PEOPLE OR MONSTERS?
“Reportage” (baogaowenxue)is a modern Chinese genre that falls between literary art and news report. Good reportage differs from ordinary news reporting in several ways: it is longer and more carefully written, and while it may begin from an event in the news, its author seeks to uncover aspects of the social background that are more basic and enduring than the news event itself.
“People or Monsters?” is reportage and cannot be properly appreciated unless viewed that way. The story of Wang Shouxins massive corruption in Bin County, Heilongjiang Province, was widely known in China before Liu Binyan ever went there to do his investigation. Hence he does not bother, for example, to introduce his characters in ways that are conventional for Chinese fiction. His contribution—and it is a formidable one, given the barriers and risks involved—was patiently to gather and check facts, and then to piece them together into a single mosaic whose unity lies not only in the logical coherence of the whole, but also in the steady moral presence of the author. He could easily have treated Wang Shouxin as a scapegoat, as so many others were treating the Gang of Four; instead, he has coolly analyzed the basic social conditions that had allowed her corruption to grow. When these conditions were documented and published, readers everywhere in China recognized them, to a greater or lesser degree, in their own environments. It is this fact that made “People or Monsters?” so widely popular, and also this fact that brought the wrath of certain political critics upon Liu Binyan. The reaction in Heilongjiang Province, where some of the characters in “People or Monsters?” were still in power, was particularly intense. Some even charged that Liu Binyan had written the piece in order to make a fortune by selling it to Americans.1
We must not overlook the importance to contemporary Chinese writers and readers of the simple truth-stating function of literature. To do so can lead us toward literary judgments of a piece like “People or Monsters?” that are beside the point. For example, when Liu Binyan documents corruption at some length and does not cover the fact that the Communist Party itself is complexly involved in it, he sometimes appears to condescend to his readers with brusque “authorial intrusions,” such as the famous line “The Communist Party regulated everything, but would not regulate the Communist Party.” But it is wrong to say that readers are here receiving a simple-minded summаry, or that the author arrogantly supposes that they need one; the point for readers—which was exhilarating—was that here, finally, in print, with the prestige of publication in People’s Literature and the moral authority of a writer who was famous for his conscience and his courage, was a statement that many had had in mind but never dared, save in the most secure confidence, to utter. Writers like Liu Binyan know and respect their readers’ feelings. What they are doing by putting their punch lines in black and white is the very opposite of condescension.
In October 1979, Liu Binyan spoke out in defense of the student literary journal Our Generation just before this “unofficial publication” was shut down by the authorities. In January 1980, Liu published “Warning,” which was subsequently declared to betray “a lack of faith in Party central.” Under increasing pressure, Liu wrote a letter to the Central Propaganda Department in spring 1980, in which he set the record straight on some rumors about him, but also apologized to the Party. “I’ve always had the problem of being insufficiently serious,” he wrote, “and I have said some inappropriate things. I have also allowed my biases to emerge. . . .”2 In the months following delivery of this letter the political pressure on Liu Binyan seems to have abated; certainly it was much lower by fall of 1982, when Liu was given permission, after earlier denials, to accept a long-standing invitation to the International Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa.—ED.
The courtyard of the Party Committee of Bin County had long been the center of attention for the people of the entire county. During the ten years following land reform, people constantly came and went, as casually as if they were dropping in on their relatives. Whatever problem or circumstance brought you to the town market, or some-where else in town, you could always go to the county hall to pass the time for a while, chatting with the cadres who were in charge of that year’s work teams in your village. After a time, however, the courtyard walls seemed to grow slowly taller and thicker, so that when commoners passed by, or popped in for a look, they felt somewhat afraid, somewhat awed by the mysteriousness within. By the early 1960s, when people who hurried past the courtyard’s main gate could smell enticing odors of meat, cooking oil, and steamed bread, they felt that something wasn’t quite right. Their mouths would contort into bitter smiles. Being an official isn’t bad at all, they would think to themselves.
In November 1964, a crowd of people gathered at the gate of the courtyard, where a jeep had just driven in. The people had heard that a new Party secretary was coming, and they wanted to see for themselves what kind of person he would be. Their intense curiosity was mixed with eager anticipation, and not a little worry, too: the present County Party Committee had run through three secretaries already— would the new one be able to make it?
From the moment he arrived, Tian Fengshan, a tall, ruddy-cheeked outlander, became the object of everyone’s attention. Before long people began to say, “His Communist Party and theirs are quite different.”
At that time, Bin County in Heilongjiang Province had just begun recovering from the three years of economic hardship.3 The people had paid a great price for these years, and there were quite a few problems that now required the serious consideration and reappraisal of the Party Committee. Yet at the meetings of the Standing Committee of the County Party Committee, and at the study classes for Party members at Two Dragon Mountain, all the talk was about women. ...
Tian Fengshan was taking over from a rotten bunch of leaders. While the people were living off tree bark and leaves, making food from a “flour” of crumbled corncobs and cornstalks, the children of the County Party secretary were amusing themselves by tossing meat-filled dumplings made with fine white flour at dogs in the street. Peasants, carrying small packs of dried grain with them, would trek more than thirty miles to present petitions to the County Party Committee, only to be met with icy stares. This is why people seldom approached the County Party Committee any more; those with problems went straight to the provincial capital at Harbin. And so it came about that the County Party secretary and members of the Standing Committee had even more time to relax in their armchairs and discuss their favorite topic.
Tian Fengshan began personally receiving petitions from the masses and he personally took care of ten important unjust cases that had dragged on for many years. People would begin arriving at his door before he had even got out of bed. He would chew on dried grain as he listened to their complaints. He also went around to all the restaurants and stores in the county seat checking the quality of their goods and services. He rescinded the title “Advanced Enterprise” that had been given regularly each year to the food products factory. “True, you earn tens of thousands of dollars4 each year,” he told them, “and true, you save tens of thousands of pounds of rice, oil and sugar. But you do this by cheating the common people—what kind of‘advanced enterprise’ is that?” Having inquired into housing conditions, he lowered rents. He brought cadres to see the more backward production brigades, and immediately the poorer brigades began to change for the better.
But history allotted him a mere two years! In November 1966, Red Guards stormed the courtyard of the County Party Committee. Within two hours the man who had been honored by the people of Bin County as “Honest Magistrate Tian” retired forever from the stage of Bin County’s history.
As the lonely, looming figure of Tian Fengshan fell into obscurity, a new star began to rise in the Bin County seat. This fellow was thin and small and quite ordinary in appearance; but because of his military rank he quickly became all-powerful, a great figure who held sway over the 500,000 people in Bin County. Even today, thirteen years later, the political achievements of this leftist Commissar Yang are felt in the daily lives of the people of Bin County; people often think about him and discuss him, always sharply contrasting him with their fond memories of Tian Fengshan.
The first impressions Commissar Yang left with people were of his quacking voice and his inflammatory public speeches. Yet while peopie were still sorting out these first impressions, one thing had already aroused everybody’s interest. Whenever Commissar Yang’s jeep drove by on the dirt road from the county seat, raising a cloud of dust, people felt puzzled: “Why was Commissar Yang running around with that woman?”
The woman with Commissar Yang in the car was shortly to become an important figure in Bin County and would, thirteen years later, shock the entire country. She was Wang Shouxin.
Enter “Leftist” Wang Shouxin
On the eve of the storm, things were just a little too quiet at the tiny Bin County Coal Company. Party Branch Secretary Bai Кип and Manager Teng Zhixin, both from poor peasant backgrounds, had been keeping this little enterprise of a few dozen workers in apple-pie order. The spirit of the time was to learn from the heroic soldier Lei Feng; cadres were honest and labored for the public good. Yet peering back through the murky clouds of the past thirteen years, it probably cannot be said that there were no problems at the coal company. For example, Zhou Lu, the person who had been nominated by the Party to succeed the Party branch secretary that year (we here pass over the question of whether it was right to designate this person in advance, since Party secretaries are supposed to be elected), later became an accomplice in Wang Shouxin’s massive corruption scheme. By contrast, Liu Changchun, one who was reckoned at that time to be ideologically backward, later fought tirelessly against Wang Shouxin, and never did yield to her.
Wang Shouxin began as the company’s cashier. She was full of energy, but unfortunately all of it was directed outside the company. One moment she would be sitting there and the next—whee!—she had disappeared. She was always first to find out who had been fighting with whom in public, which couple was headed for divorce, or what new goods had just arrived at the department store. She always took it upon herself to spread around whatever she could learn, and her old-biddy gossiping often set her comrades against one another.
When the great billows of the Cultural Revolution rolled along, they stimulated God knows which ones of Wang Shouxin’s animal desires, but in any case brought out in her political urges that had lain dormant for many years. At first she tried to establish herself in commercial circles, but no one would have her. She tried the students, but had no luck there either. She finally got some support when she reached Commissar Yang of the Munitions Ministry; then she returned to the coal company and tried to build an organization. When no one would cooperate, she went after Zhang Feng, who was a former bandit. “Let’s team up,” she said. “Let’s bash them to smithereens! We’ll call ourselves the‘Smash-the-Black-Nest Combat Force’!”
She also drew aside the driver Zhou Lu, a Party member, and prodded him gently in the ribs with her elbow. “You’ve been oppressed, too,” she wheedled, eyebrows prancing and eyeballs dancing. “Why don’t you seize the time and rebel?”
This person Zhou Lu was, unfortunately, afraid of his own shadow, despite his huge frame. He was afraid that rebellion could lead to misfortune. Yet if he didn’t rebel, but just watched as Wang Shouxin became the trusted lackey of Commissar Yang, he feared even worse consequences. He thought long and hard, and finally decided that the old bunch of officeholders like Bai Кип would never return. Bucking up his courage, he climbed aboard Wang Shouxin’s bandwagon. Wang had often taunted him: “Marry a hawk and eat meat; marry a duck and eat chickenshit.” Zhou Lu finally made up his mind that he had to have meat.
The first person obstructing Wang Shouxin’s way was Liu Changchun. This man had been a handicraft worker, a weaver; now he was the planner and accountant for the coal company. His dependents included five of his siblings in addition to his wife and children, and he could hardly stretch his salary to support all of them. After a long day’s work, when others were going home to relax or going out to amuse themselves, Liu Changchun had to moonlight. He made use of his weaving skill by mending socks, and he sometimes sold beansprouts in the market. He would earn scarcely a couple of dimes for one night’s work. He tried occasionally to raise a piglet that he would buy at the market; but he didn’t know how to feed piglets and could even end up losing money when he sold them. In sum, he refused to join in all the framing and the fawning, the stealing and the sneaking. He just carried on, repeatedly managing to muster energy from his thin and withered frame, never bemoaning his sorry lot. He wouldn’t curse the fates for not favoring him, or turn into a sourpuss; and he seemed always able to keep his spirits up.
Probably because of his suffering as a child, or perhaps because of the obstinate disposition that is typical in craftsmen, Liu Changchun would not bow and scrape or put up with scurrilous talk. He would stick his neck out, glare with a pair of eyes that took no account of the reaction of the person glared at, and say things that offended people. Moreover, in order to take care of his family, he had to spend time every day on his “private plot,” and this, in the eyes of the Party leadership, removed him even further from favor.
Wang Shouxin’s “Smash-the-Black-Nest Combat Force” challenged Liu Changchun’s “Red Rebel Corps” to a debate.
Liu Changchun could not conceive of Wang Shouxin as a serious adversary. But he was viewing her only as an individual and failed to see the influence that she had already accumulated. At the outset he had committed the mistake of underestimating his enemy.
