want to get together. See if they’re not looking for trouble!” But on the evening of the next day, at the inaugural meeting, he signed up to join.
At first everyone thought he was kidding, but later, when they saw him put his fingerprint on the application form and pull his mule and donkey to the co-op stable, they realized that he was serious. This became the talk of the village for a long time; no one knew what he was really up to. Later, they discovered the secret from his wife.
It seemed that Chao Man-tun took action to join, but not without pressure. Early on the day of the meeting, he received a letter from his brother, a soldier in the Liberation Army for several years, who had been urging Chao Man-tun to join the cooperative. This last letter was especially strong, concluding with, “If you do not join, we will split our family holdings and I will put my portion in the cooperative.” Chao Man-tun felt miserable the whole afternoon. After much thought, he decided that splitting the family holdings would be worse for himself. His wife and daughter were also urging him to join. So, gritting his teeth, he took the plunge—join!
Chao Man-tun’s membership gave the cooperative a lot of trouble. He was a senior but the most backward member. His tricks and connivances were unsurpassed. If you heard of them, you would not know whether to laugh or cry.
At first, the cooperative assigned him as the stockman because he had some experience with livestock. At the end of the War of Resistance in 1945, he bought a young donkey for three pecks of grain. It was no bigger than a calf and as skinny as a skeleton. All the villagers said it would not live, but in less than three years the donkey grew big and strong and even foaled. Afterwards, whenever someone mentioned it, Chao Man-tun would gloat and say, “I knew all along it would turn out like this. Raising livestock depends on hard work!” He certainly did a lot for his two animals; he was more patient and considerate with them than with his own children.
Everyone thought it was appropriate to let such a person be the stockman, but who could tell that trouble would come the moment he started to work there? Soon the following ditty appeared on the blackboard bulletin:
Cows, horses, donkeys, and mules complain,
A profit the stockman sure has made of them.
Mules and mares crowd together for feeding,
Kicking here and biting there in chaos;
The hay is unsieved, the feed uncooked,
The trough half full of hay and half of mud;
The pen is always unkempt,
And the torn harnesses unmended;
The co-op’s livestock, all skin and bones,
All need crutches to help them walk.
His own donkey and mule on another trough are fed,
Living as if in a palace;
With the best in hay and feed,
They’re plump and strong like tigers.
All are animals but treated differently,
As the sweet stay sweet and the bitter stay bitter.
Suffering like this,
Why not quit the co-op when there’s still time!
In less than half a year, the co-op members had much to say against him. Finally they held a meeting and subjected him to a good round of criticism. He was reassigned to be a cart-driver, and his two animals were assigned to pulling carts.
Everyone thought this would put him under control, but who was to know that this gave him an even bigger advantage? He would take the opportunity of delivering co-op grain to engage in some small business of his own. Today he’d bring some wine from the city and tomorrow some cigarettes. On the road, he would pick up passengers and pocket the fares. Once when he was sent to pick up charcoal that winter, he passed by a small town and found that they were selling suckling pigs at a cheap price. He had wanted for a long time to buy a sow, but he didn’t have any money with him that day. So, he used the cooperative’s charcoal money to buy a young sow for himself and returned with an empty cart. He told the co-op chairman, “The bridge outside the Li Family Town has collapsed and I couldn’t get through. I knew all along that this trip would be wasted!” But not long afterwards, the whole incident was investigated and the truth became known. The cooperative held a criticism meeting. Chao Man-tun was given a demerit and relieved of his post.
From then on, Chao Man-tun was to work in the fields, but then he turned to give the brigade leaders a lot of trouble. The co-op members wrote another ditty about this:
Chao Man-tun, a corrupt mind,
His work behavior, lazy.
When the work’s hard he feigns a tummy-ache,
But works on vegetables in his private plot.
He always picks the easy jobs,
Not caring for quality but for speed:
In three shovelfuls, he finishes a pile of fertilizer,
And the place remains a jungle where he says he has weeded.
More wheat is thrown away than gathered,
Don’t you think that’s weird?
If the co-op’s crops are poor
Then everyone will suffer because of you!
There was no end to Chao’s pickiness or tricks. The brigades also held meetings regularly to criticize him, but that didn’t help any. Chao Man-tun had two ways of handling criticism. One was to joke about it. For example, whenever everyone criticized him for coming to work late, he would not discuss it or talk back, but would say with a smile, “Ah! It’s obvious none of you have ever seen an opera. The best always comes on stage last!” Or he would take in everything, give no explanation, and stay calm. He would only say, “I agree completely.” But the moment he left the meeting, he would have a lot to say, “Huh! Me grabbing for work points! Who doesn’t want to earn a few more work-day credits? You keep saying the co-op is your family. Why don’t you labor just for the co-op then?” Or, “Even if gold grew from the ground, if you don’t earn any work-day credit, you could stare till your eyes pop out and still have no share in it!” He went to all three production brigades in the cooperative but no one wanted him. None of the brigade leaders could handle him and everyone called him “The Headache.” They also wrote a ditty about him:
“The Headache” knows only how to talk,
To receive criticism is like drinking cold water;
Always saying “I agree” at meetings,
But never changing or repenting.
When I was here in the autumn of 1953, in less than three days I heard many such stories about Chao Man-tun from the people, especially from Uncle Chao, the stockman. Whenever Chao Man-tun was mentioned he would angrily say, “It’s lucky that the co-op has only this one crafty devil. If there were more, then the whole country would certainly be in chaos!”
Later, when Chao Man-tun and I gradually became closer, I felt that this person was not as bad as others had said. I worked with him, cutting corn and breaking clods in the fields. He was full of energy when he worked. If he saw even just a little piece of a cob left on a stalk he would pull it off and put it in a pile. He was more meticulous than the young people. There was something else unique about him—he loved to talk and have fun. He was almost forty but he still liked to fool around with young people. When working together with him, you would not feel a bit tired. He always made everyone laugh and the day would be over before you knew it. I was quite bothered: Was he actually putting up a front for me? Or were Uncle Chao’s remarks not true?
One night, I was talking about Chao Man-tun with Chen Ming-shan, the co-op chairman, and Chen said, “This person used to be very backward. There’s not a bit of exaggeration in what everyone says about him. During the first two years he belonged to the cooperative, he was dying to see it fall apart. But he’s progressed quite a bit this half year. Good or bad, he’s an old member of three years’ standing. Even a piece of cold stone warms up after you’ve carried it next to your skin for three years!”
Hu Feng-ying, Chao Man-tun’s wife, also said he had changed recently. I was once assigned to eat with them at their house. The house was not too big but it was complete—the living quarters, the horseshed, the pigpen, the goatpen, and the outhouse—nothing was lacking. The house was neat and orderly. His wife, tall and plump, was almost the same age as Man-tun. She also loved to talk and have fun. They had a son going to elementary school in a small town and an unmarried daughter.
I was a bit late that night because I had some business at the cooperative. Man-tun had already finished dinner and had gone to the fields. While eating, I chatted with the wife. I don’t remember how, but we got onto the subject of her husband. She said, “You’ve probably heard people say that he’s the famous backward member of the co-op, haven’t you?”
I nodded with a smile and she continued, “He was even more backward when he first joined the co-op that year. Every time he came home he would curse the co-op. ‘Who in blazes came up with this damn thing! Even our Number Two Brother has joined the devil, forcing us to hell!’ He talked about these things even in his dreams. Once he shouted, ‘Save a little every day and next year we’ll buy another two mu of land. ’ I woke him up and asked him what he was talking about. He sighed, ‘Aw! What the hell can you buy?’ At the time, he had joined the co-op but his heart was not in it. Afterwards, whenever the co-op held meetings to criticize him, he would come home to take it out on me.”
She paused and then said, “It’s much better now. For the past few years, our share at the end of the year has never been less than what we would get if we worked on our own. This has put his mind at ease. Nowadays, he only adds up his work points every few days. He hasn’t been criticized for a long time.”
Listening to his wife, I knew Chao Man-tun had really progressed. But shortly afterwards—a few days before I was to leave—Chao Man-tun got into trouble again. Autumn harvest was already over. The cooperative had just begun a well-digging project and planned to sink five wells before the ground froze. Chao Man-tun was somewhat experienced with well-digging. Before he joined the cooperative, he had supervised the digging of the well at his home. The water was good and plentiful. So this time he was appointed as technical supervisor of the cooperative’s well-digging project. The man was really something. He took responsibility for all the preparatory work of water prospecting and of starting the well holes. The work was managed in perfect order.
On the third day after the digging began, as the cooperative blackboard was about to write up his contribution, the diggers struck some shifting sand. They sent someone to the village to get Chao Man-tun, but he was nowhere to be found. When asked, his wife didn’t know where he was either. She said he had left in a hurry before the crack of dawn. The co-op committee members were very angry. The project needed him now, but he had disappeared.
It wasn’t until the second night that Chao Man-tun came back to the village. Immediately, he ran to the co-op office to apologize. Many people were in the office discussing the problem of the shifting sand. They saw him walking in and asked him where he had been. Chao Man-tun stuttered for a long time before saying he had gone to West Mountain to buy jujubes for sale. This infuriated everyone. They all started criticizing him at once and no one could hear what the others were saying. Chao Man-tun lowered his head, squatted on the floor, and just puffed on a cigarette. After everyone had calmed down, he stood up and said, “I know I’m wrong. The devil must have got me! When I was returning to the village from work that day, I bumped into a friend from T’ai-p’ing Village. He had just bought some jujubes from West Mountain. I heard him say that they sold for five to six cents a catty. I figured that by the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month, the price would rise to over ten cents a catty. If I could get a hundred catties, I could make five to six yüan with no effort at all. This should be enough to cover my New Year’s expenses. Besides, I thought that since the digging was already well on its way, I might as well take a little time off . . . “
Uncle Chao, the stockman, came in to refill his lantern. He cut in, saying, “Your calculated plans are just great and your mind is really active. But you never think of the co-op!”
Chen Ming-shan, the co-op chairman, said, “The cooperative has assigned you to be the technical supervisor. This clearly shows that we trust you a lot and have great hopes in you. But you put aside your work to do some small business for yourself. Of course it’s good for you because you can make five to six yüan in a couple of days. But if we stop the well-digging for a couple of days, do you know how much labor is wasted? And how much loss could result? Have you ever thought of this? Have you figured it out this way? You can abandon your work to make some money, but if others also follow your example, who’s going to dig the wells? Chen Erh-ming is a new co-op member. Because he was afraid of delaying the digging, he didn’t even go to his father-in-law’s sixtieth birthday party. You’re an old member and responsible for this project, yet you could do such a thing!”
Chen Ming-shan’s face grew red. There wasn’t a sound in the room. Chao Man-tun squatted by the table and lowered his head in silence. A cigarette with a long ash dangled between his fingers. He didn’t smoke it or flick it; he just let it burn slowly. Chen Ming-shan said after a pause, “You joined the cooperative with reluctance but have you suffered since joining it? Has it been any worse compared to when you were on your own? You should know. During the hailstorm this summer, the ten mu of land that you brought into the cooperative were hit. If in the past you had met with such a disaster, would you have gotten so much grain this fall? When you were suddenly ill in July, co-op members went out in the rain all night long to get you a doctor and carry you to a hospital. They didn’t want a cent from you or even a meal. Do you remember that? Also, over one-hundred yüan was spent on medicine and shots for you. You didn’t have any money so the cooperative lent it to you. In the old society, whether it be a good or bad year, would you have been able to get such a large sum of money so fast? I know you manage your life very well, but to raise that much money you would have had to sell either your house or your land. Why is everyone so concerned with you? Why does the cooperative look after you? Because you’re a member of the agricultural cooperative and a member of this big family. But how much have you done for this big family? Do you ever think of this big family at all?”
When Chen Ming-shen finished, Chao Man-tun lifted his head, looked at everyone with moist eyes, and said softly, “I know I’m wrong. I have not forgotten the good that the agricultural co-op has done me. I also want the co-op to grow, it’s just that selfishness is still in me. The moment I heard that selling jujubes was profitable, I could only think of my own family I’m willing to accept any punishment.”
Chao Man-tun was very sincere, so no one had anything more to say. Then his daughter came to call him home for dinner. The co-op chairman let him go for now, as the issue was to be discussed later. Man-tun nodded and left.
Uncle Chao whispered in my ear, “Just wait and see. He’s going to swear when he gets out of the door.”
His words aroused my curiosity. Quietly I followed Chao Man-tun. It was very dark in the courtyard. He walked with heavy steps and the light from his cigarette glowed on and off. I followed till he was outside the gate and only heard his daughter say with disapproval, “Dad, look at what you’ve done. It’s really disgraceful!” Chao Man-tun didn’t talk back. He heaved a long sigh and walked on. I did not know whether he hated himself or the others.
I left Chen Family Village the next day so I did not know how Chao Man-tun was to change afterwards.
I was on the road thinking of Chao Man-tun and, before I knew it, I had reached Chen Family Village. I noticed that many new willows had been planted outside the village, which was now surrounded by them. A few roofs could be seen above the trees. I remembered that this was once a nonproductive swamp area. Who could have dreamed that four years of labor could change it into this? I pedalled through the willows on my bicycle. Entering the village I saw many new houses lining both sides of the road. On the threshing ground, firewood and hay were piled up like mountains. The road was also crowded with heaps of grass and leaves. The village was very quiet; I didn’t bump into a single person on the streets.
The managing committee office of the agricultural cooperative was still located at the same place. On the door hung a sign saying, “The Three-in-One Advanced Agricultural Cooperative.” I pushed my bicycle into the courtyard and saw an old man, wearing a pair of spectacles, sitting on the steps of the west building. He was bending over his work—mending sacks. The sound of my bicycle made him raise his head, and I saw that it was Uncle Chao. I shouted, “Uncle Chao! HowVe you been?”
He started at me and beamed. “Oh, so it’s you! I never thought you’d come here!”
He dropped his work and ran over with a limp to shake my hand. I asked about his leg; he said, “Even when one sits safely at home, disaster still may fall from the sky. The co-op bought a breeding horse this spring and I was rewarded with a kick. Who would have expected that one kick would turn me into a custodian?” Seeing my puzzled look, he explained, “The co-op chairman, Chen Ming-shan, saw that I was limping, so he said ‘Forget about the stockman. How about a custodian instead?’ I said, ‘A custodian’s okay with me. Besides, I can’t jump anymore. Let the bald-head be the monk. It’s just fitting for the part. ’ All I need is a job. It’s better than eating free meals.”
As he helped me with my baggage, he went on talking: “Managing our co-op is a big job now. When you were here last, the entire co-op had only fifty-two households, right? Now it’s an advanced co-op of over five hundred households. Red Bean Village, T’ai-p’ing Village, and our village have joined together
Let’s go in and have a seat.”
Carrying my baggage, I followed him to the office. It was like before, except the wall had a few more charts and banners, and a telephone had been installed. A worker whom I did not recognize was sitting at a table by the window, taking care of some forms. Uncle Chao introduced us; he was Liu Pin, an intern accountant. I asked about the former accountant, Hsiu-ying. Uncle Chao said, “She’s the co-op’s chief accountant now. She went to the cotton purchasing station in the city to settle the accounts there. Do you know that this year we have sold 120,000 catties of cotton alone to the government?”
When I asked him whether the autumn harvest was over, he said, “We’re as busy as mules now, cutting corn stalks, picking leftover cotton in the field, gleaning, irrigating. . . . Everybody’s helping in everything; there’s a general mobilization of men and women, old and young. Even the co-op cadres have gone to the fields. Only us two, one old and one young, are left behind to guard the fort.” He switched to singing in a gravelly voice, “Look at our fort, inside and out, up and down, left and right, in front and behind. There’s only the two of us. Ha! Ha! Ha! . . . How’s that? Am I not like Ting Kuo-hsien, the opera singer? “
Liu Pin said, “Ting Kuo-hsien would surely bow to you as his master if he heard you.”
“That won’t do. I’m not even collecting any admission charge.” Uncle Chao poured a cup of water for me and left.
Then Liu Pin turned to me. “This Uncle Chao is a very interesting person.” Suddenly he asked, “Did you write that essay, ‘Uncle Chao, the Stockman?’ I read it at school.” I nodded and asked him what grade he was in. He said he graduated last year from junior high school and that his home was in T’ai-p’ing Village. Originally a brigade worker, he was just transferred this summer to the managing committee.
As we talked, Uncle Chao carried in some torn sacks and said to me, “You might as well stay in the office and eat at the supply and distribution co-op. I’ve notified them already. The co-op is next door to Chao Man-tun’s house. It’s the new five-part structure.”
“How’s Chao Man-tun doing now?” I asked.
“Chao Man-tun has made a complete about-face. He’s a member of the co-op’s irrigation committee now and isn’t doing too badly. You’d probably never have expected it, right? Neither would 1. 1 used to hate Chao Man-tun the most and even suggested a couple of times to kick him out of the co-op. But the co-op chairman kept telling us to be patient and help him reform. I used to say, ‘Even rivers and mountains are easy to change but one’s basic nature is difficult to alter,’ and that Chao Man-tun would change only if the sun rose in the west. But, this time I made the wrong bet.”
I then asked, “What happened that time after he went to buy jujubes at West Mountain?”
Tilting his head, he thought for a long time. Then he suddenly clapped his hands and said, “My! You’ve got a good memory! That’s right, there was such an incident. After our harsh criticism of him, he went to the well before dawn the next day. This guy is really something! He stopped the sand-shifting right away. Later we didn’t have enough bricks for the fifth well; the kiln couldn’t make any more. Everyone was worried to death, but again he came up with one of his clever ideas. One night, everybody was in the office worrying about it; some wanted to break down their houses and some wanted to tear down graves. Chao Man-tun then said, ‘Why are the areas east of our village called Arch Bridge North and Arch Bridge South? There once must have been a brick bridge and it must have been buried long ago by earth and sand. If we dig up those bricks there would be enough for not only one well, but two. ’ No one believed him. The co-op chairman went to T’ai-p’ing Village the next day and asked a ninety-six-year-old man. It seemed to that old man that there was such a bridge when he was young. Afterwards, with the help of the old man, we actually dug up a brick bridge. This guy is really an ‘I Knew Three Years Ago. ’ I’m over sixty now; even I can’t remember such a thing. Who knows how he can remember such things? Don’t you think it’s strange?”
I was very happy to hear this and asked, “There was no problem after that?”
Mending his sacks, Uncle Chao said, “Think about it. Is it possible to have no more problems with him? Something happened again in the autumn of the year before. It was over the mating of sows.” He then proceeded to tell me what happened.
What happened was this: After the autumn harvest of the year before, Chen Lan-ying, the pig-tender, suggested that we improve the breed of pigs by raising a lot of Russian Berkshires. The cooperative managing committee agreed but there were very few Berkshire boars at the time. Only the Ch’engkuan Agricultural Cooperative had one and they charged two yüan per mating. But they had already contracted with many other agricultural cooperatives; it would be at least two months if we were to wait our turn. For days Chen Lan-ying kept after the co-op chairman but nothing could be done about it. They had to put it aside for the time being.
One morning, Li Erh-kuei, the breeder for Ch’eng-kuan Agricultural Cooperative, was rushing the Berkshire boar on its way to an appointment at T’ai-p’ing Village. He passed by Chen Family Village. Chao Man-tun, squatting in front of the co-op office, saw Li Erh-keui and ran up to him and greeted him. He insisted on inviting Li into the office for a rest.
Li Erh-kuei said, “We can’t let your co-op have the pig first. You have another month or so before it will be your turn!”
Chao Man-tun said, “Of course! Even if you gave us the pig to mate, we wouldn’t want it anyway. We don’t have any sows ready. Come on, come and rest in our co-op. The pig’s tired even if you’re not.”
It was very cold that day and a big dust storm was brewing. Li Erh-kuei thought Chao Man-tun made sense so, without a worry in his head, he followed Chao. After the Berkshire boar was locked inside an empty house, the two went to the office. Chao Man-tun took out a cigarette from his own pocket and offered it to his guest
Speaking of Chao Man-tun and his cigarettes, there was a story behind that too. Not just anyone could smoke his cigarettes. Always afraid of people getting a free cigarette from him, he would often carry two packs in his pocket, one empty and one full. Every time he wanted to smoke with people around, he would put his hand in his pocket and slowly pull out a cigarette. If someone asked him for one, he would take out the empty pack and say, “It’s empty. I only have the one left.”
Once while threshing wheat, he took a break for a smoke and pulled his old trick again. Some youngsters made a fuss about it and wanted to search his pockets. Chao Man-tun said, “this pack is also empty,” as he took out the other pack and threw it away. Everyone believed him but it was actually a trick. Chao Man-tun thought he’d wait until no one was looking and then pick it up. But, just at that very moment, there was a child playing by the threshing ground. He ran over and picked up the pack and said, “There are still five or six cigarettes left! Why are you throwing them away?” This ruined Chao Mantun’s trick. He had no choice but to smile and share his cigarettes with everybody there. So, every time Chao Man-tun offered you a smoke, it was either to borrow something from you or to ask you for help. His cigarettes were never “wasted.” . . .
That day, Chao Man-tun lit a cigarette for Li Erh-kuei and also busied himself about boiling water for tea. He said he had to go out for firewood, but he sneaked over to the empty house and pushed the Berkshire boar into the sow pen next door. Then he got the firewood to boil water, while talking with Li Erh-kuei about everything under the sun. Those in the office thought the two were really friends.
The fire was low so the water was slow to boil. In fact, Chao Man-tun had purposely brought back green wood to delay everything. Li Erh-kuei was getting a bit impatient, but when he saw how nice Chao was, he did not feel right about leaving. By the time the tea was ready, an hour had already passed.
Chao Man-tun figured that by now the three sows should be finished with their mating business. So, pretending to go to the outhouse, he put the Berkshire back in the empty house. Li Erh-kuei didn’t have the slightest idea as to what had happened; he even thanked Chao again and again before leaving.
When Uncle Chao reached this part of the story, Liu Pin and I were laughing uncontrollably. Uncle Chao was also laughing and said, “You see how devilish this guy is! When the co-op members heard about this, they were all very happy and thought that Chao Man-tun had done a good deed for the co-op, especially Chen Lan-ying, the pig-tender, who laughed so hard that she could not stop. Chao Man-tun also said proudly, ‘I knew all along that after he finished mating at Red Bean Village yesterday, he had to go to T’ai-p’ing Village today. I can’t let him pass our customs gate without paying a toll!’
“When the co-op chairman returned from the city and heard about this, he was extremely angry. He criticized Chao Man-tun, saying he was wrong, tricky, and taking advantage of others, and he had ruined the honor and credibility of the co-op. Many people did not understand this at the time. Neither did I. Feeling this was unjust, Chao Man-tun said, ‘I gave up a cigarette and wasted half a work-day. Was it for myself? It was all for the co-op. ’
“But the co-op chairman said, ‘Is it right to harm our brothers’ cooperative for the sake of our own? Forget for the moment that we’ve cheated Ch’eng-kuan Cooperative out of their six yüan. I ask you, how many sows can one boar mate a day? Li Erh-kuei did not know that halfway on his journey, the Berkshire had worked itself three times. When it went to T’ai-p’ing Village to mate again, could it impregnate the sows there? What if by chance the sows do not conceive. Won’t this ruin T’ai-p’ing Agricultural Cooperative?’ When he put it this way, everyone felt that something was wrong and didn’t know what should be done. The co-op chairman suggested paying back the price of mating the three sows to Ch’eng-kuan Agricultural Co-op. He also wanted Chao Man-tun to go to T’ai-p’ing Village and apologize.
“This seemed to be a very good solution. But Chao Man-tun would rather die than go. He said, ‘It’s all right to pay back Ch’eng-kuan Co-op, but to apologize to T’ai-p’ing Village? No way! I didn’t even use their co-op pigs to mate. ’ We were busy involving T’ai-p’ing Village and Red Bean Village to form an advanced co-op; so the matter was put aside.”
“What happened afterwards? Did the T’ai-p’ing Village pigs mate?” I asked.
The sound of shuffling feet and laughter interrupted Uncle Chao. From the window I saw the women returning from picking cotton and gleaning the fields. The quiet courtyard suddenly became alive. Uncle Chao gathered the mended sacks. As he went out, he smiled and said, “Go ask Chao Man-tun about the sow incident. He’s more clear on that than I am.” He turned around at the door once again and said, “It’s time for dinner. Go there yourself. It’ll save someone a trip coming to get you.”
I wanted to see Chao Man-tun after this, so when dinner was over I left the supply and distribution cooperative for Chao’s house. I pushed the door and saw only Hu Feng-ying, his wife, washing dishes. When she saw me she smiled and said, “So, it’s Old Ma! I’ve just heard from people on the streets that you’ve arrived. What wind has blown you this way? Please sit on the k’ang. ’’ She poured some water and gave me a cigarette. I thought Man-tun had already left after dinner, but she told me he still had not returned. She said, “He’s been busy irrigating the land these past few days. Today’s the first day for the Harvest Ditch to release water—that’s the one you’d see if you come from the city. I don’t know when he’ll be able to come home. Ai! He didn’t even take any food with him when he left this afternoon.”
I joked, “He’s an irrigation committee member. If he’s hungry he can just drink water.”
Hu Feng-ying said in a complaint, “Don’t ever mention water! Ever since he became an irrigation committee member, the land has water, of course. But if we at home want anything to drink, that’s a different matter! The water jug is often empty. He’s so busy he’s got no time to fetch water and I’m stuck at home with a nursing baby.”
Only then I noticed a baby sleeping in the corner of the k’ang. “You’ve added another member to your family,” I remarked.
She smiled and said, “I married off my daughter last year, and this year I gave birth to a son—no loss, no gain, just even.”
I asked her what her elder son was doing now; she said he was going to high school in the city and was already in the tenth grade. I chatted with her as I waited for Man-tun’s return. She told me that he was quite a different man now from what he was before. His mind was always on the problems of the cooperative. Sometimes he could not sleep all night long because of the irrigation work. Last year his brother took a leave from the army to visit home. When he saw how enthusiastic his elder brother was about his work, he was very happy. After he went back, he sent many books on irrigation to Man-tun and even donated a level to the cooperative.
Proudly, Hu Feng-ying said, “You know, he wants to prove himself for Party membership! Sometimes when I complained to him about neglecting his family, he would criticize me for being backward and I would say, ‘How long has it been since you became progressive?’ He would answer, ‘I knew all along you’d say that!’ ” Hu Feng-ying laughed loudly and so did I.
After an hour, Chao Man-tun still had not returned, so I left. When I stepped through the gate, a bright flashlight beam caught my face. It was so glaring I could not even open my eyes. I heard the familiar voice of Chen Ming-shan, the co-op chairman. I ran over, shook his hand, and asked him what he was doing. He said the tractor station had just called to say the Red Star Cooperative had already finished their own plowing and were coming tonight to help the Three-in-One Co-op. He had to go and supervise. I asked for permission to go along.
Chen Ming-shan and I talked about Chao Man-tun. He also said that Man-tun progressed a lot during these few years. The most important thing was that now there was a “cooperative” in his mind. Whenever he did something he would consider it on the basis of the “cooperative’s” advantage. He no longer worked only for his family as he used to do. Chen Ming-shan continued, “Chao Man-tun was selfish in the past, which was not strange at all. He was a middle peasant pressured into the co-op to begin with; even if he were a poor peasant joining the co-op of his own free will, we could not expect him to become selfless overnight. For generations our peasants have been struggling, each one for himself. An agricultural cooperative is stronger than a single household. To join a cooperative does not mean one can make a turnabout in one stroke. Just like a rustic suddenly finding himself in the city. Even though everything in the city is much more convenient, it would still take the rustic some time to get used to it. It takes time to reeducate a person like Chao Man-tun.”
“You certainly have worked a lot to reeducate Chao Man-tun,” I remarked.
Chen Ming-shan said, “You are way off on that. Can one educate another all by oneself? If not for the efforts of the group, Chao Man-tun would still be ChaoMan-tun.” He went on after a brief pause, “I went to a district Party committee meeting once. Secretary Liu of the committee gave a lecture and said, ‘When individual output changes into collective output, then the economic foundations will change and the people’s ideology and consciousness will gradually but surely change. ’ I did not think much of this when I heard him at first. Then I thought it over carefully. He actually makes sense.”
The last time I came to Chen Family Village and met Chen Ming-shan, I felt he was not the type of co-op chairman who was concerned only with production. When I heard this from him, I knew then that he was a man with “ideology.”
Our walk, punctuated by our conversation, had already taken us quite a way from the village. It was so dark that you could not even see the fingers of your hand stretched out before you When we reached Arch Bridge North, Chen jen-ming, the brigade leader, and two machine operators were already waiting there. One of the operators was Chang Cheng-wan, who had raised livestock for two months, and the other, whom I did not recognize, was a high school student. The two tractors arrived shortly with four drivers, among whom was also a woman. Chen Ming-shan discussed the plowing with them and we then went back along the ditch.
Past the Chao Family Graveyard, several lanterns appeared ahead of us, where a few people were arguing about something. Fearing that a dike might have been broken, we ran toward the noise. But it turned out to be just a water diversion ditch; several people were talking excitedly there. We saw Chao Man-tun in the lantern light, shouting, “No! Hurry up and open it up! I knew all along that you would be up to your devilish tricks!”
“It’s so dark now; what are you afraid of? The Red Star Co-op is not going to send anybody here,” said an old man.
A younger man said, “Really! You want the horses to be strong but you don’t want them to graze. You want us to irrigate the land more but you won’t give us water!”
Chao Man-tun said, “We are in a hurry to irrigate our land; won’t the Red Star Co-op want to do the same? Would you like what you are doing if the tables were turned?”
We found out that those two co-op members had diverted part of the water in the Red Star Cooperative’s ditch into ours. Chao Man-tun discovered us. Without greeting me, he turned to the co-op chairman. “Here comes the co-op chairman. Let him tell you.” Chen Ming-shan criticized the two co-op members and made them adjust the water diversion gate for the Red Star Cooperative.
The co-op chairman then turned to Chao Man-tun, “You’d better hurry home to eat; and don’t you come out again tonight.”
Chao Man-tun said, “I was just about to go home; otherwise my stomach would revolt.” He cleaned the shovel in the ditch and wiped his eyes with a red handkerchief he had on his chest. No wonder he wore dark glasses during the day; there was something wrong with his eyes.
“You should go to the medic station and have that looked at,” I said.
He replied, “I’ve already done that. It’s okay, just a slight inflammation.”
We waited until he put his things together. Then we started to walk back to the village. I asked Chao Man-tun about the pig-breeding incident. He smiled, “Uncle Chao must have told you. I knew all along that this old man would tell you anything bad about me! What do you intend to do about it? Do you want to publicize’ my faults in the papers again?”
I also smiled. “Not necessarily.”
“Well, I might as well give you a complete confession,” he said. He paused and then went on. “Not long after the pigs mated that day, our co-op joined Red Bean and T’ai-p’ing villages and formed an advanced cooperative. The new co-op decided to bring together all the Berkshires to be raised in Chen Family Village, because we had a flour mill which yielded better hog feed. The following spring, the sows were about to have piglets. The co-op chairman sent me to help Chen Lan-ying, the pig-tender. I agreed, but I didn’t realize the chairman was trying to put me on the spot. Each of the four sows from Red Bean Village had about a dozen piglets. Each of ours had about seven or eight. But the two sows from T’ai-p’ing Village, well, let’s not talk about it anymore! One of them had three, the other had only two. One piglet died at birth; the four surviving were no bigger than white rats. Boy, did my face turn red! Some of the people there said, ‘Oh! Look what Chao Man-tun’s done for our co-op!’ Even if nobody said anything, I felt bad enough. That was really like picking up a rock and smashing it right on your own foot.”
When Chao Man-tun finished his story, he talked to Chen Ming-shan about expanding Harvest Ditch. He wanted to build two more ditches next year, by which time 70 percent of the cooperative’s land would be irrigated. He also wanted to plant two rows of willows along the banks of the ditch. Not only would this strengthen the dikes but it would also bring in a big crop of willow branches for weaving baskets. He went on, “Willows are easy to handle and grow. They don’t grow tall and won’t obstruct the crops growing along the sides. In one year we can get at least 35,000 catties of willow branches. Let’s say one catty will get 2. 5 cents; two times three is six and three times five is fifteen. That will be 750 yüan. If we add 5,000 catties, then two times five is ten and five times five is twenty-five. Altogether we’ll have over 870 yüan That’s equal to over 2,000 catties of grain!”
Chao Man-tun was very excited and pleased with himself. It was as if he had an abacus in his brain. This expert in managing affairs was thinking only of the big family now. Chen Ming-shan liked his plans and said it would be proposed to the managing committee in a couple of days.
That was a night when autumn passed into early winter. The hour was late, but nothing was at rest yet in the countryside. Lanterns were ablaze, pumps rumbling and water rushing. The roar of the tractors completed this symphony. Chao Man-tun turned to me, “Old Ma, do you think we’ve changed at all?”
“Oh, yes, and how!” I said, thinking that not only has life changed, but more importantly, the people have changed.
He said, “I knew all along that we would change. Wait another three years and see!”
I responded, “I knew all along that you are an ‘I Knew Three Years Ago. ’ “
The rest was drowned in laughter.
Translated by Lorraine Dong
Ou-yang Shan came from a poor family of Kwangtung. His involvement in the leftist student movement led to his dismissal from the Normal School of Canton, after which, with Kuo Mo-jo’s help, he started as an auditor at the Sun Yat-sen University. He participated in the Kwangtung dialectal literary movement, one of the many promoting the use of vernacular language over the more formal classical idiom, which had not changed in centuries. His first successful novel, entitled Faded Roses, appeared in 1927. He moved to Shanghai to study under Lu Hsün, a signal figure in the “literary revolution” that had grown out of the May Fourth movement, and wrote “national defense literature,” like so many others during the Sino-Japanese war. He attended Mao Tse-tung’s Yenan Forum on Literature and Art in 1942 and, while still at Yenan, published the well-received novel about peasant life in the border areas, Uncle Kao, in 1946. Immediately following the revolution, he became a member of the National Committee of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, which he served until being branded a gangster and revisionist during the Cultural Revolution, in September 1966.
His downfall was the outcome of the criticism and controversy surrounding the first two volumes of his incomplete saga, A Generation of Noble Souls, a work intended to illuminate the failure of an idealistic generation of Chinese youth to achieve their revolutionary goals, torn as they were between personal survival and the urge to strengthen a war-torn, foreign-dominated China. The first volume, Three-Family Lane, was published in 1959. From the declining years of the Manchu dynasty through the Canton Insurrection of 1927, it chronicles the fortunes of members in three neighboring households that span the social spectrum of Republican China. The Chou family is headed by a blacksmith, the Ch’en family by a comprador-capitalist, while the Hos represent the upper end of society as landlords and high-ranking Kuomintang officials. The second volume, Bitter Struggle, published in 1962, follows the struggle of the young revolutionaries into the countryside near Canton from 1928 to 1931.