At the public debate that followed, a short, thin fellow took the platform. Hands behind his back, he squared his shoulders and puffed up his chest. At first Liu Changchun was dismayed, thinking him to be some leader from Harbin. But when he looked more closely he burst out laughing: “It’s only that little bastard. He’s been the rebel leader only three days, and he’s already trying to act the part.”
The man was Wen Feng, director of the “United Program to Defend Mao Zedong Thought.” He was coming out in support of Wang Shouxin, and he didn’t have to say very much. It was enough that he flap his lips a few times, using his deep voice and clear enunciation to show off for a moment his long-dormant ability as a public speaker. Most important was the slogan that he tacked on at the end to intimidate everyone. “Follow Commissar Yang closely,” he said. “Resolutely make revolution; sweep away all ghosts and monsters!”
Commissar Yang was standing next to Wen Feng and Wang Shouxin. One’s attitude toward Yang had become the new acid test that separated revolutionary from counterrevolutionary.
Up on stage, Wang Shouxin was wearing her shiny black hair cut short and pulled back behind her ears. Although she had been wearing less makeup since her decision to become a rebel, her fair-skinned face appeared lively and pretty, making her look younger than her forty-five years.
Commissar Yang had specially deputed an officer of his to take charge of the debate. The deputy’s word was law on every question. “Liu Changchun,” he pronounced, “your Red Rebel Corps has allowed the powerholders to get away with things: you let them stress production and suppress revolution. You still go to them to ‘study the problems of production.’ Where do you show the slightest bit of rebel spirit? Your group is rightist! Your whole direction is wrong! You are ordered to disband beginning today!”
Liu Changchun was furious. This was absurd! Convicted before he even had a chance to say anything! Liu had always liked to read newspapers and think for himself. He was proud of his ability to understand policies and to address them. Now he scrambled onto the platform clutching the “Sixteen Points” and the “latest directives”; clearing his throat and assuming a bold stance, he was all set to tie into them. He was too naive to realize that the scriptures he pos֊ sessed were already out-of-date. He was met by a deafening uproar of slogans; then he was jostled, and there was punching and kicking as well. This special modern form of “debate” used in our ancient, civilized country is most efficient. Within two minutes Wang Shouxin’s political enemy had been “refuted” beyond any hope of recovery.
Any number of struggle sessions were held, but Liu Changchun refused to bow his head. Once when his head was physically pressed down, he still laughed and looked around the room, as if seeking someone to share his joke or hear his sarcastic comment. Zhou Lu, who was in charge of this session, shouted himself hoarse, only to find Liu Changchun still fighting to raise his head and answer back. “Hey, Zhou Lu, you really are a goddamn bumpkin! Why do you have to shout your pisser voicebox dry?”
This comment put Zhou Lu on the spot, and greatly amused all who heard it.
The day after the debate, when Wang Shouxin had seen there was no one around but the two of them, she stole up to Liu Changchun and whispered into his ear: “Let’s work together, Changchun. I am not very literate, and I need you as my military adviser. I’ll be in charge, and you can be number two ...”
Liu Changchun’s eyes widened. “You can knock that off right now!” he replied in a voice as hard as nails. “I’d rather be the stable boy of a gentleman than the ancestor of a bastard! You’ll get yours—just wait!”
That was precisely his style—refusing to give in even when he was butting his head against a stone wall. Most other people had already gone over to Wang Shouxin, and her influence was growing greater and greater. Meanwhile the Red Rebel Corps was falling apart. Yet Liu Changchun tried to rally the spirits of those in his faction who had still not fought back. “Don’t worry,” he said, “if you land in jail I’ll bring you your meals.”
He never imagined that, within a few days, he himself would be taken off to jail in handcuffs, charged as an “anti־Army” active counterrevolutionary.
The World Turned Upside Down
In poor and backward areas the fragrance of the flower of political power has its greatest allure. Were this not so, the “rebel” leader Wen Feng could never have been up front shouting, “Follow Commissar Yang closely,” nor could he ever have benefited from doing so. To be perfectly fair, when Commissar Yang first heard the slogan he was taken aback and asked someone around him, “What’s he saying?” The person who was asked had been clever enough to reply, “Weren’t you sent here from Chairman Mao’s headquarters? Of course we must follow you closely!” Commissar Yang then assented. “Yes, yes,” he said, nodding his head. “You should follow me closely.”
Close behind “following closely” came loving and adoring. One day when he came to the office. Commissar Yang found he had left his keys at home; without saying a word, his female secretary immediately hopped onto a bus to fetch the keys. Separately and simultaneously, his driver showed up at his home too. Each was hiding his motives from the other in order to be the one to return the keys. After arguing each other to a standstill, they finally agreed to bring them to the commissar together and share the praise.
In brief, the force of Commissar Yang’s prestige in Bin County was the same as the force of the potential of bullets to kill people. When Wang Shouxin accompanied Commissar Yang on an inspection tour of a commune late one night and informed the commune cadres that “Commissar Yang’s favorite dish is boiled meat with pickled cabbage and blood sausage, but the meat must be lean,” it was obvious that she was savoring the taste of real power, and that she liked this taste at least as much as that of the famous Manchurian dish.
One day in August 1968, Commissar Yang strode briskly and boldly into the planning office of the Bin County Commercial Révolutionary Committee. He looked around the room at the committee members, all of whom had risen out of respect. Then, in his customarily firm voice, he shocked everyone by saying, “Wang Shouxin must be allowed to join you on this committee.”
The committee members all looked at one another without a word. At last one of them courageously asked, in a low voice, “If she joined, what could she contribute?” What he meant was that she couldn’t read a character the size of the big dipper. Then there was her reputation ... for sleeping around . . .
Commissar Yang was pacing around the office, as though lost in thought. When he heard this objection he stopped short and glared fiercely at the officials before him. He knit his brows and then spoke irritably, in words as clear and immutable as boldface type: “The question is not whether she should join, but whether she should be the vice-chair!”
This was an order, and as such as it was adopted immediately and unanimously by the committee, who did not bother to wait for a referendum among the commercial workers of Bin County. For those days, this was normal. If it hadn’t been, why would Commissar Yang have had to knit his brows? That scowl admits several interpretations: “You hopeless boneheads!”, or “What’s this? You people are anti-Army?” or “Maybe you didn’t mean it when you all shouted ‘Follow closely’!”
Actually Commissar Yang had worries of his own. Wang Shouxin had been begging him for a position since 1967, insisting that she be made head of the Women’s Congress. This puzzled the highest authorities. She wasn’t even a Party Committee member, so how could she be the head? Impossible. Wang Shouxin was greatly put out. She had “rebelled”; she had been running around with Commissar Yang; she had, for the first time in her life, come to enjoy the taste of power in this society of ours. So many people obeying a single voice, playing up to you, flattering you! What power! What fame! How much more honorable this was than her former ideal—to be the wife of a collaborationist policeman or a landlord.
But now she had become deeply disappointed, and went around complaining about Commissar Yang behind his back. “Commissar Yang, my eye! He’s less than a prick hair! And those bitches at the Women’s Congress are all sluts!”
After that Commissar Yang again ordered the Commercial Révolutionary Committee to “receive” Wang Shouxin into the Party. A number of members opposed her; even the Commercial Committee chairman, Zhao Yu, who had resolutely opposed and smashed Tian Fengshan (in those days, the degree to which one opposed Tian Fengshan separated “revolutionary” from “nonrevolutionary” and “counterrevolutionary”), found it hard to “follow Commissar Yang closely.” Hence the entire committee bore the brunt of the commissar’s wrath: “Still needs training? Will you kindly tell me in what way she needs training? Isn’t the Great Cultural Revolution the test of a person? As far as I can see, she’s the only person in Bin County fit to enter the Party!”
A month later, in an address to the Workers’ Congress, Commissar Yang told more than five hundred people that “some people still have misgivings about the rebels. They find minor faults, but fail to see the big picture. Here are all these rebels and no one seeks to cultivate them. Instead, you cultivate easy-going types for entrance to the Party.” In the end, despite the opposition of 70 percent of the Party members, Wang Shouxin joined the Party as a member “specially endorsed” by Commissar Yang.
This happened in September of 1969. In the very same month, a fine Party member named Zhang Zhixin was arrested in Liaoning Province by a dictatorship organ of the Communist Party.5 One had joined and one had been kicked out. Tian Fengshan had fallen and Commissar Yang had risen. Were these merely insignificant accidents in their implications for communist organization in China?
Ten years had to pass before anyone could even raise questions about this massive inversion of justice.
On the day that Wang Shouxin first took over as manager and Party secretary of the coal company (which was later called the fuel company), some workers were digging trenches for oil pipes. Some members of the county work team were playing chess in the office. When she saw this Wang Shouxin flared up. “Well I’ll be damned,” she yelled. “You play chess while others work. What kind of work team is this?”
Zhou Lu, now the assistant manager, was shocked; Wang Shouxin had never yelled at anyone like that before. What he didn’t realize was that someone at that very moment was observing him, and that this person was also shocked by certain changes. The observer was the old Party secretary at the coal company, Bai Кип, and there was something he couldn’t figure out: this guy Zhou Lu had never been very good at his job—once when he was driving a car he had lost a wheel and didn’t even notice it. That I can forgive, mused Bai Кип, but—though I always thought highly of his character and even felt I could train him to take over for me—suddenly he appears to have changed entirely. He fawns over Wang Shouxin like crazy, patting the woman’s ass whenever she speaks. It must have been the same, all this flattering and fawning, when he worked for me. But because it made me feel comfortable, I always felt it was a virtue. How could I have failed to see through him all these years?
There were many things that had not been seen through, just look at Wang Shouxin—she too had seemed to change completely. Formerly she had been lazy and useless, but now she was the first one on the job and the last to leave. Even her clothing changed drastically—she wore a cotton jacket and rubber shoes. All day long she would be running in and out of the office, busy as a bee, laboring along with the workers who were unloading coal or cleaning up.
Over the years Wang Shouxin had come to know this tiny coal company thoroughly, and to become thoroughly bored with it. Yet once she became boss, all that changed; everything now seemed to take on a strange radiance. Jet black coal piles, glistening lumps of coal—how delightful! No longer was she bored with those who were busy unloading the coal, weighing it or collecting payment for it. Everything now belonged to her, and everybody obeyed Wang Shouxin’s orders.
Of course Wang Shouxin supposed that she was “serving the people.” But “the people” were various: they differed in quality and rank. The first reform she carried out was to sell coal according to a person’s position. She arranged to have the top-grade coal picked out and packed in waterproof straw bags for delivery by truck directly to the doors of the County Party secretary and the members of the Standing Committee. This was coal that caught fire quickly and burned well—just right for cooking dumplings at New Year’s. And payment? “What’s the rush? We’ll discuss it later ...”
As for the people’s armed forces, no question about it—nothing was nearer and dearer to Wang Shouxin’s heart than the brown padded coats of the military. Soldiers were on the top rung of her class ladder. Right below them came the Organization Department. These people were sent the best grade of coal, delivered in special trucks, and were treated to meals to boot. Next in line were those concerned with personnel, finance, and labor.
Wang Shouxin was a warmly sentimental woman with clearly defined likes and dislikes. Her tens of thousands of tons of coal and her nine trucks were the brush and ink that she used every day to compose her lyric poems.
The distilleries and provisions factories produced the sweet, enticing smells of famous liquors, pastries, and candies. Wang Shouxin was not a glutton; no, what she sought from these sweet smells was only the smiling faces of provincial-, prefectural-, and county-level “connections.” For this reason, such factories could rely on a neverending supply of fine-quality coal at low prices. Wang Shouxin couldn’t care less about the bearings factory or the porcelain factories. These produced nothing but cold, hard little knickknacks. Who would ever want gifts like that? So these factories got low-grade coal, with prices jacked up at that. What if a factory was losing money? Going bankrupt? What if the coal could not burn hot enough to heat large vats? None of that had anything to do with the great Wang Shouxin!
One year in January the county hospital ran out of coal. A man was sent to seek out Manager Wang. After looking over his letter of introduction, Wang Shouxin raised her eyebrows and questioned the man. “How come your top man didn’t come?”
“He’s busy, he didn’t have time ...”
“A man named Gao Dianyou from your hospital has informed against my son. No coal for you!”
The man begged and pleaded, but Wang Shouxin wouldn’t give an inch. “Your Gao Dianyou accused my son of adultery,” she continued. “The County Party Committee has been investigating for two months already, and my son is still the vice-director of the Xinli Commune, isn’t he? Don’t think you can slip one past Old Lady Wang! This exposé of my son is the work of Fang Yongjiu of Xinli Commune and was prepared by Director Rong of the Commune’s Health Department. Gao Dianyou is just their mouthpiece!”
When word got back to Gao Dianyou, he immediately wrote a letter to the County Party Committee:” . . . There is obviously something fishy going on here. How could Wang Shouxin know so much about my exposé of Liu Zhimin? I request the County Committee to give this matter their closest attention and to take measures to assure my physical safety.”
This was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that an accusation against Wang Shouxin fell into the hands of Wang Shouxin. It was also not the first or last time that Wang Shouxin brazenly used the coal she controlled as a weapon for revenge.
Trucks were also important instruments in Wang Shouxin’s system of rewards and revenge. Every fall people in Bin County had to go up to the mountains for firewood and down to the villages for vegetables in order to get through the winter. And in a county seat with a population of 30,000, trucks were hard to come by. Yet this was an ordeal every family had to undergo every year.
Inspector Yang Qing of the County Inspectorate had that year asked a driver to go to the mountains for firewood. His family prepared a complete banquet for the returning driver—no mean feat on a salary of about thirty dollars a month. When it was almost dark, they could hear the truck returning, and the whole family rushed out for a look. The truck had come back empty! The driver’s face revealed his displeasure. “Roads were blocked,” he said, and drove his truck back home. How would this family get through the winter? They were on the verge of tears. Husband and wife looked helplessly at the banquet spread, which was getting colder and colder.
Then in their hour of despair, who was it that lent them a helping hand?—Old Lady Wang. How could the whole family not be grateful?
Wang Shouxin was deeply concerned about the difficulties of peopie in Bin County. The county cadres’ wages hadn’t risen for over ten years, and every family felt the pinch. Many had borrowed anywhere from several hundred to nearly a thousand dollars of public funds. In 1975 the County Committee, on instructions from above, insisted on a deadline for the return of the public funds. Enter Wang Shouxin, the “goddess of wealth.” She always carried with her a passbook for an unregistered bank account, and she could produce ready cash just by reaching into the drawer of her office desk.
People she could use didn’t even have to open their mouths; Wang Shouxin would approach them: “Having problems? Short of cash?” The rebel leader Wen Feng and his pals, as well as the leaders of many important offices, all “borrowed” public funds that Wang Shouxin had appropriated without the niceties of bookkeeping, and then used that money to repay their own debts to the public. A new relationship arose from this transfer of the proletarian state’s money: first, Wang Shouxin, rather than the state, assumed the creditor’s role; second, Wang Shouxin’s money did not necessarily have to be returned. In fact, she preferred that it not be returned, because then people would owe her their loyalty and future favors. But even if the money was returned, the debts of favor would remain. The favorite method of repaying these obligations was for the debtor to use his own power for Wang Shouxin’s convenience. This caused the debtor no material loss, and for Wang Shouxin it was more than she could buy for a thousand pieces of gold. So why not do it this way, since it had such benefits for both sides?
At bottom, all this was an exchange of goods that was effected by trading off power. One form of this barter involved the direct handling of goods. For example, Wang Shouxin raised a large number of pigs, pork being another item in her power-brokering. But where could she get fodder for the pigs? Just seek out the vice-director of the Grain Bureau, of course! More than five tons of corn, bran, soybeans, and husks were sent right over. Later on, Wang Shouxin needed flour, rice, and soybean oil for her partying and gift-giving. No problem! Just call the vice-director again! And thus it happened that, in the short span of one year, another five tons of rice, flour, and soybean oil passed into her hands. In return, the vice-director could “borrow” money or bricks from Wang Shouxin, or “buy” complete cartloads of coal on credit. Payment was never required, and in fact no payment was ever made.
In this county, the organs of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” served Wang Shouxin’s “socialist” enterprises extremely well. Wang Shouxin would dispatch carts loaded with meat, fish, grain, oil, or vegetables to Harbin, in violation of county regulations. When this happened, the chief of the Section for Industry and Commerce, who was also second-in-command of the “rebels,” would give special approvai under his own signature. From 1973 on, her vehicles could come and go unhindered. In return, this.fellow received a “loan” of four hundred dollars plus a variety of presents. On one occasion Wang Shouxin had to “safeguard” some cash that properly belonged to the central government. She needed it for her private dealings and building, so she couldn’t put it in a bank account; that was when the deputy chief of the Finance Section, another of her “rebel” friends, opened account number 83001. To it she diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars, which were always at her disposal in a perfectly legal and protected place. To repay this man, Wang Shouxin arranged to have his son-in-law transferred from the temporary labor force to a permanent job. Then she admitted his son to the “Camp for Educated Youths” she had set up and, after falsifying his credentials, arranged his admission to a university.
For years this trading of influence went on between Wang Shouxin and dozens of officials—perhaps a hundred—on the County Party Committee, County Revolutionary Committee, and at the district and even the provincial levels. Many of these people used their status as the capital for their trade. Once Wang Shouxin, in order to set up a “nonstaple foodstuffs base,” needed to take over more than thirtythree acres of good land that belonged to the Pine River Brigade of the Raven River Commune. This infuriated the commune members and local cadres. The head of the County Agricultural Office, who lacked the power to approve this deal, arranged a meal where he brought Wang Shouxin together with the leaders of the commune, the brigade, and the production teams that were involved. This gave the impression that the County Revolutionary Committee supported the discussions and acquiesced in the illegal dealings. Thus a huge tract of arable land changed hands.
This kind of “socialist” exchange does indeed demonstrate great “superiority” over capitalist exchange; neither party has to have any capital of his own, there is no need to put up private possessions as collateral, and no one needs to run any risk of loss or bankruptcy. Everybody gets what he wants.
One thing was completely clear, however. Not a single one of these exchanges could have been made without a departure from Party policy, or without either causing direct loss of socialist public property or breaking Party regulations and national laws. In some cases all of these violations occurred. Eventually, this had to harm the socialist system and discredit the Party’s leadership. Through the incessant bartering, Party and government cadres slowly degenerated into parasitical insects that fed off the people’s productivity and the socialist system. The relationship between the Party and the masses deterioriated greatly.
How Can a Single Hand Clap?
Language is a strange thing. When Commissar Yang pointed to Wang Shouxin as having a “completely red family,” he had meant to praise her. Yet, in the mouths of the common people, the same phrase—“completely red family”—was said as a curse. When they went down the list of Wang Shouxin’s family and asked how each had entered the Party or risen to official positions, they rejected all of these relatives one by one.
Her eldest son, Liu Zhimin, was a lazy oaf who could think only of women. He almost always looked half-drunk. What could possibly have qualified him to become a member of the Chinese Communist Party? And how did he become vice-director of Xinli Commune? When he tried to rape a girl, why was it that he was treated with such leniency, and even assigned thereafter to the County Committee “to make policy”? Wang Shouxin’s second son entered the Party from a cadre school that had only a temporary branch, one without the power to recruit Party members. And what about her youngest, that totally unqualified young dandy who got appointed assistant manager of the photography studio? Even stranger was Wang Shouxin’s younger sister, who, shortly after being expelled from the Communist Youth League, managed to enter the Party! . . .
Since the people loved the Party, they were of course going to be upset when they saw these shady characters sneak into it! From 1972 onwards, any time a political campaign came along, people would flock to the Party Committee to put up big-character posters with their questions about Wang Shouxin and her “completely red family.”
Yet the Party organization of Bin County could not be reformed until there was a change in the Party leadership. The opportunity for this came in 1970. Early in the year, because of his success in “supporting the Left,” Commissar Yang was appointed head of the securi ty task force for all of Heilongjiang Province. He was succeeded as Bin County Party secretary by an old cadre named Zhang Xiangling. Zhang was a solidly built, middle-aged man, with a pair of big, thicksoled feet. In 1945 he had walked all the way from Yan’an to Baiquan County in Heilongjiang. Now he was preparing to make use of his big feet again to take the measure of Bin County. Despite a severe stomach ailment, he could cover as many as thirty-five miles in one day.
But he quickly discovered one place where he could hardly take a single step, and that was inside the courtyard of the Party Committee. For Commissar Yang, even after receiving his transfer orders, hung on in Bin County for several months; he had reorganized administrative power so that each important position at the section level and above was filled by a “rebel” member. Most of the regular cadres of Bin County were still down in the countryside or were under house arrest.
Whenever Zhang Xiangling tried to free one of these cadres, the “Cultural Revolution Group” would inform him that they planned to hold a criticism and struggle session concerning that cadre the next day, and they requested Zhang’s attendance. The power of the “Cultural Revolution Group” was much like that of the Beijing group of the same name [headed by Mao Zedong and his wife Jiang Qing]; its deputy leader also happened to be a woman—Wang Shouxin’s daughter-in-law.
This woman was in her twenties, not very tall but slender and pretty. Her smile disclosed a pair of comely canines that made her even more attractive. As a typist at the County People’s Committee she was fine. But once Commissar Yang appointed this poorly educated, minimally capable woman to be deputy head of the Cultural Revolution Group, she suddenly became another person altogether.
Nothing causes self-delusion quite so readily as power. The very day this woman achieved power, she began—mistakenly—to convince herself that she had the education, the moral stature, and the ability that such a position called for. The vanity, narrowness, and jealousy that had lain dormant in the typist’s heart were all suddenly awakened. Her lovely eyes now flared with suspicion and hatred, as they followed and searched out her potential enemies. The tears she had shed at the departure of Commissar Yang now changed to enmity for Zhang Xiangling. Whenever a meeting took her to Harbin, she always went to see Commissar Yang, and in this way Bin County remained subject to Yang’s will through a kind of remote control.
For a while Zhang Xiangling had only this one power: he could absent himself from criticism and struggle sessions. His situation bore a startling resemblance to the position of Chinese magistrates under the puppet regime of Manchukuo [occupied northeast China, 193245], where real power lay in the hands of the Japanese. Yet unlike those days, when there was only one Japanese deputy magistrate, now there were “Japanese” all over the place. The “rebels” who held the deputy positions in each of the sections had greater power than that of the formal section heads.
In order that readers have no misunderstanding, I must do a little explaining about the “rebels” of Bin County. The Bin County high school students who had been “Red Guards” had long ago been quelled by the “Unified Program to Defend Mao Zedong Thought.” The Red Guards’ crime had been that they were “anti-Army.” Those who took over the power also called themselves “Red Guards” at first, and wore red armbands. But actually they were stubble-bearded cadres, many of them well over forty and old enough to be grandparents. They belonged to the generation of the Red Guards’ parents. The important distinction, however, was not that of age. It was primarily that they all had families to feed and were much more interested in economics than the youngsters had been. Second, many of them had “rebelled” because of the frustration of having failed, after many years in officialdom, to enter the Party or to be promoted. These people could think of nothing but their desires for material improvement, political power, and influence.