These two works fell under fire in 1964 as examples of erroneous thinking, of “commemorating a reactionary line” identified with the Liu Shao-ch’i clique during the Cultural Revolution. Ou-yang Shan’s own son is said to have made a public denouncement of his father’s criticism of the Great Leap Forward, manifest in such short stories as “The Remarkable Villager” (1960) and “In the First-Class Sleeping Car” (1961).
His Generation of Noble Souls did not conform to the Marxist notion of class antagonism, for the actions and sympathies of the characters are not wholly attributable to their class background. Indeed, the history of these three households that share the same lane is a tale of the constancy and essential unity of human nature. Ou-yang Shan was found guilty of writing a petty bourgeois novel under revolutionary guise, of creating characters rather than characterizations, personalities rather than psychologies. Ultimately, ThreeFamily Lane remains one of the only fictional accounts of the failure of the urban revolution, and these two selections bring us to the China of the 1920s, as seen through the eyes of the youngest son of the working-class family, Chou Ping.
In January 1979 Ou-yang Shan announced that he had resumed writing his five-volume saga. He said that the manuscript of the third volume, of which only the first five chapters were serialized in a Canton newspaper in 1966, was seized by police during the Cultural Revolution. He further planned to revise the first two volumes as soon as he completed the last chapter of the entire project. —H. K.
CHOU T’IEH, the father of Chou Ping, blacksmith and head of household on Three-Family Lane
CHOU PING, youngest son in the Chou family
CHOU YUNG, second son in the Chou family
CHOU CH’UAN, sole daughter in the family
CH’EN WAN-LI, comprador-capitalist, head of the second household on Three-Family Lane
CH’EN WEN-HSIUNG, only son of Ch’en Wan-li
CH’EN WEN-TI, second daughter of Ch’en Wan-li
CH’EN WEN-CHIEH, third daughter of Ch’en Wan-li
CH’EN WEN-TING, fourth daughter of Ch’en Wan-li
HO YING-YÜAN (or Fifth Master), landlord and high-ranking KMT official, head of third household on Three-Family Lane
HO SHOU-JEN, eldest son of Ho Ying-yüan
HO PU-CHOU (or Second Granduncle), bookkeeper and manager of the Ho estate in Chen-nan Village; also called “Unencompassable Ho”
HU YUAN, a tenant farmer for Ho Ying-yüan
CHANG TZU-HAO, son of a landlord, husband of eldest daughter in the Ch’en family, Ch’en Wen-ying
LI MIN-K’UEI, son of a landlord
OU T’AO, younger daughter of a cobbler; sweetheart and cousin of Chou Ping
[In the language typical of the pai-hua fiction of the 1920s—particularly its dated mode of dialogues, which sounds rather quaint now—Three-Family Lane begins with the tale of how Chou Ping, youngest son of a blacksmith married to the sister of the wife of the Ch’en household, is taken under the wings of the Ch’en family, only to be booted out when he exposes Mr. Ch’en’s attempt to seduce a maidservant. Victimized again and again by his impulsiveness and incorruptible nature, in this episode Chou Ping shows for the first time a concern for human needs, at the risk of self-incrimination under the rules of an oppressive society. ]
Although the second daughter of the Ch’en family, Ch’en Wen-ti, was a schoolmate of the boy-next-door, Young Master Ho Shou-jen, they very rarely spoke to one another at school. Shou-jen had a delicate build, so the girls all snubbed him. Even though he had money and dressed himself handsomely, if she went over and addressed just a few remarks to him, the rest of the girls would certainly make her the laughingstock of the school. Shou-jen would typically spend an hour or two in her company at the library, on the playground, or just in the schoolyard, and never find the occasion to say so much as a single word. Yet now and then the opportunity did present itself.
On that day, they bumped into each other once again in the schoolyard. Wen-ti glanced in all directions to make sure no one was about, then turned toward him and said, “In your opinion, Master Ho, are the body and soul of a human being identical, or are they opposites? For instance, let’s consider the case of Chou Ping, that little imp who lives on our Three-Family Lane. Everyone agrees upon his physical attractiveness, but opinions vary when it comes to his soul. If the body and soul are identical then he must be a good person, but if they are opposites then he must be a bad person. Won’t you give me your advice on this matter, Master Ho?”
While speaking she flashed him an affectionate smile. Her hair was brown, the color of palm-tree fibers, her eyes were palm-brown, and her face was palm-brown too. In fact, her entire body seemed ablaze with the color of palm. While Ho Shou-jen gazed at her, he felt as though she had melted him on the spot—he could find the strength neither to move nor to answer her back. Seeing that he was so distressed, Wen-ti gave forth a self-satisfied giggle, and just walked away laughing.
Shou-jen was plunged into a state of complete remorse. Most of the time he could think of many things to talk about. But why was it that when it came time to use them, not even a simple sentence emerged? He was so ashamed that he tore at his hair.
After a while he thought back over every word Wen-ti had uttered. “Are the body and soul of a human being identical? Yes, what she said is correct, they must be identical. And what about that little imp Chou Ping? Why did she call that jerk a little imp’? I’ve got it—this means that she feels affection for him. Otherwise, why would she have said that everyone agrees upon his physical attractiveness? I’ve got it—feeling affection for someone and noting that someone is physically attractive are also identical!”
He finally deduced several things from her questions. He concluded that Wen-ti regarded Chou Ping as a good person. He concluded that Wen-ti was in fact enlisting his aid toward Chou Ping. He concluded that her questions were a kind of expression of her feelings for him. Because of this, he too began to regard Chou Ping as a good person. Moreover, he gradually developed a friendly feeling toward him, because he believed that such behavior would enable him to identify with Wen-ti.
Within a few days, he proposed to his father, Ho Ying-yüan, that Chou Ping tend water buffaloes for their family in their native village of Chen-nan. His father said, “Doesn’t he steal the belongings of others?” Ho Shou-jen set the record straight: “Of course not. How could that be true! I have objectively concluded that he is a good person!”
After hearing his son defend Chou Ping, Ho Ying-yüan nodded his head and promised that it would be taken care of. Chou T’ieh and his wife had no recourse but to sigh and try to make the best of the situation. They waited for the bookkeeper to come from the country on one of his business trips, and when he arrived, he took Chou Ping back with him to Chen-nan Village.
That bookkeeper was named Unencompassable Ho, and was as plump as a fat pig. He was forty years old, the same age as Ho Ying-Yüan, but because he was elder in terms of clan seniority, everyone called him Second Granduncle.
Chen-nan Village is situated about twenty-five miles from the provincial capital, and one could get there by walking or by taking a train part way and walking the remainder of the distance. Walking, however, was the furthest thing from the mind of Second Granduncle, so he and Chou Ping journeyed by boat.
When they got aboard, he gave no instructions to Chou Ping, indeed said nothing to him at all, but instead fell fast asleep and began snoring loudly. It seemed as though he had entirely forgotten about Chou Ping. Ping for his part was glad not to be bothered. He took up the oars and helped the boatman with his rowing.
Along the way they passed by farmsteads and waterways, an unbroken landscape of trees and flowers, palms and mulberry . . . it was all very enjoy able.
Eventually they arrived at a secluded landing, where tree branches hung low upon the water. The boatman gave the oar a twist and guided the boat to rest against a miniature enclosed dock. They had reached Chen-nan Village. The village consisted of a sand bar that floated upon a river. Although winter had arrived, the trees were still lush with color and the chirping of birds was incessant. The full 2500 acres of land could not be taken in with a single glance, and now that the late-ripening crop of rice had been harvested, flocks of small birds were busy gleaning in the fields. Half of this land belonged to the Ho family. In addition to the part leased to tenant farmers for cultivation, the Hos worked on over thirty acres of the best water paddies, with the help of some ten-odd hired farmhands.
Every day Chou Ping set out early and returned late, tending water buffaloes for the Ho family. Among those hundred-odd families of tenant farmers, Chou Ping liked the family of Hu Yüan the best. This year Hu Yüan turned fifty, and his wife reached forty-three. They had two daughters and two sons. The eldest daughter, Willow, was twelve, the eldest son, Tree, was ten. The younger son, Pine, was eight years old, and the younger daughter, Apricot, was six just this year.
Hu Yüan was a distant cousin of the wife of Ho Ying-yüan, and at first he managed to eke out an existence upon a small plot of poor land he inherited. Then he took a wife and started raising children, and through a series of natural and other disasters his estate collapsed. Because of the Hus’ relation to Mrs. Ho, Unencompassable Ho secured Ho Ying-yüan’s special permission to lease some land to Hu to till without the usual security deposit.
The Hu children were all still young. The whole family depended on Hu Yüan and his wife’s working in the fields all year round. Hu Yüan was an honest and big-hearted fellow, and so took to looking after Chou Ping constantly. He saw to it that his clothes were washed and mended, and when there was soup or tea invited him to come and take a sip. The children, face-to-face with a city dweller of countless adventures and broad background, often surrounded him and asked about this and that. No matter whether it was an account of the sibling fights in the household of Ho Ying-yüan on Three-Family Lane, or gossip about the family of Ch’en Wan-li, or the incident involving that good-for-nothing junior proprietor of the Blue Cloud Shoestore, Lin K’ai-t’ai, whom Chou Ping once clobbered with a hammer for bothering the lovely Ou T’ao, or the episode in which Chou Ping was blamed by that deceitful clerk Kuo Piao for pilfering from the cash box in the Universal Deliverance Pharmacy, they were all held spellbound by his tales. As for the unearthly beauty of Ou T’ao, they all adored her and wished they too might see such a beauty. As for the illustrious past of Chou Ping, they envied his experiences no end and felt that their lives would be complete if they were to live through any one of those adventures. In a short time Chou Ping became a familiar guest in their home and soon came to be treated just like one of their own.
When winter came around there was no more work to do, so Unencompassable Ho instructed Chou Ping to go and clean out the granary. In his spare time, Chou Ping would go and amuse himself at the Hu household, where he learned all about planting and harvesting and the effects of wind and rain upon the crops, as well as chipping in with carrying water and fertilizer and planting vegetables.
One day the sky darkened and rain began to pour, and as the cold set in the family of Hu Yüan had not a grain of rice to put in the pot, so young and old alike became sullen and depressed. After spending the entire day pounding rice, Chou Ping was completely worn out, so he threw on a raincape and set off for the Hu household.
By this time it was already mid-afternoon, but as the daylight is short in winter, in every household he passed the stove had been lit and dinner was being prepared. Chou Ping pushed open the gate to the Hu household and, while removing his cape, yelled out “Willow . . . Willow.” The entire household was gathered in the main room, but not one of them answered him. Hu Yüan was stretched out upon a plank-bed opposite the stove. It was hard to tell whether he was sleeping or awake. His wife sat on the edge of the bed, her head bent over the tatters she was mending with concentration. Willow was sitting upon a bamboo chair in front of the ancestral figures. She felt too lethargic to move, as if every ounce of strength had been drained from her body. The only sign of animation whatsoever came from Tree, Pine, and Apricot, who were sitting on the floor playing a game of bean-toss.
At first Chou Ping felt at a loss as to what to do. Then he strolled over to the stove and felt it with his hand—it was cold, so he asked, “How come, Uncle Hu, you haven’t started the rice yet?”
“Not hungry!” was the grudging reply of Hu Yüan, accompanied with a long sigh. As Chou Ping observed that Hu Yüan was in a bad mood, and that none of the others felt like talking either, he, not knowing what had gone wrong, just slipped quietly onto a small stool and made no further remarks. After the amount of time it takes to smoke about half a pipeful of tobacco Hu Yüan began to speak again, “Ping, what kind of work did you do today?”
Chou Ping very cautiously replied, “Nothing much; I just pounded rice all day.”
“For whom? For Second Granduncle?”
“No. It was for Fifth Master Ho Ying-yüan himself. New Year’s is just around the corner, and he has been asking us to hurry up with the rice.”
“Is there no rice sold in the city?” Hu Yüan said. “How is it that store-bought rice isn’t good enough for him; instead he insists upon rice from his own paddies?”
“Uncle,” Chou Ping answered, “you have no idea. Rice from neither Annam, Siam, nor Shanghai suits Fifth Master. The only rice he enjoys eating comes from his own village.” This stirred the interest of Hu Yüan, who turned over and sat up nimbly and said with enthusiasm and pride, “It’s so true. No matter what people say, rice from Annam, Siam, or Shanghai cannot compare in taste with rice from our village. But really, taking the rice to a mill to hull it is all he need do, what use is it wasting your time pounding it yourself?”
“That won’t do at all!” Chou Ping said. “Neither adults nor children in the household of Fifth Master will eat machined rice at all. They say that it’s got the smell of gasoline! They will only eat rice hulled at home.”
While Hu Yüan was still mulling over the appetite of the family of Fifth Master Ho, his wife, listening by his side, completely lost her patience, and interrupted her husband. “You just stick to your own business. What has the kind of rice they like to eat got to do with you? First go out and bring back a little something to eat so I can fill up the bellies of our children, then let’s talk about the rest!”
Hu Yüan opened wide both palms in despair and said, “And just how am I supposed to do that? We don’t have any rice. We can’t borrow any either. Perhaps we can eat another meal of boiled turnips like this morning!” When she heard him mention boiled turnips again, Mrs. Hu had nothing further to say. But Tree, Pine, and Apricot cried out in unison, “Mom! Dad! No more boiled turnips! Please, no more . . . we want sweet potatoes, we want to eat sweet potatoes.”
Willow, who was slightly older than the others, and a little more understanding, knew that they hadn’t any sweet potatoes either, and just cried, off to one side. Outside, a cold wind lashed and harsh rain poured down, and the spattering sound went on and on. Mrs. Hu thought and thought, then finally she too began to cry, and said, “How many days has it been since the last harvest? How long will we have to wait for the new year? for the next crop? Everyone else is busy celebrating the New Year, eating chicken, duck, fish, and pork; will turnips be all we have to eat? Even that won’t help us to last through the middle of January. How can you expect us to go on like this! One would be better off dead! Yes, death itself would make the whole thing simpler! At least you wouldn’t have to spend each month wondering whether you will live to see it end, or each year whether you will live to see the next!”
Chou Ping realized that they had nothing at all to eat. Without saying a word, he threw on his raincape and dashed out. He ran over to the kitchen, and seeing that the chief cook was oblivious to all else except preparing dinner, snatched a bowl and scooped out four bowlsful from the rice crock. He stashed two bowlsful in each pocket, which altogether weighed no less than five pounds. No one at all observed him. Having secured the rice, he again threw on his raincape and, in a single breath, ran back to the household of Hu Yüan. Upon arrival, he removed his shirt and emptied the contents of both pockets into a basket for washing rice, panting so hard that he could barely catch his breath.
The children leapt up with joy and surrounded him to take a look. They cried out, “There’s rice, there’s rice . . . we have food to eat, food to eat,” without a pause. Even Mrs. Hu set down her tattered clothes, jumped off the bed, and lifted the rice basket to pour it into the pot. But the arm of Hu Yüan shot out and stopped her. “Hold on a minute!” he said, then turning to Chou Ping, “My good child, where on earth did you get this rice of yours?”
“It spilled out while I was pounding the rice.” Chou Ping invented a story.
“I’ve never heard of such a thing!” Hu Yüan did not believe him. “How can rice be spilled when you are pounding it?”
Mrs. Hu became angry. She shoved away her husband’s arm, saying, “Who cares whether it spilled out while he was pounding the rice or if it pounded out while he was spilling the rice! Let’s eat first and discuss later.” She emptied the basket with a whoosh into the pot. She added water and also cut up a few large turnips to throw in. The children scrambled over to light a crackling fire, and in a short while they could smell the aroma of cooked rice. Everyone invited Chou Ping to eat with them. He refused, but he tasted the good rice in his mouth just the same when everyone else was eating it with great relish.
The next day the sky had cleared, and it was even colder. When Chou Ping went to pound rice for the day, the first thing he did was to hide a small amount of it. After he had finished his hulling and his other chores, he took out the rice and stuffed it into a pocket on the inside of his shirt and then, pulling his old padded jacket over it, set off in the direction of the Hu family.
Hu Yüan was unwilling to accept it and would not say a word. Chou Ping scooped out one handful after another and put it in the rice basket, while Hu Yüan seized each handful as it came and tried to stuff it back into Chou Ping’s pocket. “We cannot accept it,” Hu said, “we cannot accept it, we simply cannot . . .” Meanwhile, a good quantity of rice had spilled out upon the ground, and groups of chickens in twos and threes flew in from next door and began pecking it up. Chou Ping was at the end of his wits and called out to young Apricot who had just turned six, “Come on, let’s go outside and play.” Once outdoors, he stuffed the rice into Apricot’s pockets.
From that time on, Chou Ping used this method. Whenever he had spare time, he would come and ask the children to play. Then, he would stuff that snow-white grade-A rice into the pocket of one child or another. This situation produced fear in Hu Yüan as much as it elicited his gratitude. As a result, he began to find fault with his wife at the slightest provocation. One day, after a particularly violent spat, Hu Yüan sat off in a corner and muttered to himself: “It’s all right to take what is yours to take, but don’t you go taking what is not. When you do accept something, first you should try to find out who it belongs to. You think it’s fun to take something! You think that family ever throws away anything? When you see something good to eat, you just gulp it down. You don’t ever worry what’s going to happen later, do you?”
Sometimes, when the rice was prepared and set out at the table piping hot, Hu Yüan would sit off to one side and mumble to himself, unable to bring himself to eat. His wife would say, “Go ahead and eat! Eat in peace what you have worked hard to earn. Do you mean to tell me it contains poison? Why sit there staring?”
“How I wish it were only poison,” said Hu. “It’s something much worse! I’m not concerned about myself; what worries me is the children.”
Mrs. Hu began to cry again. She picked up a damp handkerchief and, covering her face with it, said, “Then you tell me how to go on living like this. May God help us all! If one is going to die, what difference does it make whether he eats poison or not? Let’s eat well first, then let’s all drop dead. It’d be much better than dragging on like this. Don’t you tell me about worrying over the children, you heartless creature! Just look at how they’ve been starving—and you’re still unwilling to let them eat!” Hu Yüan gazed at the children, who gazed back, each pair of eyes wide open, not daring to take a bite. Hu Yüan had no recourse but to let out a long sigh, lift up his chopsticks, and begin eating.
When Chou Ping heard the children’s version of the events, he felt troubled. “Why do they feel I have done something wrong?” He thought and thought again but could not figure it out. On one occasion, he overheard Hu Yüan talking to the children, “Just you go ahead and eat. One day someone will find out about it, and when it comes to a tribunal in the ancestral shrine, won’t we be looking pretty!” It was the original intention of Chou Ping to help the Hu family, but he had only succeeded in making them more miserable. He really hadn’t the slightest idea why this matter would be brought up in the ancestral shrine, nor what the judgment would be—he could only keep the worry to himself.
Although the Hu household was not without its troubles, and each day seemed harder to pass than a whole year, time kept slipping by unnoticed, so that the year was out in the blink of an eye, and spring of 1921 had arrived. When it came time for spring plowing, Chou Ping tagged along with Hu Yüan and learned all about plowing, harrowing, and preparing the land for planting. Since the Hu family did not own any draft animal, young and old held on to ropes and pulled the plow themselves. Although Chou Ping was in charge of the Ho family’s water buffaloes, he was not at liberty to lend them out, so he pastured the animals on a nearby embankment and joined the Hus in the plowing.
The time had come for soaking the rice seeds for sprouting, but the Hu family had no seeds. Again it was Chou Ping who thought of a way of obtaining some from the granary of Fifth Master Ho. A pocketful at a time, he did his best to accumulate enough for them. Hu Yüan stopped declining but simply said, “I swear before god that we will pay Fifth Master back in the future. Not a single grain less! If I can’t pay it all up this life, I will do it the next life, even if it means coming back as a horse or a buffalo!” After all the seeds were planted, Chou Ping continued to sneak rice to the Hus from time to time for their food. Hu made no further refusals, but every time he accepted it he would make a vow, saying that in future generations they would simply have to pay back their debt.
Willow, Tree, Pine, and Apricot grew accustomed to playing with Chou Ping. They were all so close that if they missed being together for as much as a single day, everyone would feel terribly out of sorts. Willow once heard her parents lamenting the fact that they had no boys the age of Chou Ping, for such a lad would surely be a great help. She subsequently brought up the subject to Chou Ping, saying that she wished he’d become their brother. Apricot, who was standing by his side, brushed her fingers on her cheek to shame her elder sister, but after a while, she too began to call him elder brother. Hu Yüan and his wife, seeing how much their children adored Chou Ping, also wanted to have him as their adopted son but never found the occasion to tell him so.
The weather had turned warm. One day Chou Ping stuffed two pocketsful of rice inside his shirt, threw on his jacket, and walked out of the granary. On such a nice day as this, it would surely be uncomfortable to wear a padded jacket, but he had to keep it on to hide the rice. Who could have foreseen that, having walked only a few steps, he would suddenly run smack into that fatso Unen-compassable Ho? When that Second Granduncle saw Chou Ping looking suspicious, wrapped in his winter jacket in such warm weather, he shouted out, “Where do you think you’re off to?” He caught up with Chou and gave his jacket a yank. Chou Ping jerked away, freeing himself from the hand of Second Granduncle, but he could not prevent the rice from spilling out in a stream.
The situation turned sour. As expected, Unencompassable Ho beat him and coaxed him, but Chou Ping would not divulge the true circumstances. Finally, he said that he had lost in gambling and had no other recourse but to steal some rice to repay the debt. When questioned regarding his debtor, he was again unwilling to talk. Unencompassable Ho became so enraged that his entire bulk of fat began to quiver. Chou was kicked out of the house immediately without supper.
He tied all his belongings in a bundle on his back, went out to the main entrance of the Ho house, and sat down alongside the highway that ran through the village. He thought to himself, “Shall I go by the house of Old Master Hu to bid him farewell, and say a few parting words to Willow, Tree, Pine, and little Apricot? Mrs. Hu was so kind to me, will it do not to stop by?” But then he wondered how he could face them after getting himself into such a predicament over something so minor, and he decided not to go.
He reflected for about an hour, then tied the bundle upon his back again, brushed the dirt off his clothes, and followed the highway listlessly back toward Canton. It was well past the second watch when he arrived home.
[Four years pass, during which Chou Ping watches the youngsters on ThreeFamily Lane pledge their service to their country in her struggle to create a political identity strong enough to overcome warlord rule over the countryside and foreign control of the urban centers. The interaction between the rise and repeated setbacks of the Communist Party, founded in 1923, and the struggle against foreign domination sets the scene for the rest of the novel.
In the following episode, we are brought into the cynical, compromising world of the privileged Chinese. Ch’en Wan-li, comprador neighbor of the rich, landholding Ho family, enumerates the recent events, which terrify his businessman’s heart, to the fascinated but undisturbed Ho Ying-yüan. Rallies protesting the brutality against Chinese workers, culminating in the violence of the May Thirtieth Massacre in Shanghai and the Shakee-Shameen incident that follows, result in massive work stoppages and embargoes of foreign goods. Shanghai, the stronghold of European colonization, is crippled by strikes.
On June 23,1925, students and workers band together for a mass demonstration, in conjunction with a general walkout of Chinese seamen from British shipping companies. As the marchers approach Shameen, an island housing the firms and merchants involved in the foreign trade imposed upon Canton for well over a century, panic breaks out and fifty-two of their number are killed. ]
The fluffy clouds upon White Cloud Mountain gathered together and drifted apart in succession, so that in the twinkling of an eye several months had passed, and it was now the last third of the month of June.
On the afternoon of the twenty-third day of the month, the sun broke through for a while, then the sky became cloudy and rain began to pour, creating an oppressive, humid heat. After Ch’en Wan-li finished lunch, he tried to take a brief nap but couldn’t fall asleep, so he crawled out of bed and went to pay a visit on Ho Ying-yüan.
He strolled into the living room, but instead of Fifth Master Ho, he came upon the eldest son, Ho Shou-jen, seated along with Li Min-kuei and Chang Tzu-hao, the husband of his own eldest daughter. The room was extremely spacious. The north and south walls were lined with a set of rosewood formal chairs; marble-topped tables and stools were placed in the middle. Set against the center of the east wall was a glass hutch, in which assorted curios and jewels such as jade, agate, coral, and decorative rocks were displayed. Bookcases flanked the hutch, containing volumes of essays, fiction, and classical poetry and prose. Set against the west wall, underneath a window, was a large rosewood chaise lounge, complete with a matching tray and inlaid on three sides with marble. The window was framed in mahogany carved in the shape of sunflowers, holding panes of red, yellow, blue, and green glass. When viewed through the glass, the bamboo outside of the living room acquired an exquisite blue and green coloration.
Being a friend of the family, Ch’en Wan-li just sprawled out upon a rosewood couch to one side of a bookcase and struck up a conversation with the young people. “Today they’re holding another demonstration march,” he said. “Why aren’t you young people getting into the act instead of hiding yourselves here?” Chang Tzu-hao and Ho Shou-jen just giggled and didn’t speak a word, while Li Min-k’uei poked fun at him: “Now tell me, my fine man, why you yourself don’t go and join in the festivities?” Ch’en Wan-li feigned an air of indignation and replied, “I was thinking of going, but I’m afraid you young people would knock me down. Aren’t you the ones who spend the whole day talking about overthrowing the comprador class?” Li Min-k’uei picked up his line of reasoning and chimed in, “That’s exactly why we decided not to go out and join the march. We do not find it fulfilling to lend our support to the Communist Party.”
Ch’en Wan-li reflected upon this for a moment, then slowly stated, “According to that theory, the workers who came back from Hong Kong to participate in the strike are all Communists!” When Ho Shou-jen saw that no one attempted a rejoinder, he said, “Granted, you can’t go around making irresponsible statements like that. Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that this particular strike was instigated by the Communist Party.”
Ch’en Wan-li made a faint snort of acknowledgment, and said nothing more. Later on he turned and addressed his son-in-law, “Tzu-hao, I never really asked you about it before, but I’m curious about that warlord Ch’en Chiung-ming, whose influence extends across the eastern half of our province. If the Eastern Campaign of your Canton Revolutionary Army was so successful, why did you withdraw your troops?”
“Father,” Chang Tzu-hao said, “you saw it yourself, didn’t you? It’s just that we want to overthrow the warlords Liu and Yang.”
“The Yunnan and Kwangsi armies trafficked in opium and ran gambling joints; they are indeed warlords and should be overthrown. But have you overthrown that Ch’en Chiung-ming?” Ch’en Wan-li said.
“He’s been taken care of,” Chang Tzu-hao said, chuckling; then he quickly added, “Well, almost . . .”
“Just as I said, a lot of work for nothing,” said Ch’en Wan-li with a laugh. “If you can’t even topple a single warlord, how can you talk about overthrowing something as vast as Imperialism? What do you know of Imperialism anyway? I personally would make a quick withdrawal of forces. The foreign airplanes, cannons, tanks, and warships are not coming here just to fool around with you!” At this point in the conversation, the group of young men had nothing further to say to him, and withdrew from the living room into the library.
Ch’en Wan-li lay down for a spell, alone in the room until Ho Ying-yüan made a dignified entrance, dressed in a diaphanous silk shirt and bead-sewn, straw-bottomed slippers. In his hand he held a fan made from goose feathers. When Ch’en Wan-li saw him, he sat up on the couch. “Fifth Master,” Ch’en said, “it has only been a few days since I saw you last, how is it that you have grown thinner by the day?”
“Ah, to be like you instead,” Ho Ying-yüan said, “who no matter what problems arise in this world of ours, never really takes them to heart. I saw you just a few days ago, and it seems you are getting plumper by the day!”
The two men engaged in such pleasantries for a while before turning to more pressing matters. “Fifth Master,” Ch’en Wanl-li said, “what will come of the dispute over the post of counsellor in the provincial government?”
“I appreciate your concern,” Ho Ying-yüan replied, “But what we’re dealing with here is a movement that sparks up one day and dies down the next, never really coming to anything. For the moment, at least, the post will be kept. It’s not that I crave the job or lust after the salary, it’s simply that we cannot allow the Red elements to seize power and do with it as they please, not granting so much as a voice to the rest of the provincial assembly. Even if I permitted it, do you think that Sun Yat-sen’s acting commander-in-chief, Hu Han-min, would stand for it?”
“That’s right, of course you’re right.” Ch’en Wan-li clapped his hands in approval. “We businessmen cannot fathom the tricks of you politicians, but to tell the truth, I’ve spent the greater part of this year in fear and trembling, and rarely ever get a good night’s sleep. It’s been one crazy event after another. How can a man not be driven utterly mad? Just you count the incidents: in February of this year it was the Eastern Campaign, in March and April, memorial services for “Big Gun” Sun Yat-sen. When May came around we were sitting even prettier with the formation of both the Labor Congress and the Peasant Representative Assembly. A hundred thousand people took to the streets shouting and cursing, and it was none other than you and me that they were cursing! Next came the May Thirtieth Massacre, when those radical Chinese demonstrators, protesting against the abuses of the “Imperialists,” were gunned down by the British in the International Settlement of Shanghai. Then the campaign against Liu and Yang, and now the Hong Kong worker’s strike! What are we to make of all this? Haven’t you seen how the young men in the household of that brother-in-law of mine, Chou Chin, Chou Yung, and Chou Ping, have developed a glazed look in their eyes, which soon turned red? If this isn’t madness, then what is? Who allowed them to participate in such insanity? Has our police force locked itself away in an outhouse somewhere?”
Ho Ying-yüan remained unruffled. He just smiled. “What do businessmen know besides business?” he said. “A disturbance is not wholly undesirable, and may even contain certain advantages. It’s only when things get out of hand that we have to worry. You’ll see—there will come a day when they will tumble and fall very hard. There is every caliber of man in their very midst, including that Chiang K’ai-shek, who’s got something in him. At the moment, he still seems to be a leftist. But don’t you forget, between him and Hu Han-min lies a bit of the “one mountain ain’t big enough for two tigers” problem—he’s just too audacious. But if Hu Han-min can keep him in check, he too may be of some use.
Ch’en Wan-li did not particularly enjoy listening to the ins and outs of what he considered one big game of “hide-and-seek,” so he changed the subject. “Fifth Master,” he asked, “that group of bastards is planning to put on another ritual procession today, and I heard that they are going to march as far as the foreign compound at Shameen. Have you caught any wind of it yourself?”
“How could I avoid knowing?” Ho Ying-yüan said, with an impenetrable smile. “Isn’t this just one more instance of those Commies stirring up trouble again? Well, the authorities over at Shameen are prepared for them. The moment they arrive, we’re going to witness one hell of a ‘roadside funeral service. ’ How those scores of souls wronged in the May Thirtieth Massacre will flock down upon Canton in search of fresh bodies! There’s simply no way to escape what has been preordained!”
Ch’en Wan-li scratched his grey-haired scalp and thought it over, then said, as if he had come to a sudden realization, “If I understand you correctly, the British are still going to play tough.”
Ho Ying-yüan looked smug, and, slashing the air with his goose-feather fan, he said, “Of course! Are you insinuating that they aren’t permitted to act tough? Do you mean to tell me that they fear the likes of them? No, my friend, all we need do is watch the show, and what a pretty sight it will be!”
“Is your source reliable?” asked Ch’en Wan-li in a whisper. Fifth Master pretended to be angry, and said, “Reliable, unreliable, who the hell knows? You realize, of course, that my line is close to the foreign quarters!”
Ch’en Wan-li said no more. Upon returning home, he found his son, Wen-hsiung. “Hsiung, my boy,” he said, “don’t go back to the office this afternoon in Shameen. You needn’t even go there to excuse yourself; a phone call will suffice.” Ch’en Wen-hsiung had just put on an open-collar shirt and carried a Western-style jacket on his arm. He put down the jacket and asked, “Why? What have you heard?”
“They’re prepared for action!” Ch’en Wan-li said in a low voice. “Haven’t you had enough after that massacre on Nanking Road in Shanghai? Kissing one’s life goodbye is no solution to any problem.”
Wen-hsiung’s face flushed and his heart began to palpitate. Finally, he managed to contain himself and said, “If that’s how it is, I simply won’t go back to work.” He returned to his room and flopped down on the bed; he didn’t stir for a long time. Then he got up and climbed up to the third floor, intending to break the news to his sisters Wen-ti, Wen-chieh, and Wen-t’ing. But they were out. He dashed over to the Chou household to discuss the matter with his cousins, but he only found Chou Ch’üan. Hearing the awful news, she became upset.
“Little Ch’üan,” Ch’en Wen-hsiung said to her, “have no fear. In principle, we Chinese are in the right. All we need fear is that those Imperialists have no regard for principles . . . Do you know whether all the young people in both our families are going to participate in the march today?”
Chou Ch’üan shook her head, “I have no idea, but we can be sure that our mischievous Ping is going.” She then placed a hand over her heart and said, “May God protect him.”
By this time, upwards of a hundred thousand high-spirited demonstrators had already set forth from East Drill Ground. The leading contingent of marchers was composed of workers returned from the Hong Kong strike and resident Canton workers. They traversed the length of Yung-han street, then walked along the esplanade of Pearl River, heading toward the intersection of Hsi-hao-k’ou and Shakee boulevards. The rest of the column was composed of farmers, students, and patriotic residents who followed at their heels. Ou T’ao, Chou Ping, Ch’en Wen-chieh and Ch’en Wen-t’ing were all present in the ranks. But none had seen each other except for Ou T’ao and Chou Ping, who had exchanged a nod and smile at the very outset.
The demonstration was like a great river whose tumultuous waves whipped up to the heavens in anger. There was no sound in the air but a roar of anger, no desire save that of vengeance. Like a peal of thunder echoing in the skies above Canton, its rumble and quaking sent tremors through White Cloud Mountain, rocking London, Washington, Tokyo, and Paris alike.
Ou T’ao was marching and shouting along with the workers’ contingent. She could not make out the sound of her own voice but instead heard a different kind of sound. Brute and majestic, it reverberated above her head with the force of a tempest, a hurricane. When she heard the sound, all at once she felt a surge of strength in her hands and feet, and no longer sensed that she was an individual marcher but rather a marcher one hundred thousand strong. What a powerful person she became! When she recognized such power, her courage increased a hundredfold. How she wished she had already arrived at Shakee Street. Ou T’ao believed with all her conviction that if the awesome force of these hundred thousand marchers were to weigh upon Shameen, the imperialists would have no recourse but to submit to the Chinese people.
Chou Ping felt the same way. He was marching in the student contingent about half a mile behind Ou T’ao. He too was shouting while marching along with the crowd. He too heard a brute and majestic sound reverberating above his head with the force of a tempest or hurricane. He too felt a surge of strength in his hands and feet, and no longer felt he was a single marcher but rather a marcher one hundred thousand strong.
He felt as though he could discern, somewhere in that deafening roar of a hundred-thousand marchers, the passionate, resonant voice of Ou T’ao. Chou Ping imagined that it was Ou T’ao herself conducting the voice of a hundred thousand demonstrators shouting out slogans. He tried with all his might to make his own voice audible, by thrusting forward his head and giving it his full throat, but it was never loud enough. To his great chagrin, the moment the words left his mouth they were engulfed by the voices of myriad others.
Before long they arrived at Sea Pearl Park, rapidly approaching Shameen. Chou Ping was overcome with a new sense of strength, a power more determined and fearless, which surged through the contingent from front to rear. His eyes were set open even wider, and his fists clenched even more tightly. He was no longer hearing any voices, but instead the sound of a raging storm exploding in his ears. Years later the sensation he felt at that moment would remain with him. He felt as though the contingent was no longer formed of even columns four abreast, bur rather that everyone was marching arm in arm, Ou T’ao’s arm in his own, creating one long, horizontal line advancing upon the enemy . . . advancing mercilessly to crush the enemy . . .
Sure enough, a gust from the raging storm of anger was advancing mercilessly upon Shameen. The colonial settlement was terror-stricken from top to bottom. A certain low-ranking military officer who was standing upon the East Bridge of Shameen behind an iron fence and a row of sandbags was more frightened than most. He had already received orders stating, “If the situation so dictates you may open fire upon the Chinese pigs.” By this point he was pulling out his handkerchief and wiping the sweat off his brow repeatedly. He saw with his own eyes that those heroic, valiant workers had already crossed the East Bridge and were heading straight toward the West Bridge.
As he sensed the awesome force of the raging storm, his legs turned to jelly and he felt as though he were about to faint. He sensed that Shameen was on the verge of siege, that the houses on Shameen were all tilting and about to topple over. He recalled that his son had just boarded a ship in his homeland bound for the Far East, to fill a post as assistant manager in a Western firm. He thought of the boots he had used to discipline a Cantonese rickshaw puller just the other night. Then he thought about the Chinese women he had fondled whenever he felt like exercising his right to fondle them any time he pleased. He called to mind all the opium, gold, and other smuggled goods amassed in his bedroom . . .
All this would perish before his very eyes. His heart beat so fiercely that his face turned pale in fear. He felt just like a mangy dog who had been driven into a blind alley, where there was no one to take pity on him, and where he would certainly be beaten to death. His corpse would be cast into the ocean, and floated back to his native land upon the lashing waves.
When his imagination got this far, he felt like crying, like screaming. Finally, he yelled out, “For the glory of our fatherland, for the glory of our fatherland —Forward March, boys . . .”
The foreign soldiers all understood the foreign words he uttered, but cast a bewildered glance in his direction, wondering what on earth would prompt a man like him to say such a thing. What is more, they saw no way to carry out his orders. In front of them was an iron fence tightly chained up, while sandbags barricaded the areas both behind the fence and on the side of the bridge. How were they to charge through?
The foreign military officer saw that no one had made the slightest motion, so he pulled out a pistol and fired it off in the direction of the crowd. The rest of the men followed suit . . . It was in this manner that the vile, shameless, bloody massacre began.
The first to suffer casualties were marchers in the contingent of Cantonese workers with their glorious revolutionary tradition. Ou T’ao was marching in the center ranks of the group, and as it pressed closer to Shameen, she could feel her anger rise. She had a clear view of the foreign soldiers along East Bridge, whose guns were aimed in her direction. With all the strength she could muster, she shouted out, “Down with Imperialism!” For her this was no longer a slogan, but rather, it spelled out the message written upon her heart. Suddenly, there was a loud explosion some ten or fifteen yards away. This was followed by a rapid succession of gunfire. At once she understood what was happening. She looked on as one of her fellow workers fell to the ground at her side. She started screaming without thinking about anything else, “Let’s go! Grab their guns! Kill them! Long live the workers! Long live China!” She continued to shout while marching forward.
The gunshots grew thicker, and their smoke obstructed the range of her vision. She suddenly realized that Chou Ping was not at her side. If only he were there, he would be able to jump up and snatch the guns from the enemy! But now it was up to her to do it.
Then, in the space of time it takes to blink an eye, she felt everything thrown into confusion. It seemed as though a heavy rock had struck her chest. Her eyes could no longer see, her ears could no longer hear. She wanted to scream, but no sound came out. She felt so odd, so very odd, where was she? Nothing remained but the summer sun, which she made out as a huge blur: that sun was always so bright, so very bright . . .
At first, the demonstrators were thrown into chaos. Some continued to march forward, some wandered off to the sides, and some turned back in retreat. The entire group of a hundred thousand marchers halted for a moment, long enough for the meaning of the gunfire to sink in, then several seconds later the full wrath and fury of the crowd was unleashed as they broke away from their formation and pushed, shoved, or burrowed their way forward. Some marchers burst out with new extemporaneous slogans, “Raze Shameen!” “Annihilate the Imperialists!” and “Long Live the Workers of Canton!”
Chou Ping just followed the crowd forward as if he had lost all consciousness. He saw nothing and heard nothing, he only concentrated on locating the contingent of Cantonese workers. When he reached Hsi-hao-k’ou, he saw that the road ahead had already been sealed off by the police. The bulk of the crowd was just turning the corner to head north on Peace Road. Some of the demonstrators had already scattered, while others just stood around here and there in small groups, occasionally shouting out their slogans.
The atmosphere created by all the shooting kept igniting the crowd. Chou Ping looked everywhere, but the Cantonese worker’s contingent was nowhere to be found, so he returned to the area that had been sealed off, pulled out a first-aid badge and fastened it to his sleeve in order to gain admittance into the prohibited area.
Just at that moment, a white red-cross ambulance zipped by and stopped right in front of him. In the vehicle, a man dressed in worker’s garments motioned to him yelling out something. Chou Ping climbed aboard the ambulance and stood upon the running board at the side of the driver. The ambulance flew toward the scene of the incident at East Bridge as if it had sprouted wings. When they reached the end of the street, they all jumped down from the ambulance, sprinted over to Shakee Boulevard, and proceeded with their job quickly, solemnly, without speaking a word. The shops were all closed and locked up; Shakee Boulevard was still from one end to the other.
The only spectacle was the presence of men in grey and white coming and going. A passing shower had left small puddles of water gleaming upon the stone-paved street. Faint cries issued from the lips of the wounded. Their bright red blood trickled over the ground of their fatherland, spreading a brilliant color, and filtering at the same time down through the cracks between the stones deep into the soil below. The street appeared to be inlaid with rubies.
A foreboding sensation weighed upon the heart of Chou Ping. He suddenly caught a glimpse of a figure in white that had fallen facedown into a pool of blood. He believed that it was a woman. He seemed to recognize her and walked over to her. She was lying upon the ground, her two arms extended in front of her, as if she were preparing to leap up and continue to charge forward. Her jaw was perched upon a rock, her mouth contorted in anger, and her eyes staring wide open, as if keeping a watch upon the enemy.
Chou Ping bent over, and as he tried to help her stand up, he called “Ah-T’ao, Ah-T’ao . . .” She made no response, but turned limp and buried herself, motionless, in his arms.
He raised his fist toward the murderers in Shameen and shook it a few times in anger, then carried her up with both his arms. But somehow, at his very first step, the two of them toppled to the ground in a rush of darkness.
[In the aftermath of what came to be known as the Shakee-Shameen Massacre, Chou Ping falls ill, while the city is paralyzed by a retaliatory strike. Following the heinous murder of his beautiful Cunégonde, we find our young Candide rudely awakened to the realities of the most corrupt of all possible worlds. After a long convalescence he emerges with the resolution to avenge Ou T’ao and her heroic companions and embarks upon the long road toward the revolution. Yet revolutionary ideals are turned into revolutionary illusion, as one by one his generation of noble souls become collaborators with the counterrevolutionary government. The end of the first volume of the saga finds Chou Ping aboard a ship to Shanghai in search of the Communist Party. ]
Translated by Harry Kaplan
At the young age of nine, Liu Chen had already started working for the Communist Eighth Route Army in North China as a “little red devil,” a courier delivering messages and doing propaganda work. Her brief schooling in 1941 ended in her arrest, and from then on she stayed in the T’ai-hang mountain region, sometimes masquerading as a boy to escape detection. There is much in the story “The Long Flowing Stream” that is autobiographical.
After 1949 she studied literature at the Lu Hsün Academy of Arts and in the literary workshop sponsored by the Chinese Writers Association. She published a great deal, mostly stories of her pre-1949 experience told in a refreshing style, brisk, nervy, and engaging. Very popular among younger readers, her works have been collected in Treasure Hunt in the Western Realm, Paths in the Woods, and other anthologies.
The veteran short-story writer Ai Wu has said of Liu Chen’s works: “Her characters are never simple, though the language under her command adheres faithfully to the colloquial speech of the locale. It is real, lively, picturesque, humourous, and at times stunning.”
In the 1960s she continued working in the countryside in North China. Like most of the writers, she also was criticized and remained silent during the Cultural Revolution. Her new writings started to appear in 1978. —K. Y. H.
How childish I was at thirteen!
My home was a small village on the North China plain, from which, no matter what direction you cast your eyes, the earth spread out flatly in front of you. I often wondered what mountains were like. Taller even than a poplar? And if you stood on the very tallest summit, how far from the sky would you still be?
In the spring of 1943, the Party sent me to the T’ai-hang Mountains; it was only then that I discovered that mountains were, after all, made of rock. In the mountains there were old temples and lush green woods. A long stream meandered down between the peaks and I wondered where it flowed. I thought myself to be in a dream world.
Our whole family had come from Shantung to southern Hopei to take part in the work of the revolution. It was infuriating how the enemy, in their various “mopping-up” campaigns of the previous year, had carved up the southern Hopei revolutionary base area into small pieces by constructing watchtowers and digging defensive moats. On the other hand, had they not done so, the southern Hopei party committee and school would not have moved to this small village in the T’ai-hang range, and I wouldn’t have had the chance to see the mountains.
On the day after I arrived, cadre Wang of the Organizational Department called me in and asked me: “There is both a rectification team here and a regular school. Which would you prefer to join?” I thought it over awhile before asking him, “What will the older comrades who came with me be doing?” Cadre Wang said, “They’ll be in rectification, of course.” “O. K., then I’ll be in rectification too,” I said without hesitation. Whatever was most useful and most glorious was always done by the older comrades, so it wouldn’t do to lag behind them.
A woman comrade seated beside me interrupted, “What would a child your age have to do with rectification—you belong in school!” I glared at her; her face was covered with freckles, and, by the look of her, she’d just come up from the plain as well. I gave voice to my displeasure with her remark: “Oh! so only you are allowed into rectification? Well, I’m going into rectification in spite of what you say and we’ll just see what you can do about it!”
Cadre Wang laughed. “All right, all right, you go into rectification.” He turned around and said to the woman comrade, “She’s young, but she’s been in the revolutionary ranks since she was nine. She’s been in propaganda, a messenger—she’s even been captured twice by the enemy. So it’s just as well that she raise her consciousness through rectification.”
I wished I could say to the woman comrade: “So there! Won’t that shut you up for a while?” But instead, she smilingly stood up and took my hand: “Shall we go then?” I twisted away from her: “What do you think you’re doing?”
Cadre Wang stood up quickly and said, “I haven’t introduced you two yet. This is comrade Li Yün-feng, chair of the Tsao-nan county Women’s Association to Save Our Country; now she’s group leader in the Sixth Rectification Team. I’m assigning you to her group and you’ll have to obey her from now on.”
“What a mess I’m in now,” I thought to myself.
When we arrived at the women’s dormitory, you should have seen her go into action: borrowing a basin from the owner of the house, going to get hot water, getting out her washrag and soap, she said peremptorily, “Off with your clothes now. Wash!” Hey, what did they think they were doing with this big, steaming basin of hot water, slaughtering a pig? I stood there stuck in my tracks until she gave me a push: “Wash your hair first.”
For convenience on the job, I had shaved my head when I became a messenger. I said indignantly: “Just what hair am I supposed to wash if I don’t even have any?”
“Your head can still be dirty even without hair.”
“But without dirt, where could crops grow?”
“So you’re not only dirty, but naughty to boot.”
“When I was in the enemy-occupied zone, I scrambled around all day long without anybody telling me to wash this or wash that. You’re the only one who’s ever been so picky.”
Without further ado, she reached out her hand and pushed my head into the water and proceeded to wash me from head to toe, just about taking off a layer of skin while she was at it. She was winded when she had finished and she said, “There! That’s much cleaner than the piglet you were.”
“I brought that layer of dirt up with me from home and now you’ve cleaned off even the faintest smell of the old place,” I pouted.
“You can go back and sniff at your hometown smell to your heart’s content after you’ve finished your studies.”
Suddenly, the main door opened and ten or so women comrades poured in, some with hair in braids, others with it short, all singing or talking and laughing loudly. They had cast off their false hairpieces and did not have to pretend to be bashful, young village matrons anymore. Once out from under the view of the enemy, it was as if they went wild; they could do what they pleased. When they caught sight of me, they gathered around and began to discuss me: “Our group has a new comrade, eh? Hey! So young?”
“But isn’t this a young boy? Where’s your hair?”
“You’re going to participate in rectification? What if we criticize you and you break out in tears?”
I spoke out: “You’re the one who’ll cry!” I didn’t choose to continue to be the subject of their chattering analysis, so I broke out of their encirclement.
Another comrade, who still had the air of a farm wife, came in with some food. She smiled at me and said, “We’re in the same group, my name is Yüchen. I’ve brought dinner, so why don’t you and Yün-feng eat.”
Yü-chen stared straight at me as we ate. Had I been thin-skinned it would have embarrassed me. Unprompted, she told me, “I’m from the third subdistrict’s Women’s Association. I came up into the mountains carrying a child on my back, but now he’s staying with a farm family here.” She spoke as if she couldn’t suppress the information any longer.
At night all twelve of us slept on a large k’ang. They had squeezed out space enough for me, with Yü-chen on my left and Yü-feng on my right. Sitting in the light, Yü-chen was sewing a padded jacket for her child, while Yü-feng had gone to the room of the house’s owner. I pointed at Yü-feng’s empty bedding and softly asked Yü-chen, “Is she an all-right person?”
Yü-chen put on a grandmotherly expression and said, “She sure is; she’s a senior-high graduate, a leader of the student movement in Tsinan before the war. She was put in jail three times by the warlord Han Fu-ch’ü. She had to be bribed out each time with her father’s money. Her father is a businessman who finally asked her whether a well-brought-up girl like her wasn’t ashamed of her continual trouble-making. He told her that they would support her at home, but if she were arrested again, he wouldn’t waste his money to get her out. She told him that if he were ashamed of her he could keep his precious money at home and that if she were arrested again he didn’t need to waste it on her. He was so mad his beard bristled and he smashed a huge teapot. She walked out then and never went back. Now she’s on our county’s Party committee.”
Wow! That’s quite something!
Of the ten or so comrades in our group, Yün-feng was the oldest and the most experienced, so everybody called her “Big Sister.” In the rectification process some of the women comrades couldn’t take it when they heard a slightly contrary opinion, and they would go back to the dorm and have a secret cry. I thought to myself, aren’t you the ones who’re the crybabies? I never cried even once. But Big Sister would just quietly call each of these women out and talk with them in low tones while sitting on the rock by the door. Sometimes they didn’t come in to sleep until the middle of the night.
What I didn’t know was why she insisted on being so strict with me. Everybody else got a big thick book to read, while all she found to give me was a primary school grammar or a math text book. She gave me volumes one through eight and told me brusquely, “Aside from reading the material on rectification, I want you to use your time wisely and read these texts. When you’ve mastered them down to the last punctuation point, I want you to learn multiplication and division. And don’t be even the slightest bit careless about it.”
You see! I had a mother-in-law before I’d even grown up.
The village in which we were staying happened to be undergoing a struggle against bad landlords. When the tenant farmers had a problem they would come and consult with her and she would stride off to help them solve it. She would go into the home of whoever was having difficulties and offer suggestions, even mediating marital squabbles or disputes between young women and their mothers-in-law. Without invitation or without even knowing the people she would march right in, as if going into her own home. She was only the head of a county Women’s Association, but it was as if all China was hers to manage. But whenever the village people saw her they would break into smiles. The saying goes that two women are as loud as cymbals and three make a whole band, and when she and the other women got together she alone made as much noise as a whole opera. It was only when she saw me that her face would become stern and her voice icy, as if I’d owed her money in some previous life and had refused ever after to pay her back. She would leaf through my notebook and say, “Your characters are written so hastily! You must write them one stroke at a time. Don’t try to run before you can walk.”
That really got me angry: didn’t you all just scribble things down as fast as you could go? So why should I be the only one who isn’t allowed to write quickly? Young or old, I’m still a cadre and when I listen to a report how am I supposed to take notes? But she had an answer for everything: “All right, you can write more quickly when you’re taking notes, but you have to make a clean copy later on.” How could I disobey this? She was playing mother-in-law after all.
The long creek was behind the house we lived in. There were lots of pretty stones along its banks, rectangular ones, round ones, pink ones, and pure white ones. I filled my pockets so full that they bulged like toad’s bellies and made a racket when I ran. I went out to gather stones every evening after supper and never came back before dark. By that time Big Sister would long since have opened up my textbooks and been waiting for me. When I came in she would ask, “Have you finished your cavorting? Time for study!”
If the truth be known, I had become accustomed to complete freedom of action in the zone occupied by the enemy. If I wanted to, I’d study for a while, but if I didn’t, I’d just go out and play. The enemy would come every couple of days and we’d have to hide in underground tunnels; there had never been anyone like her, with her eyes constantly fixed on me. For anybody else, it was just rectification, but lucky me had this whole extra set of troubles. Well, no way out, I just had to sit down to study! But I always felt a bit victimized; I would stare at her and say, “You’re so cutting when you speak, I don’t like to listen to you.”
Off to one side Yü-chen said, “She’s hard on the outside, but a softy inside. She’s a good heart.” I turned my head and retorted, “Of course you’d say she’s good; when your child didn’t have any clothes, she used her own vest to make some. She won you over when she gave those little clothes to you.”
“Hey, hey,” said Yü-chen with a smile. “If you don’t believe me just wait and see. If you’re without clothes, so long as she has any, she’ll give them to you.”
“Well, I’m not a little baby, I wouldn’t want any.” Stifling a smile, Big Sister patted the text. “This is what I’m giving to you and you’ll have to take it whether you want it or not.”
So I sat there studying and pulling my long face, my mouth in a great pout. I always managed to make a few noises in order to irritate her. After we’d finished the lesson she stared at me for the longest time, finally sighing, “You really are the limit. You’ll understand when you grow up.” I gave her a sideways glance. “I’m not so young you know. I had cadre rank at the platoon level in my propaganda team even three years ago.”
“Hmph! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about you.”
I pointed at her face. “What about you? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about you.” She laughed at that, grabbed hold of me and playfully hit me.
I asked her once, out of the blue, how many children she had. “Two,” she replied.
“Who’s taking care of them for you?”
That evening I was wrapped in my bedding while she wordlessly patched up my worn-out padded jacket. It was true that autumn had passed and winter was coming. The leaves of the persimmon tree drifted down one by one into the creek, whose water had become somewhat chill. As she pulled on the thread she sang a very pretty song, which she said was a lullaby. At that moment I thought she was wonderful, and I asked her softly, “Do you miss your children?” Neither nodding nor shaking her head, she just grinned. I tried to encourage her. “You shouldn’t worry. Their grandmother will take good care of them.” The whole roomful of women burst out laughing. Yü-chen said to me in a soft voice, “You silly girl. She isn’t even married yet.” Well, I didn’t believe that—how could there be a person still unmarried at age twenty-eight? I asked her huffily, “Are you married or not?”
“I was just teasing you,” she giggled. I grabbed the quilt and yanked it over my head. “If you aren’t ashamed of yourself, then I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” Yü-chen stuck her head under the covers and said softly, “She had a very fine boyfriend who was killed last year just after they agreed to get married.” Oh! My heart sank as I stole a glance at Big Sister. Her face was calm. The small light of the lantern shone in her eyes as she began again to sing her lullaby:
Little baby, you sleep well,
The wind waits to carry you to the endless sea
The thunder will take you to the limitless sky . . .
“You hear?” Yü-chen whispered. “She made that up herself. She can write poetry too.” I pondered that for some time. Poetry. What could poetry be?
After that I began to like Big Sister a bit more. Even the freckles on her face became agreeable. I thought once as I looked in the mirror how nice it would be for me to have freckles too, if my face were as pale as hers.
Whenever I made her angry, I thought of how her boyfriend had been killed and I quickly pulled my face out of its pout. But once when we were having a meeting, I just couldn’t help myself. Whenever she criticized someone else, she would always address them as “comrade,” but whenever it came to me it would be “Young Liu” this and “Young Liu” that, just as if I weren’t a cadre at all. This was rectification, and all the others were dignified with words like “class consciousness,” “standpoint,” or this or that “ism.” But me? She despised me, and didn’t even grace me with so much as a single political term. It was as if I were a little ruffian who’d been caught stealing melons and was only worthy of having my crimes counted off against me: “Young Liu is lazy in her studying, she’s not being realistic at all. She hasn’t even mastered basic arithmetic, but she’s still arrogant and self-satisfied and refuses to think about the long term. The revolution is going to require many things of us and we must continually take stock of ourselves.”
When the meeting was over we took up with my lessons. My anger hadn’t diminished at all, so I said to her nastily, “One Jap plus two Japs equals three Japs. If all you worry about is addition those three Japs will never be killed off.” Angry and smiling at the same time, she said, “If that’s the way you choose to think, don’t bother learning anything at all; you’ll see what happens to you.” I said, “Of course I’ll see what happens to me. What will happen to me tomorrow morning is that I’ll eat four bowls of millet and drink five bowls of herb soup.” I didn’t care whether she objected to what I said or not—I ran out of the room.
I ran to the creek, took off my shoes and sat on a big smooth rock. I soaked my toes in the clear water and began to clap my hands and sing:
We’re in the T’ai-hang Mountains
We’re in the T’ai-hang Mountains
Mountains high and the woods so dense
Soldiers stout and our horses strong . . .
A little bird cocked its head and peered out at me from a crevice in the rock, as if to say, “That was good, let’s have another.” It didn’t have to ask, as I sang one song after another, my enthusiasm growing with each one. It was as if I were conducting a chorus: the breeze blew, stirring up sparkling ripples of water like so many eyes gazing at me.
Altogether I sang fifteen songs. When it became dark and I returned to the dorm, I continued to sing as I unbuttoned my clothes and climbed into bed. Big Sister took hold of me. “Not so fast, you still have school work to do.” I had no choice but to bring out my books and to let her teach me. As she began the lesson she stifled a laugh and said as she fixed her eyes on me, “It’s no simple matter to eat all that millet and drink all that herbal soup, so why do you bother to learn all of this?” I immediately began to unbutton and said, “Fine! Ill hop straight into bed.” She laughed and gave me a thump. “Now that we’ve fattened you up we can’t slaughter and eat you, and since nobody’s going to keep feeding you for nothing, hit the books.”
In the eighth month of rectification, disaster struck. Big Sister developed lymphatic tuberculosis and was ordered to the infirmary to recuperate. She told Yü-chen, “You teach her the junior high curriculum. She’s intelligent enough, but too frivolous. All she needs is a bit tighter control.”
Big Sister said to me, “Sometimes I’m too quick-tempered and I say things that aren’t very nice. It’s all right with me if you hate me and shout at me, but what isn’t all right is for you not to study.”
I was not angry when I heard this, as I recalled that at home we called the kind of lumps that had appeared on Big Sister “trouble lumps.” We thought that people only developed them from getting angry. I was very upset as I kept thinking about it and thus failed to hear her leave. I realized suddenly that she was gone and I stormed out the door in pursuit. I ran after her for about a kilometer or so, until she heard the sound of my steps and turned abruptly around. She stood still on the mountain path. I anxiously looked at the lumps on her neck and asked her, “Did you grow these because I made you angry?” She shed some tears as she took hold of my hand and said, “No!” She quickly opened up her case and took out a little black notebook. Handing it to me, she said, “Use this to keep a diary. If you write in it every day, it will develop your consciousness and your writing style.” I nodded my head. She bent down and said to me very warmly, “You’ll understand by and by that the revolution needs educated cadres.”
This time I listened to her without any protest. The first thing I wrote in my diary was as follows: “Big Sister has gone. She got sick. This evening when I looked at her empty space on the k’ang, I only wanted to cry. I understand one thing: she was good to me.”
After the rectification I went on to a half year of high school. During the enemy’s last “mopping-up” campaign in the T’ai-hang Mountains I was taken ill; I had a bout of malaria every day and was put in the infirmary as well, in the same room as Big Sister.
When I went in she hollered, “Young Liu!” and held out her arms to me. She had grown thin since, because we lacked the necessary medicines, the lymphatic tuberculosis had spread over her entire body. One of her legs was completely immobilized. I ran straight into her arms, feeling an inexpressible sadness. In the past eight or nine months I’d been such a fool, I hadn’t even thought of coming to see her.
After being there only a day I realized that sitting all day on a plank-bed for so long had mellowed her. She was delighted to see me and she spoke to me much more nicely.
When my fever was up and I could neither stop vomiting nor sleep because of my aching head, I would say wild things like this to her: “There’s a big rock outside our door at home,” or “My mother makes the best rice noodles and fried cakes,” or “My aunt has an apricot tree that gives big, ripe fruit.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I was homesick. Whenever this happened, she would come over on her crutches and sit on my bed. She would give me some hot water to drink and softly sing one of her pleasant songs:
Sing, oh happy wind,
You’ve been around the world’s mountains and seas,
The whole globe listens to your song . . .
She looked out the window at the mountain peaks both far and near. Two snow-white clouds coursed east across the blue sky; the tall mountains looked up at them as if to say, “Why can’t we fly away too?” A gust of autumnal wind blew up, but the huge mountains did not move an inch. The wind also seemed to be speaking, “It won’t work, you great rocks, you’re too heavy.” Big Sister was still singing to the wind.
The doctors were able to remit the fever with acupuncture, but they kept me there to recuperate. It was at this time that Big Sister wanted to see the black notebook that I had filled with diary entries. I was really embarrassed and a little bit afraid as I reluctantly handed it over to her. She smiled to herself as she began to read it. As she was about to turn the page, a stranger’s voice came in from outside: “Is young Liu in here?” I replied, “I’m in here, who is it?” He came in.
I didn’t know him. He was about thirty and dressed like a farmer, with a white fluffy towel wrapped around his head. He introduced himself: “I’m from the sixth subdistrict of southern Hopei and I’m passing through here on my way to Yenan. Your mother had me bring a few things for you.” As soon as I heard the word “mother,” my eyes filled with tears; it had been three years since I’d seen her. The man pulled from his pack two pairs of shiny white socks made of fine yarn and handed them to me, saying, “All your comrades in southern Hopei miss you. They hope you’ll finish your studies and return as soon as possible to assist in the counterattack.” As he finished speaking he began to stride out of the room. “Why don’t you rest awhile,” Big Sister interjected. “Can’t. I have a long way to go.”
“Did my mother give you any message for me?” I asked quickly. He turned his head around. “Oh! Yes, she did. She said that she is all right and that you shouldn’t worry about her, that you should attend to your studies and not get sick.” Holding the pairs of socks, I lowered my head and went back in the room. I felt inexpressibly sad. Big Sister was put out and said, “What a rash fellow, can’t even stay a few minutes!”
Suddenly I thought about the socks. Because of the enemy blockade and two years of disastrous harvests, our comrades in southern Hopei had not been paid or issued any clothing in three years. I myself had no towel and had to wipe my face dry on my clothes when I washed. My winter jacket had long since lost its padding and become summer wear, and soon that, too, had been reduced to rags. With these two pairs of socks I really became a “millionaire.” I immediately bounced up and lightly placed one pair in Big Sister’s hand: “You wear these. You haven’t had any socks to wear since last winter and, besides, you have a bad leg.” Big Sister’s eyes moistened as she nodded her head. She carefully looked at the socks and then contentedly laid them by her side. She opened up my diary once again and said, “You’ll be going back pretty soon, so let’s take a look at how your thinking has developed over the past six months.”
She read it over page by page and when she suddenly frowned, my heart began to beat a little faster. Pointing at the notebook, she said, “Yes, you’ve progressed very quickly, but. . .” It was just that “but” that I was afraid of. And she would insist on saying, “But, look at what you’ve written here. I’ll read it to you: ‘High-school arithmetic is too hard. Since I plan to be neither a quartermaster nor an accountant, why should I learn it? When I grow up, I’m going to do something as mindless as possible . . . ’ ” She looked up at me and asked, “What kind of work can be done mindlessly? Unless you plan to give up the revolution and become some sort of goddess.”
You see? I knew her temper would never change, and here her old severity was coming out. I hung my head, but I still had to listen. She turned to another page and said, “When your teacher takes you to task, why must you abuse her so in your diary? If you can’t take criticism, how will you be able to make any progress?”
Aren’t you something! So everything’s wrong with me from head to toe, each hair in the wrong place, toes too short, ears stuck on wrong, legs out of kilter. I pulled my face longer and longer; I didn’t care how it looked since everything was wrong with me anyway.
With all her attention on the diary, she didn’t notice me at all. “You see,” she continued, “you make the same self-analysis every day: ‘I’m not diligent, I don’t make stringent enough demands on myself. ’ Why do you just analyze and never change? If you continue this way aren’t you afraid you’ll end up as a slacker?”
That was a real blow; I glared at her angrily. During the rectification I’d heard that “slackers” were the exclusive property of the KMT army. Caps askew, shuffling along, smoking opium, robbing people, inciting civil war, ambushing our own New Fourth Army: they were good-for-nothing bastards. How could she compare me to them? I was so furious that I broke into tears; I reached out and grabbed back the socks. I thought I’d give them to Young Hsi instead; after all, when we’d come up into the T’ai-hang Mountains together, the road had given her blood-blisters. She’s an honest, straightforward sort of girl who doesn’t pick at me like this.
Big Sister was startled for a moment and seemed on the point of smiling. But she resumed her serious look and, without another word, bent her head to the task of correcting the diary with her red pen. As far as I was concerned she could correct anything she pleased, because I didn’t want the diary any more.
The call came for dinner; I brought it over to her and slapped it down roughly in front of her. She filled a bowl with millet and black beans and asked as she ate, “So you’ve completely forgotten the spirit of rectification? Are you a scorpion’s tail again that can’t be touched any more? All you want is soft breezes to massage you as you grow up? You want us to put you on an altar and kowtow to you as you grow up? Are we supposed to carry you around in a sedan chair as you grow up?”
“What business is it of yours how I grow up? Anyway, I’ll keep growing up no matter what you do.” Although I snapped in reply, I felt a bit guilty, since, according to the spirit of rectification, I had been acting immodestly. I didn’t know why, but as soon as I heard someone criticizing me, I seemed to burn with rage. We didn’t speak to one another for the rest of the evening.
That night, while everything else in the Tai-hang Mountains peacefully slept, I didn’t. No wind blew and the leaves made no sound. The sliver of a moon kept watch over the earth, as if afraid someone would steal it. From far away came the sound of a waterfall that flowed and flowed, ever downward, day and night. Suddenly, from the farthest reaches of the east came the deep, thumping noises of cannons. Yes, they were fighting down on the plain. Which county seat were we attacking? Was it easy to cross the moats? Were the walls easy to breach? I thought of the plain.
A slight shadow appeared across the window as Big Sister lightly sat up on her plank-bed. Beyond the window, in the faraway sky, three small stars were blinking. She quietly gazed out the window and said to herself: “Cannon fire, cannon fire . . .” Silence again. How nice it would be if she would only have said something to me. But she wouldn’t; she was still angry with me. As I turned over she whispered to me, “Young Liu, are you asleep?” How good it was to hear her voice. I was on the verge of tears as I replied, “No.”
“What are you thinking of?”
After a good while, she continued, “In Russia there was a man named Gorki, who had a very hard life when he was young. Once his grandmother brought him to the Volga River, where he boarded a ship . . .”
From then on, whenever I couldn’t sleep she told me stories, She told me Pavel Korchagin, the hero in How Steel Was Tempered; she told me The Iron Flood, and the story of Hsiang Lin’s wife. She knew so many! Listening to her stories was like having something sweet slowly melt into my heart. It was as if the stars in the sky could speak and the very mountains and trees joined in. Her stories caused me to remember many events long past, from when I was little, and each one of them took on new significance, new perfection.
During the day when she would read or think her own thoughts, I would try to get her to tell me a story when I became bored. If she didn’t, I’d pull at her arm and say over and over: “Tell me one, tell me one.” Once, she sized me up, nodded, pulled out a big, thick book and stuffed it into my hands. “Here. Read it yourself.”
The book was called Son of the Working People and I was enraptured with it. When I’d finished it, I borrowed a second and a third. . . . When I returned the fifth book to her, I threw it rudely down in front of her and complained, “No wonder you know so many stories, they’re all in these books. But all you used to give me to read were text books, you never allowed me any of these.”
“Who said you weren’t allowed to read them? It was just that you didn’t have the foundation.”
“How many books as good as this are there, do you think? How many days would it take to finish reading them all?”
She quickly came down off her bed, and standing on one leg, she rolled up her mattress and bedding. Ho, good lord! Where did she round them all up? The area under her bed was completely paved with books. The one or two books that I had seen each comrade on the plain stash in their pockets or under their pillows all seemed to be gathered here. There were political books by revolutionary leaders, traditional Chinese novels, and I saw the name “Lu Hsün” for the first time. Dumbstruck for a time, I suddenly felt that I was just a pathetic little girl who’d climbed up out of our little village. Ahead of me, but at a great distance, stretched a wide and beautiful world, of which I knew nothing.
Big Sister spread out her mattress and sat on it. She stared at me for the longest time before saying, “Wait until we open up Peking and Shanghai and the other big cities. There are buildings and buildings full of books and they’re all ours. How many days do you think it’ll take you to finish them?”
“Oh, Big Sister!” I said as I embraced her, “I’m so ignorant!”
This was the autumn of 1944 and the trees were full of golden persimmons and red crabapples. The wild pepper was also ripe and it peeked out from among the dense leaves at the blue sky, the white clouds, and the mountain peaks. The local news-sheet carried the good news that we had won back eight county seats on the Hopei plain. Big Sister was happy as she anxiously called out, “Young Liu, go fetch the doctor as fast as you can!”
I ran as fast as my legs could carry me; I only wished there were something I could do to help cure her instantly. Dr. Sun came over, but there was nothing he could do without the necessary special medicines. As usual, he brought her some medicine and a few good books (it was only then that I understood that all those books were given to her by him). He stood there for some time whispering to her, comforting her, and he left only when she had calmed down.
The only way she could perform her work at all was by letter. So she wrote to the authorities of the county where she worked, wrote the secretary of the Party committee, wrote the chair of the Women’s Association, wrote to all the women in the association. She asked if they were encountering problems and how their children were getting along. When she finished writing, she called me over and asked me to inquire whether anyone was going back to the plain and could take the letters along with them.
My health had been improving day by day. Just then, a messenger came in and called out in a loud voice: “Young Liu! Get your things together and get ready to set out for the plain with the last rectification team. You’re to leave immediately.”