What worried Zhang Xiangling most was that not only the leadership but the whole Party organization was growing more corrupt daily. One married couple who entered the Party in 1969, right after Wang Shouxin had, were overheard fighting with each other in this fashion: “What’re you so uppity about? A few bottles of good liquor were your ticket of admission to the Party!”
“Goddamn it, you’re worse than I. You think you could have joined without that pretty face of yours?”
Only by doing his utmost, and at the risk of his own Party membership, was Zhang Xiangling finally able to remove from office a few of the most detested “rebel” leaders. In 1970 there was a resolution to reinvestigate the pack of rascals who had entered the party in 1969. Yet, when he left Bin County in 1972, Zhang had to admit that he had failed to change the balance of political power in Bin County. Not long thereafter, those he had removed from power came back; his resolution to purge bad elements from the Party was never put into effect.
Zhang Xiangling left behind several newly constructed factories in Bin County. He could hardly have imagined that these factories would lose money year after year and would make little contribution to the central government treasury, but would help line the pockets of grafters, thieves, and powerholders.
“A Heroine of Her Times”
Many differing accounts of Wang Shouxin’s character circulated among the people of Bin County. “Old Lady Wang is straightforward; she doesn’t hold anything back.” “Wang Shouxin is the world’s greatest phony, and she’s also a bare-faced liar.” “Old Lady Wang is good hearted, warm, and concerned about people.” “Wang Shouxin is vicious and hounds people to death.”
All these descriptions were true. She could be straightforward one moment and phony the next. Two months earlier her heart might have bled for you, but two months later she’d be hounding you. All of this was not incompatible. It may seem so, but we shall gradually see how it all fit together.
When she found a worker crouching in the office, furtively eating some sugar, she set upon him and boxed his ears. Yet a moment later she came back saying, “Why are you making a hog of yourself? Don’t you have any sugar at home? Take this bag with you and get going!” Her manner had changed completely within a few minutes, but this was not being phony. What she sought was compliance, together with a clear display of her power. Her heartfelt concern and scolding attacks were not in the least inconsistent.
Wang Shouxin had not had an easy life. Her father had been a horse trader, with no property to fall back upon and no regular job. The powerful could cheat and oppress him; yet honest people would also shy away from him. Wang Shouxin grew up with a fear of the Japanese, the collaborationist police, and everyone who owned wealth or land. Yet using her womanhood, which included a certain measure of good looks but excluded a sense of shame, she developed the weapons she needed for self-protection and for attack. Her environment taught her not to be shy, and she learned how to develop contacts with people whose social status was much higher than hers. She was obliged to adjust to hardship and could endure even inhuman living conditions. She became familiar with the lives of people at the lowest stratum of society. This was all very useful to her in the 1970s, when her life changed drastically.
After 1970, Bin County suddenly began to build all sorts of factories; the use of coal increased dramatically, while coal production remained the same. This phenomenon set the stage for Wang Shouxin to display her talents.
First she had to go to the appropriate prefectural and provincial offices to fight for the necessary allocations of coal and transportation facilities. No matter how high the official, she had a way of putting him at ease. She could summon every charm that a woman of fifty could muster without being disgusting. “Ahem, I say, Secretary Wang (or Manager Gao, or Secretary-General Nie, or whatever), we common folk in Bin County are in quite a fix. We have to queue for coal and can only buy small baskets of it. If you don’t increase our allotment, we might have to burn our own legs ...”
She’d cajole you, pester you, flatter you no end. One minute she’d laugh, the next she’d cry—all entirely in good faith. Still no answer? Fine, she had yet another trick: she’d undo her pants and give you a look at the scar on her abdomen, making it clear that Old Lady Wang was braving illness to come fight for the people’s coal. Now how about it? Hadn’t you better figure out a way to get her to pull up her pants? Worried, angry, you’d want to get rid of her as quickly as possible. But then you would think again—she had come for the public good, after all. And you had to hand it to her: her local flavor, her common touch, her ingenuousness (pants half-down, etc.), and her intimate manner did have a certain charm for men her age.
“OK, I’ll approve 2,000 tons for you.” As long as coal was for sale, it was all the same whether it went to Bin County or to Hulan. Old Lady Wang would leave overjoyed.
A few days later, someone would show up at the same official’s office carrying a few things: ten pounds of fish, twenty pounds of pork, several dozen eggs, and a few quarts of soybean oil. At first the official would have no idea where they came from. But as the saying goes, show me the official who flogs gift-givers. What’s more, these were all things that were hard to come by at any price. “How much a pound? How much should I pay altogether?” The bearer would only laugh—”What’s your hurry? We’ll take care of it later”—and leave.
At first all these things had to be purchased, and at high prices. A pound of fish cost over a dollar. But Wang Shouxin had vision. Buy it! She even had her own underground cold-storage cellar specially built, so that she could store things and have them at her disposal. Eventually things came by means of barter: a commune or a production brigade that made bricks would be given coal and, in exchange, would give her hogs, each one of which had to be at least 220 pounds with thin skin and lots of meat. As the scope of Wang Shouxin’s exchanges widened, and as her needs increased, she had to figure out a way of increasing her sources of goods while lowering their cost. So she set up fishing teams of four men to a net, then constructed a hog farm, and then a “nonstaple foodstuffs base” that occupied the land of an entire production team and allowed her to produce fruits and vegetables for her private use. But Old Lady Wang still wasn’t satisfied; she finagled a bulldozer that spent days noisily digging a great hole that she converted to a fish-farming pond.
Wang Shouxin’s requirements kept on increasing as the County Party Committee gave her responsibility for buying cement, fertilizer, and tractors. Her responsibilities required ever more contact with higher and higher officials. Other than giving gifts, what means had she to “ignite” these people’s “revolutionary zeal”?
Wang Shouxin was a keen observer of the lives of leading cadres both inside and outside the county. She knew their thinking and their needs. “Aside from eating,” she mused to herself, “what other problems most worry them? What are they most concerned about?” Then, slapping her thigh, this extremely clever woman cried out, “I’ve got it! Their sons and daughters! They’re always thinking of how to keep them from being sent down to the countryside, how to bring them back to town as soon as possible, how to get them into college or get them a better job!” Since so many places were setting up “camps for educated youths” who had been sent down to the countryside, why couldn’t her fuel company set one up in the name of the production brigade? It could be, in effect, a transfer station. With Wang Shouxin’s extensive network of connections, it would be no problem at all to get dozens of sons and daughters into college, or into good jobs, or transferred back to the city.
The location she decided upon was the Pine River Brigade of the Raven River Commune. There she had ten or so tile-roofed houses put up, and the scions of leading cadres at the provincial, prefectural, and county levels came in droves. Some didn’t bother to come but had their names put down anyway. In either case these children drew a salary of thirty or forty dollars a month. Commissar Yang’s daughter, whose name had been entered in this way, never worked a stitch but did get admitted to the Party and was later “transferred” back to Harbin.
While some laughed, others wept.
For example, here is one of the many letters of accusation that were written over a number of years by the peasants of the Pine River Brigade:
... Wang Shouxin and her parasitical ilk have used their influence for years to oppress us; they have forced us to sell, or simply give to them, the most productive land of four of our production teams; they have destroyed as much as 143 acres of our forests. Our production brigade’s brick kilns use her coal, so she had us in a stranglehold if we didn’t give her the land. She and the others cut down over ten thousand of the pine trees we had planted with ten years of arduous labor. The 25 acres of terraced fields we carved out of the hillsides have been turned into her melon patch. And still they have the arrogance to boast that if they order production teams to be ploughing their fields by 6 A.M., even our Party secretary won’t dare to miss an hour! The production team had to neglect their own land because they didn’t dare to ignore Wang Shouxin’s. Her people also sank a well near the terraced fields, and then locked it up, refusing to let the local peasants have any water! Because they’ve taken our good land and stolen our labor, we’ve been driven to the point where we get only 40 cents a day in pay. They never pay the agricultural production tax, nor any tax whatever on all their income—everything we produce is used for giving gifts to rotten cadres and throwing parties for them. ...
Yet Wang Shouxin’s conscience was clear. All these activities of hers were “for the public good.” Why else would every County Party secretary she worked with praise her so effusively? “Old Lady Wang is really great!” they would say. “She’s come up with so much coal!” “Old Lady Wang really gets results! Of all the five counties bordering the river, Bin County has shipped the greatest amount of coal!”
But there was one question: her money. Where did it come from?
There were two kinds of coal. Coal produced by the state-run coal mines had a sale price fixed according to the cost of producing it, and was supplied “under the state plan.” Coal supplied “outside the state plan” was small-pit coal, and transport and miscellaneous charges were added to its price. From 1972 onward, Wang Shouxin hit upon an extremely simple scheme for making money: take a portion of the state coal and charge small-pit coal prices for it. This would net from three to nearly ten dollars per ton. She made out two sets of invoices: one bearing the original prices and another with transport and miscellaneous charges added. The latter were not entered in the accounts, nor was the extra money ever paid to the state.
Wang Shouxin let only two people in on her great secret. One was her accomplice Ma Zhanqing, director of White Rock Enterprises, which was part of the fuel company. The other was an accountant named Sun Xiyin. Both of them had been brought into the Party by Wang Shouxin. Sun Xiyin came from a family of small businessmen, and the only human relationship he thought possible was essentially that between shopkeeper and shop clerk, or perhaps between a Japanese and a collaborator. It was natural that he now treated Wang Shouxin with the same obsequiousness and loyalty he once gave to his shopkeeper. He was ever grateful to Secretary Wang for bringing him into the Party. He knew her orders were that income from the surcharges on small-pit coal be set aside in a special account and not be paid over to the state; invoices for it were to be destroyed. His own job was fourfold: making up invoices, collecting payment, keeping the books, and distributing coal. Thus, carrying out the secretary’s orders came quite naturally to him.
One day, when Wang Shouxin had finished her instructions to him and Sun Xiyin had turned to go, she told him to stop. “Wait a minute. I hear you’re going to tie the knot again? Tsk! You’re all of fifty years old! Why bother with something like that? Forget it!” This was an order, but Sun Xiyin felt it had been well meant; the secretary was so concerned about him. In point of fact it had been nineteen years since his wife had died, and only after careful consideration had he decided to seek another companion.
What really concerned Wang Shouxin was her secret. There was nothing to be gained in involving another pair of ears and another mouth. Who could tell what kind of person Sun Xiyin had hooked up with? What could she do if this woman turned out to be as loose tongued as herself?
Even after justice finally caught up with her, Wang Shouxin was known to have boasted. “Go to Bin County yourselves,” she said. “Old Lady Wang was tops at looking after the welfare of the masses!” This was not untrue. At her behest, her staffs coal and food was always delivered right to their homes. And there was always something extra at festival time. At Mid-Autumn Festival everyone got two pounds of mooncakes, but these Wang Shouxin delivered personally so that everyone would believe that Secretary Wang was favoring only him. This made one especially grateful. On a trip to see a doctor in Canton, Wang Shouxin was careful to remember to buy everyone a synthetic-fiber sweater. And the fuel company had built more worker housing than any other enterprise in the Bin County seat.
But Secretary Wang had another method of dealing with people: oral abuse. She could chew someone out so utterly, “to the depths of his soul,” that after a few sentences the person would be in tears. Take Zhou Lu, for example—assistant manager, second-incommand, a tall, strapping fellow. Wang Shouxin abused him as if he were her child. She swore at him “as if he were a clove of garlic,” as they said in the local dialect, or “as if he were an eggplant.” When the staff showed up for work, one look at Zhou Lu’s face would let them know if Secretary Wang was in or not. If Zhou Lu was busily going about his business, then Wang Shouxin was not in. If he had a straight face and acted as if he were scared of his own shadow—then Secretary Wang was definitely in. “I have come to this pass,” Zhou Lu thought to himself, “because of only one thing—fear. Dealing with her I’m like a piece of bean curd that has fallen into a pile of ashes; you can’t brush the ashes off, you can’t blow them off—nothing works. My only hope lies in her age. How much longer can that candle of hers burn? Once she’s dead I’ll be all right.”
Despite her tremendous capacity to terrorize, Wang Shouxin still could not rest easy. She always worried about who might be out to get her, and she had an extraordinarily sensitive intelligence network. At one point Zhou Lu, no longer able to put up with Wang Shouxin’s temper, decided to resign as assistant manager and go back to driving a car. The next day Wang Shouxin took him to task. “So you want out, do you? If you want out, I’ll give you your walking papers right now. Out! Get out right this minute!”
Her intelligence network had, of course, required painstaking cultivation. By crowding some people and getting them transferred out, then wheedling others and getting them transferred in, finally the staff of the fuel company was almost all people in whom Wang Shouxin could have complete faith. She simultaneously set about building a Party organization of foolproof reliability.
When Wang Shouxin discovered someone of acceptable obsequiousness, she’d drag him in and say: “Blind enthusiasm isn’t enough; you must coordinate with the organization.”
When the Party met to discuss the first person she nominated, some members disagreed with her choice. This made Wang Shouxin blow her stack. “He withstood the test of the Great Cultural Révolution! He’s stronger than any of you! Look at you Party members! A bunch of capitalist-roaders and monarchists! Not one of you is worth a damn! If this man isn’t fit for the Party, none of you is!”
She got her way. The second person she advanced was Ma Zhanqing. His credentials: . . exerts himself to the fullest, shouts slogans all day long, is very good at dispensing coal, is not too self-seeking, watches over public property like a hawk. I think he’s all right, fit to be a Party member.” Again some people opposed him, and Wang Shouxin’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “If everyone in the fuel company were like Ma Zhanqing,” she said, “we’d all be a lot better off!” Having spoken, she picked up her tobacco basket and left. This signaled that Ma Zhanqing had been accepted and that the meeting was adjourned.
Wang Shouxin single-handedly recruited eleven Party members. The special qualifications of each one merit careful scrutiny.
A driver: obedient, simple, straightforward. When ferrying Wang Shouxin around to deliver gifts, he continued to be simple and straightforward. Clearly he had some reservations, but he never leaked a word. And never asked any questions. He just stuck to one principle: “Nobody can question Secretary Wang’s activities. Do what you like, but that is that.”
Another: hard working, honest, obedient, eager to get into the Party. When Wang Shouxin was building a house for her sister, he sawed a publicly owned pine gangplank into six pieces and procured a case of glass that had been cut to proper size. He delivered these by truck to the building site.
A carpenter: hard working, honest, obedient. He took care of all the work that Wang Shouxin needed done on her own house. He was also adept at delivering gifts.
With one exception, the eleven Party members were all “hard working, honest, obedient.” Obedient to whom? To Wang Shouxin, of course. According to the logic that says that closely following the secretary is closely following the Party, and that protecting the secretary is protecting the Party, how far wrong were they, actually?
In short, Wang Shouxin had a rear guard in the fuel company upon whom she could depend. And in the County Party Committee and the County Revolutionary Committee, she had thirty-some “rebel” cohorts working for her like bees. From the County Party Standing Committee, and from the Party secretary personally, she had nothing but praise and trust. What more could Wang Shouxin ask? She was entering the prime of her career.
Of course, when she remembered her illicit treasury with its more than forty thousand crisp, new ten-yuan [about $6.70] bills, she became slightly nervous. At these times a certain image would appear in her mind and give her strength. “Ha, come to think of it, what do we little guys matter? Aren’t the top cadres in the province always sticking their hands into the till?” She was thinking of the assistant manager of the Provincial Fuel Company, Guo Yucai. She had been going to him since 1971 whenever she needed coal; in return he received quite a lot of chicken, fish, meat, and eggs. Finally she invited him to White Rock Harbor, where she held a banquet especially in his honor. Having drunk and eaten his fill, Guo Yucai lay down on the bed-platform. “Remember those two trucks I got you?” he said. “I’m out of pocket quite a bit on them!” Wang Shouxin caught his drift immediately, wrapped up two hundred dollars, and handed them over to him. A few days later he came back again. “The last time I was in Beijing on business I was short of cash.” Another few hundred made their way to him. Over a four-year period Guo Yucai took over $1300 in bribes; in return he assigned Bin County six trucks, a refueling machine, and a large amount of coal.
This man was precisely the type for Wang Shouxin. What she feared most was that other Communist Party members would prove to be unlike her, to have no greed. The more important the cadre, and the more gifts and money he took, the more elated she was. By going through Guo Yucai, Wang Shouxin was able to throw a banquet for a deputy head of a department in the Ministry of Commerce. When she saw him off at Harbin, Wang Shouxin presented this man with a set of sofas, a bed-wardrobe combination and tea tables, as well as 100 cubic feet of lumber and several gunny sacks of soybeans. He accepted everything. Wang Shouxin was now more at ease than ever. “Even in Beijing cadres are like this,” she observed to herself. “These articles weren’t Old Lady Wang’s private property—he must have known that!”
When the Gang of Four fell from power, Wang Shouxin and her “rebel” comrades-in-arms felt a momentary quiver of fear. But for Wang Shouxin, the long trip she took in 1978 was evidence enough that, even though nearly two years had elapsed since the smashing of the Gang of Four, Old Lady Wang’s position was not only as impregnable as ever, but even continuing to rise.
This long trip in 1978 was a show of strength, a demonstration of her power. It had been arranged for her by Vice-Secretary-General Nie of the Heilongjiang Provincial Economic Committee and was intended as thanks to Wang Shouxin for her help in arranging for his three children to return from the countryside and take jobs in the city. He had bought airline tickets for her and sent his son to accompany her. When this embezzler extraordinaire took off from Harbin airport, three department heads of the provincial government showed up to see her off. When she arrived in Canton, three units were there to receive her. In Shanghai, someone was specially sent to take her to a first-class hotel.
Wang Shouxin had reached the pinnacle of wealth and fame. Her influence “at the top” was growing daily. The car of some provincial, prefectural, or county official was always in front of her house. Her status had skyrocketed because of the many things she had been able to procure for Bin County, and as her status rose, she became ever more fearless, arrogant, and oppressive. In tiny Bin County, whom should she fear?
At the beginning of 1975, while it was still winter, Wang Shouxin and some workers climbed the mountains of Gaoleng in search of timber. They headed into the hills with pork, hard liquor, cigarettes, and soap in their trucks. At each checkpoint Old Lady Wang would go in for a friendly exchange, while her henchmen outside began giving out all those things that were normally so hard to find. At some checkpoints Old Lady Wang would go in, put down her carryall, and say with generosity and concern, “Didn’t I hear that you were short of batteries here? Here, I’ve brought some flashlights to go along with them!”
In the hills she and her henchmen paid off the inspectors. Old Lady Wang feared no danger or difficulty; she led her troops without mishap up slippery heights of snow-covered piles of logs, picking out the best and calculating her total as she went. When her trucks returned full, all the checkpoints along the way let them pass without inspection once they knew it was Old Lady Wang. In this manner she got more than 1750 cubic feet of top-quality pine for just over $330.
This was a happy event, and Wang Shouxin planned to celebrate it. She could hardly have known that big trouble awaited her in Bin County. Inspector Yang Qing, of the County Disciplinary Inspection Committee, was looking for her. He revealed to her that a member of the County Standing Comittee had received an anonymous letter accusing Wang Shouxin of the crime of corruption. That night Wang Shouxin went to Yang Qing’s house with two bottles of superior liquor and took possession of the accusing letter—so that, she said, she could check the handwriting.
The next day, as soon as Wang Shouxin arrived at work, she threw the letter down in front of Zhou Lu and began swearing at him. “Goddamn it to hell! I go to Gaoleng for twenty days to get timber and everything here turns upside-down! . . . What the hell have you been doing here? Didn’t I tell you to keep your eye on these people?”
Inspector Yang Qing (who later became vice-chairman of the Disciplinary Inspection Committee) also came in, and together with Zhou Lu tried to identify the handwriting by comparing it with that used in other criticisms and complaints. Unfortunately nothing turned up, but Yang Qing picked up the offending letter and reassured Wang Shouxin. “Don’t worry who wrote this,” he said. “The letter’s in my control now, and that will be that!” These words hinted darkly, and also promised, that he was putting on the market the power he had in his hands to shield a criminal. The buyer was there; it did not matter very much at what time the price would be paid.
“OK,” said Wang Shouxin, affecting unconcern. “So this letter was aimed at me. A branch secretary has to expect such things. Let’s just forget it. If it had been written about someone else, we’d have to be stricter!”
Yang Qing was as good as his word: the letter was never seen again. But Wang Shouxin was not going to leave things at that. She sent three telegrams in a row ordering that the driver Qu Zhaoguo be sent back from the Jixi Coal Mine, saying he was needed for military training. Qu Zhaoguo hurried back that very night. As he entered the room, before he could even take off his padded jacket, he was blasted by Wang Shouxin: “You wanted to grab power from me? You were going to plant a bomb under my ass that would blow me to kingdom come?”
Qu Zhaoguo was utterly floored. He had driven on Wang Shouxin’s gift-giving missions a long time now; he even called himself “Old Lady Wang’s aide-de-camp.” Every parcel, big or small, was personally delivered by this “aide-de-camp.” He made sure nobody got the wrong parcel, but never asked any irrelevant questions, either. He was only a silent observer. For example, he noticed that nearly all the houses to which he delivered gifts had telephones. This proved they were occupied by pretty high officials. Wang Shouxin was correct in suspecting that he had been able to guess her secrets. Once when they went to the Provincial Fuel Company seeking coal, he heard an accountant ask Wang Shouxin if she could possibly get him some ready cash, say $3,500 or so. He also heard Wang Shouxin’s reply. “Is $3,500 enough? I’ll give you $7,000!”
“You can disburse that much?” asked the accountant.
“I don’t have to disburse it,” replied Wang Shouxin. “There’s that much at White Rock.”
Qu Zhaoguo was surprised to hear this but immediately composed himself and pretended not to have heard it. This was the first time the secret of the illicit treasury at White Rock had leaked out. Four years later, when the Bin County Party Committee sent a work team to the fuel company to investigate, three months of hard work failed to disclose Wang Shouxin’s fatal secret.
Once Wang Shouxin sent down an order that everyone in the fuel company participate in “study sessions.” First they would study those two long articles by Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan.6 And this was indeed fitting, for Wang Shouxin was already quite “dictatorial”—more than that, she wanted to be “all-out” dictatorial. Next they studied Xiaojinzhuang [a model commune], and everyone was asked to write criticisms of the bad people. Wang Shouxin took these to her office and checked them closely, one by one, trying to see whether any matched the handwriting of the accusatory letter.