“Oh!” I shouted as I leapt up. I looked around and saw Big Sister biting her lip and trembling all over. I went over to embrace her wishing only that I could carry her back with me to our jobs. She controlled herself with some effort, pushed me away and said: “Why don’t you let me pack up all those old rags you’re using for clothes.” As I gave her all my things, I was seized by a combination of pain and joy; I stood there dumbly, not knowing what to do.
It was then that I came across those two pairs of white socks, gleaming like pearls in the midst of my tattered old clothes; I blushed. Big Sister was just about to stuff them in my pack when I reached out and grabbed her hand: “Keep one pair out for yourself.”
“No,” she said as she pushed me away. In tears, I went back and grabbed her hand again. “Won’t you ever forgive me for that one mistake?”
“It’s not that,” she said, holding my face in her hands. “Who knows where you’ll be assigned on your return, my dear? It may be some time before you see your mother again. And even if we defeat the Japs there’s always Baldy Chiang eying us hungrily from his lair in Szechwan. Young as you are there’s a hard road in front of you.” We hugged each other tightly; I could not speak for my tears.
Outside, the bugle called us to fall in. As she pushed me toward the door, she helped me put on my pack, giving me at the same time a small purple notebook. “Use this for your diary. Keep as detailed a record as possible of the counterattack so that I can get some sense of it too.” Her face was pale and serious as she silently waved to me.
I looked back at her as I walked out of the little stone building. My heart was heavy once we were on the road; the two pairs of socks felt as heavy as mountains.
After three days’ march, we finally caught sight of the broad North China plain as we crossed the last ridge. Each small road led to the battlefield, led to my home by the river. My home, the great plain. I looked back at the dear T’ai-hang Mountains. Back there somewhere, over ridge upon ridge, in a deep little valley, a small stone building nestled in the shade of the persimmon and walnut trees. There Big Sister would be silently sitting by the window, listening to the waterfall on the mountain as it endlessly flowed down, down to the villages and faraway woods.
I looked down at myself, at my feet, my hands. I thought back on my words and actions of the past two years—dear me! Oh mountains, oh plain, what a silly child I was.
For the next two years I returned to the plain to work in a performing troupe; I was so caught up in the invigorating but fatiguing work that I nearly forgot Big Sister. Later, when Chiang Kai-shek launched the full scale civil war, we were ordered to the battle front on the central China plain. The night before we set out an old man came to see me. When he arrived, he opened up his pack and took out two pairs of new, very white socks, as well as a sleeveless sweater made of heavy yarn. Holding out the sweater, he said, “This is made out of wool she spun herself while she was in the mountains.” My heart leapt. “When did she return?” I asked. “She’s been back a year. She lives in our village now.”
“Did her legs get better?”
“Ah, how should I tell you this? They had to amputate one.”
“Wha . . .” I cried out mournfully as I thought about those two pairs of socks. “Grandpa, was it because it was too cold in the T’ai-hang Mountains and she got frostbite in her foot because she had no socks?” The old man shook his head. “Well, whatever else, it was because the times were tough; it could have been anything.” I sat right down on my bed and said to myself sadly, “She’s crippled, she won’t be able to work.”
“Not so,” said the old man, his eyes widening happily. “She’s still the chair of our county Women’s Association. And every day she goes out here and there on her crutches; she gets around pretty quickly, even in bad weather. Just now she’s having the women make shoes and socks and organizing the men into stretcher-bearer battalions. While you’re at the front lines, the villagers will provide support right behind you.”
I went up to shake the old man’s hand. I wanted to have him take my greetings back with him, but no words came out. All I could do was hand over in silence the purple notebook for him to take back.
During the next three years at the front much hardship came with the joys of victory. Whenever I saw the stretcher-bearers bravely running in the hail of rifle fire or saw the old men following us closely, delivering rations, it was like seeing Big Sister. On her crutches, even in bad weather, she was with us at the front in spirit, like millions of others.
After the victory of the war of Liberation, I returned north. My heart started to beat wildly as soon as I caught sight of the T’ai-hang Mountains. The dear old T’ai-hang Mountains! In the course of the war and of my life, I had gradually come to understand just what I had discarded and what I had gained while living in their embrace.
By 1960 it had been fifteen years since I’d seen Big Sister. One day, by chance, I heard from a district Party secretary that she was serving as the head of the district Party school. Diligently working and learning, all those years had passed for her as one day. She had come to the provincial capital to attend a Party plenum and was staying on the third floor of the National Hotel. Happy and excited, I bounded up the stairs and threw open the door. Big Sister was standing in front of the window. As she turned rapidly around, I ran over without a word and hugged her; I broke into tears. The tears were streaming down her cheeks as she said, “Don’t cry, I’m fine.”
Heart in my mouth, I ran my hand over her artificial leg. Standing up, I looked at her carefully; she had some grey hair, but her eyes were still lively and young and appeared to be even more profound and kindly. She pulled me over, took a look at me and said with a smile, “Do you still remember our little building in the T’ai-hang Mountains? My! So you’ve grown up after all.” Recalling the business about the socks, I was between tears and laughter as I fell into her arms. Playfully slapping at my hands, she said, “And to think you’ve been writing with these dirty little hands. Everytime I’d read your writing, I’d think, ‘You little devil, you! You still want to try getting by without using your brain?’ ” I concealed a smile and managed a put-upon expression. “But it’s been much harder than ordinary schoolwork. Literature demands so much of a person.”
“Of course, it’s not simple at all,” she said as she got up and walked across the room, “and when they first cut off my leg, I thought I’d never walk again. But I kept at it and now I can walk. So I must believe that as long as you can take the first step, you can take a second; you shouldn’t let anything tie you down . . .” These few words brought illumination. If I closed my eyes it was as if I could see her, learning to walk again, step by step.
She suddenly thought of something, opened up her case, and brought out two little notebooks. “Hey!” I cried happily as I reached out to grab them. I held them tightly, as they were my first two diaries, one black-covered and one purple. I hastily opened up the first one. Big Sister said, “I’ve always wanted to give these back to you as I thought you might find them useful. You can get to know that naughty girl you used to be!”
I couldn’t help but laugh as I leafed through them. The messy, often incorrect little characters and the wildly sprinkled punctuation marks had all been carefully corrected with red ink. It also contained my first self-analysis: “I am immodest, not diligent and this tongue of mine wags all day long . . .”
I could just picture that wild and foolish girl again. In front of her were the fine poplars of the plain and the long flowing stream of the T’ai-hang Mountains; times of fierce struggle and of calm. Everything that Big Sister gave me in those days was precious. My youthful vanity had been washed away in the course of time and I could now love Big Sister’s severity along with her warmth. I admired even more her spirit of loyalty to the people and to the revolution, as well as her ever-youthful striving for perfection.
I raised my head to look at Big Sister and became concerned once again: adult as I was, it was still so easy for me to think only of myself. “Big Sister, how have you been?”
“Do you remember Dr. Sun?” she said with a smile. I nodded. “Well, not long after you’d gone, he took his patient Comrade Huang Ching to Yenan and then went on to Manchuria. But after a few years he came back for me and we’ve had a good life together.”
I jumped up and hugged her yet again. I whirled around a couple of times, wiped away my tears and said, “When you go back home give him a good scolding for me.”
“Why? For not letting on to me when we were in the T’ai-hang Mountains that he’d fallen in love with my Big Sister. I only remember him standing around like a dummy, so it’s hard to imagine that his mother had told him to take a bride!” Big Sister took hold of my clothes and said laughingly, “Let’s go, you nasty girl. You come home with me and repeat to him in person what you’ve just said.”
First draft, in Pao-ting, August 1, 1962
Translated by Ted Huters
The countryside of Hopei Province was the scene of Li Ying-ju’s childhood, but he had the good fortune to study in a small town, where he learned to enjoy traditional Chinese literature, mostly classical novels and tales. His early exercises in poetry and prose appeared in local papers; his serious writing, however, did not begin until he plunged into life and action behind the enemy lines after the outbreak of the war against Japan in 1937. A stream of reports and short stories flowed from his pen, mostly retelling his experiences with the anti-Japanese guerrilla units and portraying the characters he encountered during that period.
He published two novels after 1949, Fighting on the Hu-t’o River and Wildfire and Wind Vie in an Old City. The second one was completed in 1958 after three years of work, then revised again in 1960. It won high acclaim for its well-developed structure and painstaking effort to delineate the principal characters. True, Li Ying-ju is a serious writer, always consciously striving for a high level of the art of fiction. He wrote essays in the early 1960s criticizing the crudity of proletarian stories that present stereotyped characters devoid of flesh and blood. A seasoned critic like Yeh Sheng-t’ao has praised Li’s craftsmanship. But in his overly conscious effort to write differently, Li has not quite developed a personal style that flows and persuades. His language suffers from stiffness, and his inept juxtapositions of semiarchaic phrases and current vernacular are frequently jarring.
Along with most of the writers, Li disappeared from public life during the Cultural Revolution, and he has not yet returned after the fall of the Gang of Four. —K. Y. H.
[In the early 1940s, when China was resisting the Japanese invasion, a Communist commissar, Yang Hsiao-tung, was assigned to work as an underground agent in a northern provincial capital occupied by the Japanese army.
The Communist liaison officer in the city was a young woman named Yin-huan, who adroitly used her cover as a nurse in the city hospital and her connection with Kao Tzu-p’ing, nephew of a government councillor, to aid Yang in setting up a base for underground activities. The puppet government, headed by a Japanese high official, was actually under the control of its military police commander, Kao Ta-ch’eng, and his nefarious followers, T’ien, Lan, and Fan. Although Kao exerted formidable pressure on the Communist resistance, it had little effect in stopping Yang from helping two senior cadres run the enemy’s blockade, or Yin-huan from distributing revolutionary leaflets at an enemy’s celebration party, or Han Yen-lai, a young impetuous comrade, from killing a Japanese officer. A strategic attack that destroyed the security police headquarters forced Kao to take desperate actions. He arrested Yang’s aged mother and Yin-huan’s elder sister, both of whom eventually died for the revolutionary cause.
In the meantime, Kao Tzu-p’ing, jealous of Yin-huan’s increasing fondness for Yang, went to Commander Kao and told him where Yang could be found. Yang was taken captive. To get his signature on a defection paper, the enemies resorted to all forms of enticement and torture, but to no avail. The episode translated here (chapter 19) depicts the interaction between Yang, his mother, and their tormentors.
The hero survived. One of Kao’s regimental chiefs, Kuan Chin-t’ao, was completely disillusioned over Kao’s cruel deeds of exploitation and persecution and decided to join the resistance front. He, together with other Communist members, succeeded, after much tenacious effort, in rescuing Yang from his debilitating imprisonment. During a final close combat, Kao Ta-ch’eng was severely injured and his underlings, T’ien, Lan, and Fan, were all killed. The Communists safely withdrew from the city and returned in victory to the resistance base in the suburbs. There, Yang designated Han to be the officer-incharge as he and Yin-huan, now his wife, were to leave for another, more challenging mission. ]
At the very moment when Yang Hsiao-tung was pushed into the car, neither fear of death nor thought of enemies crossed his mind. Instead, he was harshly blaming himself. “See what a terrible mess your leadership has made. No substantial results, only incessant troubles. The entire underground working force which the Party developed has slipped right through your fingers.” But on second thought, he felt that such a view was biased. “Even though you have gone down, there are still Yen-lai and others. Besides, the Party will surely send a more competent comrade to take command. So, the situation is not completely hopeless. Furthermore, what lies ahead of you is another battle of hardship, and you’d better prepare yourself for the upcoming struggle.”
The thought of a confrontation prompted him to open his eyes and look around. There were secret agents clustering all around him, so many that he couldn’t even make the slightest move, let alone steal a look beyond them. He simply closed his eyes and tried to compose himself until they came to a stop.
The car pulled up in front of a row of tall barracks with a long walkway around the building. He was thrown into a cell that had iron bars dividing the room in half. The minute he was put behind the bars, both the iron gate and the cell door locked simultaneously. Though the cell was divided into two, it was still larger than an average dormitory room. Both the north and the south walls had small and narrow windows covered with wire mesh.
This could not be a real prison; it appeared more like a converted storeroom. Where was he? Yang tried to figure it out calmly. The car made a long turn when they started out, the sunlight streamed in from the right, and the road was bumpy all the way. With speed, time, direction, and all conditions taken into consideration, it seemed impossible for this to be the secret agents’ headquarters. Neither could it be the military police station, which was in the city and a shorter distance than what they had travelled. The most likely possibility, then, was Kao Ta-ch’eng’s headquarters outside the West Gate.
While still speculating, he heard footsteps outside the gate. They must have put a guard there. “But wherever this place is,” he told himself, “take advantage of the time to rest up first.” He lay down on the bed, which was nothing more than a few wooden planks.
He wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed when he heard a clanking sound as the padlock on the gate opened. Lan Mao entered and cried in surprise when he caught sight of Yang. “Thank God! It’s really you! It’s been quite a while since our last encounter, hasn’t it? You fooled me last time, but did you ever imagine that you’d fall into my trap?” Yang gave him a contemptuous look and turned around to face the wall. “Any case involving you Communists always stinks. But let me tell you something, Commander Kao is going to handle your case personally. If you’re thinking of playing tricks on him, you’d better forget it. He’ll beat you to a pulp. Guards, take him out!”
Yang was pushed out of the cell door and had walked about twenty or thirty steps when he saw a large room in front of him. Two ranks of soldiers spread out from the doorway like the wings of a wild goose, each man armed with at least two weapons. They had all kinds of guns, some held in hand and some stuck behind belts, but all of them were pulled out from their holsters, exposing gun barrels of various sizes. All seemed to be holding their breath, a waiting the coming of a mortal enemy. It appeared as though anyone who stepped into the room would never get out alive.
The soldiers made way for Yang to enter the room, where everything was prepared for his interrogation. He saw Kao sitting in front of him, howling, “Quick, bring me that bandit!” Hearing his shout, Lan hurried over and stood respectfully with Assistant T’ien on either side of the commander. For a moment, Yang was not sure how to react, but after a brief pause, he took a few swift steps, stood in the middle of the room, head lifted high, and said nothing.
Kao banged on the table loudly. “Look at him! Haughty and self-inflated. Who are you trying to impress? This is a place of law and order. Bow your head!” Yang stood there stone-faced as though he hadn’t heard anything. “What’s your name? Where do you live? What crimes have you committed? Speak up and tell me the truth!”
“Speak up!” roared the soldiers, echoing the threat and adding in their own abuses.
Yang had hoped to exercise self-control for a slow and persistent fight in the enemy’s kangaroo court. But the situation unfolded so unexpectedly that he could no longer keep silent and maintain the dignity of being a Communist. Glaring at them, he said coldly, “Can’t you show some respect, or are you a pack of mad dogs?”
“Look at this arrogant bastard! Who do you think you are, talking to us as an equal? How dare you make such a sarcastic remark!” Kao raved.
“Me? Equal to you? What could be more insulting?”
“Shut up! You must be out of your mind, you self-conceited lunatic. I can find better things to do than waste my time with you. Assistant T’ien, take him out, pump some lead in him and send him on his long journey!”
T’ien knew exactly what Kao had in mind. He took out his pistol and shouted, “Get going!” The guards swarmed over, pushing and pulling Yang out the door. T’ien scurried outside and stood waiting for him. Before Yang knew what had happened, two shots whizzed by his ears.
Ordinarily, T’ien’s targets would completely collapse from his game of mock execution. Even a brave one would blanch in terror at the sight of a first-rate marksman like T’ien aiming at him. But this time things were different. When T’ien pulled his gun, the thought of “it’s all over” did flash through Yang’s mind, but when the shots were fired, he suddenly realized it was a trick. Sighing with relief, he threw a look of utter disgust at T’ien. Shocked by Yang’s unperturbed expression, T’ien felt intimidated and bewildered. He knew he had failed to achieve his purpose. He signalled the guards to take Yang back to the room.
When Yang reached the middle of the interrogation room, a panicky figure emerged from the mob. It was Fan Ta-ch’ang. “Thank God, I made it in time! Commander Kao, do you realize who this gentleman is?” He lowered his voice and whispered into Kao’s ear.
Feigning surprise, Kao said, “Oh! What a mistake! What a stupid mistake! I don’t even know how it happened.” First he berated himself, and then bombarded his guards with a tirade of obscenities. In a brazen manner, he came right up to shake Yang’s hand, and told the guards to take him back for a rest.
“This must be the end of Act One!” Yang thought to himself.
Early the next morning, four or five orderlies brought over some household items: a teapot, some cups, a washbasin, a new quilt, cigarettes, tea leaves, and reading materials published by the puppet government. Yang was not at all pleased by the sight of these things because he saw them as the bait of a deadly trap. He merely eyed them while waiting for the situation to develop.
That afternoon Fan came to see him. He came across as a glib and amiable person, inquiring about Yang’s health and engaging him in small talk as if they were old buddies. However, Yang grew bored listening to him and said, “If you have anything to say, spit it out! If not, just get out!”
Only then did Fan begin to divulge the plan. Kao had invited a few friends to a banquet especially designed to appease Yang for all he had gone through. Yang questioned Kao’s sincerity but Fan denied any ulterior motive. “Commander Kao has great admiration for you and hopes to befriend you. That’s why he has arranged for this meeting. When he greets you, he will open with a few welcoming words in the hope that you will respond in kind.”
The enemies were obviously trying to set him up as a defector. Yang realized it and staunchly refused. But Fan persisted until he had no recourse but to give a deliberate cough. Immediately following the signal, five or six monstrous guards came in and threatened to drag Yang out by force. “Stop it!” Fan shouted. “Remember what Commander Kao said before we came? If we fail, he will come personally to invite Mr. Yang.”
Sizing up the situation, Yang knew that the confrontation was unavoidable. “Stop harassing me!” he said. “Wherever it is, I’ll go!”
“Will you say a few words then, too?” Fan said, testing how far Yang would go.
Exasperated, Yang answered evasively. “Well see. If it’s absolutely necessary I’ll say something.”
Fan and his men seemed satisfied with this response. “Why don’t you get some rest now? I’ll go telephone Commander Kao and announce your acceptance. I’ll be in this evening to pick you up.”
Kao Ta-ch’eng was the first to arrive at Epicurean Garden, the place where he planned to stage his performance. He was to be the star of the show, with his political and military sympathizers from the puppet government as the supporting cast. In the main parlor, under the brightly lit neon lights, a few round tables were set with an opulent spread of chicken and fish, fragrant wines, and dozens of tall-stemmed wine glasses stacked dense as a forest. At the table of honor, there was a loud speaker with two vases of fresh flowers on each side for decoration.
The distinguished guests were all there on time. News reporters carrying cameras had already selected the right positions for setting up spotlights. A speech had been prepared for Kao by his aides. He had practiced it a few times, underlined the words he didn’t know, and spelled out the proper pronunciation. The final preparation was made while the guests awaited this important leader from the Communist side. Since he had consented to come, they planned to publicize the event by sending out telegrams, releasing his speech, printing his pictures, and making films. “He will not be able to pull himself out then,” Kao and Fan surmised.
When Yang arrived, Kao did not detect any sign of reluctance, and thought to himself, “No one is void of vanity and love for indulgence in material things. Even a Communist is no exception.” Feeling confident, he extended a few courteous words to Yang and explained that he had invited a few friends from military and political circles to join them at this informal gathering. This, he said, was an expression of his good intentions. The conversation took place in a private lounge. All along, Yang had a deadpan expression on his face, which Kao interpreted as silent approval. Exhilarated, he gave the order for the guests to be seated. The lounge door opened and he made a grand entry into the banquet hall.
As he appeared, all the guests rose to their feet. The spotlights were lit, and the two reporters knelt down by the door like two guardian dogs. They held their cameras close to their eyes and squinted while Kao’s subordinates, the top echelon of the military, rolled up their sleeves and applauded with fervor. Quite out of keeping with his usual vulgar manner, Kao moved with an air of elegance toward the dais. He suddenly felt uneasy and turned around. Yang had not followed him out.
“Please join us!” Kao said, holding his speech with an outstretched hand while inviting Yang to come in.
“Get rid of these photographers first!” Yang shouted out, shocking the entire party even before making his entrance.
“What? A captive with such audacity?” many people in the audience thought. “Where did he get the courage to put his head in the lion’s mouth? Doesn’t he know how ferocious Commander Kao is? Whoever falls into his hand loses at least his skin, if, luckily, not his life.”
But none of them knew of the impression Yang had made on Kao during their first encounter the previous day. Kao tried to suppress his instinctive response and signalled to the reporters to leave. They picked up their cameras and left the hall in embarrassment. “Hey you! Turn off those damned spotlights. This place needs no illumination.”
Assistant T’ien was standing by the doorway when Yang spoke out. He knew Yang was speaking to him and was unsure of how to react. Since his first round with Yang, he realized that this man was more frightful then he and his buddies, all decked out in scary getups, had tried to be. “Didn’t Commander Kao submit to his demand to get rid of the reporters? What can I do?” Without even waiting for a nod of approval, he obediently went over and turned off the lights.
Finally, Yang strode out of the lounge and stood in front of the audience. “What kind of a game are you trying to play? You want to play it civil or play it rough? If it is rough, you outnumber me. But even if you take my life, you can’t take my will. If it is civil, let’s act like gentlemen. After all, there is no way you can force anything out of me.”
Fan, afraid that things were taking a turn for the worse, hurriedly came forth and said in a compromising manner, “No one is trying to fight with you. Didn’t I tell you that Commander Kao asked everybody over for a small get-together?”
Yang saw that even in his fury Kao was still holding on to the damned speech, which he was determined to give. He grabbed the chance to stand before the table and said, “If this is an informal gathering, I want to say a few words first. We Communists never try to hide where we stand. We dare to speak out in any situation . . . You’re all VIP’s in this city, and in the eyes of the Japanese, you are courageous and your performance is exemplary.” Yang showed no sign of anger. In fact, his words flowed with good rhythm.
With a false sense of confidence, Kao was pleased by what he had heard, misinterpreting the statement as indicative of a change of heart. Lan and Assistant T’ien also thought Yang had retreated from his unyielding stance. Their disappointment was now replaced with new optimism.
Kuan Chin-t’ao* was the only one among the officials who felt differently. He had no desire to come to the party until he heard from someone in the commander’s headquarters that a Communist cadre had defected. Was it possible that someone from their side would surrender? How could a senior cadre be more cowardly than those two women comrades? Still incredulous, he decided to come to the party. When he first caught sight of Yang, he immediately recognized him to be the presiding officer he had met in Pa-li village. He shuddered. As Yang’s eyes pierced the audience, Kuan ducked behind Pockmarked Wolf, while listening with full concentration to every word Yang said.
“Speaking of your exemplary performance,” Yang continued, “you supported Japanese devils to invade our country In the eyes of the Japs who have you to fight their war for them, you of course rendered them a meritorious service. As to your courage . . . you have the unconscionable courage to sell out your motherland and accept the Chinese people’s most hated enemy, Japan’s imperialism, as your friend, even your kin. Such courage has never been seen in Chinese history . . .”
“Take him out!” Kao yelled at the top of his voice. Pockmarked Wolf and a few other captains immediately swarmed over to form a barricade of guns around Yang.
Yang showed no signs of being nervous and said contemptuously, “You ass! These crummy guns couldn’t scare anyone but a coward. Even if your military chief was here, I don’t think he would dare handle my case all by himself, let alone your measly little security police unit. If you have guts, just go ahead and shoot.” He pointed at his chest.
Eying each other, Pockmarked Wolf and the others made way for Kao, who was rushing toward Yang with a gun he had taken over from Assistant T’ien. “How dare you! If I wanted to kill you, all I’d have to do is bend my little finger.”
“Then how would you account to your Japanese bosses?”
“I don’t have to account for my actions. Your life is in my hands. A single word from me and you’ll disappear without a trace.”
“You could only murder a Communist in secrecy. But one day when you’re captured, thousands of people will come to the square to judge you in broad daylight!”
“Bragging! That’s all you Communists are good for!”
“Bragging? Huh! History will pass a verdict on you just the way I described.”
Kao suddenly burst into loud laughter. “I’m no elementary school boy. I don’t need a history lesson from you. I am the commander who has the power of life and death over you. A verdict on me—what rubbish! But I’ll pronounce a verdict on you right now. Chief Lan, listen to his vicious tongue! Take him back and really fix him up!”
. . . . . . .
When he came to, Yang was not sure where he was until he recognized the iron bars and the padlock obstructing his view. So, he was back where he started. The torture seemed to have taken place so long ago, and yet the scenes were still more or less clear in his mind. Kao Ta-ch’eng had personally supervised the punishment. First, rods were pressed against his flesh until he cursed at the top of his lungs; then he was forced to gulp down burning-hot chili juice. Electroshock came much later, but he couldn’t recall exactly what had happened because by then he was already disoriented. But now, after some rest, he was wide awake and knew that he was still in one piece. Thinking he had control of his body, he tried to turn around, only to feel his loins so heavy that his entire body seemed to have been torn into bits. He struggled to get onto his feet, but his legs were burning with pain and could hardly support him. Gritting his teeth, he hauled his legs around until he could finally sit up on the wood bed. . . .
He closed his eyes and tried to get some rest until the prison door opened. Fan appeared, removed the padlock, and came in. He inquired briefly about Yang’s condition. Having dismissed the guards, he came straight to the point and said to Yang, “I must admit what Commander Kao did was a little reckless and crude. He could have talked things over with you without resorting to physical abuse. But, of course, Mr. Yang, your temper was a little too . . .”
“I’ve got no time for such frivolity. Why have you come?”
“I have something to discuss with you, but before we begin, let’s try to be more objective, put aside our individual beliefs, and talk to each other as intellectuals. An intellectual should be flexible and willing to adapt to the situation at hand. I myself have great respect for your courage and nerve. But there are certain harsh realities that one must face . . .”
“Shut up! The last thing I need is propaganda.”
“I’m not giving you any propaganda. I’m a practical man. Commander Kao has left you several alternatives. Honestly speaking, your choice so far hasn’t brought you any closer to your goal. In fact, it has created even more obstacles in your way. Take a look at this if you don’t believe me!”
He took out a set of pictures from his briefcase and politely handed them to Yang. Skimming over them, Yang recognized that they were pictures of all kinds of unbearable brutal tortures. Infuriated by them, he yelled at Fan. “Do you think you can scare me with this stuff? Only a maniac, an animal, would resort to such a scheme. Anyhow, tricks of this kind would only work on a coward. I’m telling you once and for all, I have no fear of death.”
“It’s true there are quite a few of you Communists who don’t fear death.” In a contrived tone of soft voice, Fan drew out a couple of pictures and said, “Take a look at what happened to these fearless guys!” One of them was a scene of wilderness with the sun setting over a vast expanse. Bones were piled up by the side of a decrepit tomb. They were obviously the remains of comrades murdered for their anti-Japanese maneuvers. The couplet written in the picture read:
White bones scatter in the wilderness;
Deserted tombs face the dusk.
Yang thought to himself, “These enemies are really malicious. Not only did they kill our patriotic brothers, they desecrated their graves for propaganda purposes. Worse than physical torture is the underhanded way they use these pictures to break the will of the surviving comrades.”
Seeing Yang deep in thought, Fan surmised his tricks had worked. In a sarcastic tone, he asked, “What do you think of this couplet, Mr. Yang? Pretty philosophical, eh?”
Yang snapped, “Hogwash! If there had to be a couplet, it should have been:
Who on earth has ever escaped death,
Let one’s loyal heart forever illuminate history.
Why are you putting these dejected lines on the picture? To scare a man you threaten to kill? Don’t you know I can’t be broken?” He threw the pictures at him.
“If you think the pictures are depressing, there are more pleasant alternatives.” He repeated over and over that all Yang would have to do was to make the slightest effort to cooperate and he’d be able to enjoy high prestige and a luxurious lifestyle. “You’re over thirty now and still don’t have anyone to take care of you. Don’t you think this is something worth thinking about? We’ve tried to scout out some attractive candidates for you. Why don’t you see which one you like best?” He displayed a dozen or so pictures of girls and pointing to each one he said, “This one is a clerk in the organization, that one is a young student, this one is . . . and they are all virgins. Should you be interested . . .”
Before he could finish his sentence, the entire pile of pictures was on the floor. Yang had already lain down on the bed and closed his eyes. Fan was on the verge of losing his temper at Yang’s arrogance, but a second thought told him that it was too early to take any action. Having suppressed his anger, he grimaced, picked up the pictures, and left disheartened.
When evening came, Fan returned and went through the usual tricks of greeting him in a jovial manner. It seemed as if it must have been a different man that Yang had scoffed at in the morning, or, if it was the same man, he had somehow already put that insulting scene behind him. Fan didn’t say very much, let alone ask any questions. It was the guards who coerced Yang to go with him. Yang could not figure out what the secret agents were up to. Though he tried to refuse, they forced him onto his feet. Staggering behind Fan, he soon came to a newly built partition with an iron gate that separated the building into two parts. Seeing that Fan was leading the way, the guard stationed outside the gate glanced at Yang and let him pass. The area was deserted, with only a few scattered houses. A few yards ahead, they reached a lawn connected to a man-made hill by a foot bridge over a stagnant pond. The hill was on a tilt, and on the left side there was a crooked pine tree standing in the wild grass. Under the tree lay the green and white tombstone of a martyr. Though the color of the characters had long since eroded, they were still barely legible in the hazy moonlight:
Spirit of heroism engraves the crimson tablet,
Blood of molten iron stains the burnt land.
Yang had been carefully observing his surroundings, which seemed faintly familiar, almost as if he had been there before. But it was not until he saw the tablet that all the disconnected memories strung together. Despite damages and alterations, the familiarity of the surroundings suddenly dawned on him. Anxiety begun to race through his body when he realized that he was standing in the courtyard of his old school. This was the place where he had devoured for the first time in his life a good book called The Communist Manifesto. The gray building illumined by the moonlight must be the library where Hsiao, the senior comrade, used to work; that kitchen close to the wall around the yard must be Old Han’s bell tower; and below that high wall must be the open sewer that he himself once had squeezed through to deliver secret messages. Reminiscing about the past and realizing his present predicament, Yang inadvertently heaved a long sigh.
Fan seized what he thought was his chance and pressed the question, “Brings back old memories, doesn’t it?” Yang was silent. “Mr. Yang, may I continue where I left off this morning? Women and wealth don’t seem important to you. But let me ask you this, isn’t life precious to you? Won’t you feel reluctant to part with it?”
“Living in humiliation doesn’t appeal to me at all. I didn’t come into this world merely to reap personal profit.”
“Is that right? Fine!” Fan continued confidently. “Even if you have no regard for yourself, perhaps you have some concern for your relatives.”
“Relatives?” Yang paused and then continued, “All people are my relatives, but by the same token I could say that I have no relatives.”
“Is that right? Please follow me over there!”
Fan led the way, circled the hill, walked around the lawn, and approached two newly constructed buildings standing parallel to each other. The houses, shimmering with a silver hue, squatted on the horizon, which was covered with a grey mist. Though the moon was obscured by dark clouds, the path was easy to follow. But even so, Yang struggled to keep up with Fan as he made his way to the front of the buildings. He bit his lip while trying to grab hold of the railing and climbed up the stairs to the second floor. Fan looked at the numbers on the doors and took him into a dark and dismal room. He told Yang to go up to the window and look to the north. On the north side about twenty yards away, there stood a building parallel to them. Not a light was on and the glass windows, even darker than the walls of the building, seemed to peer out like dozens of black eyes. Yang was not sure what Fan was up to, but he sensed that there was something behind the eye-socket windows.
Fan began, “Did I hear you say that you have no relatives? We both know that’s not true. Just to prove it, take a look in the window across from us!” While saying this, Fan was feeling in the dark for the bell he had planted there. He rang the bell until all of a sudden the room across lit up. Yang saw a silhouette against the window pane and immediately realized that it was his mother. No words could describe his feeling at that moment. Fire was burning within him, his bones were disjointed and his ligaments strained. He had been leaning against the window until he felt so dizzy that he could no longer support himself and collapsed on the floor.
“Even a Communist has a father and mother. You can throw your own life away, but at least give a thought to your aged mother. No?” What a thrill for a secret agent to spot the Achilles’ heel of an honest man. Fan was ecstatic and went off into an oration for more than ten minutes. Finally, he said that if Yang was willing to provide a list of his underground comrades, his mother would not be hurt and they would be allowed to have a family reunion in addition to monetary and material rewards. He went on until his voice was hoarse.
Yang thought it over again and again before he spoke, and this time he sounded ready to talk. “You can kill me and my mother. But if you understand the love between a mother and her son, please execute us separately and secretly, making sure she has no knowledge of what happened to me.”
“Why, of course! We have humanitarian feelings too.” Fan grabbed this chance to gain more ground. “Since fate has brought you and your mother together, why shouldn’t we let you meet?” Yang desperately tried to refuse, but he was carried by the guards onto the terrace of the third floor. His mother was already on the other terrace facing him. They were only three yards apart.
In the dim moonlight, her white hair, pale face, and drooping posture showed how much she had aged and withered. But she seemed impatient and restless, staring under the terrace as if she were awaiting a happy and yet painful occasion. She obviously knew who was coming. Seeing her, all his feelings welled up and burst forth in a flood of emotion. He bent over the railing and cried out, “Ma . . .”
The old woman heard the familiar voice from the side of the balcony and turned her head. For a moment, she wasn’t sure whether she felt surprise or joy, fear or sorrow. A mixture of all these feelings agitated her. It was quite some time before she was able to move her lips and utter, “Tung! Are you . . . “
“Ma!” The son cut right in. “We don’t have much time, and we are not at home either. Let’s say what we have to say and what we want to say!”
“Don’t worry! I understand what you mean, son.” She spoke, trying her best to suppress her feelings for fear that any sign of weakness would disgrace her son.
“Ma, as the situation now stands, we’d better not say anything about how we got here. Mentioning it would do us no good and only add to our sadness. So why don’t we talk about something else?” Under such conditions, it was impractical and virtually impossible to chitchat. Unable to find the words, they both remained silent. Finally, Yang began. “Ma, let me say a few words first. Your son is an anti-Japanese warrior and Communist and has brought no shame to the revolution or the people. But when I think about all the caring you’ve given me and the disastrous end I’ve brought to you, that is my only regret.”
“Stop it! I don’t want to hear this.” The elderly woman was about to say something when all of a sudden a car roared up. All the lights inside and out clicked on, including those directly above her and her son. A barrage of footsteps sounded on the staircase up to the terrace where Yang was standing. Kao appeared, followed by a mob including Lan Mao, Assistant T’ien, and some bodyguards who crowded around the entrance to the terrace. Yang winked at his mother and they both froze.
Fan took a couple of steps onto the terrace and said, trying to be smart, “I overheard your touching conversation. I’ll repeat what I said an hour ago. You Communists have parents like everyone else; you should not ignore your filial obligations. Isn’t this exactly why Commander Kao made this special trip? He has ordered both of you to be released as soon as you give us the list.”
“If you’re trying to make me betray my comrades, forget it!”