Next everyone studied Xiaojinzhuang’s “poetry contest.” Wang Shouxin made the opening statement, which was also a kind of call to arms. “Our fuel company has turned up a Fu Zhigao!7” she said, stroking her raven-black hair. She liked to compare herself to Jiang Jie.8 “What’s so bad about our company? Even if something is wrong, can’t we take care of it ourselves, without writing secret letters of accusation? . . . I’m a fifty-some-year-old woman, why should I bother to get up early, or burn the midnight oil? Everybody knows this old lady keeps on working, illness or no illness,..”As she spoke she began loosening her belt, and some men who knew what was coming up next quickly lowered their heads. But she couldn’t undo her belt that day, probably because she was so agitated. “Have I, Wang Shouxin, ever failed you?” she continued. She cried, swearing and cursing, “The person who wrote that letter will come to no good end! If he has two sons, may they both die! If he has two daughters, may they both die! Extinction to his family!”
The atmosphere at the “poetry contest” was extremely tense. On one side the drum began pounding fiercely, as if Zhang Fei9 were about to jump out. As the drumbeats quickened, a handkerchief was passed around. Everyone passed it as quickly as possible, as if it could burn one’s fingers; the rule was that whoever had it in his hand when the drum stopped had to compose a poem. Candy and apples were set out on the table, but no one was in the mood to eat anything.
The first set of poems attacked Lin Biao and Confucius. Then they became more and more outrageous, using language that would not pass a swineherd’s lips. This poem was among the more civilized:
His family are Japs, and Soviets, too,
American bones, the flesh of a Jew,
And who may this be? I hear you ask.
His name is Wan, and he ain’t worth a screw!
This poem amused Wang Shouxin, and elicited a giggle from her. It was only when she giggled that anyone else dared to.
The next poet clearly had foreknowledge of Wang Shouxin’s intentions, since he caricatured Qu Zhaoguo:
Five-foot-six, tall for a runt, mouth as big as his mother’s——,
Hatchet-face, pointy chin, turtle’s neck, legs long and thin.
Smiles as though he’s hard at work, really only knows how to shirk.
Carries a notebook in his clothes, whatever happens, the notebook knows.
And he can use it, to wail and complain, every time there comes a campaign.
The Party branch he wants to unload, and make his way down the capitalist road!
Wang Shouxin laughed as she listened, then tossed the poet an apple and some candy to show her approval. As soon as the poem had been read, she assumed a serious expression.
“Qu Zhaoguo, stand up!” she bellowed. Qu Zhaoguo drew up his five feet six inches and stuck out that neck upon which so much obloquy had been laid. He moved to the center of the room.
Wang Shouxin still was not finished. “If a man has a good wife at home he won’t do anything dumb. Lu Yaqin, you lousy little flirt, stand next to him!”
Lu Yaqin refused to stand up. “Call in the militia!” shouted Wang Shouxin. “The only reason we maintain an army is so we can use it when we need it!” But the militia wouldn’t budge. “You’re on her side?” Wang Shouxin turned around and suddenly became pleasant and agreeable.
“Zhaoguo, I say, if you wrote the letter, why don’t you just admit it?”
“I didn’t write it, so how can I admit it? And even if I had written it, it’s no vicious attack, and not directed at Party Central. What is there to fear?”
The beating of the drum began again, and once again everybody began writing poems. Their hearts were beating like the drum, thump, thump, thump. These were people who heaved coal all day long—how could they be forced to write poems? Some of them racked their brains until the sweat poured out; for the rest of their lives they would tremble whenever they heard a poem read. But if you didn’t write a poem, if you didn’t vilify someone, you would become the focus of suspicion—and that was no laughing matter. Some people stole behind the backs of others to see what kind of poems they were writing. People with no education, who couldn’t come up with anything, could only stand up and recite “prose”— usually a string of nasty obscenities.
Oh, motherland, are these the masters of the People’s Republic? The proletariat whose dictatorship we have? Is this our working class?
Wang Shouxin—is she in the vanguard of the working class, of the Communist Party?
In what colors should we paint this chapter of our history?
Spinelessness: The Disease of the Times
The fuel company was only 220 yards away from the headquarters of the County Party Committee. If the committee could not hear the sounds of Wang Shouxin cursing and the workers weeping, could they really have missed that beating drum? Not seen the big-character posters, or any of the accusatory letters? What about the letters of complaint relayed down to them several times from the provincial and prefectural Party Committees? Had they never seen or heard any of these things?
To leaf through the minutes of the County Party Committee meetings from 1972 onward is an intensely depressing experience. All sorts of problems are discussed: military conscription, family planning, criminal sentences, sowing plans—but hardly any mention of the problems of the Party itself. The Communist Party regulated everything, but would not regulate the Communist Party.
Nineteen seventy-two certainly was an historic year in modern Chinese history. In Bin County, cadres’ banqueting and drinking—and pilfering, grabbing, embezzling, and appropriating—all reached a new high that year. And it was in 1972 that Wang Shouxin launched her corruption on a grand scale. The County Party Committee was officially restored in this same year, and Liu Zhen came to Bin County as the first in the succession of First Party Secretaries after the Cultural Revolution.
Even before Liu Zhen moved in, Wang Shouxin dispatched people to put up wooden screens in his house and to deliver shiny black lump coal and, later, top-quality rice. Since they were neighbors they had some other contact as well, but there is no way to establish that Liu Zhen cooperated in, or tried to cover up, Wang Shouxin’s criminal activities. When he left in 1976 for another post, he actually warned the woman who succeeded him as secretary that “you should watch out for this Wang Shouxin—she doesn’t play straight.”
This shows that Liu Zhen had sharp eyes; he could also figure things out. What he lacked was a certain amount of something else.
The problem was that he was as agreeable as could be. Whether lecturing at a meeting, greeting guests, or simply walking along the street, he always had a smile on his face. His gestures, voice, manner, and walk were all gentle and mellow, as if always and everywhere he sought to show others that “I have nothing against anyone; please don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t offend or harm anyone.” Even people who were dissatisfied and full of gripes would never lose their tempers at Secretary Liu, because of the deep sympathy that welled up behind his rimless eyeglasses. He would listen to your appeal with the utmost concern and attentiveness, as if ready to do anything in his power to satisfy whatever request you made. In reality, of course, he never got anything done.
Before long he got a nickname: “The Old Lady Official.” And another: “Liu Ha-ha.” He would always nod his head and say, “Haha, fine, fine, fine.” Once he returned home and his wife sadly told him that the chickens they had been raising had all died from a disease. “Ha-ha, fine, fine, fine,” he replied.
Was he born with this kind of character? Probably not. If one attributes such things to nature, one has to account for a remarkable coincidence. Why is such nature so concentrated? Why, out of three current members in the County Party Secretariat, were all three notoriously “slippery” and “treacherous”?
When the Cultural Revolution began, Liu Zhen had been the County Party secretary of Shuangcheng County. His soul (not to mention his body) had been a little too deeply “touched”—to the point where he had been badly scarred by the experience. Before he came to Bin County, he had been warned: “That place is very complicated; few have gone in there and come out unscathed”;“Bin County—it’s scarcely possible to investigate a single thing there.” He had long heard that violent struggle and false accusations had left more people dead in Bin County than anywhere else in the prefecture.
The previous County Party secretary, Zhang Xiangling, had given Liu a detailed introduction to the “rebels” and had warned him pointedly not to rely on rebel leaders such as Wen Feng.
Liu Zhen listened and nodded his head; but his own thoughts were running in the opposite direction: “This guy has offended a good many people. If I don’t improve relations with the ‘rebels’, how can I establish myself? Isn’t this as clear as can be?”
Not long after that, Liu Zhen restored the respectability of the belly-aching Wen Feng, who had been relegated to work in Binzhou by Zhang Xiangling, by putting Wen Feng on the Standing Committee of the County Revolutionary Committee. The rest of Wen Feng’s clique were given new positions as well.
In 1972, not long after the County Party Committee had been restored, everyone on the Standing Committee pointed out that one thing was perfectly clear: the greatest problems with current Party leadership were an unwillingness to combat unwholesome tendencies and a lack of fighting spirit. The secretary and Standing Committee even devised such resounding slogans as “Work hard, change quickly; the first to change must be the county headquarters!” and “Whether we can change or not depends crucially upon whether the county headquarters can change!”
Three years later, the 1975 Standing Committee again came to investigate, and the problem was still the same: nobody dared to fight back. And why was this? “Afraid of getting caught in a quagmire, afraid of offending others, afraid of stirring up a hornet’s nest ...”
Another four years passed—1979—and Wang Shouxin had finally been indicted. When the Standing Committee came yet again to investigate, there was still the problem of “being afraid to struggle.”
Did this reluctance to speak up come from everyone’s having been bought out by criminals such as Wang Shouxin? Of the eleven members of the Standing Committee of the County Party Committee, nine had accepted Wang Shouxin’s gifts—this was a fact. Nonetheless, there were some among the leading cadres who had never taken any gifts. For example, the chairman of the County Disciplinary Inspection Committee was clean. Among the two or three hundred people to whom Wang Shouxin had given gifts, this woman was the only one who had resisted, the only one who had not been tainted. She was an upstanding comrade who had been working for the révolution since 1946, and she despised all the pulling and fawning around her. When she saw that people these days “couldn’t tell right from wrong” or felt “doing one’s job is a cinch, but building up good connections is hard,” she was upset. “When will we ever be able to resolve this problem?” she worried. Yet even such a fine comrade as she still “failed to see” that people like herself would have to step forward if the problem was to be solved. She was humble, careful, diligent, conscientious, hard working and plain living—except for her unwillingness to struggle, she was the very image of a “good cadre.” Even though the Gang of Four had fallen, the County Party Committee was as weak and pusillanimous as ever in the face of the “rebels.” In Bin County, the campaign to “expose, criticize, and investigate” was not carried out until 1978. This time around Wen Feng couldn’t avoid self-criticism. But oh, what disappointments those mass criticism sessions were to the cadres and masses of Bin County! The language, tone, and content of the first self-criticisms were no different from regular reports. Secretary Guan was chairing the meeting, and everyone was waiting for him to give some indication of his attitude. But he wouldn’t! With the second batch of self-criticisms it was no different: Secretary Guan still gave no indication of his attitude. This was highly unusual. People in Bin County had all become experts on political movements by then, and they felt that consistency with precedent should require the chairman to exert a little more pressure than this. But he still wouldn’t! The third mass meeting was the most puzzling of all. At that time it had already been announced that Wen Feng had been relieved of his job and had handed over the reins; at the meeting, it ought to have been someone else’s turn for self-criticism. Wen Feng was sitting at the back of the meeting hall that day. Everyone watched as Secretary Guan sent someone from the Organization Department back to the last row to ask Wen Feng up to the stage. Wen Feng was embarrassed and could not be persuaded to come forward. The next scene in this little drama was something nobody, including Wen Feng, was prepared for: Secretary Guan himself came down from the stage and walked the length of the hall, like an emperor leading his troops, right to the back row to give Wen Feng a personal invitation. He insisted on nothing less than having this worthless clod go up and take his place with the assembled leaders. This set the whole place buzzing. No one could understand it: “Isn’t this thwarting the will of the people?” “Isn’t this giving support to Wen Feng’s clique?” Quite a few people felt concern for Secretary Guan: “Hey, Old Guan,” they thought to themselves, “What are you doing? Aren’t you afraid of losing face before the entire county?” Everyone felt disappointed and hurt. Old Guan had been around in Bin County since land reform  and was well known for his bravery and staunch resolve in struggles with the enemy. He had been nicknamed “Guan the Ruthless,” and this was an honorable epithet. Everyone thought of him as one of the more trustworthy members of the County Party Committee. When the Wang Shouxin affair came to light, everyone said privately that “no matter how many at county headquarters are implicated, Guan the Ruthless won’t be one of them.” But now, how could he have disappointed everyone by doing what he had just done?
The Standing Committee and the secretaries were full of explanations for their easy treatment of the “rebels,” including Wang Shouxin. One of them said in a self-criticism that the “Unified Program to Defend Mao Zedong Thought” had first liberated him and then “joined” with him. He had felt great gratitude for this. Another secretary had offered precisely the opposite explanation. The “rebels” had persecuted him, and he was afraid people would think he was seeking revenge. This had been why he refused to oppose the “rebels.” In reality, the basic reason was clearly that the rebels had all along been a political force that no one could take lightly.
In sum, everybody feared offending this group or that group, but was quite happy offending the “masters” of our People’s Republic—the people!
Among the various County Party secretaries, one person deserves separate mention because of the special circumstances of his case.
Wei Gao was one of three members of the County Party Committee between 1972 and 1976 whose credentials stood out from all the others. These three were all known for being “slippery” and for their great fondness for wine. At a meeting of the County Party Committee’s Standing Committee in 1972, Wei Gao was evaluated as “evasive in all matters, always among the last to make his position known.” He was always trying to please every faction; matters of principle could go either way with him; he would always prefer to take one step backward in order to preserve the peace, rather than considering the bad effects such an action would have on important projects. Yet he did have strong points: he could view problems from many angles and was very good at consulting others.
At that time, he was the secretary in charge of the county’s finance and trade; as Wang Shouxin’s superior, he knew her like the back of his hand. After close observation and considerable thought, he deeided to join his family and Wang Shouxin’s through matrimony.
Wei Gao and his wife went together to see a matchmaker. His wife spoke first, asking Old Lady You to introduce their daughter Xiaoxia to Wang Shouxin’s youngest son, Liu Zhizhong. But Old Lady You had her reservations. “Secretary Wei,” she said, “your official star is shining its brightest; why do you think you need an old lady like me to make a match for you? Haven’t you got offers all over the place?”
The couple insisted that they wanted the matchmaker to go ahead, so she said, “Do you know the background of their family very well? . . . Wang Shouxin and I are both originally from Manjing; when she was young she wasn’t a very proper ...”
“That was all a long time ago,” Wei Gao interrupted. “Now that she’s older, she doesn’t act that way anymore.”
So Old Lady You finally gave in. “OK, if you really want to hook up with a deadbeat family, I’ll go do it for you.”
Wei Gao and his wife took the initiative of going with their daughter to call on the Wang family elders. Later the couple went to the photography studio to visit their future son-in-law, who was a vicechairman of the studio’s Revolutionary Committee. Wang Shouxin was ambivalent about the match, thinking that the girl was not pretty enough.
The wedding was held quietly; even some of the County Party secretaries, when they heard of the nuptials after the fact, were puzzled. Why did Wei Gao insist on marrying into Wang Shouxin’s family? This was not a good match.
The vice-chairman of the County Planning Committee, Yi Yongquan, once accompanied Wei Gao to a meeting in Harbin and took this opportunity to speak to Wei Gao about Wang Shouxin. “As a secretary you’re the ranking official in the county, but you will also be expected to give help to your daughter’s mother-in-law . . . She has quite a reputation, you know, for throwing parties and giving gifts, squandering money and wasting resources. She’s fouled the atmosphere with her corruption . . .” Li Yongquan cited many examples, observing Wei Gao’s reaction as he spoke. Wei Gao gave no hint of his emotions, but Li could see clearly that he already knew all about these things and that he had basically determined not to concern himself with them. He finally replied by saying, “All this is hard to believe.”
Li Yongquan immediately regretted his candor. He now realized that this fellow’s reputation was well deserved, that he really was a sly old fox. Just look at that reply of his: he didn’t deny that there was a problem with Wang Shouxin, but neither did he affirm that this was the case.
Perhaps it was due to his slyness that for a period of seven long years people were always wont to believe that the marriage match had been arranged by Wang Shouxin for the purpose of securing a dependable fallback. Not until half a year after Wang Shouxin’s case had been cracked did the real truth come to light: Wei Gao had set his sights on Wang Shouxin’s money.
The Reasons? Right under Our Noses!
The exposure of Wang Shouxin’s case shocked the entire country. How could such a crude, shallow housewife muster such boldness and such ability? How could such brazen criminal activity go uninvestigated for so many years? From their common sense and intuition people naturally focused their attention on the Bin County Party leadership: they were at the root of this, they were her accomplices, it was they who had protected Wang Shouxin!
This is, to be sure, the impression one gets when one views Wang Shouxin’s case in isolation from the economic, political, and social life of Bin County. But if one looks at the whole living organism, with Wang Shouxin and her criminal activity organically linked by a maze of arterial connections to the rest of life, then the situation appears to be very different.
Viewing the situation organically, one discovers the following: were it not for the illicit treasury in which she held cash amounting to over a third of a million dollars, Wang. Shouxin and her activities would never have aroused the attention, or caused the shock, that they did when the full extent of her corruption was exposed.
Instead, what appears, continuing to view things in this way, is only this: a plainly dressed old lady, straight talking and industrious, rushing all day around Bin County and even outside of it, trying to gather coal, trucks, fertilizer, and cement for the benefit of the whole county.
Her party-throwing and gift-giving were carried out on a grand scale. But what officials were not throwing parties and giving gifts? The maxim “Without proper greasing, nothing works” is as true today as ever. Trucks carting nonstaple foodstuffs sped from the fuel company along the highway from Bin County to Harbin. But they were not alone. Trucks from the Bin County distillery, full of “Binzhou Liquor,” traveled the same road, as did trucks from the fruit company carrying apples for the higher-ups. Even within Bin County itself, all the economic units would “pay tribute” to each other. Wang Shouxin’s nonstaple foodstuffs base, sanitorium, and lavish banquets at White Rock were famous. But practically every section in Bin County had its own small dining hall, guest house, and storehouse. Parties with huge meals and lots of drinking went on everywhere! Wang Shouxin may indeed have been the Coal Queen of Bin County, but she most certainly was not alone. Bin County also had an Electricity King, the head of the electricity board, who was also called “the millionaire.” This man’s gift-giving and lavish parties cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 each year. Just as did Wang Shouxin’s fuel company, the electricity board had to pay tribute to higher-ups.
Back in 1964, County Party Secretary Tian Fengshan had determined to put a stop to this wining and dining, but the result was only a brief interlude between periods of business as usual. After 1970, Zhang Xiangling also took up the cause; yet, ironically, wining and dining actually increased during his term in office. The integrity of these two secretaries and their revolutionary will to struggle were beyond any question. But neither one of them could achieve his end. The County Party Committee had gone so far as to pass a specific regulation, which was in force from 1972, stipulating that for official guests, no meal should have more than four courses and no liquor could be served. This rule was never actually put into effect. Every year the official county guest houses misappropriated $1300 of their budgets for this sort of entertainment. Each of these guest houses, which were run by the various departments of the County Revolutionary Committee, used its income to support the lavish gluttony of cadres. And besides serving their own gluttony, the cadres also dipped their hands into the till. It was, moreover, not only the cadres themselves who gourmandized and stole; their families did the same. At one time the County Party Committee ordered that such guest houses be closed, but to no avail.
Obvious as it was that Wang Shouxin had embezzled public funds to build her houses, the bricks and tiles themselves bore no record of her corruption. And there were many other houses built through embezzlement of various sorts. Aren’t those who live in these houses resting easily in their good fortune even today, with no fear that they might ever be prosecuted for their misdeeds? A prime example is the new house of Yang So-and-so, Party secretary and manager of the biggest factory in Bin County, the towel factory.
Yang’s house had originally been a structure attached to the factory. Because it had been built to purify water, the structure was fairly crude and had a tank on top of it. But Yang, on his own authority, decided that the structure needed major improvements, which would require tearing down the water tank. He then converted this industrial building into his own private residence. The four-room house required twenty-one tons of cement, not to mention other building materials.
This Yang was unlike Wang Shouxin only in that he used the state’s materials and labor instead of its currency. In the final analysis there is no difference between the two.
So we can see that Wang Shouxin’s criminal activities were, in the first place, covered up by the general decline in social morality, by the gradual legalization of criminal activity, and by the people’s gradual acclimatization to the moral decay around them. Even the distinction between legal and illegal had become quite blurred. Where was the borderline between legitimate gift-giving and the offering and acceptance of bribes? Was using public funds for wining and dining or for converting public property to one’s own use (as in requiring a “test use,” or a “test wearing,” or a “taste test״) any different from corruption and robbery? The former was within the law, even considered morally sound, but in essence was no different from bribery and corruption. And misappropriation of public property was far more widespread than bribery or corrupt conduct.
There is yet more to discover about the residence of this Yang: there was no way his four-room house could have used twenty-one tons of cement, even though it turned out upon further investigation that, in violation of the regulations then in effect, he had had the walls of his house covered with a thick layer of cement so that the white plaster dust would not rub off. What really happened was that the head of the industrial section, a certain Du, was building his own residence at the same time. A large amount of building materials and half-finished articles “got lost” at the site of Yang’s building. The two residences were completed one after the other, and the personal relationship between Yang and Du became even more intimate.
This “relationship” needs further consideration and analysis. Section Chief Du had protected, and would continue to protect, Factory Head Yang; Factory Head Yang, for his part, had supported and would continue to support Section Chief Du. But it was more than a two-party relationship; both Yang and Du had cliques surrounding them. And Yang had an addiction: beginning with his work at the county labor union in the 1960s, through several job changes leading to his present one at the towel factory, in each place he engaged in extramarital sex. Yet he could always come away untainted—like a duck waddling out of the water with its feathers dry. How did he do it? Section Chief Du had the same addiction, but he was quite different in the way he went about satisfying it. He cared not whom he harmed if a person blocked his way or knew too much. At least two framings were his doing, and he even insured that it would be a long time before the innocent victims were exonerated. And how did he do it? The same way: people, connections.
Many of the middle-to upper-level cadres in Bin County came from rural villages after the land reform of 1945. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, their sons and daughters were of marriageable age. The county seat of Bin County had only slightly more than 30,000 residents, and the number from the social levels appropriate for marriage to cadres was even smaller. Thus in-law relationships, and in-laws-of-in-laws relationships, came to overlie relationships that were already doing quite well—such as those of family, clan, friends, former classmates, former colleagues, former bosses or subordinates, or “ΠΙ-scratchyour-back-if-youTl-scratch-mine” partnerships—and invested all of them with new importance. In terms of extent alone, these in-law relationships had become twice as important as they ever were in feudal society.
A change of equal importance (not to say of even greater importance) was the new layer of political relationships imposed upon personal relations by the Great Cultural Revolution. Those who belonged to the same “faction” shared each other’s tribulations, shielded each other, and in a few short years became like brothers to people who had started out as total strangers! When they met and greeted each other as “elder brother” or “younger brother,” they really meant it; the relationships between Communist Party members and between revolutionary comrades paled by comparison.
“In Bin County, it’s hard to figure out how people are related. It’s as though they carry special switches with them, and if you get involved with one person, you’re suddenly involved with a whole network.” When people who had lived in Bin County for a certain time explained their county to outsiders, they would begin with this phenomenon.
In 1972, a member of the County Party Standing Committee who had come from elsewhere expressed his feelings thus: “We must practice Marxism-Leninism, but there are many pitfalls in doing so. How could personal relationships get so complicated! If you try to go by the book, all sorts of difficulties crop up. You’re sure to get dragged in by one thing or another. No matter what you do, somebody will take offense, some problem will arise. There are so many riddles, so much to untangle.”