With a giant step, Kao came out on the terrace and grabbed the railing. Just as he was about to explode in anger, he reconsidered and said, “Yang Hsiaotung, it was with good intentions that I arranged for you to see your mother. I did you a favor. So why be stubborn? Let me tell you something. We really don’t need you. A three-legged toad is hard to find but a two-legged man is commonplace. Why do you think we tried so hard to convince you? Simply because we have respect for a man like you. If only you would give in, the car downstairs would take you and your mother out of this place. All right, I’ll make a concession. You don’t have to give me a list of Communists. All I want is your signature.”
“You stupid bastard! Don’t be ridiculous!” Kao’s eyes bulged out. “How dare you insult me! Oh, forget it! Why should I trouble myself over this? Take him out and execute him right out there!”
Yang looked across the terrace. “Ma, don’t worry about me! I’d rather be dead than alive.” He marched with his head held high and followed the guards down the stairs.
Seeing that Yang showed no sign of fear, Fan thought a moment and whispered something into Kao’s ear. At first Kao seemed annoyed, but just as Yang was going down the stairs, he yelled out, “Hold it! Bring the ‘prisoner’ back!” He strutted over to Yang and said viciously, “It would be too easy for you to die like that. I’ve got other ideas for you. You and your mother shall watch each other tortured. Whoever can’t bear to watch will give in first. We’ll see whether or not we’ll get your signature.”
The old woman became panicky, thinking to herself, “We could never give the names of those dedicated young men and women who work underground. But how much longer will the enemy grill us? Could I bear to watch my son suffer? Could I allow him to watch me . . . ?”
She stood by, slapped her hands together, and shouted at them. “Move aside! I want to meet this Commander Kao of yours.” The way she walked she seemed to have lost her balance. She hobbled to the edge of the terrace. Supporting herself by the railing, she said to Kao, “Do you think you can intimidate him with these few soldiers of yours? You misjudge him. He is still my son and will listen to me. If you were smart, you’d let me see him. Leave us alone for a while, and I’ll try to persuade him.” Kao glared at her with suspicion and said nothing. “We don’t have wings to fly away. So what are you afraid of? All you want is a signature, right?” Kao and Fan exchanged glances, and reluctantly agreed to her suggestion. Everyone left the terrace. She was escorted over to her son’s terrace.
The moment they were together, Yang embraced her and said in a hurry, “Ma, giving out my signature is not a small matter. Every word is going to make a world of difference. You understand, don’t you, Ma?”
“No! It’s you who don’t understand.” She turned ashen white. “Lift up your head and look me straight in the eye.” He did what she said. “Now you understand?”
“Yes. You were trying to grab this last chance to be with me.” She nodded her head.
“Say what is in your heart, Ma!” he urged her.
“What can I say, Tung? Don’t ever think I’d blame a son like you for what he has brought upon me. No, never! I’m proud of you. I have no regrets. And I’d never hold you back.
“Oh! I almost forgot to tell you,” she continued, her thin face suddenly aglow. Her voice was very low, almost unintelligible. Obviously she did not want anyone else to hear what she had to say. “I’ve picked a young woman that I know would make you happy. I gave her the ring with the red heart, and she didn’t refuse. Oh . . .” She suddenly felt enshrouded with fear as she thought about their future. She became silent. Then the terrace door opened and Lan Mao came out to them because what they were saying had nothing to do with convincing him to give his signature. All the guards came back onto the terrace as Lan raised his voice and asked Kao for further instructions.
“Shall we take care of the son first or shall we start on the mother?”
Kao shouted, “Haul up both of them and beat them!”
The old woman screamed in despair. “Just a minute. Let me have another word with him.” She held his head with both hands, and ran her fingers through his hair. Her bitter tears dripped silently over his face. But then she saw in his eyes that his only concern was for her. She pushed him aside. “Tung, my son! I won’t be your burden. Fight to the end!” She rushed forward, threw herself over the railing, and plunged down from the top of the third floor.
Translated by Samuel Cheung and Linda Greenhouse
One of the foremost short-story writers on industrial themes during the 1950s and 1960s, Hu Wan-ch’un came from a poor family, apprenticed himself in a wineshop at the age of thirteen, and soon afterwards started working in a machine factory. Totally self-taught, he was encouraged by the Communist-supported labor union in Shanghai and rose rapidly to head up the Party branch in his factory after the liberation of 1949. His writing career, started in 1952, was accelerated by a literary prize awarded for his first published story, “Flesh and Blood.” In rapid succession he produced several collections of short stories: Youth (1956), Who Are the Creators of Miracles (1962), Family Problems (1964), and New Year (1965). After 1958 he also added plays and motion-picture scripts to his writing accomplishments.
During the Cultural Revolution, he, Fei Li-wen, and T’ang K’o-hsin formed a trio in Shanghai as the most active proletarian writers who attacked older, well-established authors in that area. All three have stopped writing since the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976.
“Twilight Years” is representative of Hu’s most artistically ambitious type of work, the depiction of the emotional difficulties of older workers when faced with the fact of their old age and retirement. In this story, and in a number of others, he explores the feeling of loss of identity and social role as a consequence of retirement from active labor. In the case of the central character in the story, Shun-fa, the author takes the problem of loss of social role a step further by presenting the issue of “generation link,” the sense that one’s life is a connection between past and future generations, that one’s work is continued by succeeding generations and thus has meaning and significance.
At the outset, Shun-fa is a man suffering not only the “crisis of old age” but also the social isolation brought about by a lack of a sense of generation link. He equates himself with the symbolic barren old hen and perceives of himself as being contradictory to the symbol of agelessness, the pine tree. As the story progresses, we witness both a striking change in his mood (the author skillfully leads him through the emotional gamut from depression to exhilaration) and the onset of enlightenment regarding the broader aspects of generation link. He learns that one’s contribution to the march of the generations need not be the mere production of natural offspring, but rather it can be the transmission of skills and experience to the representatives of the future. His contribution lives on in their achievements. In the large sense, his apprentices are his “children” just as the ducklings hatched by the old hen can be reckoned as her “progeny.” This conception operates as the mainstay of all successful teachers.
The author also presents—but does not resolve—the problem of lack of communication between husband and wife. Shun-fa and Auntie Ch’en seem to be lost in separate worlds, neither really understanding or even perceiving the thoughts and feelings of the other. This results in Shun-fa’s having to live through the experience totally on his own, his wife seeming to have no idea of the immensity of the problem or the wondrous joy of its resolution. The story ends on a note of Auntie Ch’en’s complete alienation from all facets of the emotional events of Shun-fa’s dramatic day. Whether or not the author has consciously added this extra problem in order to deepen the description of the complexity of the workers’ daily life is open to debate; however, the fact remains that this particular husband and wife are missing out on the fullness of a relationship based on mutual understanding and shared emotional experience.
The story is very tightly structured, set within the bounds of a unity of time and place and focusing on a central theme and single character. There is a strict attention to realistic detail in the descriptions of the environment and an economy of style reminiscent of Hu Wan-ch’un’s literary idol, Lu Hsün. All in all, in both content and form, it is a fine representative piece of working-class fiction. —M. G.
On the eve of the lunar new year, Master Shun-fa’s mood underwent a slight change. He suddenly felt that there was something lacking in his life. That morning he had not taken his usual stroll down to the factory, nor had he gone around to the neighbors’ to gossip; in the afternoon he had not gone to the Workers’ Cultural Center to listen to chanted stories or to look at the newspaper. In fact, he had not been interested in going anywhere; he was not in particularly high spirits. He paced back and forth and all around his apartment, as though he wanted to find in some corner the thing that he lacked. The apartment, which ordinarily seemed not at all spacious, now suddenly became large, became empty.
It seemed exceptionally quiet in the apartment; the tick-tock, tick-tock of the clock on the five-drawer chest sounded clear and sonorous. Shun-fa paced slowly for a moment, then halted in front of the window. Outside in the dusk, standing straight and solitary, was a small pine tree. When Shun-fa’s gaze fell on the pine, he involuntarily raised his hand to feel his own bald head: “Ah! I’m already sixty-six years old this New Year’s! Already retired half a year.”
Just then an old hen came clucking along outside in the courtyard, her head bobbing as she walked. When he saw this hen, Shun-fa got a bit angry, for ever since he had bought her, in the latter part of the year, she had not hatched a single egg. On the other hand, it so happened that the next-door neighbors raised ducks and had brought over a few eggs for the old hen to hatch—from which six ducklings were produced, split up evenly between the Chang, Li, and Wang families. But this old hen had not even let a fart, let alone laid a single egg of her own. The hen passed in front of the window, tilted her head to one side, blinked her small round eyes at Shun-fa, and gave out two prolonged cluck-cluck sounds, as if to say, “I’m going to lay an egg!” Shun-fa simply could not suppress his irritation, and his loud “Hmph!” startled the hen, who flapped her wings and scurried into the chicken coop.
Darkness gradually descended. Several trucks that had transported vegetables from the Wu-sung District people’s communes were already racing along the highway towards home. The black cluster of towering blast furnaces at the steel factory emitted a bright red glow.
Master Shun-fa stood in the darkness, not caring to turn on the light. A click-clack noise came from the neighbor’s back gate, and then the sound of people talking carried clearly: “Ah Mao’s Ma, you’ve got lots of company today!”
“Oh, my boy Ah Mao has come to spend New Year’s at home!”
“Was that your daughter-in-law wearing a short overcoat?”
“It sure was! Just married this year.”
“Ha, ha, now you’re a venerable old mother-in-law!”
Soon there came the hacking cough of old Mr. Wang. “Mr. Wang, has Kensheng come home for the holidays?”
“The work is heavy at his factory just now, so he’ll be coming a bit late,” replied Mr. Wang slowly. “But Ken-pao and Ken-fa have already been here for a while. Ordinarily, when they don’t come around I feel lonely and deserted. But this morning they all came at once, and I’m beginning to feel a bit put out. Just think, three sons, three daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren—why the house is noisier than a tipped-over basket of frogs, croak, croak, croak. “
“Mr. Wang, that’s your good fortune!”
Shun-fa had already caught snatches of this sort of chattering several times that day. Each time he heard it, he greatly envied his neighbors; at the same time it produced in him deep feelings of loneliness. When Shun-fa was in his mid-thirties he had also had a son. But he had been out of work for a long period of time, plagued by poverty and illness, and was fearful that his son would die of starvation. So Shun-fa and his wife, after much discussion and quarreling, decided to give their barely two-year-old boy away to another family. He remembered to this day the child’s bright and flashing round eyes, his thick little lips—ai! For sure, if this son were still with him, Shun-fa could be holding a granchild in his arms today just like old Mr. Wang was doing. One time, when Shun-fa was forty-three years old or so, his wife told him she had heard of a poor family looking to give away a boy to the orphanage, and she wondered whether or not he might want to take the child in. He replied irritably, “We couldn’t even feed our own son; don’t let somebody else’s child come here to suffer with along us.” From that time on, his wife never brought up this matter again. After Liberation, he worked in the steel plant and his wife worked in a factory manufacturing stockings. They left home early and returned late; their thoughts were occupied with production, learning to read, and other pursuits. Who had time for other worries and concerns? Even if thoughts of his son should enter his mind on occasion, Shun-fa would rationalize to himself, “We’re liberated now! These days old people enjoy workmen’s insurance and have no anxieties over food and other needs, so it doesn’t matter whether or not you have a son or daughter. It’s not like before Liberation, when you lived by the old adage: ‘Rear a son to support you in old age; store up grain in case of famine. ’ ” So it was for Shun-fa, and the time passed day by day, year by year.
As Shun-fa stood idly before the window, memories of the past once more caused him a bit of vexation. From outside came the voices of old Mr. Wang’s two small grandchildren hard at play, popping firecrackers. He exhaled softly, turning away from the window, but still he stood there motionless. In a moment, the pitter-patter of small children’s footsteps resounded as they passed by the window, and then everything returned to silence.
Click. The electric light in the apartment suddenly flashed on. Shun-fa blinked his eyes several times before seeing clearly that it was his wife who had come in. Every evening it was the same old thing: “Auntie” Ch’en would return home from work, hastily throw her handbag onto the bed, then busy herself in the kitchen cooking dinner. But tonight it was different: seeing Shun-fa standing inertly in the darkness, not even bothering to turn on the light, she could not help feeling somewhat bewildered. As she fastened her apron she questioned him, “Old man, what’s the matter with you?”
“It’s nothing!” Shun-fa replied, suppressing his anger and annoyance.
“Well, then, why were you standing there looking dumb?” Auntie Ch’en, a bit puzzled, attempted to read his facial expression.
“Isn’t tonight New Year’s Eve?”
“Don’t you miss anything?”
“Oh-ho! Do I miss anything? We’re too busy for that All of the electric looms need to be remodeled; the six manual looms belonging to our unit have just been refitted this afternoon.” As she spoke, she took out one by one from the cupboard the various items and utensils she had bought only two days earlier for use on New Year’s. “The new batch of synthetic fiber stockings are really beautiful, just as smooth and shiny as can be; it sure makes me feel good looking at them.”
Once she got onto the topic of production it was like a rushing torrent; there was simply no stopping her. In this respect, the fifty-six-year-old Auntie Ch’en was no different from all of the younger girls working down at the factory. Usually while listening to his wife engage in this type of discourse, Shun-fa would nod his head in agreement. At this moment, however, he glared at her in astonishment, thinking to himself, “How is it she doesn’t share my own feelings at all?” But gradually he began to understand: Shun-fa himself, during his long period of work preceding retirement, used to be just the same as his wife—when talking about production he would chatter unceasingly. In that period of his life he could not have felt such a deep sense of loneliness as he experienced today. As his wife talked on and on, he became a little impatient, and finally he blurted out, “All right, all right! Go on about your business.”
Auntie Ch’en, thus interrupted, muttered darkly to herself, “I just don’t know what’s bothering this old man.” She placed the New Year’s goods in a basket, which she carried off into the kitchen. Soon, there came from the kitchen the sounds of frying food and clanging pots and pans.
Shun-fa sat down in a chair by the window, lit up a cigarette, and began to smoke slowly. Outside in the chicken coop the old hen, undoubtedly feeling very comfortable in the balmy weather, stirred about clucking loudly. Hearing this racket, Shun-fa suddenly shouted out angrily, “What are you cackling about, you eggless old hen?”
“What did you say?” Just at that moment his wife came in carrying the dinner plate. “Nothing, nothing. I was talking about the hen.”
“Just so long as you weren’t talking about me, it’s okay,” said his wife with a smile. “Come on, let’s get ready to eat our New Year’s Eve meal.”
Shun-fa stood up and started wiping off the table. By the time his wife carried in the huo-kuo with boiling broth in it and a blazing charcoal fire underneath, he had already set out the bowls and chopsticks. Thereupon, the old couple sat down facing each other at the table and began drinking wine. From time to time, Shun-fa looked toward the two empty sides of the dinner table, as if to say, “If there were two more people sitting here with us, how lively it would be!” But his wife did not understand him at all; on the contrary, she went right on speaking energetically about factory matters. After eating their dinner, the old couple went to bed quite early.
Shun-fa could not get to sleep easily that night no matter what, and as it grew later and later, he could still hear sounds of laughter emanating from the neighbors’ apartments. It was not until he heard the clock strike twelve that he drifted into a fitful slumber. The next morning, New Year’s Day, he was startled awake bright and early by the sound of popping firecrackers. When he got out of bed, his wife specially cooked him up a bowl of New Year’s rice-cake soup. He took no particular pleasure in eating this holiday fare. Just at that moment, there was a disorderly clattering of footsteps out in the corridor, and someone was laughing and joking with Auntie Ch’en: “Auntie! Happy New Year, a wealthy New Year—ha, ha! A prosperous New Year too!”
“You rascal! We’re liberated now; who’d still talk about getting rich?”
“No more ‘wealthy New Year’? All right, then I’ll just kowtow before my Master’s wife.”
“Aiya! Why don’t you drop dead, silly!”
“Ho, ho, ho! Talking about life and death on New Year’s Day!”
“Ha, ha, ha.”
Master Shun-fa knew immediately upon hearing the voice that the man talking to his wife was his number-three apprentice, Ah Fang. He thought to himself, “He’s still the same old glib rogue.” There was a sudden rapping at the door, and when he strode over and opened it, Shun-fa saw his number-one apprentice, Chü-sheng, standing respectfully in the doorway. Behind Chüsheng stood Ah Fang; behind Ah Fang there were nearly ten young fellows. The smallest one of the group—perhaps only sixteen years old—had a very round face, resembling a rice-dough dumpling. As soon as he saw them, Shun-fa said, “What are you all just standing there for? Come in quickly and sit down!” The crowd burst inside like a flood, and the chairs, benches, and the edge of the bed were all filled with people. After Shun-fa sat down and Auntie Ch’en had poured tea all around, the number-one apprentice, Chii-sheng, said with a smile, “Master, we have come to pay our New Year’s respects to you.” Shun-fa laughed, “I’m afraid I don’t deserve it.”
The young men’s animated conversation was generously punctuated with their affectionate and respectful reference to their master. Chii-sheng was over thirty years old, but he was still very shy and rather inept at conversation. Ah Fang, as always, became very well-mannered in the presence of the master. The number-five apprentice, Ta-k’uei, was still a bit dense in his appearance. Shunfa had altogether eight apprentices, of whom three had come to pay respects this day. The rest of the visitors were the apprentices of these three. Only the round-faced youngster was a stranger to the old master. Shun-fa’s gaze fell on this youth, and he casually pointed toward him asking, “Who is he? How is it I haven’t seen him before?” The round-faced boy bashfully lowered his head. “Master,” replied Ah Fang as he nudged a young man in his twenties sitting next to him, “he’s apprentice Hsiao Mao’s apprentice, newly arrived. We all call him ‘Little Dumpling!’ “
Someone in the group chuckled but promptly stopped himself. Shun-fa knew that Hsiao Mao was Chü-sheng’s apprentice. Ah Fang made a motion with his mouth toward Shun-fa as he said to the round-faced youngster, “Hey, ‘Little Dumpling,’ how should you properly address my master?” Ta-k’uei interjected, “You ought to call him ‘Great Grandmaster. ’” ‘Little Dumpling’ blushed crimson. He said to Shun-fa in a feeble voice, “Uh, Great Grandmaster, my . . . my name is Hsiao T’ang-yüan.” When everyone heard him take Ta-k’uei’s bait and actually say “Great Grandmaster,” they could not help bursting out laughing. Even Shun-fa laughed aloud.
Shun-fa glanced around, surveying the roomful of his apprentices and the younger workers. He could see in the eyes of these lively young men a great respect and affection for himself. Gradually, his mood became more relaxed, more open-hearted. A smile appeared on his face.
Ah Fang inquired, “Master, is your second apprentice still in Loyang at the tractor factory?”
“Now he’s made foreman,” Shun-fa said.
“Has he written you recently?”
“No. Probably he’s overworked with work.”
“How about your seventh apprentice, Ch’üan-ken?”
“He’s still at the Ch’ang-ch’un automobile plant. I received a letter from him just this past month.”
While Shun-fa spoke he stared unconsciously at his own hands, large and coarse and callused, hands that had worked with the tools in a metal shop for more than forty years. It seemed as if he were asking himself, “After all, how much experience have I already imparted to my apprentices?” His thoughts strayed onto one of the passages in Ch’üan-ken’s letter: “Master! You really don’t know how thankful I am to you right now. I think that even though you’ve retired, still in every ton of steel, every tractor, every Liberation brand automobile our country produces, you have a share of the credit!” Thinking about this passage, he felt a warm current flooding his heart, producing in him an indescribable joy.
“Master, what are you smiling about?” asked Ta-k’uei abruptly. “Nothing, really, nothing at all. I just feel very happy.” Yes, Shun-fa had become quite happy. The loneliness of the day before, which had depressed him to the core, had dispersed like clouds in the wind, its whereabouts unknown. His face now bore a fresh and jolly expression, and he was talking and laughing. He asked about everybody’s production and the situation of their lives.
Hsiao Mao spoke up, “Last month Master Ah Fang improved the container pulley of the blast furnace conveyer, eliminating steel-rolling accidents. He’s now been elevated to an Advanced Worker.”
“Oh! Ah Fang, that’s no small achievement!”
“Master, what I did doesn’t amount to much.”
As Shun-fa continued to praise Ah Fang, he could not help turning his head to gaze out the window. Outside, the sunlight was bright and beautiful, and the sky was painted turquoise. Off in the distance atop the pitch-black giant blast furnace, he could make out the conveyer pulley gliding upwards and downwards. Shun-fa nodded his head, as if to say, “Oh! I can see it. Excellent! You clever rogue, you!” Ah Fang looked away, hinting that he did not care much about his achievement.
“Master, the lathe workers, fitters, and planers in our chief engineer’s shop recently held a work performance competition.” Ta-k’uei always spoke with great energy, and as he was talking his chair creaked and groaned. “Among the fitters, the most skilled was none other than our Master Chü-sheng. When it comes to fitting wedges into grooves, he’s simply perfect. In handling a file, he has to be reckoned the best around; there’s no fitter in the entire factory who can compare with him.”
“Ta-k’uei! Don’t . . . don’t talk nonsense!” Chii-sheng’s usual modesty made him blush several shades of crimson. Ta-k’uei was not to be stopped. “You’re as good as anyone can ever be with a file. And that’s the truth!”
“If that’s the case, then it’s because my Master has taught me well.”
While listening to this interchange, Shun-fa saw before him a mature, highly experienced Chii-sheng, but his mind conjured up the image of a scene that had occurred seventeen years ago: fifteen-year-old Chü-sheng wearing only a small and ragged cotton-padded jacket in the cold, dimly lit workshop, standing on tiptoes, wielding a file as though he were pulling on an oar. He was filing a metal wedge. He was so small that he stood no more than a head taller than the vise on the worktable; his hands were frozen like a steamed roll, all red and swollen. No matter how hard he tried he simply could not keep the file steady and straight, so that the wedges he made were all “big-bellied.” When Master Shun-fa saw it, he curled his right forefinger and middle finger into a small fist the shape of a chestnut. He rapped little Chü-sheng soundly on the head, admonishing him, “Idiot! You ought to be spanked, so stupid! How many times have I told you—you must keep the file level and steady. Look at the way you’re doing it, rolling from side to side like pulling on a sampan oar—hmph! What a good-for-nothing you are! Now look, you have to do it like this, see?” At the same time that he was scolding him, Shun-fa took the file himself and worked to correct Chii-sheng’s error until it came out properly. However, little Chüsheng was crying, using his finger to wipe his runny nose, ice-cold tears falling from the corners of his eyes, which were so full of the innocence of youth. At this point, Master Shun-fa’s attitude softened, and he sighed as he said, “Ai! Child, if you don’t become proficient at a trade, you’re going to starve to death in the future; no one will give you a job—you must learn, learn for all you’re worth!” Thereupon, little Chü-sheng once again began to file away in the very same “oar-pulling” manner. —Yes, indeed, this had happened seventeen years ago. Now, as Shun-fa gazed at the Chü-sheng who had become a skilled professional, his heart was filled with inexpressible emotion; he even began to reproach himself for having been too stern in those early years of Chü-sheng’s apprenticeship.
“Do you still remember? In the beginning of your apprenticeship, I. . . ai!. . . I hit you so many times!” Much touched, Chü-sheng strode over to Shun-fa and said with the affection of a son for a father, “Master! I understand you perfectly now, why you scolded me so harshly, why you hit me with your knuckles. You did it for my own good; if you hadn’t been so strict, I’d never be able to use the file as well as I do today.” Chü-sheng’s words warmed Shun-fa’s old heart. The old master worker was too overwhelmed to smile; only warm tears trickled down his wrinkled cheeks. “Master, what’s wrong?” asked Ah Fang. Hsiao Mao and “Little Dumpling” were also deeply moved; all the young men in the room were equally affected. They could sense in their hearts the old man’s love for them—the noble and lofty class love felt by the older workers for the new generation. “I. . . I’m so very happy!” Shun-fa held Chü-sheng’s hand tightly as he spoke, feeling that he was the luckiest man in the whole world.
The golden rays of the sun reached through the window and shone on Shun-fa’s gleaming bald head, his rosy cheeks, and his thick grey eyebrows; he was the very picture of honesty and kindness. In the eyes of the young workers there, he became a strong and beautifully sculptured idol. A cool, fresh gust of wind blew into the room, causing a small, dark-green potted evergreen plant to quiver; like Shun-fa, it appeared lively and vibrant.
Ah-fang spoke out suddenly, “Oh, no! We’ve totally ignored our hostess!”
“I’m coming! I was making dumplings for all of you!” Auntie Ch’en was just on her way into the room carrying a tray on which were placed some ten bowls of steaming hot dumplings. She went around giving each a bowl, laughing and saying, “Let’s eat dumplings on New Year’s, and may we be reunited every year as we are today.”
Hsiao Mao joked, “Oh! They’re all ‘Little Dumplings’!” Everyone in the room laughed.
After eating the dumplings the young workers took their leave. Just before departing they requested that if it were not too troublesome for Master Shun-fa, they would like to come to him for guidance whenever they ran into complex problems in production at the factory. Shun-fa assured them that he would be most happy and not in the least put out. Shun-fa saw them out himself, walking them clear out to the main road. It was not until the young men rode off on their bicycles or boarded the buses—just like a flock of sparrows dispersing in all directions—that Shun-fa turned around and strolled back, feeling very happy all the way home.
A happy man finds interest in everything. Shun-fa was just passing by the gate of the Lis’ house when he saw inside the courtyard two ducks thrusting out their rear ends, flapping their wings to fly, and quack, quack, quacking noisily. He thought to himself, “Ah, how large the ducklings hatched by our old barren hen have grown!” Nearing his own gate he noticed his neighbor, Mr. Wang, his grandson in his arms, emerge smiling and chuckling from his duckpen, where he had just picked up a large duck egg. Old Mr. Wang was playing with the child and saying, “Look! A large duck egg, how wonderful!”
“Congratulations to you, Mr. Wang!” called out Shun-fa with a smile.
“Oh, it’s you! Take a look, the two duck eggs I got not too long ago have now produced eggs of their own!” replied Mr. Wang.
Shun-fa opened the door and went into his apartment, but seeing that his wife was in the kitchen washing dishes, he turned into the living room. The clock on the chest of drawers was just striking ten. The apartment had returned to its former quiet and lonely state; there was only the clock ticking in regular motion. Shun-fa stood before the window, lit a cigarette, and smoked slowly. His gaze once again fell upon the solitary small pine tree outside, yet this time he felt that the pine tree seemed suddenly to have grown a great deal taller. He looked at its surroundings, and he was slightly dumbstruck: that pine tree was not standing all alone after all, for it was included in the composition of a beautiful panoramic work of art. In the pine’s background, weren’t there the distant outlines of brand-new apartment buildings? Wasn’t there also the tall furnace as well as the hot-blast furnace and the factory itself, with its roofline rising and falling against the sky? He once again saw in the courtyard the old hen come clucking along with head bobbing. Presently, the old hen passed in front of the window, tilted her head, blinking her round eyes. She then gave out two prolonged cluck-cluck cries, as if to say, “I’m going to lay an egg!”
Strange to say, Shun-fa could not help laughing. “Oh, if you don’t lay an egg, it really doesn’t matter.” As he spoke, his wife entered the room carrying a wash basin, and she asked in disbelief, “Old man! What nonsense are you spouting now?”
“Nothing, nothing, I was talking about the hen.” Auntie Ch’en breathed a sigh, “Ai! I really don’t know what’s the matter with you.”
“Haven’t you seen it? Our family’s ducks have all grown up.”
“The ducks belong to other families, not to ‘our family. ’”
This time, Shun-fa simply did not care to reply.
February 8, 1962
Translated by Michael Götz
Not much is known about Ch’en Yün and Chang Li-hui, but Hsü Ching-hsien was a recognized young writer in the 1950s and 1960s and had a stormy political career.
Hsü published many articles and character sketches; some of the best were collected in Life Is Like Fire (1965). In 1966 he spearheaded a revolt in the Party structure in Shanghai and became a staunch supporter of the Gang of Four. He rose to the high status of a member of the Party Central Committee and vice-mayor of Shanghai. His Party assignments made him instrumental in the persecution of many noted authors during the Cultural Revolution in the Shanghai area. One report said that the fall of the Gang of Four in 1976 sent Hsü to prison.
The Young Generation, a four-act play treating the problem of getting young people to work in faraway places, touches a sore issue known as the “rustification of the young generation,” or the endless task of fighting the corrupting influence of city life. It has continuing significance in the People’s Republic.
—K. Y. H.
HSIAO CHI-YEH, twenty-seven years old, graduated along with Lin Yüsheng from the Geological Institute, now a member of a mining survey team assigned in the frontier region of Tsinghai Province. Hero of the drama, he is the model of loyalty to the Party and to the socialist revolutionary ideal, totally selfless, wise, enthusiastic, and capable. He is being sent back to Shanghai to report on the survey team’s findings, as well as to persuade Lin to return to his duty in Tsinghai.
GRANDMOTHER HSIAO, over seventy, Hsiao Chi-yeh’s grandmother, once a bond maid in a landlord’s household, now a veteran Communist, a staunch and loyal partisan.
LIN YÜ-SHENG, twenty-four, classmate of Hsiao Chi-yen. Because his real parents were executed by the Kuomintang in the 1930s, he has been raised by the Lin family, his parents’ old comrades. Spoiled by the bourgeois life in Shanghai and by his foster mother, Lin schemes to return to Shanghai for good in order to be with his girlfriend and enjoy city life.
LIN CHIEN, over fifty, Lin’s foster father, veteran Communist, model partisan, who risked his life for the revolution many times. He is now head of a factory.
HSIA SHU-CHÜAN, over forty, Lin’s foster mother, aunt to Lin’s girlfriend, Hsia Ch’ien-ju.
LIN LAN, eighteen, daughter of the Lin couple, graduating from high school.
HSIA CH’IEN-JU, twenty-three, Lin’s girlfriend, graduating from the Geological College this semester. A bright and promising student, she is now torn between following better examples to accept what the country needs and go wherever the Party wants her and her boyfriend Lin’s wish to stay in Shanghai to enjoy a better personal life.
LI JUNG-SHENG, sixteen, has done nothing for over a year because he cannot pass the high school entrance exam and is unwilling to work.
[In Act One, LIN YÜ-SHENG, egged on by LITTLE WU, a sort of playboy with a bourgeois family background, has forged a medical certificate about his arthritic leg in order to be allowed to return to Shanghai from his assignment in faraway Tsinghai. LIN buys expensive food and a Western-style dress to celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday. LIN’S foster mother, HSIA, while indulging LIN, hides the dress from the father’s observation for fear that he might object to such bourgeois taste. HSIAO CHI-YEN foils LIN’S scheme to stay on in Shanghai by urging the Party authority in Shanghai not to assign him a job there. LIN learns about HSIAO’S doing and suspects that HSIAO wants to get him away in order to steal his girlfriend. The birthday party is ruined because of the confrontation between HSIAO and LIN.
Act Two begins about a week later. HSIAO has just been told that his leg injury could be serious, but he does not take it seriously. LIN discusses his plan to stay in Shanghai with his girlfriend, urging her to marry him right away, which could persuade the authorities to let both of them stay. She scorns the idea. He switches his tactics; now he seeks his foster mother’s intervention to get him a job in Shanghai. The mother reluctantly agrees but promptly regrets it, as HSIAO reminds her of the unethical nature of such “back-door” practice—influence-manipulation for personal gain. LIN’S foster father returns in time to stop the mother from going to see the Party authorities, and the old couple starts to argue, with the mother still siding with LIN. GRANDMOTHER HSIAO enters to share with LIN’S sister the bad news about HSIAO’S HSIAO’S leg: an amputation might be unavoidable. They hesitate, but eventually the grandmother breaks the bad news to HSIAO.]
Follows closely upon the preceding act, with the same setting as the first act. [The small living room of the Lin family, in the suburbs of Shanghai. A staircase ascends to the second floor; there is a window through which the audience can see the scenery of suburban Shanghai, with factories in the distant background. A large door opens to the outside, one door to the kitchen, and another to the room shared by LIN LAN and HSIA CH’IEN-JU. The whole setting projects a feeling of simplicity and cleanliness. ]
It is a breathlessly hot afternoon; the sun glares down mercilessly upon the earth. Even the chirping of the cicadas, showing fatigue, sounds heavy and dull.
From the window a few black clouds can be seen floating in the deep blue sky. One can faintly hear the deep rumble of far-off thunder.
(LIN LAN is in the small living room repairing a wooden bucket Her concern for HSIAO CHI-YEH makes her uneasy. She frequently goes out to look toward the road. LIN YÜ-SHENG sits on the sofa reading a magazine. HSIA CH’IEN-JU enters)
HSIA CH’IEN-JU [ Toward inner room) Auntie, I’m going to the College. (Exit) (Just as LIN YÜ-SHENG is about to go into an inner room, the telephone rings)
LIN YÜ-SHENG (Answering the phone) Hello! Hi!. . . It’s me . . . Go swimming? So you still feel like going swimming. I don’t want to go . . . Look, things are really screwed up. Sure, I got my mother to go along, but my father found out . . . Yes . . . I simply don’t have any alternative now . . . What? Write a letter to the school and use my father’s seal? No, that’s no good . . . No, anyway, I can’t do that . . . Go to the college myself? . . . Yeah. Anyway, it’s not against the law to express my opinion. OK, I’ll go try and see . . . ‘Bye. (Hangs up, and, pushing his bicycle, is about to exit)
LIN LAN Brother, who was that on the phone? . . . Little Wu again. Where’re you going?
LIN YÜ-SHENG There are some things I have to do. (Exit)
LIN LAN Dad’s coming; he wants to see you! (Chases after her brother, shouting)
(LIN CHIEN enters, sees the broken bucket, starts to repair it)
(LI JUNG-SHENG enters)
LI JUNG-SHENG Lanlan! Lanlan! She’s not home! (Sees LIN CHIEN Oh, good. Just in time—a bucket repairman. We have a broken bucket, too. If you come over to our place in a while and fix it, we’ll pay you.
LIN CHIEN (Looks at him, laughs) Fine, Which house do you live in?
LI JUNG-SHENG Number two in Workers’ New Village. I’ll take you there in a while. I ran into you just in time. Otherwise I ’d have gotten yelled at.
LIN CHIEN What do you mean?
LI JUNG-SHENG My father would have come home and said, “All day long you do nothing. I tell you to fix the bucket and you won’t. The only thing you know how to do is open your mouth to eat.”
LIN CHIEN What? Don’t you go to school?
LI JUNG-SHENG Last yearI didn’t pass the exam for senior high, so now I just hang around home.
LIN CHIEN Why don’t you find some work to do?
LI JUNG-SHENG What is there good to do? Last year the Neighborhood Committee sponsored me to be a clerk, but I didn’t want to be one. Now they’re after me to go to work on a farm, but I don’t want to.
LIN CHIEN Why don’t you go? I would if I were you.
LI JUNG-SHENG It’s OK if you want to go. You are a manual laborer, but I’m an intellectual.
LIN CHIEN (Laughs) Ha! What a big intellectual!
LI JUNG-SHENG Well, I’ve been through nine years of school, and they want me to do farm work! And they keep on saying how happy I ought to be to have grown up under socialism. What a pain!
LIN CHIEN Why aren’t you happy? Isn’t it good to go to the countryside to build socialism and new farm villages, and use your own hands to create a beautiful new life?
LI JUNG-SHENG Why should I be so happy about wallowing around in the mud all day, and getting all stinky and sweaty?
LIN CHIEN Well, what do you think you would be happy doing?
LI JUNG-SHENG A lot of things. Ha, like Lin Lan’s father—a great leader. That must be impressive, and interesting!
LIN CHIEN CHIEN No. It’s no fun being a great leader.
LI JUNG-SHENG Come on, what’s so hard about being a great leader?
LIN CHIEN Suppose I don’t mention the past, when he used to fight as a guerrilla against the Kuomintang, but just stick to the present. If you’re a great leader, you have to take part in the labor, you have to learn new jobs, and also have to get the work done fast and efficiently. There are quite a few things to worry about. And if you have a free moment, you still have to take care of other things like fixing this wooden bucket.
LI JUNG-SHENG Oh, come on, a big leader fixing a bucket?
LIN CHIEN Why not? Leaders are just regular people.
LI JUNG-SHENG From what you say, it isn’t so much fun to be a leader.
LIN CHIEN The way you look at things, you wouldn’t be satisfied no matter what you did.
LI JUNG-SHENG Ohhh. You seem to know quite a bit. How come? Did you go to school, too?
LIN CHIEN Did I ever go to school? I was an apprentice when I was quite young, but my education is only what I was able to piece together for myself, later on. How can I compare with you intellectuals? Back in the old days . . .
LI JUNG-SHENG Ohhh, you too! As soon as you start to talk, “Back in the old days . . .” Just like my father. These aren’t the old days anymore. I’m sick of hearing about them!
LIN CHIEN If you don’t know how bitter it was back in the old days, then you don’t know how sweet it is today. Unless we talk about those times, you’ll all think that the good life we have today just fell from the sky.
LI JUNG-SHENG Boy, you’re a good talker. Why don’t you get another job? You only fix buckets!
LIN CHIEN If nobody wanted to be a bucket repairman, then you’d have to fix your bucket yourself. And if you don’t fix it, your father will yell at you, right?
LI JUNG-SHENG Then let somebody else fix it. Don’t you have some education? It’s really too bad for you to be doing this.
LIN CHIEN CHIEN IS IS it? What do you think would be appropriate for me?
LI JUNG-SHENG Let me think. (Thinking seriously) That’s it! You could be a store clerk.
LIN CHIEN But you didn’t want to do that yourself, right?
LI JUNG-SHENG I’ve gone through nine years of school, but you’ve only . . .
LIN CHIEN I only have a little bit of education, right?
LI JUNG-SHENG (Satisfied) Yep.
LIN LAN Dad! Why are you back?
LI JUNG-SHENG (Surprised) “Dad?” He’s your father, the one who is a big leader?
LIN LAN I only have one father. (Sees that LI JUNG-SHENG wants to run off) What are you running away for? Come here, come here. Dad, this is Little Li.
LIN CHIEN We’ve met.
LI JUNG-SHENG So you’re the one who won all those battles . . . the . . . great leader.
LIN CHIEN Great leaders still fix buckets, right?
LI JUNG-SHENG (To LIN LAN) IS it true that your father wants to go out to a farm?
LIN LAN Why shouldn’t it be true? Too bad his superiors won’t let him go. (LI JUNG-SHENG stares at LIN CHIEN)
LIN CHIEN (HIEN ( To LIN LAN) Well, how about you? Did you do well on the exam for Agricultural School?
LIN LAN Dad, I didn’t take the exam.
LI JUNG-SHENG (Amazed) Didn’t take it?
LIN CHIEN (Surprised) Oh? What happened, you . . .
LIN LAN (Agitatedly explaining) No. Dad, I ran into something unexpected.
LIN CHIEN An accident?
LIN LAN Well, yes. This morning I thought that on the way over I’d go meet Wang Hsiu and go to the exam together with her, but when I got to her house, she had already left, and I found her mother having a relapse of her heart trouble. What could I do? There was nobody else at home. If I didn’t help her, it’d be too late, so I took her right to the hospital. After the doctors saved her, and felt that the crisis had passed, I waited until they put her in a hospital room before I left. By that time, everybody had finished the exam.
LIN CHIEN So that’s what happened.
LIN LAN Just now Wang Hsiu told me that she wanted to go explain the reason to the entrance examination committee, and request them to give me a make-up examination, but I wouldn’t agree to it. Dad, I didn’t plan to tell you, but I was afraid you’d be sad, so now . . .
LIN CHIEN You did the right thing! In order to help a person, you gave up your chance to advance your own education. That kind of spirit is commendable. But what do you plan to do later on?
LIN LAN I plan to go to the Chingkang Mountain Farm in Kiangsi.
LIN CHIEN Ah, good. You can learn by real work. Whether it’s thought or agricultural science, in both you can learn something. But once you’re there, you may run into a lot of difficulties. Have you considered that?
LIN LAN Yes, I have. I think that no matter how big the difficulties are now, they can’t compare with the ones you had when you were working for the Revolution. (As though to herself) Since the people in our parents’ generation are all courageous, we better not be cowards!
LIN CHIEN Well said!
LIN LAN Mom’ll never agree to this.
LIN CHIEN Is she home?
LIN LAN She probably went upstairs.
LIN CHIEN Your mother will agree. She’ll agree.
LIN LAN (Happily) Little Li! Let’s go there together!
LI JUNG-SHENG (Hesitating) I . . . I don’t want to go.
LIN CHIEN What? Oh, you can’t find happiness as a farm worker, right?
(LI JUNG-SHENG does not speak)
LIN CHIEN That’s right, that’s right. Young people always like to talk about this “happiness.” As long as things are going along the way they want, they say, “I’m so happy.” But when they run into the least thing that doesn’t go the way they want, they say, “I’m not happy at all.” But what is this “happiness?” They haven’t even figured it out themselves.
LIN LAN Dad, what do you say happiness is?
LIN CHIEN Happiness is just an attractive-sounding word. (To LI JUNG-SHENG) Hey, come on, Little Li, sit down. Different people, different classes have different understandings of this word. Some people feel that happiness is just eating and playing without having to do any work. There are also people who feel that happiness is having fame and power. These views are both wrong. They do not correspond to the proletariat’s view of happiness. We say that for a true revolutionary, happiness and struggle are inseparable. Before the Liberation, countless revolutionaries struggled heroically to overthrow the reactionary institutions. In their view, there was no greater happiness than that. Today, after Liberation, we don’t suffer oppression and exploitation, but the struggle has not stopped at all. There is no greater happiness than for a young person to be able to take part in today’s class struggle and production struggle, to contribute his or her share to the work of the Party and the people. (Pointedly) The kind of person who does not put out his or her best efforts can never achieve happiness. Right? Intellectual!
(LI JUNG-SHENG does not speak)
LIN CHIEN You’re not a child anymore! You have to use your brains. It’ll be just terrible if you keep on muddling along like this!
(LI JUNG-SHENG lowers his head and does not speak)
LIN LAN (To LI JUNG-SHENG) Well, how about it? You’d better come with me to the Chingkang Mountain.
LI JUNG-SHENG I . . . I’ll think it over.
LIN CHIEN Good. You have to consider it. If you aren’t busy, come over often; and if there’s time, we’ll talk about it. How’s that?
(LI JUNG-SHENG nods)
LIN CHIEN You little imp.
LI JUNG-SHENG (To LIN LAN) I’m going now. Here’s your China Youth. (Bows to LIN CHIEN Goodbye! (Exit)
LIN CHIEN (About to exit, turns to LIN LAN) Where’s your brother?
LIN LAN He went to the college about Ch’ien-ju’s job assignment.
LIN CHIEN (Severely) What, he went himself?
LIN LAN Yes. Just now, that Little Wu called again, and after Yü-sheng took the call, he left.
LIN CHIEN When he comes back, tell him to see me upstairs. (Exit)
(After a slight pause, HSIAO CHI-YEH enters, walking with difficulty)
LIN LAN Chi-yeh! You’re back!
HSIAO CHI-YEH Where’s your brother?
LIN LAN your leg?
HSIAO CHI-YEH Isn’t he home?
LIN LAN What’d the doctor say?
HSIAO CHI-YEH He wants me to go to the hospital right away . . . to have a biopsy.
LIN LAN There’s hope, isn’t there?
(HSIAO CHI-YEH does not speak)
HSIAO CHI-YEH (After a pause) Where’d Yü-sheng go?
LIN LAN He went to the college.
HSIAO CHI-YEH He went himself?
LIN LAN Oh, my brother wants to stay in Shanghai himself, and he’s also trying to keep our cousin here, too . . . How could you have agreed to let him come back? Is his leg really that bad? That hospital must be crazy. They even gave him a medical excuse.
HSIAO CHI-YEH That’s just whatI came to see him about.
LIN LAN What for? Is . . .
HSIAO CHI-YEH I want to ask him about . . . ask him whether he can go back to Tsinghai a little earlier.
LIN LAN Yeah. That’ll be good if you make him go back early.
(After a slight pause, LIN YÜ-SHENG enters through the front door)
LIN LAN Hsiao Chi-yeh, my brother’s back.
LIN YÜ-SHENG Oh, you’re here. I was just thinking of looking for you.
HSIAO CHI-YEH I’ve been thinking of coming to see you, too. (To LIN LAN) I ’d like to talk to your brother alone.
(Exit LIN LAN)
LIN YÜ-SHENG Good. I hope you can give me an explanation.
HSIAO CHI-YEH An explanation of what?
LIN YÜ-SHENG of why you want to create trouble between Ch’ien-ju and me, of why you’re always trying to mobilize her to leave Shanghai. Why?
HSIAO CHI-YEH Because the job requires you to leave this place. As an old classmate, I couldn’t bear to see you going on like this.
LIN YÜ-SHENG Thank you for your concern.
HSIAO CHI-YEH (Sincerely) Yü-sheng, we were classmates for many years . . . if I overstate myself, please don’t get mad. We’ve been apart for almost a year now, and I really didn’t expect you to turn out like this.
LIN YÜ-SHENG MayI ask howI ’ve turned out?
HSIAO CHI-YEH Just think, now. What have you done for the whole year? All day long you just stay hidden away in your petty individualist world, satisfied with your mediocre, trivial existence, hankering after the easy life, the only thing in your immediate view.
LIN YÜSHENG Since you’re so concerned about my life, I’ll speak frankly with you. We do intend to make our life better, more comfortable, to make our life richer and more varied. Why is everybody working so hard? Isn’t it just to make life better and happier?
HSIAO CHI-YEH To make whose life happier? Is it just to make your individual life happier, or is it to give more happiness through your and everyone’s labor, to the lives of hundreds of millions of people? You want your life richer and more varied. That’s all right. Our life today is the richest, most varied in history. But it certainly is not in your little room, but in the ardent struggle of the broad masses!
LIN YÜ-SHENG Don’t talk to me about your high principles. I ask you, do you still admit the existence of individual happiness?
HSIAO CHI-YEH In a socialist society, no worker is oppressed, no worker is exploited, and, while working in the collective, one can develop one’s intelligence and abilities to the fullest and can create a more beautiful future. Isn’t this the greatest individual happiness? Yü-sheng, the key to this question is just this: what kind of happiness is it that you’re pursuing? If the whole country hadn’t been liberated, then for sons of workers like you and me, it would be hard even to survive, not to mention graduating from college. And how could you even begin to discuss this kind of happiness that you’re thinking of? When we think of happines today, we must never, never just pursue individual pleasure, or forget the responsibility that we young people bear toward the Party and the people. We must not forget to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the magnificent work of building socialism.
LIN YÜ-SHENG I haven’t forgotten, and I can’t possibly forget! If we do feel some interest in our own happiness, well, so what? We work and we labor like anybody else. We neither go around robbing and plundering nor do we exploit or interfere with others; we just spend our days according to our own wishes and our own ideals. May I ask what is illegal about this?
HSIAO CHI-YEH There it is, over and over again, “ourselves,” “ourselves.” You start with yourself, and finish with legality, so where do you put the interests of the nation and the collective? Our country works according to plans, so when you put the interests of the individual before those of the collective, beyond the scope of national planning, how can this not interfere with others? How can you say it’s “legal” not to respond to the needs of the country, not to obey your job assignment?! Why shouldn’t you be criticized for it?
LIN YÜ-SHENG Do you mean that the only thing in the interest of the nation is to go to some border area? Everyone has his own conditions. Surely you wouldn’t go so far as to have everybody live the life of those in the mountain gulches!
HSIAO CHI-YEH I’m sad for you when you talk this way. In the mountain gulches, you say? If it hadn’t been for the vanguards of the Revolution struggling in the wild mountains, then there wouldn’t have been any victory for the Chinese Revolution. If it weren’t for the support from the mountain gullies and farming villages all over the country, our great cities and industries would have lost their life line. How can we achieve socialism, how can we gain happiness for the people, unless we arduously build up the country? Besides, the battle post for us geologists is right in the mountains! Yü-sheng, what’s happened to that great ambition you had just after we graduated? You’re on a very dangerous road!
LIN YÜ-SHENG (Sneers) Dangerous road? What’s the danger?
HSIAO CHI-YEH The danger is that you aren’t thinking of the Revolution anymore. The danger is that individualistic thought can corrupt your spirit without your being aware of it! It can destroy your ideals, erode your resolve, and make you fall deeper and deeper into the capitalist quagmire.
LIN YÜ-SHENG (Contemptuously) Don’t try to scare me. I did not come from a bourgeois family.
HSIAO CHI-YEH As the postrevolutionary generation, we have to be even more careful. If we aren’t, then despite the fact that we may have been born into the right family, bourgeois thought can still bore its way into our minds.
(Emphasizes) It’s up to you what path you take, but you’re responsible for your behavior.
LIN YÜ-SHENG (Counterattacking) What about you, then? It doesn’t look like you’ve done any earthshaking deeds!
HSIAO CHI-YEH That’s right. Earthshaking deeds are done by the masses, not by any individual. I recall Chairman Mao saying something like, “An individual’s abilities have a certain range. As long as one is not selfish, then one is a noble person, a pure person, a virtuous person, a person who has abandoned vulgarity, a person who is useful to the people.” My abilities are very limited, but I’m willing to use all my strength to work in accord with the needs of the Party, and to be a simple, solid screw in the machine.
LIN YÜ-SHENG Ah, what lofty ideals!
HSIAO CHI-YEH No! Just the standard behavior for the busy life of the young people in the era of Mao Tse-tung. All of us ought to be like that. Yü-sheng, don’t go on like this! Come back to Tsinghai!
LIN YÜ-SHENG I have a bad leg. Don’t you know?
HSIAO CHI-YEH Is it really that bad?
LIN YÜ-SHENG (Pretending to be tough, but actually afraid) What do you mean by that? The doctor gave me a medical excuse. You’ve seen it.
HSIAO CHI-YEH Yes, I ’ve seen it; it’s in my pocket right now.
LIN YÜ-SHENG What?
HSIAO CHI-YEH But the doctor’s added a few words.
LIN YÜ-SHENG You...
HSIAO CHI-YEH See for yourself.(Hands the certificate to LIN YÜ-SHENG)
(When LIN YÜ-SHENG looks at the certificate, his face immediately turns pale. He reaches out to take the slip of paper and, with shaking hands, looks at the doctor’s repudiation, then collapses on a chair)
(LIN LAN enters, sees the certificate on the table)
LIN LAN (Reads aloud) “This hospital never issued this certificate. It is a forgery.”
(Exit LIN YÜ-SHENG, -SHENG, LIN YÜ-SHENG, hurriedly)
LIN LAN So this is how it is! (About to go upstairs)
HSIAO CHI-YEH (Hurries to stop her) Lanlan! Don’t tell your father about this for a while. We should try to help your brother.
(HSIA CH’IEN-JU enters through the front door. HSIAO CHI-YEH takes the certificate from LIN LAN’S hands and hides it hands and hides it)
LIN LAN Cousin . . .(Stopped by HSIAO CHI-YEH)
HSIA CH’IEN-JU (Senses something amiss) What’s going on?
HSIAO CHI-YEH Nothing.
HSIA CH’IEN-JU (To HSIAO CHI-YEH) What’re you holding?
LIN LAN: It’s . . .
HSIAO CHI-YEH (Immediately) A letter.
HSIA CH’IEN-JU No. It looks like you’re trying to hide something from me, Hsiao Chi-yeh. Let me see it.
HSIAO CHI-YEH I can’t let you see it.
HSIA CH’IEN-JU Why?
HSIAO CHI-YEH It has nothing to do with you.
(HSIA CH’IEN-JU looks at them, suspecting something, then suddenly becomes worried)
(LIN YÜ-SHENG enters, unnoticed)
HSIA CH’IEN-JU Did he do something wrong? Why don’t you say something? Give me the letter.
(No one speaks)
HSIA CH’IEN-JU Ahhh. Don’t torture me!
LIN YÜ-SHENG (To HSIAO CHI-YEH) Give me the certificate. (After receiving the certihcate, he resolutely hands it to HSIA CH’IEN-JU.) Ch’ien-ju, I’ve done something very wrong.
(HSIA CH’IEN-JU tensely looks at the certihcate, and then, downcast, walks toward the window)
(Outside, it begins to pour)
HSIA CH’IEN-JU (Softly) It’s really pouring!. . .(For a long time she stands with her back to the audience)
(LI JUNG-SHENG enters, fleeing the rain, and takes in the scene with great amazement)
LIN YÜ-SHENG Well, what do you all say? What should I do?
HSIAO CHI-YEH Go back to the prospecting team. If you’ve fallen down at some place, then you just get back up right there.
LIN YÜ-SHENG No. I’ve got a bad leg. Even if I did exaggerate the trouble, it really is true that there is trouble.
LIN LAN Your trouble isn’t in your leg; it’s in your head!
HSIAO CHI-YEH (Sincerely) Yü-sheng, just think of how many people are struggling day and night for the success of the Revolution. For the past thirty years, your father has been risking his life for the Revolution. And now he’s still at the front line of the effort to build socialism. My grandmother’s almost seventy. But has she ever stopped working for the Revolution? If the older generation is still at the front line today, then what reason do we young people have to hide away in a little corner of individualism?
LIN YÜ-SHENG It’s easy to talk, but if your leg was like mine, then you’d . . .
LIN LAN Brother!
HSIAO CHI-YEH Then I’d sneak away from the prospecting team? No, I never would.
LIN YÜ-SHENG Sure, it’s easy to talk, but if it were really that way . . .
LIN LAN (Sharply) Brother! Do you know that they’re going to amputate Hsiao Chi-yeh’s leg?
HSIAO CHI-YEH (Trying to stop her) Lanlan!
LIN YÜ-SHENG (At the same time) What?
(Everyone is shocked silent by this sudden news)
HSIAO CHI-YEH It doesn’t matter. If they do amputate, I’ll go back to the prospecting team on crutches. If I can’t climb mountains, then I’ll just stay on the ground; if I can’t go out into the field, then I’ll just stay in the tent. But I’m going to work my whole life on the prospecting team, no matter what! (Looks at his watch) I have to go to a meeting.
HSIA CH’IEN-JU Well, don’t go.
HSIAO CHI-YEH Yes, I have to go; they’re going to evaluate our geological report today. They’re all waiting for me!
(LIN LAN brings out an umbrella)
LIN YÜ-SHENG I’ll go with you.
HSIAO CHI-YEH ( Warmly seizing LIN YÜ-SHENG’S hand) No. You stay at home and think about this.
LI JUNG-SHENG (Takes the umbrella from LIN LAN) I’ll go with you.
HSIAO CHI-YEH Okay, I’ll let you come with me. (To LIN YÜ-SHENG) We’ll talk again in a little while.
(HSIAO CHI-YEH, LI JUNG-SHENG exit, with LIN LAN following. LIN YÜ-SHENG and HSIA CH’IEN-JU are left onstage) (Embarrassed silence)
LIN YÜ-SHENG Why don’t you say something? Well. . . let me have it. You have the right to.
HSIA CH’IEN-JU NO, I don’t have any right to yell at you. I can see in you now what I’d have been like later on. It’s only after all this that I’ve been able to understand clearly what I’ve actually been doing for the past year. . . But you —I never would’ve thought . . .
(LIN LAN enters, turns, and starts upstairs)
LIN YÜ-SHENG YOU think that I didn’t intend to do a good job? At the beginning I worked really hard, but later . . . There were the hardships of the life there, the difficulties in the work, and then my leg started up on me . . . The only thing I could do was . . .
HSIA CH’IEN-JU The only thing you could do was sneak away and come back here? And you even forged a medical certificate!
LIN YÜ-SHENG HOW else could I have managed it? You know what my family’s like. If I came back the way the others do, could they have forgiven me? Then Little Wu gave me the idea.
HSIA CH’IEN-JU Little Wu again! Do you mean that you’re not responsible for this?
LIN YÜ-SHENG No, of course not. I’m not trying to hide what my idea was at that time. At the time I thought that since I wasn’t well, couldn’t it be just the same to go back to Shanghai and work? Anyway, I wouldn’t be able to come up with any great accomplishments out there.
HSIA CH’IEN-JU You were fooling yourself! Why was Hsiao Chi-yeh able to accomplish something out there? I never thought that you’d turn out like this! (Painfully) I’m really ashamed of you.(Turns, about to exit)
LIN YÜ-SHENG Ch’ien-ju, you . . .
(LIN CHIEN enters, with SHU-CHÜAN, LIN LAN following)
HSIA CH’IEN-JU Hello, Uncle!
LIN CHIEN Don’t go. Everybody sit down.
LIN CHIEN Where’s the certificate?
(LIN YÜ-SHENG takes out the certihcate)
LIN CHIEN Put it up on the wall.
LIN YÜ-SHENG (Pleading) Dad.
LIN CHIEN Put it up. Let everybody take a good look at it again and again. This is a lesson for you and for the whole family. How could our family produce a gutless loser like you?
(LIN YÜ-SHENG hesitantly looks at his mother)
LIN CHIEN (Firmly) Put it up! Put it up yourself.
HSIA SHU-CHÜAN DO what he says.
(With no alternative, LIN YÜ-SHENG reluctantly walks over to the wall)
LIN CHIEN Afraid our family will lose face, are you? You’ve already made the whole working class lose face. (Pained) Doing what you did—a deserter! You’ve betrayed the Party that trained you, you’ve betrayed the teachers who taught you; but worst of all, you’ve let down your own departed parents.
LIN CHIEN Shu-chüan, it’s time to tell him. (Turns and goes upstairs)
LIN YÜ-SHENG My departed parents? Mom, you . . .
HSIA SHU-CHÜAN (Pained) No, we aren’t your real parents. Your real parents died in a Kuomintang prison twenty-four years ago.
LIN YÜ-SHENG Really?
HSIA SHU-CHÜAN Your real parents worked in a factory with your father, joined the labor movement together and were also comrades-in-arms. During one strike, they were captured and put in jail. The enemy sentenced your real parents to death. Three days after you were born, they were killed.
(LIN CHIEN comes downstairs carrying a box)
LIN CHIEN (Takes a letter out of the box) This is the letter your mother wrote for you just before she died.
LIN YÜ-SHENG A letter from my mother. (Takes the letter)
LIN CHIEN (Pained) Read it out loud; look at the hopes your parents had for you.
LIN YÜ-SHENG (Reads aloud) “Dear Son: The executioner has already lifted his axe. All our comrades are singing heroically. We’ll have to go up to the platform soon. You will never see your own parents again.
“Son, I’m writing this letter to remind you that your parents are workers and have sacrificed their lives for the Revolution of the Proletariat. You can forget your father and you can forget your mother, but you must never, never, forget that the world still harbors our class enemies! You must struggle for the sacred ideals of Communism.
“My child, hold the red flag high! Always advancing, always working for the Revolution, always loyal to the Party, always for the people!
“It is time, now. The prison doors are clanging. The executioner is coming. We part forever, my beloved child! We are going. Remember your debt. Don’t forget your roots. Don’t forget your roots . . .” (Toward the letter) My mother! My own mother! (He hunches over on the table, crying)
LIN CHIEN That’s right, that’s right. Don’t forget your roots! Don’t forget that you’re the son of workers. Even more important, don’t forget that throughout the world there is still a wide . . . My old comrades-in-arms! You gave everything for the Revolution. Our life today is what we got with your blood, with your heads. But what can I say? . . . I’ve let you down. I haven’t brought him up to be the kind of person that you wanted.
(Painfully) But I, I never imagined that he could . . . Ohhh.
(Strikes the table with his fist and, after an emotion-choked pause, says sadly) Yü-sheng, it wasn’t easy for the proletariat to obtain power! The imperialists and reactionaries are just dreaming of a chance to get their wish to oppose the Revolution and restore the old order by using you young people. Son, you’ve got to be careful!
LIN YÜ-SHENG Don’t say any more, Dad. Please don’t say any more! (Runs off, crying)
HSIA SHU-CHÜAN Yü-sheng!
LIN CHIEN It’s all right, let him go run for a while in the rain and the wind.
(To HSIA SHU-CHÜAN) You see? You can’t be lax!
(HSIA SHU-CHÜAN does not speak)
LIN CHIEN Of course, I’m responsible, too. The past few years, I’ve been rather insensitive to the problems of rearing our children. I always thought that in our society young people couldn’t go too far astray. (Forcefully) No. The influence of the capitalist class is still extremely strong. Not every young person can correctly choose his or her own path!
(HSIA CH’IEN-JU suddenly stands up, walks toward the door)
LIN LAN Where are you going?
HSIA CH’IEN-JU I’m going to see Secretary Ho. (Exits)
LIN CHIEN She ought to go.
(Silence. LIN LAN is quietly looking at her father)
LIN CHIEN After every kind of hardship, our generation finally seized political power and established the regime of the proletariat; but Chairman Mao has repeatedly warned us that we have just taken the first step in our Long March! The way we are going is a road full of difficulties, but it is the road to victory! But what about the next generation? Will they be able to follow our path after all?
LIN LAN (Resolutely) Yes, Dad. Don’t worry. We can follow your path to the end!
LIN CHIEN (Emotionally gazing at his daughter) Good! You’ve got to be determined to obey the Party. Always keep to the Revolutionary road! (Severely) There are people who want to make our next generation corrupt and degenerate . . . They can’t! We’ll never let them! (Curtain)
[ACT FOUR. With his dishonesty exposed, LIN cannot bear the thought of returning in humiliation to his team in Tsinghai. However, the revelation of his real revolutionary Party parents has deeply touched him and he wants to go to the worst, most difficult place—partly to redeem himself and partly to run away from his girlfriend, now that he can no longer face her. HSIAO’S patient but firm effort to educate LIN and his selfless act of yielding his own leading position on the team to LIN finally convince LIN that the comrades genuinely welcome back a prodigal son. The play closes with all the young people, including LI JUNG-SHENG and LAN, gloriously and joyously setting off for the frontier areas to greet their new life and new assignments. ]
Translated by Kevin O’Connor and Constantine Tung
It was the conviction of the May Fourth writers that public support for radical change would be mobilized when the truth about injustice and suffering in Chinese society was compellingly revealed in literature, particularly in fiction. And certainly, in retrospect, it was precisely the joining of a high degree of realistic integrity with a pragmatic intention that was one of the chief accomplishments of May Fourth literature. The new literature created to take its place after 1949 has retained the same belief in the pragmatic value of literature, but the shift has been away from realism toward the depiction of idealized characters who are to serve as role models, rather on the order of the exaggerations in the Twenty-Four Paragons of Filial Piety (or its female counterpart, Biographies of Exemplary Women) of the old society. That is, literary stories are used as a social tool for what psychologists call “alter casting.”
Veteran writers did not shift easily to the new fiction, and rather than abandon their standards for realistic integrity, most stopped writing. Indeed, the history of Communist literature in China has been one of ever contracting boundaries, with sporadic attempts to break them down from the inside.
By 1962, long after the settling of the great confrontations with Ting Ling, Wang Shih-wei, Feng Hsüeh-feng, and finally, Hu Feng (“politics is the knife that killed literature”), the bureaucracy’s problem became less one of holding its line on literature than one of finding some corrective to the problem of lifelessness and credibility. It was thus in the dual role of veteran writer and Party bureaucrat that Shao Ch’üan-lin addressed a conference of writers in Dairen in 1962 and argued persuasively for the return of a modest measure of realistic integrity to fiction. The context was not one of a challenge to government, such as Solzhenitsyn’s letters to the Congress of Soviet Writers, but simply, it appears, a well-intended attempt by a Party member to get literature back on track, something to make it more effective while remaining within the basic Party guidelines. The key terms by which his views came to be known were “middle character” and “deepening of realism.”
The inadequacy of the new literature, he argued, was a question not of subject matter but of treatment. The polished and buffed unreal new heroes who vigorously solved all problems and the protagonists who acted out the values the Party wanted propagated, threatened to reduce literary craftsmanship to simple Party spokesmanship. It was surely this tendency that provoked Shao to address the Dairen Conference in these terms:
If there is merely diversity in the material, that still doesn’t solve the problem. It is only when the characters themselves are diversified that we can widen the road of creativity
Stressing progressive and heroic characters is something we should continue to do, for it reflects the spirit of our age. However, speaking in terms of the overall situation, the reflection in our literature of people who are in the middle character situation in real life is relatively infrequent. The middle area is large and the tips are small; those who are good and those who are evil are relatively few. The largest number at every stratum are those in the middle; to depict them is very important because the contradictions invariably are centered upon such people
Shao’s middle character views became highly controversial without their ever being published. What we know of them comes to us only indirectly, in the form of excerpts published in a curious Literary Gazette (Aug. -Sept. 1964) editorial that ostensibly attacked his views but in fact merely excerpted them one after another, with the occasional obligatory deprecating remark stitching them together. In the translation that follows, the Gazette editor’s comments are in italics, Shao’s are in ordinary type, and the translator’s additions are in brackets and notes.
Shao was born around 1905, in Chekiang, and is himself the author of two short story collections dating from the Sino-Japanese war. He is mainly known for his long collaboration with Chou Yang in the literary bureaucracy, a relationship dating from their membership and activism in the League of Left-wing Writers in the 1930s. From 1953 to 1955 he was chief editor of People’s Literature magazine. Conspicuously active in the antirightist campaigns of the late 1950s, which drove Ting Ling and others from power, he himself was purged as a rightist in the mid-1960s, when his middle character views were deliberately construed to be historically in a direct line with those of purged rightists, even including, ironically, his former enemies like Hu Feng. Those who silenced Shao pointed out that it was Hu Feng who over a decade earlier first observed that “Chinese society is small on both ends but big in the middle; the ends are hard, the middle, soft.”
Recently the Chinese Writers’ Association and its associated editorial office at the Literary Gazette held a series of meetings to probe deeply into its errors and weaknesses, and especially into the error of the “middle character,” whose chief proponent has been Shao Ch ‘iian-lin, former vice-chairman of the Association. From 1960 to the summer of1962 the middle character was promoted in the editorial offices of the Gazette and its promotion in the pages of the Gazette itself was advocated. In the August 1962 meeting of the writers of short stories on rural subjects, held in Dairen and attended by sixteen writers and critics from eight provinces and cities, Shao Ch ‘iian-lin promoted the middle character idea and also advocated “the deepening of realism.” After the meeting, the Gazette promoted the middle character.
But comrades at subsequent meetings, based on overwhelming evidence, began a discussion and criticism of Shao Ch ‘iian-lin, whereupon it was decided that the middle character idea and the “deepening of realism” are bourgeois notions of literary theory, and that such notions oppose Party policy and oppose the principle of literature for the worker, peasant, and soldier. This will be discussed separately below.
In 1960 a series of long, critical articles in the Gazette and other journals displeased Shao because of their discussion of the novel The Builders (by Liu Ch’ing) too much attention was paid to Liang Sheng-pao and too little to the middle character, Liang the Third. From 1960 on, at several editorial meetings sponsored by the Gazette and the Writers’ Association, he said,
In The Builders, Liang the Third is a more successfully drawn character than Liang Sheng-pao because he is a composite of the spiritual burden borne by the individual peasant over thousands of years. But almost no critic has analyzed this character, and therefore the analysis of the novel is inadequate. Even if one uses the struggle between the two paths, socialism and capitalism, and the new citizen as a means for analytically describing works on rural topics (such as Liu Ch’ing’s The Builders and Li Chun’s short stories), it remains inadequate. . . .
Creativity at present is too narrowly channeled, and it appears that all our short stories are written exclusively in the Communist style Writers are hampered by some rules and regulations, and they are stifled. I hope critics can take up this question. At present writers do not dare to deal with the internal contradictions of the people. When the basis for realism is inadequate, then the romanticism will be superficial. As for the problem of creating heroic characters, writers also feel there are restraints. Ch’en Ch’i-hsia feels that writers should not cast characters to be either positive or negative, and this view of course is wrong. However, when this view of his is criticized, people seem to think that what is called for is a situation where if a character isn’t depicted as positive then it has to be negative, which completely overlooks the middle character, and in point of fact, it is upon the middle character that all the problems are invariably concentrated. . . . .
Our creative works, generally speaking, are sufficiently revolutionary, but in their depiction of anguish and hardship, of the protracted nature of the struggle and its complexity, they remain inadequate. Characters are too pure, are exclusively heroic, daring to think and daring to act, while the complexity of struggle is inadequately reflected The task at present is to overcome difficulties, to describe contradictions. Merely describing model behavior and model conditions is too narrow. . . .
Depicting a hero does not necessarily require that there be faults, only that there be a process of development. If we just write of a character’s flawlessness then this becomes the theory of “one model for one class.” In The Builders I feel that Liang Sheng-pao is not the most successful of characters, for, as a typical character, he can be found in any number of works. And is Liang the Third a typical character or not? I find him a highly typical character. Kuo Chen-shan is another. In Keep the Red Flags Flying Chu Lao-chung certainly is a typical character and so also is Yen Chih-ho. When present-day critics talk about The Builders they only talk about Liang Shen-pao [a poor peasant who becomes a model mutual-aid team leader and candidate for membership in the Party] and never any of the other characters; when they talk about Keep the Red Flags Flying they only talk about Chu Lao-chung and never about Yen Chih-ho.
Writers should have courage. But to have courage, to be sure, is no easy matter. When Chao Shu-li created My-calf-hurts [a woman who goldbricks] in the story “Get Some Training,” there were many who took him to task for it. Writers have to withstand this. Amidst a diversity in the kinds of characters we create we still should create positive heroes, but positive heroes are not all of one kind, for they, too are diverse. If we can break out of this simplification, this dogmatism, this formulaic obsession, then it will let our creativity develop even further. On the one hand, this is the work of literary theory, but on the other hand, writers themselves must have their own ideas. . . . Write about whatever you know best, and so long as your standpoint is sound, the problems of “glorification” and of “magnification” will easily be solved. Glorification as it is now practiced is simply a single model for a single class, and is too far removed from reality, too far separated from the earthy qualities of real life. Magnification is still something we have to pay attention to; it is nothing but a generalization, a typicalizing of characteristics whereby we take very commonplace things and collect them together for a composite. . . .
The two tips of a pole are small, while the middle area is large. The heroes and the backward elements are the two tips; those situated in the middle are the majority, so we ought to write about the various kinds of richly complex psychological states of such people. The chief educational target of literature is the middle character. There is no need to indoctrinate those who are the most progressive and the most advanced. It is true that depicting heroes establishes a model; however, we should also pay attention to depicting characters who are situated in the middle. If we only depict the heroic models and not the contradictory and complex characters, then realism in fiction will be inadequate. When creating characters in fiction, the most important thing is to rely upon the character’s own actions and psychology to reflect his or her contradictions. The fact that it was revisionists who wrote about the darkness of people’s inner lives has caused us to shy away from doing the same thing. But the dark, inner life is something we can write about; it is only writing about darkness for the sake of darkness that is wrong.
Comrade Shao Ch’üan-lin feels that the reason why the middle characters that came to his attention are so well done is because of what the writers have placed upon such characters from past history. That is to say, the so-called “spiritual burden borne by the individual peasant for several thousand years.” He said,
I feel Liang the Third is done better than Liang Sheng-pao, and Flourpaste T’ing in Great Changes in a Mountain Village made a deep impression on me too; such characters can most certainly progress, but they still have some of the old ways in them as well.
Another problem the short story runs into is this: within the compass of very little space tahe story raises a problem and resolves it. But what about problems that can’t be resolved? For many years now there has been this sort of formulaic obsession. Some problems can be solved, but in some cases conditions are not yet adequate, so the problem cannot be resolved. When the process of solution cannot be completed, what then? For example, a story may deal with a time when the peasants are just beginning their transformation process, and yet, in order that all problems get solved within the story, they are described as if the transformation were already completed. And if the writer doesn’t do it that way, then the critics will get on his back. For example, “Sister Lai” [by Hsi Jung] was censured by critics who felt that her thinking had not changed over to collectivisim. Especially in the theater, if the problem isn’t solved, the critics are aroused. Is it that we absolutely must solve the problem? In the problem plays of the past the social problem was merely introduced and the audience was then allowed to form judgments for itself. Today we stress educating our people and pointing out the direction for them to take. However, is it true that fiction must solve problems on the spot? When all the preparatory conditions are met, then let there be a solution, or let there be a giving of direction to allow the readers themselves to seek a solution. But some contradictions cannot be resolved at once, as, for example, the changing over of peasants to collectivism. People asked of Comrade Hsi Jung’s Sister Lai, “Why can’t she change her attitude?” The answer is, “It’s very difficult to do so. . . . “
The alteration of one’s mental perceptions is an enormously arduous undertaking, even to the point where it is actually an anguishing process. Intellectuals who transformed from the old to the new underwent this anguish. As the saying goes, “Thrice-soaked in clear water, thrice-bathed in blood, then thrice-boiled in lye”—if that isn’t hard and painful, then what is? Our own Lu Hsün also underwent this kind of process. Peasants who change over from individualistic economics to collectivist do the same. . . . Why is it that people say writing about people’s internal contradictions cannot be stimulating? It is because they underestimate the long-term nature of the contradictions, the anguish involved, and the complexity of it.
On August 13, 1962, at a Literary Gazette meeting, Shao Ch’üan-lin distorted Engels’ letter to Margaret Harkness in order to form a theoretical basis for advocating his middle character.1
Where Engels’ criticism of Margaret Harkness’ “City Girl” is concerned, it seems people have developed a misunderstanding, for it does appear that Engels is criticizing Harkness for not making Nellie, the heroine of the story, have a sufficiently high awareness. But in fact, Engels is criticizing the author for not adequately describing the relationship between Nellie and her total environment, with the result that the masses end up appearing negative. So far as Nellie is concerned, it doesn’t make any difference whether she is described as aware or not
At the August 1962 conference Shao again distorted the original meaning of Engels’letter and he distorted also Chairman Mao’s original meaning in the Yenan talks, to form a basis for his own personal theory. Shao said,
When Engels raised the issue of the typical character within the typical environment, the result was that people took the environment he was talking about to be within the era of socialism, and the hero’s characteristics to be those of a socialist. Engels criticized Harkness for not describing a typical environment but the result has been for people to deduce from this the assumption that they were not to describe negative characters; a semiprogressive could not appear even in a minor role and except for the most perfect, heroic characters, none of the rest ever have even the slightest importance. From this, people have derived the theory of one class, one model, and throughout the world there can only be a certain few models—the proletarian model, which can only be heroic in struggle, fair-minded and utterly unselfish, etc. —which amounts to an extremely pernicious theory. Later, after reading “City Girl,” one can see that this is by no means true. The story as it is written is the blandest of the bland. Engels is by no means censuring the author for having described the working girl to be so negative. At that time there were such working girls and it was not at all unusual. The problem was that no worker sympathized with her or was supportive, and this is insufficiently typical. This is a problem of the relationship between the character and the actual environment. That is to say, one must describe the changes that take place when a character is in a certain environment; it is not a question of whether a character in and of him or herself is or is not negative. If we were to take the heroine in “City Girl” and make her heroic, the entire story would vanish. In any environment there are various kinds of relationships, various kinds of people, including those who have no fear of hardship, but also those who waver; there are thieves, law violators, and disruptors, etc. —just all kinds of people who are related in some way to the specific environment. In the author’s reflection of this, there will be a single aspect that is highlighted. In sum, the nature of typicality within a typical environment is diverse. Therefore, Chairman Mao wants us to analyze each and every person and each and every class; otherwise, we will develop the theory of one class, one model, which will produce a very great oppression.2
In the past few years there has been one kind of theory to the effect that writing about very commonplace things just isn’t exciting enough, and I feel this theoretical position is biased. The first thing to look for is whether the artistry of the piece is such that it moves people. I still think the Hundred Flowers approach is best, and what we ought to do is see whether its roots have gone deep or not, and whether the foundation for realism is secure or not.
Short fiction is actually more difficult to write than long fiction: take a complex thing and then, through the generalizing of artistry, present it so that through the microcosm one sees the macrocosm, rather like the cross-section cut from a tree, whereby the annual growth rings and the characteristics of the tree are revealed. The relationship between the simple and the complex is this: through the simple one sees the complex; in a single grain of rice one sees the entire world. This is quite a different thing from mere simplification. Lu Hsün and Chekov are well worth our study in this respect The question of whether to write about commonplace or remarkable things gives way to the more fundamental question of whether the writing is based on real life or not. Each writer makes his own way, and each develops his own style. In the past few years each of our mature and seasoned writers has formed his or her own style. Each writer should be allowed to develop his own style, and it should be permissible if some use the commonplace to demonstrate the uncommon and the grand, and it should be permissible if others look at life with a smile, while still others do so with a frown. There is no need for us to become angry, nor need we interfere . . . .
Shao Ch’üan-lin wants a “deepening of realism” to take the place of the combining of revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism.
In short, the revolutionary quality of our creativity is quite strong, and yet I feel the depth with which reality is presented, the long-term nature of our social contradictions, and their complexity, are all inadequately presented. I feel our work shows that characterization is too simple, and that this simplistic quality is reflected in the description of an individual’s character, in the area of interpersonal relations, and in the descriptions of the processes of struggle. This tells us that while the revolutionary nature of our works is quite high, the realistic integrity of them is too low. Take, for example, the story “The Unofficial Biography of Old Stand-firm” [by Chang Ch’ing-t’ien, in Hopei Literature, July 1962]. This story appeared in a regional literary journal, and for publication at that level it can still be approved, for it does have an educational function. But its weakness is in the oversimplification of its characters. The main character stands firm in every activity undertaken, exactly as his name implies. The other character, Big Cannon Wang, is even more simplistic. Now, a short story is very short, so the author can only stress one aspect of a character’s personality. But this particular work makes readers feel it is too simplified; development from the introduction of the problem down to its resolution is very swift; there is no reflection of the complex nature of the people involved. . . .
Realism is the foundation of our creativity; without it there would be no romanticism. Our creative work should draw closer to real life; it should reflect reality with absolute fidelity. . . . The deepening of realism on this basis will develop an overwhelmingly powerful revolutionary romanticism, and from it, we can seek the path toward combining revolutionary realism with revolutionary romanticism.
At the conference, Comrade Shao Chuan-lin made a special point of praising the writing of Chao Shu-li. These past few years Comrade Chao Shu-li has not been able to muster a wholehearted revolutionary enthusiasm for describing the spirit of our revolutionary peasants. Comrade Shao not only failed to point out correctly this dehciency in Comrade Chao Shu-li’s creative work, but he even went so far as to take this very dehciency and advocate it as a direction we should pursue. He said,
On this point of realism, some of our works have achieved rather good results, and I should point out that there are some writers who do have a penetrating knowledge where the protracted nature and the anguish of the struggle in rural villages is concerned. . . . Where the problems of rural villages are concerned, Comrade Chao Shu-li has a penetrating understanding. . . . In this conference we have talked much about Comrade Chao Shu-li and there have been those who feel he has been underevaluated these past two years, so that today we should reverse this. Why should we praise Old Chao? Because he has described the protracted nature and the anguish of the struggle in the countryside. As we see it now, he is even more penetrating in his view. This is a victory of realism.
The October 1962 issue of Sparks published two articles advocating the middle character. One, by Shen Szu, is called “On Reading ‘Sister Lai. “‘ This article advocates the educating of real-life middle characters by writing about middle characters in fiction. Shen says,
If we take the grossness of the thinking and the character of real-life middle characters and graphically portray them in fiction so that things which are easily allowed to slip by and which are backward and appear to be minor are dramatically flashed before them as readers, then those very people who in real life take money and advantages to be the goal of life—those people, I mean to say, who, when there is no profit to be made, can never get out of bed early, yet when there is, can only long for the rooster’s first crow—would they not all see themselves reflected in the images of Sister Lai and thereby realize that their own selfishness and advantage-seeking was under attack?
The other article is “Random Notes on ‘Sister Lai’” by Comrade Hou Mo. This article expresses the view that writing about middle characters is one of the important topics for literary works to take up. The author defines a middle character as “one who is a member of the masses and yet still has weak and backward aspects. “
The October 1962 issue of Hopei Literature and the fifth issue of Literary Criticism in the same year simultaneously published Comrade K’ang Cho ‘s “An Essay on Recent Short Stories, “. . . in which he propagates the ideas of the “middle character” and “the deepening of realism “from the Dairen conference. In this article K’ang Cho raises some questions as he takes up certain characters in Chao Shu-li’s works and compares them with a number of heroic images in other works, saying,
Chao Shu-li’s works and his characters always make one feel as though they are drawn from deep down in the real earth, and, moreover, even after the passage of time they retain their vividness undiminished; while with other works, when you read them you may feel they are full of a strength that can stir people to action, and yet, upon calm reflection, they make you think that the characters seem unreal and supernatural. Because of this, they cannot help but fade from the mind.
K’ang Cho believes that “Stubborn OxNiu” (by Liu Shu-te, in Frontier Literature, October 1959) (translated in Chinese Literature, 1960, no. 1 ] and “I Knew All Along” (by Ma Feng, in Sparks, October 1958) /Chinese Literature, 1959, no. 7 ] are clearly models of remarkably well-done middle characters in rural villages.
Comrade K’ang Cho feels that so far as the short stories of the past few years are concerned, “Overall, their realism seems somewhat inferior to their revolutionary aspect. “Because of this, he gave special emphasis to realism, saying,
The creative principle in the joining of realism and romanticism is, of course, that writing is to be based on real life. Therefore, this aspect of the realism in a work cannot help but form the central content of the overarching principle for creative writing. The mainstream of our short stories these past few years is, for the most part, derived from the principle of realism. . . . So far as the seeking of a combination of realism and romanticism into a single principle for creative writing is concerned, we must place realism in the primary position. I’m afraid this is the way it has to be if they are to form a better combination and if we are to achieve the rich diversity of the “Hundred Flower” ideal. . . . I am stressing here the spirit of realism, which is simply the same solid expertise and sincerity we find in the revolutionary realism of Chao Shu-li’s work.
The overriding significance of the literature of our struggle has always been multifaceted, in that it provides people with education, influence, knowledge, appreciation, guidance in forming character, and pleasure. In this regard I was just thinking how few of our short stories are really well-wrought, light pieces for delight and esthetic appreciation. Why is it no Ch’i Pai-shih can appear on our literary scene?3 Why is it we can’t take a leaf from the pages of the T’ang tales, from the old vernacular storyteller’s scripts, or the corpus of narratives on all kinds of ghosts and fox fairies in the collection Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio and emulate some of their diversity in our own works?
. . . . . . .
The debate Shao touched off expanded from the discussion of the relationship of literature to reality (he was declared guilty of promoting “critical realism”) to include the actual assessment of reality itself. “Just how many middle characters are there in China?” the critics asked, observing that Mao’s own published analysis of rural society showed that seventy percent of the peasants were lower-middle or poor peasants who collectivized enthusiastically. The remainder “in the middle” was not a majority, they pointed out, and in any case constituted only a temporary phenomenon. “Promoting the middle character as Shao wants us to do will have us showing the masses to be pitiful, despicable, small-minded and thoughtless, while events in literature will be insignificant and frivolous,” the critics charged. Moreover, advocates of a “deepening of realism,” they said, “are critical of the reality of socialism. Shao says we have too many heroes, but we say there still are not enough. Heroes encourage us; middle characters make us feel unhappy and disquieted, and they erode our will to struggle.”
Shao’s “critical realism,” they said, “is capitalistic, not proletarian. Critical realism is the product of capitalist society in its sunset. It had its value in its time, for Engels did say that it broke the optimism of capitalism and created doubts about the permanency of the existing order. But this is another time and another society.” And finally, pointing out that Shao referred to collectivization as “an anguished process,” they acidly observed that it was to most people a great liberation. His view, they concluded, was precisely that of the capitalistic petty bourgeois. Thus, once again, the position was reaffirmed that literature is not to reflect for the sake of reflection; it is to select what it reflects and to give it a high polish, for relatively narrow purposes. Literature is a lamp, not a mirror.
The problems that fenced writers in when Shao made his speech in 1962 were the same in 1942 after Mao’s Yenan Talks, and they remain the same today: to describe things as they are (“critical realism”), and as they ought to be (“romantic realism”), at one and the same time without loss of realistic integrity. Some will argue that this cannot be done, but the name given to it is “revolutionary romanticism.” Meanwhile, the need to square one’s writing with fixed principles and day-to-day policies of Party leaders, which probably was the original purpose of the meeting at Dairen, leaves very little creative elbowroom. Liberalization in this atmosphere expresses itself only in the lifting, as Shao sought, of established taboos. Note, too, that the very fact of the Dairen-type meeting indirectly reveals the jobber-like role of Chou Yang and his bureau members, such as Shao Ch’üan-lin, in mediating between the demands and controls of the Party on the one hand, and the literary workers on the other.
The attacks on Shao and his middle character idea began in earnest in August 1964, and by November a history of the middle character concept was drawn up, with antecedents found as early as 1951 in selected quotations from such “rightists” as Ting Ling, Chou Yang, Feng Hsüeh-feng, Hu Feng, Ah Lung (I-men), Ch’in Chao-yang, T’ang Ta, Pa Jen, and Wang Hsi-yen. The half-tones that Shao had hoped to reintroduce into the communist literary art of black and white were rejected, and soon even the black was to be ousted, following the Cultural Revolution of 1966, in favor of a palette containing only shades of pure white, or rather, pure red. Sponsored literature after the Cultural Revolution, and particularly the short story, became wholly didactic and unimaginative, or, as they say of its counterpart in Russia, “the perishable output of safe writers.”
1. Engels wrote the English author Margaret Harkness in April 1888 to thank her for sending him a copy of her story “City Girl.” He admired the courage of her realistic descriptions and he praised her for the “simple, unembellished way in which you make the cardinal point of the entire book the old story of how a proletarian girl is seduced by a man of the bourgeoisie.” He goes on to say,
If I would venture to criticize something it would be that the story is still not realistic enough. Realism means, in my opinion, apart from faithfulness in detail, the faithful reproduction of typical characters in typical situations. Now, your characters are typical enough in their way, but the circumstances which surround them and which induce them to act are perhaps not typical to the same extent. In “City Girl” the working class appears as a passive mass which is unable to help itself and is not even endeavouring to help itself. All efforts to drag them out of their apathetic misery come from outside or from above. This may have appeared as a true description around 1800 or 1820 in the days of Saint Simon or Robert Owens, but it will not appear as a true description to a man who for fifty years has had the honor to participate in most of the struggles of the valiant proletariat. The rebellious mutiny of the working class against the environment of suppression which surrounds them, their endeavors—convulsive, semiconscious, or conscious—to regain their status as human beings, are part of history and therefore must claim a place in the sphere of realism. . . . “
The original letter was in English, but may now be lost. It appears only in German in Marx/Engels’ Works, vol. 37, from which this translation is made.
2. The issue of Engels’ letter to Harkness comes up again and again in Communist discussions of literary theory. The Gazette editor charges Shao with distortion, and Shao alleges that others have misunderstood Engels. It seems to me that careful reading of the letter will show that it is not simply that Harkness’s masses are too negative (i. e., helpless and inert) for Engels. The thrust of his criticism is to encourage the author to go one stratum deeper in depicting reality by trying to describe not just the apathy but also the conditions that have made the masses apathetic. The intention is not to deflect writers away from realistic integrity, but in fact to deepen it. In the same letter he makes this quite clear: “It is far from my purpose to consider it a mistake that you did not write a novel which openly and directly is socialist. . . this is not what I mean. The more the convictions of the author remain hidden, the better for the piece of art.” Misunderstanding of the letter seems to arise from the letter’s most frequently quoted line, “typical characters in typical situations.” Communist critics in China and Russia have come to use the word “typical” not in the sense of “the most often encountered,” but in the sense of “that which most fully and vividly expresses the essence of a given social force.” Deliberately magnified images (such as those we find in PRC writing and Russian tractor fiction) do not exclude “typicality”; rather, they are thought to reveal it more fully and to emphasize it. Typicality, in this sense, is regarded as the main sphere of partisanship in “realistic art.” According to the theoretician G. M. Malenkov, the problem of typicality is always the problem of politicality. Naturally, anything a regime does not want written about becomes off limits as “untypical.” (See Report to the 19th Party Congress, October 5, 1952, in Soviet Literature, May 5, 1956, 150-62.)
Shao seems to be on firm ground in sweeping aside the misinterpretations of Engels’ letter, whereby people assumed “they were not to describe negative things,” and he seems justified, too, in arguing that the letter does not disallow the kind of diversity in the depiction of reality that he would like to see appear in Chinese literature. But how he derives from this the highlighting of a single aspect and the analysis of “each and every person” is far from clear. However, the Engels letter certainly can be construed to justify writing of middle characters, providing the writer’s realism penetrates the causes of their behavior and is careful to depict this. Shao, however, does not seem to base his case on the letter as well as he might have. But then we have to remember that Shao’s arguments come to us only through a presumably hostile Gazette editor.
3. A twentieth-century painter (1863-1957), whose works delight people of all ages and political persuasions. Despite the fact his works are nonpolitical, he remains in good standing with Communist critics.
Translation and comments by Donald A. Gibbs
When Chang’s long poem “Wang Number Nine Speaks Bitterness” appeared in 1949, the vivid description of how a poor peasant had suffered at the hands of merciless landlords drew lavish praise from the then leading Marxist poet, Hsiao San, who recommended it as a model for other poets to emulate. Fifteen years and about a dozen volumes of long and short poems later, he published another stirring story-poem, “The Contest Platform,” translated below.
Starting with only a grade school formal education, Chang learned writing largely while serving in the army and in the Party. Since 1946 he has written about a good variety of characters and life experiences, with settings mostly in the western Hopei mountains. But it seems that he always finds the most impressive strength and inspiration in the tales of wrath and woe told by the abused peasants who have turned over a new page of history and changed their lot.
On the eve of the Cultural Revolution, “The Contest Platform” joined the ranks of the ten most popular poems delivered at poetry recitals. There was no news about Chang during the Cultural Revolution, but by mid-1978 he had returned to the active literary scene in Peking. Among his best-known collections are Can’t Kill Him and Characters on the Commune. —K. Y. H.
Go south of the Ch’in Mountain Range
—to the end of the earth!
Miles of lush green trees, miles of flowers in bloom.
How many kinds of trees are there?
Can’t remember so many names of flowers,
Can’t tell about all the trees.
I only remember:
Old banyan trees, hundreds of years old
—found in every village,
And every village nestles under banyan trees.
Old banyan tree!
—stands in the street,
And under it unfolds a tense drama.
Look! A flock of ducks on this side,
Over there, a flock of chickens.
Puppies sleep in the tree shade,
And kids play “guerrilla war.”
Look! The old aunt weaves palm fans,
Moving her stool to stay in the shade.
Listen! The production team
Discusses the water project around the tree.
Under the old banyan
—a drama unfolds
From morning to night, nonstop.
In the morning
The communers go to work
—they assemble here.
Things no matter how large or small
—they talk over here.
Laughter resounds through the hills around.
Loud arguments break loose like a storm.
If we are to recall the past
—there is too much of that!
Fleeing bad years, begging,
Selling their children under this tree. . . .
Take over houses and fields,
Rewrite the title deeds under this tree. . . .
The drama under the banyan tree,
Who knows when it all started?
Old banyan tree
—huge and tall.
Thousands of branches, thousands of roots.
The thousands of roots of yours
Hug that high mountain
And embrace that creek.
Thousands of branches of yours
Form a picture of the village,
And of the people and their houses in it.
Your roots sink into the bottom of the lake,
And branches hang on the clouds. So old!
Your long hair drags on the ground,
And wrinkles crawl all over your face.
Old banyan tree, ah, old banyan tree,
No street or alley is as old as you,
No village dates before your start.
The moon on the wane
And the moon full.
How many times have you seen it
—the moon’s waxing and waning?
How much have you been through
—the lashing wind and pounding rain?
Old banyan tree, ah, old banyan tree.
How much dramatic change
Of the present and the past
Has been recorded
—in your deep, deep folds?
And how many generations’
Life and death
Have rubbed the stone bench under you
Smooth and shining?
Under the banyan tree!
How is it to be painted?
It shores up the clouds and hides the sun,
Like a pagoda of emerald.
Still others say,
It’s an umbrella over the street,
Or a vine-clad arbor sheltering the alley.
The banyan tree’s picture
Should not be painted this way!
It’s not a vine-clad arbor, not an umbrella,
Neither a jade mountain, nor a pagoda.
It is a village history of a thousand years,
A contest platform set up in the street.
A contest platform it is!
For many years
—and many generations
It has stood under a banyan tree in the south.
But no! Perhaps it also stands
—before an elm
In the north,
Or before a felt tent
On the grassland.
At a spot like this,
“Those wearing shoes”
Were clearly separated out.
One writing brush dipped in red ink,
Drew a sharp line between the classes
—that was the color of the world of man.
The poor from the rich
Cut apart with a knife stroke
Look! On this side of the line
—men above other men.
In their pockets rested
Keys to paradises,
And whips to control other men
Swayed in their hands.
They summoned wind and rain
At their will,
And who was to live
Who was to die
—also up to them.
Look! On the other side of the line
They let others ride on their necks,
And trample on their bodies.
Even if they lived to a hundred,
They would still be so many dumb animals.
Wanted to change their lot? Nothing doing!
They incurred a web of debts
—even long before they were born.
A contest platform, ah, a contest platform!
On that big tree over there
Used to be affixed, layer upon layer
“Imperial decrees” of the dynastic rulers,
“Injunctions” by county magistrates,
And “public notices” from village offices.
They demanded everybody
To keep his waist forever bent,
And his head, always bowed.
Contest Platform, ah, Contest Platform!
The sword and axe cuts
—on that tree,
Our uncompromising people
Have so many times
—rushed up, And so many times
—been beaten back. . . .
. . . .
But the people did not accepet defeat!
And the Contest Platform
Did not fold up its drama.
What’s the burning light over there,
Shining on half of the country!
Ah, that was
The red flag of the “Autumn Harvest Uprising!”
Ah, that was
The beacon rising from the Chingkang Mountain . . . .
Look! The fire burned
From the shore of the Tung-t’ing Lake
To the Pearl River’s delta.
Look! The fire engulfed the north and south
—shooting straight up to the sky!
The fire dyed the old banyan tree
Into a red banner of battle!
Look! So many people
From the fields, from fishing shacks,
From bullock sheds, from huts of hired hands,
—all rushed out.
They raised high their hoes, sickles,
Raised their fishing forks, fowling pieces. . . .
Right here, under this big tree
They wanted to bury the old society.
Look! Under this big banyan tree,
A hired hand’s son
Hugged his father’s bloodstained clothes,
And he demanded blood in repayment from
His landlord for generation after generation.
Look! Under this big banyan tree,
Aimed their red-tasseled spears
At the chests of the local tyrants.
No longer would they be allowed
To lord over This Contest Platform.
The sky changed color,
The earth changed color.
No more government, official
Laws and decrees
—affixed on the trees,
In their place appeared
Against the landlord class.
The spreading square under the old banyan tree
Became the people’s
Revolutionary court of trial,
No longer the landlord’s
“The barefooted people”
Have stood up, chests out.
But “those wearing shoes”
Have not yet retired.
Look! The white bandit army fought back.
Once again lights burned bright
In those huge courtyards behind red-lacquered doors.
Look! That bond maid who had briefly fled to freedom
Once again was tied up
Once again paraded under the big tree
To a water-filled dungeon.
Look! That hired hand, having broken his chain,
Once again paraded under this banyan tree
Back to the hut of the hired hands.
Under the banyan tree, ah, under the banyan tree,
Under the banyan tree—
It’s still their execution ground.
Look! The landlord
Stood on the stone steps, hands on hips,
“Who dares to make any more trouble?”
Look! So many bloody bodies
Hanging under the big banyan tree.
That was a fifteen-year-old boy,
Only because he—
Had worn once an Eighth Route Army cap.
And that white-haired old man,
Only because he—
Had kept an arm band of the Red Guards. . . .
Once again so many people were chopped down.
So many items of blood debt.
But the hope for victory
Did not leave the widows of the bamboo huts
Under the big banyan tree.
People under all the banyan trees everywhere
The red flag on the Chingkang Mountain.
Because we now
Have Chairman Mao
Have the Communist Party. . . .
Contest Platform, ah, Contest Platform!
How many years there have been,
—and how many generations!
The long river of history
Roared by under the big tree.
Friends or foe
Under that big tree
—clearly divided into red and white.
The past, our past,
What a past that was!
White sword blade going in,
And red sword blade coming out.
Struggle, and again struggle.
This word written in blood,
How is it to be explained?
The old fishermen of the “spear squad”
If we didn’t raise our spears
The landlords and the fishing bosses
Would never have bowed.
The veterans of the Red Fourth Army
If we didn’t wrest away
The enemy’s machine guns
From their very hands,
We would never have struck down
—the white bandit’s mountain holdout.
Struggle, and again struggle!
Yesterday passed in struggle,
And from struggle comes today.
Under the big banyan tree
Is a huge arena.
From the day our great grandfather
Seized a rock nearby
Against the whip-lashing slave driver,
To the speak-bitterness meeting
During the land reform
When this generation’s peasants
Cleared account with “Sun the Old Rich Man,”
There has not been a single day
Here, that was
—quiet, with the stage deserted.
Struggle, and again struggle!
History moves forward through struggle.
Today we may not need struggle any more?
And revolution is
A matter of yesterday,
And the exploiting class
Has already been delivered to
—an historical museum?
And today on the Contest Platform
All is peace and quiet?
Nonsense! Take back your
No place in the world
Where your words could be confirmed.
Under the big banyan tree
People have not
—beaten swords into ploughshares.
People who have stood up
To keep the position gained
There can be no removal of the armors,
No troop withdrawal.
Look! Isn’t it
Right under the banyan tree of today
That people argue
Whether to add a hundred-weight padlock
On the grave of the old world,
Or to leave a crack in its door,
Allowing the demons within to come to life
Again some day?
The poor old peasant says,
One thousand generations, ten thousand. . . .
Never, never again shall we allow
The landlord class to raise its ugly head.
But his landlord of yesterday says,
Some day, and there will be such a day,
When my son turns over his palm,
Then, “a chicken is a chicken,
And a phoenix, a phoenix. . . . “*
Look! Isn’t it
Right under the banyan tree of today
That people are exposing:
A landlord’s son turned village schoolteacher says,
“Landlords are also good people,” with this
He intends to poison the souls of the kids. . . .
Look! Isn’t it
Right under the banyan tree of today
That people are discussing
How that production team captain
Who responded to a landlord’s wife
With a resounding box on the ear,
For she resorted to a shameless “plot of the flesh”
—to launch an attack on us.
Under the banyan tree, yes, isn’t it
Right here under today’s banyan tree
That our militiamen are
Escorting away a group
-of “little Chiang Kai-shek’s”
Who crawled over from offshore?
That a huge mass meeting of the communers is
Trying that antirevolutionary
Who sabotaged our electric water pump?
Under the banyan tree
The enemy has not laid down his arms.
Under the banyan tree
The people are still fighting.
If you say
There is no more enemy
Let me ask you: Who killed
—our Liu Wen-hsüeh
If you say
The enemy today
Has already become “nice and kind,”
Let me ask you: Who it was
Who chopped away
Both of Hsü Hsüeh-hui’s hands?
In a tough way, there is the sword;
In a soft way, there is the tongue.
Hard is the sword,
Soft is the tongue.
Look! That unconscionable merchant
So used to profiting by exploitation,
Is egging on a well-to-do farmer
To make some “small business” trips.
They are not carrying on
—just some friendly conversation!
Look! That old landlord
Is dragging away the cashier-accountant of our production team
To patronize a restaurant
And a teahouse.
He is not just making friends
—to pass time away.
What are these people after?
Can’t you see it
From the gleam in their eyes?
From the nuances of their words?
What they want to chop down is
—the big mansion of socialism.
Under the banyan tree, ah, under the banyan tree,
Under the banyan tree we cannot
—relax and go to sleep!
We must never forget,
Under this banyan tree of today
The enemy has dragged down with him
—our Liu Chieh-mei.
We must never forget,
Under this banyan tree of today,
Many who have lost their alertness,
Fell into the enemy’s
—ambush, trap. . . .
Contest Platform, ah, Contest Platform!
On the platform,
Battle drums have not yet hushed,
Battle banners have not yet furled.
Though on today’s platform
We no longer see
The blood and severed heads of yesterday,
Each clash with the enemy still is
More than a minor skirmish.
Look! Each engagement with the enemy
Is a contest deciding
To whom belongs today,
And where we shall go tomorrow.
Look! Each of the contests is staged
To safeguard the world for the proletariat,
And insure a future for our children and grandchildren
Under the banyan tree, ah, under the banyan tree.
How am I to paint a picture
—of the banyan tree?
Listen to the old poor peasant
And see how he answers:
You paint those branches and leaves
—hanging on clouds;
You paint that stone bench
—shining and smooth.
Right here, paint it right here.
The red and the white
—two opposing camps
Fought here yesterday, and
Will continue to fight here today.
You want to know how long they will be fighting?
Simple! In one word—
Until they surrender their guns
We’ll stay on our horses. . . .
Poetry Journal, no. 8 (1963): 4-16
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
Coconut wind, betel nut rain,
Viet Nam warriors go to war.
There is a little lady among the troops,
Her name is Bamboo Girl.
Little Bamboo Girl, little mounted trooper,
Has done much for the army transport and in actual combat.
Her mount is not a horse
But an elephant called Ah-hsi.
Ah-hsi, with its long trunk and huge ears,
Does its best hauling the guns.
And gazing at the flames leaping ahead,
Bamboo Girl hums a song to herself.
“Ah-hsi, my Ah-hsi, let’s remember well
Our grievance when we charge against the foe.
Our bamboo hut has been leveled by their bombs,
And our blood stained our fields and ditches.
“Mother was burnt to death in front of the village,
And behind it lay my uncle, dying of poison gas.
My kid brother, most pitiful little brother,
A sword ended his life, less than one year old.
“Ah-hsi, you know American imperialism
Is our archenemy, our most deadly foe.
Let’s follow Uncle Ho toward our liberation,
And fight to the bitter end, until victory is won.
June 11, 1964, Canton
Conch-shell Bugle Call, pp. 160-61
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
For a note on Chang Yung-mei, see p. 174.
In December 1961, several members of the Writers’ Association vacationed at a beach resort near Chan-chiang, Kwangsi Province. Comrade Ping Hsin [the woman poet] dreamed of butterflies. When she woke, she saw them in the garden, all orange-brown with black stripes like tiger’s markings. We therefore called them tiger butterflies. The people of Chan-chiang resisted French imperialism for several decades. From this historical experience have come down many heroic and moving legends. It’s befitting to see that even insects there reflect some heroic characteristics. Thus I wrote the following poem. —Chao
The scene of the southland forgets the year’s ending,
Riotous green and joyous red,
Get caught up and stay with spring.
Waking up from a Chuang Chou Dream,* the dream still vivid
And a garden full of butterflies dances for you.
Why do their color and stripes resemble a tiger’s?
Must be the heroes,
Whose souls turned into feathers and wings!
Hundreds of battles fought with pure loyalty bring glory to our homeland,
Now they fly and fly chasing around the memory trees.
Red dirt and lush trees along the way,†
Three cups of thick milk and sweet tea.
The talk about battlefields is over, now let’s talk about farm fields,
Which makes the mountains and rivers even more spirited.
For a note on Chao P’u-ch’u, see p. 523
Would like to summon Ch’ü Yüan here,*
To oversee these thousands of acres of scented herbs;
The minstrel has long departed from the Mi-lo River,
But here, dancing butterflies, hovering orioles—a riot of songs.
Poetry Journal, no. 2 (1962): 41
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
*Ch’ü Yüan, poet-statesman of the third century b. c. author of Li Sao, who drowned himself in the Mi-lo River. [Author’s note]
*Chuang Chou, the legendary philosopher, dreamed of himself changing into a butterfly. [Author’s note]
tVisit tVisit to the Red Light Farm on Hainan Island; saw thousands of mu planted in scented herbs. [Author’s note]
—To the Tune of “All Red the River”
Rising straight up to touch the sky.
Let the storms over the ocean
Scream and whine as though possessed.
One million of the blacks here sold into slavery,
And the Indians on the other shore are nearing extinction.
Shocking indeed to know of man’s inhumanity to man—
Two bloodstained continents.
Talk about forgiving,
Or about retribution,
No, not necessary.
Only the logic of struggle is merciless.
Now a free Africa starts from its northwest,
And the rest of it follows at once.
Look, how they cleanse their land to rise up in glory—
All of them, invincible.
Selected Poems of Ch’en Yi, pp. 315-16
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
For a note on Ch’en Yi, see p. 524.
Before the War of Resistance against Japan, I taught at Nankai middle school in Tientsin. In January last year I revisited this scene from my past. Two school principals accompanied me on my tour and told me that the west building of the teachers’ quarters, the south building of the junior middle school, and all the buildings of the girls’ school were destroyed by enemy bombs at the beginning of the war. Afterwards I also strolled around the surroundings for a little while. A large stretch of wasteland behind the school had been filled and levelled and transformed into a public park. Ch’iang-tzu River used to be filthy and stinking because of the factory wastes which flowed into it, but now a drainage system has been installed and the waters are clean. The comrades accompanying me also told me that the notorious disorderly “San-pu-kuan” district* has now become a site for small-scale industry.
In my memory things remain
Which can no longer be seen,
A great mass of brand-new buildings
Now appear before my eyes.
A splendid sight, viewed for the first time,
Makes us stare in wide-eyed surprise,
When we can’t recognize a place where we’ve been before,
It’s more than amazement we feel!
This place, once a marshy wasteland,
A dumping-ground for coffins no one cared to bury,
Where stray dogs scavenged among the corpses,
And no one cared to drive the dogs away,
Is now transformed into a public garden,
With ponds, a shady bower, a trellis heavy with wisteria;
Birds twitter between the branches,
Children play games on the grass.
For a note on Ho Ch’i-fang, see p. 527.
The Ch’iang-tzu River once stank like the old society,
The thought of it invoked disgust,
Now in place of filth and garbage,
A layer of translucent ice has formed.
Green wheatfields stretch from either bank,
Alongside, a large tractor factory
Presses on to realize ahead of time
The mechanization of agriculture—our dream.
Written at Peitaiho while ill, August 29, 1963
Poetry Journal, no. 3 (1963): 18-19
We kept watch round a kerosene lamp,
A roomful of cadres and peasants,
Plus a few from Hu Village who’d hurried over,
To bid me farewell on my return to Peking.
You fought at Shih-chia-chuang. You fought at Taiyuan.
You took part in the battle of Ta-ch’ing Mountain,
Until you were wounded in the shoulder
And sent home to farm the land.
A fragment of shell is lodged in your head,
Which often disturbs your sleep at night.
Son of poor peasants, you suffered since childhood,
Herding sheep for rich landlords, year after long year.
When the Japanese came you joined the Eighth Route Army,
And returned after Liberation with a disability card.
Now out at dawn, back at dusk, scorning wind and rain,
You herd sheep for the commune brigade.
Production brigade chief, praised by all,
Do you remember how tense it was during Land Reform?
You were a primary school graduate,
And helped me measure land and calculate production.
During Land Reform you were still a child,
You seemed to be lost deep in memories.
Now a still younger production team leader,
Are you thinking how your father died a hero?
On New Year’s Eve the enemy pounced,
They slaughtered all the village resistance workers.
You were left an orphan, of your family the only survivor,
Your grandmother’s care alone brought you to manhood.
Your old granny was so fond of me,
Because I was about the same age as your father.
When she saw me toiling in the village,
It was as if her son were living still. . . .
Those few months I can never forget, Bonds from the heart tie me to this village. I have eaten with every peasant family in their home, I know the story of every peasant’s life.
You say that my work was done carefully,
Enthusiasm about production fills every heart.
“Ho, old friend, you lost weight in Chang and Hu Villages!”
“There’s not an inch of waste or barren land around us!”
We talk of the Land Reform of the past,
We talk of our motherland’s present and her future.
Socialism spring-like ushers
in Dazzling colors under a radiant sun.
It’s already past one. Early tomorrow
You have to take fertilizer to the fields.
You should rest. Good night to you all!
May you make this year’s production better still!
February 22, 1964 Poetry Journal, no. 3 (1964): 22-23
Translated by Bonnie S. McDougall
The red sun rises in the east,
Its splendor shines upon the Four Seas,
Our great motherland
Stands, towering and proud.
With the hands of a giant,
The spirit of a hero,
It rearranges the vast countryside.
Just look how spring fills South China,
Flowers bloom beyond the borders;
A thousand wonders,
Ten thousand spectacles.
The Three Red Flags* meet the east wind,
Gales and thunders of revolution come rolling forth.
O! Our great motherland
Advances toward the new age of socialism!
The great Mao Tse-tung, The great Party, Guide us
Toward the bright and glorious future!
Mount Kunlun rises high, reaching the sky,
The Yangtze River flows into the East Sea.
A great people,
Our hearts buoyant with revolutionary will!
The era’s adverse current
And obstacles beneath our feet,
How could they stop the advance of our revolutionary troops?
Just look how many Ta-ch’ings,
How many Ta-chais;
Heroes among our elders,
Heroes in the next generation:
Thousands of Lei Fengs rise anew,
For a note on Ho Ching-chih, see p. 361.
A new generation comes up to continue the work!
O! Our great motherland
Advances toward the new age of socialism!
The great Mao Tse-tung,
The great Party
Toward the bright and glorious future!
The red sun shines all over the world,
The vast clouds and mist make way.
Our great motherland
Holds up the great banner of Anti-Imperialism and Anti-Revisionism!
Just look at the evil forces
Being defeated one by one;
The east wind is rising, the west wind subsides.
Our shoulders touch the five continents,
Our hearts link the whole world!
Friends from all over the world,
Come from all directions.
Our suppressed brothers unite and march forward
A victorious tomorrow will surely come!
O! Our great motherland
Advances toward the new age of world revolution!
The great Mao Tse-tung,
The great Party,
Toward the future of mankind’s liberation.
August 1964 Singing Aloud, pp. 29-31
Translated by Hsin-sheng C. Kao
Though I’m old and disabled,
My will remains young and strong,
The thoughts of Marx, Lenin, and Mao
Have given me strength and force.
After forty years I know where to go,
My heart at peace and carefree.
I’ve rushed the enemy camp before,
Where swords gleamed in the light of flames.
What’s left of me will be applied
To making truth prevail all over.
My bullets are now my short verses,
And in combat I rely on my prose.
Maybe it’s just a glowworm’s glow,
Flickering feebly in space;
Maybe it’s only drops of water
Dripping into the immense ocean.
Be it a high note or low,
All can join in a great chorus.
Having been born in this great era,
My red heart shall never wilt.
Say not that time defers to nobody;
The spirit of revolution persists!
Happy to be a beast of burden,
Willing to toil and die for children.
But I frown at the thousands of foes,
To extend the right and expel the wrong. .
The load is heavy, and the road long,
I steel myself without stop or rest.
Though I’m old and disabled,
An old horse lying in stable
Still dreams of the open space. . . .
March 1963 In Stable, pp. 111-13
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
For a note on Hsiao San, see p. 536.
In the late 1920s and 1930s Jao Meng-k’an delighted readers with his short, pristine lyrics in the Crescent Monthly; his success was derived largely from the new stanza forms in which he experimented. They were musically pleasing, compact, and not restricted to lines of exact length; they varied from the basic quatrains of classical Chinese poetry.
Jao has been writing very little since 1949. The Great Leap Forward movement following the Hundred Flowers campaign brought out a few of his poems, all cast in classical Chinese forms and diction. On at least one occasion, in 1962, he did participate in a forum discussing poetry, where he pleaded for the case for writing in the classical mold today. “Our country is a country of poetry,” he said excitedly. “People like us can’t compete with the youth, who can ride on long winds to sail the high seas, but to take over the relay stick and run a round or two occasionally is still within our reach. . . .” And he offered to the public his own recent verses.
Suddenly flower-laden branches fill the window panes;
Unannounced, joyous flakes come fluttering down;
I know, all across the land, under clouds flaming red,
Each tree full of gem flowers is a tree full of verse.
Poetry Journal, no. 3 (1962): 66
(Written for the wall bulletin of the International Relations Academy)
Purple haze enshrouds the rising sun on the horizon,
At dusk pomegranate blooms reflect the fire of sunset;
The people can’t forget the occasion of July First.
More grain now for brewing liquor, more verse for songs,
They sing and dance, their joy overflows, as red flags unfurl
Over even the most secluded foothills and deserted riversides.
June 16, 1962
Poetry Journal, no. 5 (1962): 28
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
Wartime activities in the rural areas of Shansi, North China, inspired Juan Chang-ching to write narrative poems in the folk-ballad mode. In many ways his development paralleled that of Li Chi, whose Wang Kuei and Li Hsianghsiang is often cited as representative of the genre.
After 1949 he traveled and worked for long periods of time in Inner Mongolia and Manchuria, which resulted in such works as The Songs of the Surveyors and the White Cloud Obo Symphony. From a trip abroad he brought back the poems that went into his Havana in April. In between these long trips, he also served on the editorial board of the Poetry Journal in Peking. Most of his poems won wide popularity with their rhythmic appeal; they are easily chanted and easily remembered.
In the spring of 1978 Juan was back in Peking, attending such public functions as the Third Congress of the All-China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and the People’s Political Consultative Conference. He announced his progress in writing a long poem, “The Hai River,” and a novel, Layers of Mountains. —K. Y. H.
The year before last I first visited the Yellow River,
A thousand miles of thunder rolling over the waves;
Gusty winds whistled through my strings, calling for songs;
My throat, scorching dry, yet the water was undrinkable.
In a hoarse voice I sang to the yellow sky
Where yellow clouds spread hiding the hills.
Last year I came to the Yellow River again,
Divers’ pontoons afloat, locking the huge water course;
Underwater explosions lifted up the river
And dropped it down again. “What’s going on?”
I asked. They were diverting the flow to tame
The wild current, forcing it to calm down.
This year I am here at the river once more,
Clear water, not muddy current, laps the shore;
I scoop a cup of water, on it float distant hills,
And over the hills fly wild geese in the sky.
I raise the cup to toast the hills and springs,
And sing for the new river, strumming my strings.
Songs of the Surveyors, pp. 6-7
Going south along the Gan River,
Morning fog, covering the hills.
Willows along the river, green along the river,
And a river of green water, a river of white sails.
Distant hills blue, closer hills purple,
On them float green clouds of camphor trees;
Mustards bloom to greet the arrival of spring,
Spreading a golden carpet on the river.
I’ve been waiting for the ferry on the riverside,
Across the river eagles soar over peaks in clouds.
Under the willows a spirited horse’s neigh recalls
How red flags crossed the river at night years ago.
Blue hills, green peaks, and the eighteen river bends,
Azaleas spot the hillside like bloodstains.
In the footprints left by the red fighters,
Proud pines extend their green shade all over the mountain.
February 12, 1962
Songs of the Surveyors, pp. 55-56
Nobody knows how long White Cloud Obo, a massive rocky knoll, has been standing guard on the southern edge of the Eastern Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia. The rocks are barren and the land stubborn. To eke out a living the early steppe settlers had to struggle persistently. And when they triumphed, as in the following story, a legend grew, looming ever larger in the minds and memories of the inhabitants there until it took on sacred proportions:
Old Grandfather Aersilang
Walks down to the plain with his grandchildren.
Ulantoya, holding a tiny lamb,
Runs along, singing a song.
Buergudeh herds his flock that rolls
Over the knoll like so many clouds.
A mountain creek flows on, quietly,
A continuing bar of trickling music.
Clear water mirrors the blue sky;
Under the water white clouds fly,
And the moss and weeds sway—
Combed by the steady flow.
Flowers and grass wave in colors and tender green,
Bring out Ulantoya’s pretty smile.
Isn’t it jealousy that makes some blooms pout,
And gusts of wind wrinkle the water’s face?
The sheep baa at the sight of water,
Lambs gambol; blossoms dangle from their mouths.
Tears well up in Old Grandfather’s eyes—
Wonder what has welled up in his mind.
“Ulantoya,” he says, “you come here.
And Buergudeh, you hold still.
Listen to the creek, and do you know why
It is called ‘Red Spring’?
The name has not dropped from blue sky.
Now you let me sing you a ‘Red Spring Song’:
“Many, many years ago—
No rain for three hundred long days.
No grass could grow, no flowers,
A disaster gripped the entire steppe land.
“They begged Heaven, but were not heeded;
They begged Earth without any response.
Drought split the rocks on that high mountain,
And the land broke apart in ugly cracks.
Day and night they prayed to Buddha, to all gods,
But failed to get even a tiny patch of cloud.
“Cattle and sheep hushed, horses wouldn’t stir,
Everywhere strewn with the bones of their kind.
Immense though the land of Ulan Chabu,
Not a single line of cooking smoke rose
On the plain under the sun, that ball of fire.
Only cries of despair filled the tents.
“There was a brave man north of the mountain
They called him the son of a herdsman—
Fifteen he was that year, Aduchinfu,
He alone saved a calf from two preying tigers,
Blinding the eye of one of the clawing beasts
And breaking the teeth of the other.
Since very young he had nursed a hero’s will
To risk his life for his people of the grassland.
“He walked all over the area, for 3000 li,
But still found no grass, or water.
He watched the animals drop dead,
And his beloved homeland dying every day.
Aduchinfu felt his heart stabbed by knives.
He came to this spot and, his sword drawn,
Swore to the blue sky above:
‘The son of the herdsman, born here on this land,
Aduchinfu is now kneeling here on this land.
Mother Ulan Chabu,
I’m giving back to you my warm blood.
Please let it turn to clouds of rain
To save our great grassland which bore me.
The son of the herdsman kneels here,
Aduchinfu is kneeling down here.
Mother Ulan Chabu,
I’m giving back to you my fresh blood.
Please let sweet rain cut open a mountain creek,
And save our great grassland that nursed me. ’
“Having thus sworn, Aduchinfu
With a flash of his sword let flow his blood.
It shot up in the sky and turned into clouds,
And sweet rain began to pour and pour.
And then, a flash of lightning, a clap of thunder,
Split open the mountain into two halves.
Out from the middle flowed a creek,
A stream of water pure and clear.
“After giving the last drop of his blood,
Aduchinfu handed his sword to his fellow herdsmen,
‘Don’t let the wolves drink from it,
Or the foxes lap any drop of it!
Heavenly River must not be degraded in grassland,
Let no stranger intrude the creekside
We use our sword to protect our eyes,
And use swords we must to protect our good water. ’
“Aduchinfu, Aduchinfu . . .
You live on in our hearts, from fathers to sons.
The sweet water bought with your precious blood
Named for our son’s son forever, as the ‘Red Spring. ’”
“The Red Spring Song” taught by Old Grandfather
Soars up into the sky, and out of the valley,
Reaching beyond the heavens, and returns again
To nestle in the young hearts of the children—
Ulantoya and her little brother,
Their eyes, now four tearful streams.
The song finished, taught to the children,
Old Grandfather kneels on the creekside to kiss the ripples.
And then he rises and draws his sword
To sing that sacred song once more to the little ones.
“Don’t let the wolves drink from it,
Or the fo^es lap any drop of it!
We use our swords to protect our eyes,
And use swords we must to protect our ‘Red Spring. ’”
[Old herdsman Aersilang and his people thus engraved in their hearts the sanctity of this precious spring. For generations they fought anything that threatened to befoul their water source. And yet, it was the only source for miles around and had to be tapped for the development of iron mines planned there in the late 1950s. Aersilang’s dilemma weighed him down when he realized that for weeks the survey teams could not make any progress and no work on the mines could be started. It was after much inner struggle that the old herdsman finally allowed himself to lead the engineers to the water source, and soon the mining began.
Much of the rest of the 2000-line poem describes how Old Aersilang had to persuade, not entirely without use of force, some of his even more conservative fellow herdsmen to yield to progress. Eventually an “electric dragon”—an electric train—wound its way up the massive rocky mountain, White Cloud Obo. ]
The Yin Mountain Range greets the break of dawn.
All colors burst forth on grassland.
White Cloud Obo fires a salvo in salute
Cheering the rise of a golden sun!
Gold are the wings that hover over the land,
Carrying the Yin Mountain aloft, higher and higher.
Spring clouds float by, riding on rushing winds,
Carrying aloft the entire Yin Mountain Range.
They leave behind the old world
And cast away the months and years of poverty.
White Cloud Obo fires a salvo in salute,
As the grassland leaps forward in the era of steel.
December 1958-February 1963
White Cloud Obo Symphony, pp. 32-37, 88-89
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
A prolific writer from Szechwan Province in the 1950s, Ko Pi-chou spent the years during and soon after World War II in the guerrilla area of North China. In the early 1960s he was a high Party functionary in writers’ organizations in his native province, but the Cultural Revolution silenced him in 1966. There is still no word about his present situation.
His poetry collections include, among others, Farewell to Yenan and The Yen River Flows On As Always. —K. Y. H.
Crossing the Cuckoo Mountain in rainy season,
A landslide blocked our convoy.
Please just wait a minute, Comrades,
On top of the Cuckoo Mountain
There is our brave road crew.
Crossing the Cuckoo Mountain in mid-winter,
Waist-deep ice and snow seal off the pass.
Please just wait a minute, Comrades,
On top of the Cuckoo Mountain
There is our heroic road crew.
Crossing the Cuckoo Mountain in fine weather,
Spring blossoms red, but autumn leaves even brighter.
Pine spread in dark blue waves under white-capped peaks.
The grade is steep but the road, gradual,
And gradually it leads us to the blue sky.
Day after day, then spring, then fall,
Truck after truck, the caravan crosses the mountain.
The man is gone but his heart stays here,
While on top of the Cuckoo Mountain,
An eagle glides over the clouds.
October 5, 1962, Mi-ya-luo
Poetry Journal, no. 1 (1962): 45
July morning breeze,
a clear cool stream
flows through my bosom.
Sky full of stars
all disappeared now,
And the dawn mist,
a streamer, milky white,
The glow of sunrise,
that costumed girl
dances to her cheerful
songs to greet me.
Broad-leaved wu-t’ung trees*
and slender birches
paint a dark shade along the road
all the way to the valley
beyond the horizon.
roll in waves;
half-hiding houses in bamboo groves
like isles, dotting the plain.
Rice paddies hushed and still
connect mountains with rivers;
only the swelling tassels
sway in the sun.
Lively corn stalks
prop up white clouds in the sky;
on their red whiskers.
Aren’t they the tassels
of red spears in battle?
We have won victory together
through the storms of the year.
July morning breeze,
a cool stream
flows through my bosom.
October 8, 1963, Chengtu
Poetry Journal, no. 12 (1963): 25-26
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
Carry on with it, our endless generations to come!
This is your perpetual heritage—forever new and young.
Till it, year after year, you, masters of the world of tomorrow.
This is a sacred land—never to be duplicated, on earth or in heaven.
This land pillows on frontier mountains, opening to the heart of our country,
In gusty winds and over trying distance, even ancient travelers dared not to explore it.
This land, with its back to virgin forests, stepping on many lakes,
And in deep water or snow, even the hoofs of the old ponyexpress stirred up no dust.
This land slumbers on, as in an immense dream.
No voice of man to be heard, only howling wolves, bears, and tigers;
This land, always covered in tall grass.
For days on end, no man casts any shadow on it, only the sky, and the water, and the red sun large as a cartwheel.
This land once was an abandoned mother
And the waters in the lake, her eyes glazing at the closing dusk.
This land once was an innocent exile
Cocking his ears, the empty valleys, to await the sound of every footstep.
Remember that time, always remember: the height of winter, 1954.
This land fell apart under the splitting north wind, and every fence gate, sealed by ice and snow.
Remember forever those warriors, those revolutionary soldiers then starting a new life,
Having just bid farewell to the battlefront, with blue smoke of war still haunting their memories.
For a note on Kuo Hsiao-ch’uan, see p. 541.
Flames of wild fire rose; they declared to the world with their red torches.
From now on, a forward march has started on the north wasteland.
The burning pine torches delivered an ultimatum to the roaming wild beasts,
From now on, the north wasteland shall tolerate your terror no more.
Who is there to bandage the bloody blisters and cuts under our feet, all over our bodies?
Let’s start out at once, toward the heart of the grassland, to survey the soil and the water sources.
Who has the time to shave our beards or wait for the red clouds to clear away from our eyes?
Let’s go on; let’s break the all-devouring snow storm with the heat of our bodies.
Let the bugle calls resound to sweep away the various enemies in nature,
Let’s blaze a wide trail and let our bayonets cut through the entangling grass.
Let the battle cries resound to summon forth springtime with our heartfelt voices,
Save some from our daily ration for seed grain; put plow straps on our shoulders where there used to be gunstraps.
No tractors, no motor caravans, no pack horses. . . .
But there is the land, tens of thousands of acres, turning over in the warm spring breeze.
No houses, no inns, no hamlets sending up wafts of smoke of evening cooking
There are several state farms, taking root among a forest of tents.
How can we price this inheritance? It’s indeed difficult
As I write these lines, machines and buildings are already lined up, row upon row;
How can we measure this land? I really don’t know how,
As I write these lines, green fields sown to wheat are stretching beyond the horizon.
This perpetual heritage, this broad way to happy life.
Every road cut through this land, a sober guide.
This magic land, this garden where truth is nurtured.
Every golden fruit grown there, a heart that glitters and shines.
Listen, fighting and happiness, revolution and youth—
In the song of life here, they forever strike out notes of strength.
Look, joy and work, harvest and cultivation—
In the historical pattern here, they forever contribute to an ever-rich design.
Listen, the twittering swallows and roaring winds, rustling pines and peals of thunder.
In the songs of life here, they never fail to move you and gladden your ears.
Look, the winter creeks and spring rain, the land under snow, then covered with blooms.
In the unfolding scroll of history here, they never cease to arrest your eyes and your heartbeat.
Our children, and children’s children, new people of the Communist era
Your ancestors buried in this land retain in you their deepest trust.
The road before you will be smooth, any time and at all times,
Yet there shall be no time when you miss the soul of revolution.
You, masters of the future world, citizens of our socialist fatherland.
Your ancestors buried in this land, retain in you their infinite faith.
Though your life will be a thousand times better than today,
There shall be no day when you will forget the hardship of the present generation.
Yes, all forward-looking children, ever treasure the words of their revolutionary forefathers,
Not by falsely worshipping their ancestors’ tablets, offering three tall incense sticks day and night;
Yes, all forward-looking good children, ever respect the will of the pioneers ahead of them,
Criticizing not their trivial blemishes that cling to them like dust.
. . . Carry on, and forever on, our future generations.
This is a perpetual endowment—always new and always young;
. . . Keep working on this land, you, masters of the world of tomorrow.
This is a magic land—not easily found in heaven or in earth.
January 24, 1963, Peking
Sugarcane Forest, pp. 3-7
Rain in height of summer
Thunder after thunder
Battle at Chu-hsien-chen
Hammer against hammer.*
Tonight we drink
Cup to cup.
Cheering wine harms you not,
Even after a thousand cups.
Words from understanding friends,
Even ten thousand are not too many.
Tonight it is
The victory feast for a good year.
Drink and get rowdy—
That’s a rotten guy
Drunk and talking nonsense—
That’s a useless fry.
Toasting our bright future
Is this generation of new socialist heroes.
The money-bags get drunk
For their bad conscience;
Yament† runners get drunk
For taking bribes.
For us, even if we get drunk,
That’s because the wine of life is too strong and sweet.
Tigers in the mountain—
Beauty on their backs.
Larks on the tree—
Beauty in their beaks.
Our beauty inside.
Fill the cups,
Raise them high.
Open your heart wide.
Heroic feeling and good wine
Have always gone side by side.
Our fatherland is a garden
And the north, its winter plum blossom;
The Lesser Hsing-an Range, a flower,
The virgin woods, its center.
The flower’s scent
Fills our lungs.
The warmth of our fatherland
Touches us like a spring breeze.
Flows over here like so many rivers.
The Party is the sun
And we, the sunflowers.
Thousands of buildings
Await their door sills from here.
Thousands of railroads
Await our ties.
Our country’s mission is the flag,
And we, the vanguards under it.
Need no whipping.
Need no heavy beat.
Know how to respond.
Let’s not stop.
Three cupfuls of happy tears. Five cups,
More gusto than the water in the Yangtze River.
In clusters like flocks of returning geese.
Pine forests lined up
Like gods of longevity marching to a banquet.
And these gods,
All white hair, white beard, and white eyebrows.
Like stars raining down from the sky.
The birch trees standing
Like ancient warriors guarding the frontier.
All white helmets, white armors, and white flags.
Sinewy horses on grassland
Their fastest is the Black Steed.*
Of the heroes in mountain fastness
The bravest is Li K’uei.*
The best of men on earth or in heaven,
Our generation holds the destiny.
The target lies afar,
Let’s overtake it in long strides.
Treading on snow,
Like flying in clouds.
We, men on the mountain,
Are like fish in waves.
Leave a sweet taste.
Felling giant timbers
Like so many wheat ötalks.
And we hoist the logs
As we raise our wine cups.
A thousand echoes.
On tree-shaded trails Machines whine in symphony;
And on lumber railroads,
Trains thunder along.
At one command,
Ten thousand trees surrender;
On the frozen chute
A stream of lumber flows,
And mountains of railroad ties
Rise in the yard.
Let’s not stop!
Our feeling soars with the snowstorm
Our hearts glow with the rising sun.
Peaks of the Lesser Hsing-an Range
Indestructible, even by thunderbolts.
The waters of the T’ang-wang River
Irresistible in spite of the many turns.
Specialize in meeting the troubles head-on.
One day off,
Three days’ fatigue.
Three days off,
Ten restless nights.
Ten days off,
One feels downright guilty.
Planning to leave the mountain,
He loses his appetite.
About to leave the mountain,
He can hardly move his legs.
Once out of the mountain,
He dreams of the mountain every night.
As the old saying goes,
Balance the stele on your back
So long as you remain a turtle.*
We say, so long as we
Take three feet of space each,
We each radiate our light, ten thousand fathoms long.
An old saying has it:
Keep taking orders until you stop
Being someone’s errand boy.
We say now:
Drink three scoops of snowflakes,
Bloom ten thousand flowers.
Men in the mountain,
Lumber flows in all directions.
We stay in the woods,
But our will embraces all the hills and rills.
To our country we respond,
The way it wants us to respond.
The many tests and temperings.
Then look toward tomorrow,
The colorful blossoming.
Who doesn’t wish to work like this for a hundred years
And live a hundred years like this?
Cheering wine harms not,
Even after a thousand cups.
Words from understanding friends,
Ten thousand aren’t too many.
Tonight it is
The pledge meeting for a good year.
December 1962-February 1963, Yi-ch’un to Peking
Sugarcane Forest, pp. 8-18
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
When Kuo Mo-jo died on June 13, 1978, he left a shelf full of volumes ranging from creative writing to history to archeology, with an equal number of tomes of translations from Western literature. His life of eighty-six years had been in many ways the embodiment of the development of modern Chinese literature.
A rebellious student in the out-of-the-way province of Szechwan, a romantic youth drunk with poetry, love, and revolution in the 1910s and early 1920s, introducer of Goethe and Schiller to the Chinese, a mature research scholar in ancient Chinese history and material culture—Kuo left his mark on every field he ventured into. As a founder of the Creation Society in 1921, he encouraged a rebellion against time-honored literary traditions and helped develop a purposive literature to advocate and guide the revolution.
In creative writing his first collection, The Goddess (1921), provoked all his contemporaries with its daring innovations: the use of the blank verse form and the adoption of Western images. Looking back at it now, its youthful experiments may be more significant as landmarks in the history of modern Chinese literature than for their own literary merit, but the arguments stimulated by them in Chinese literary criticism continue to find echoes even today.
In his later years Kuo’s poetry was confined to occasional works, most of which used traditional Chinese prosody—regulated verse, quatrains, or the irregular meter lyric mode—and were written in response to state affairs or to the verses of such personages as Mao Tse-tung and Ch’en Yi. For years one of the vice-premiers of the government, he died in the presidency of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, an office he held longer than he held any other position. The bibliography of works by and about him is probably the most extensive among twentieth-century Chinese men of letters. Despite the fact that Kuo changed his political stances as frequently as the political tides changed, his apparent sycophancy does not seem to have seriously impaired his domestic or international reputation, which has remained on a par with that of Lu Hsün.
—K. Y. H.
HEAT AND FATIGUE
Comrade, are you hot?
No, I don’t feel hot.
How can you not feel hot here, in the tropics?
Our friendship is warmer than the tropics.
Comrade, are you tired?
No, I don’t feel tired.
You’re getting on in years now, how come you don’t feel tired?
No, I’m only fifteen.
FISH AND FLOWER
Water in the pond, warm now, like hotspring,
But teeming Ashlings continue to cavort in the sun.
Water in the pot, hot now, like boiling soup,
Yet the flower in it still blooms, flaming red.
They struggle against the world of objective reality,
And fish and flowers thrive through the strife.
Poetry Journal, no. 9 (1964): 38-39
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
For a note on Li Ying, see p. 371.
To a Korean comrade at arms
Remember that city?
Reduced to ruins at a wink of the eye?
Fallen on the bank of the Lin-jin River,
Fallen under the aggressor’s gunfire?
Its flesh and skin scorched,
Its blood drained dry,
Its limbs blown away,
But its head, unconquerable, was held up high.
It said: bullets have pierced my bosom,
But left intact my confidence and strength.
You know it is this faith and this hate
That nurture my life, give me breath.
It said: look—
My heart still throbs and blood flows.
My flesh and skin are growing back and
In my handgrip still lies my weapon
—to fight the enemy to the bitter end.
My comrades at arms, who have come from the Lin-jin River,
Today you brought me the sounds of rebuilding,
And a memory solemn and stern.
But without the blood bath of that year,
How could it bloom like a most beautiful flower
Smiling in the sun? . . .
Poetry Journal, no. 2 (1964): 38
All day long, patrolling in wind and sand;
At night I find a glittering river.
Where have I ever seen such waters,
A bewitching beauty, impregnated with joy.
Are they not wild flowers in my memory,
Suddenly blooming all over the river’s face?
Or fruits laden on trees covering the hills
All ripened tonight, waiting to be picked?
Are they leaping, flickering flames,
Single ones, in clusters, ever aglow?
Or thousands of birds, many-colored,
Chattering, gathering under water to build nests?
Perhaps it isn’t any river, no, it isn’t—
But the guardian mother of our land
Places her diamonds and other precious stones,
For the night in this cradle of a ditch.
I’d like to scoop up a handful for my comrades,
But they slip away between my fingers.
“Tonight the stars are really big and bright!”
These words of our captain cast sparks on the river.
If you never mounted a battle horse for our country,
How could you ever know the beauty of her hills and rills?
How could you ever know the stars on highlands in mid-autumn,
One brighter than another, each a story of thrills?
May 1962 Red Willow, pp. 55-56
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
Songs on this side, the other side responds,
When the other side sings, this side follows.
The stone bridge arches a rainbow over the flow,
And under the rainbow the flow strums its strings.
The strings are ringing, forever ringing,
Keep telling an old story, very old and yet all new—
The bridge had just been done, the last stone set,
A flowered sedan chair brought in a young bride.
The young bride came from a farmer family,
But the stonemason was a lover of songs.
If songs were sung without proper match, he said,
She could not cross the bridge to see her bridegroom.
The farm girl was a folk-song singer,
If it was a folk-song match, hers burst out instantly;
Bursting out instantly was a well-wrought piece, startling the sun,
And the sun lingered on, unwilling to leave her.
The sun lingered on, and people lingered on,
Back and forth, thousands of songs exchanged,
The songs flowed with the water, reaching the sea,
Turning into clouds to fly back again.
Songs on this side, the other side responds,
When the other side sings, this side follows;
Today the sound of songs vibrates on both sides,
Sustaining the good name of the Flower Bridge.
May 19, 1961, Flower Bridge Commune
The Mountain Stream, pp. 175-76
For a note on Liang Shang-ch’üan, see p. 180.
Water in Black River
Why so dark?
Virgin woods on both banks,
New leaves push the old.
Blooms at Reed Bloom Village
Why so white?
Winds bathed in frost
Have split the buds.
Tall houses near water
Built of stone;
Gun terraces amid the flowers
Between the rocks,
Plots of land have been planted.
Even the cracks and crevices
Are filled with crops.
Sturdy Tibetan people
Strong-willed, like rocks;
They spark easily when rubbed,
And are easily tempered into steel.
Black River, black.
Reed blooms, white.
Black as black gold,
And white like snow.
April 2, 1962, Chungking
The Mountain Stream, pp. 41-42
Translated by Kai-yu Hsu
Liu Cheng is something of a mystery. He published a considerable number of satirical poems in the early 1960s, such as “The Tiger Posts a Decree,” apparently with political immunity. Almost immediately after the resumption of the Poetry Journal in 1976, Liu’s satire appeared again.
The “Tiger” poem was published in the fall of 1963 during a brief lull between two political storms. The reader may choose as the target of Liu’s satirical barb either the authorities who pushed the Great Leap Forward campaign, which was nearing its end, or the Gang of Four, who were beginning to seize power. Either way, Liu was treading on very dangerous ground.
“The ‘Wind’ Clique,” released in the spring of 1978, ostensibly comments on the Gang of Four headed by Chiang Ching. And yet the attack could be aimed at all those political turncoats, including such a luminary as Kuo Mo-jo, who always manage to sail along with the prevailing political wind. —K. Y. H.
I, the Tiger, hereby post a decree,
All ye animals, hear, oh, hear!
A policy of peace is what I, the Tiger
Pursue at all hours, every day.
To insure safety in the mountain,
I, the Tiger, won’t shirk responsibility.
Therefore I declare three don’ts,
All ye animals must strictly obey.
First, don’t grow horns on the head,
Thus end all clashes, once for all.
I, the Tiger, swear to high heaven,
On my top I grow only short hair.
You wild bulls and mountain deer
Logically should saw off your antlers.
No favoritism, no partiality, my decree—
May heaven and earth be my witness—is fair, very fair!
Second, don’t fly in the sky,
To avoid disturbing the Lord on High.
I, the Tiger, pledge before everybody,
I shall never take off, no, not I!
You, big rocs and little wrens,
Pluck off your feathers completely.
When both animals and birds stay on the ground,
Equality of treatment can apply all round.
Third, don’t swim in water,
‘Cause sanitary drinks are at stake.
I, the Tiger, am well behaved,
Will never get into a lake.
You, fish and shrimp, crabs and clams,
Hasten to make a living on shore.
When all join in the free world,
The world will be peaceful forevermore.
As to sharp claws and teeth,
About them we need a liberal law,
Permitting free use of them
To bite, gnaw, tear, and claw.
I, the Tiger, will never monopolize,
Each will have his share of bites.
Go ahead and grow claws and fangs,
It’s all hereby declared your rights.
Now that I’ve named the three don’ts,
Let’s proceed to put them into practice.
For anyone daring to disagree and disobey,
Penalty will be severe, most severe penalty.
He’ll be charged with disturbing peace,
And held responsible for all consequences.
It is hereby earnestly and earnestly announced!
Poetry Journal, no. 9 (1963): 36-37
Grass on top of the wall, always swaying
In all directions as the winds prevail.
The market is bearish, watch out!
Hurry up with a parting shot, hurry!
The market turns bullish, here he comes—