When the County Party Standing Committee met, even if it met in some place as confidential as the War Room of the Military Department, any discussion of personnel questions would inevitably reach the ears of the persons involved. This presented major difficulties for the cadres involved in allocating and transferring personnel. If they were still deliberating on someone’s placement, or had just decided it, and that person got wind of the decision, he could come to appeal, or to raise protests, or to seek support from friends. Things often ended in a stalemate.
When someone got into trouble, ten people would intercede for him. When a complaint came in, all concerned would seek the good offices of others. If someone were to come and say to you that So-andso and So-and-so have already agreed to help, and all we need now is you—what would you do? Would you adhere to the rules? And risk offending everyone in sight? Wouldn’t it be better to cast a blind eye, give him a little wave of the hand and let him have his way this once? Unless one’s Party discipline were exceptional, who would be such an ogre as to refuse?
Some people sum it up by saying that everything in China has been messed up by people who are afraid of offending others.
For the same reason a very strange phenomenon would occur time and again. Something of considerable gravity would take place and raise a tumult in the town. Everyone would insist that something be done about it. Yet as soon as somebody was sent to investigate, the whole affair would evaporate. In 1972, people from Manjing reported that an official named Chen, who was in charge of the supply and marketing cooperative, was constantly being wined and dined and having illicit relations with women. The problem was “serious.” Since this cooperative was serving as an official model for the whole province at that time, something definitely had to be done. The local Standing Committee consulted with their secretary and decided to send someone to investigate. After a time the report arrived: “no great cause for alarm.” Seven years later it came out that this fellow named Chen was guilty of embezzlement and had indeed been engaging in illicit sex for quite some time.
During this period, political movements were launched year after year in Bin County, but one thing was mystifying. As all these movements, or class struggles, as they were also called, became fiercer and fiercer, the evildoers felt more and more at ease. It was the good people who kept being victimized. Some were unjustly framed; others were subjected to attack and revenge for their exposure of evildoers.
Complex personal relationships, built of layer upon layer of interlocking connections, formed a dense net. Any Marxist-Leninist principle, any Party plan or policy that came into contact with this net would be struck dead, as if electrocuted. When an enterprise got entangled in the net, its socialist design would come undone; when a legal case fell into the net, the dictatorship of the proletariat would get twisted out of shape. Right and wrong became thoroughly confused, reward and punishment turned upside-down. Truth yielded to falsity; the good-hearted were ruled by the vicious.
“Why do good people look bad and bad people look good?” At one time this topic was actually discussed at a meeting of the Party Standing Committee. In reality, of course, much more was at stake than merely looking good or bad. What the masses said was, “In Bin County, the good are cowed while the evil are proud.”
Just look at the great pride of that repeat offender Zhao Chun, who always managed to evade the law and go scot-free. From 1969 on, when this man used his relationship with the “rebels” to worm his way into the Party, he began brazenly stealing timber and other stateowned materials, committing crimes time after time. Each of these cases could have been investigated, but not once was he ever punished in any way. The County Party Committee had ruled that no one who owed money to the state could build a private house. He, though, not only owed the state money and lived in state-owned housing; he also was able to use state-owned building materials to build himself a second house. He stole building stones allocated for defense. When a tractor overturned, he siphoned off the compensation money for the dead driver’s family, plus the money for repairing the tractor—over five thousand dollars—from the public treasury. He also sold the scaffolding that had been used in constructing this house and pocketed all the proceeds.
To this day Zhao Chun drives his car with reckless abandon. Sometimes he has intentionally aimed it toward Han Cheng, an official in the towel factory’s security department, and has slammed on the brakes right in front of him. Zhao Chun’s aim has been to threaten and torment this person who was in charge of prosecuting his crimes. “Just watch it, wise guy—remember I can kill you anytime I want!” This has been the unspoken message. The insults and vituperative obscenities he has hurled at Han Cheng have become so common that they are taken as a matter of course. And what about Han Cheng? Not only can he get no support, but he has been relieved of his job as a security official. When this happened he brought all the incriminâting material from the many cases involving Zhao Chun to the authorities. He pleaded and appealed in every direction, but no one would touch the case.
Could anything be more blatant, more maddeningly perverse than this? But Han Cheng’s was not the only case in Bin County of a security official being bullied by villains.
Why was it that even now, under the leadership of the Communist Party in socialist Bin County, and three whole years after the fall of the Gang of Four, this half-human half-monstrous behavior could continue unabated?
The riddle is easy to solve: Zhao Chun had “connections” Besides his “rebel” cohorts, he had a valuable uncle—Vice-Director Lu of the County Party Committee’s Organization Department. Vice-Director Lu and Section Chief Du belonged to the same clique. As we have already seen, Section Chief Du and Manager Yang of the towel factory were also connected. And Manager Yang was the one who relieved Han Cheng of his job. Zhao Chun’s several crimes had taken place in the towel factory; the tractor he destroyed and the compensation money he misappropriated were also written off by Manager Yang.
This lovely curtain of fraternal loyalty, sincere gratitude, mutual concern, profound friendship, etc., etc. concealed relationships of out-and-out power brokerage. One side would invest a peach (either a material benefit or the means to obtain one, derived, in either case, from the power in that side’s own hands), and the other side would answer with a plum (also a material benefit either directly or indirectly returned).
This is another of the social conditions that created and helped cover up Wang Shouxin, and that continue even now to create and cover up criminal elements.
Little Guys Do Some Big Things
There were two minor figures in Bin County who dared to show their contempt for this all-encompassing, all-powerful net, and even dared to challenge it.
One was Liu Changchun, with whom we are already acquainted. Wang Shouxin looked down on him and often sneered at him behind his back, her mouth twisted in contempt. “Look at that miserable little twit!” she would say, and then spit. But she failed to realize how tough Liu Changchun’s tiny, thin body could be. He could not be crushed by the awesome pressure brought to bear on him by the “rebels” and the army, nor was his fighting spirit worn down by long years of hard living and suffering. Liu Changchun’s contribution to the final victory over Wang Shouxin cannot be underestimated.
First he was jailed as “anti-Army” and an “active counterrevolutionary”; later the charge was commuted to “bad element,” and he was moved to a cell under the “civil administration” of his original unit. When he got out he had to do more than ten hours of hard labor per day, and was given only $14 a month for living expenses. His wife stayed at home, bedridden with acute heart disease. (The hospital denied her both medicine and doctors’ services, a policy that had been ordered by Wang Shouxin’s son Liu Zhizhong, who was vicedirector of the Xinli Commune.) Finally, Liu Changchun was ordered to report to the countryside along with the cadres who faced elimination as “extra personnel.” Liu Changchun was now up to his neck in debt and could borrow no more, so he had no alternative but to sell off his only remaining property—a two-and-a-half-room house. He got only $265 for it. After he was sent to the countryside his wife’s illness worsened, and not long thereafter she died. He labored in a rural village for four and a half years, and of the more than one thousand persons sent there with him, Liu Changchun was the very last to get permission to return to Bin County.
By then Wang Shouxin had become a major figure in Bin County. Her home’s furnishings and her standard of living were as good as those of a provincial Party secretary. She was constantly besieged by people bringing her gifts and asking her to do things. Liu Changchun had been left alone in the world—his wife dead and gone, his property wiped out, not a penny to his name.
Liu Changchun’s life had come to this pass because of his stubbornness. He had already become unpopular during the fifteen or so years before the Cultural Revolution. He had always liked to speak up— about anybody.
When he returned from the countryside he was amazed at all the new houses Wang Shouxin had built. “Where’d she get this much money?” He began to investigate. He sought out Qu Zhaoguo, who liked to gossip; Qu revealed that Wang Shouxin had once lent $6,500 in cash to the provincial fuel company. When Qu was about to leave he scrutinized Liu Changchun carefully. Perceiving Liu’s intentions, this smoothie Qu quickly calculated the balance of power involved.
“You think you can really get her?” he asked.
“That depends on whether she’s done wrong!” Liu Changchun had not changed from earlier years. To see his spirit of determination and self-confidence you would have thought he was a prefectural Party secretary.
By this time Liu Changchun already suspected Wang Shouxin of corruption; his problem was to get reliable evidence. He had experience as a planner and statistician and knew that she could not have embezzled so much money merely through fraudulent “supplementary wages.” He went looking for Old Battle-ax, the one who kept the fuel company’s accounts.
“When you marked up the cost of nonstate coal,” asked Liu, “how did you indicate it on the books? Was it obvious how much small-pit coal was sold on a given day?”
“No, it wasn’t,” replied Old Battle-ax. “Generally, they reported only the price of $16.50 per ton. There was no mention of the additional $10.10.” Later he said, “In the accounting report that they made every ten days or so, they wrote at the bottom of each column: received, such-and-such an amount for transport charges of small-pit coal.”
How were the invoices for coal made out? A person who had been employed at White Rock explained this to Liu Changchun. Two kinds of receipts were made out when coal was sold—one for the price of the coal and another for transport and miscellaneous charges. The latter receipts were never turned in; no one knew where they went.
“What, was it all embezzled?” Liu Changchun was beside himself.
“Who knows? They never let us find out . . .”
“That clinches it!” Liu Changchun did some mental arithmetic: 90,000 tons of coal a year, perhaps 10,000 tons of it sold as small-pit coal. That would generate an extra $100,000 per year—in five years that would be half a million dollars! But how to check this? Easy! Cast the net wide—ask each unit in the entire county to examine its receipts for coal purchases.
Liu Changchun’s discovery encouraged him immensely. He pressed his investigations across the whole of Wang Shouxin’s empire. How many potatoes and soybeans did she get from those hundred or more acres of land? How many fish did she get in one year from a labor force of four men? How much money could she embezzle from the supplementary wages of her temporary and seasonal labor?
At this point Yang Qing, vice-chairman of the Bin County Disciplinary Inspection Committee, betrayed Liu’s activities to Wang Shouxin. As a nоn-Party member of the masses, Liu had been pursuing his work purely out of a sense of duty. He had given no thought to any personal gain from his endeavor and as later events made clear, he not only gained nothing but suffered a good deal because of it.
Liu Changchun was not alone. A second “little guy” to stir up the hornets’ nest around Wang Shouxin was named Shi Huailiang, a worker in the pharmaceutical company.
Back in 1972 he had put up a wall poster entitled “Wang Shouxin Is the Key to Solving the Problems of Bin County.” Where Shi Huailiang differed from Liu Changchun was in the somewhat broader scope of the questions he worried about and analyzed. He would occasionally come out with something quite surprising, but without much fuss beforehand. In 1972, for example, a brainstorm inspired him to mail seven dollars to Chairman Mao. “Enclosed are my Party dues,” he wrote on the remittance form. “Please accept them, kind sir. Shi Huailiang.”
This was indeed a strange act, and afterwards it brought him to the brink of disaster, because the remittance form was later sent back by some office. The leaders and Party members of the pharmaceutical company took Shi Huailiang to task. “Everybody knows you’re no Party member, what do you mean trying to pay Party dues?” “What’s the idea of sending Party dues to Chairman Mao?” The questioners supplied their own answers: one, “You’re just itching to join the Party, and have itched yourself into a hopeless frenzy!”; two, “You are mentally ill.”
How can “itching to join the Party” count as a crime? Only, obviously, if the applicant is joining for private gain rather than for the public good. But what possible basis could they have for assuming that Shi Huailiang wished to join for promotions and lucre rather than to devote himself to the cause of communism? They were seeing their own faults in someone else. But perhaps not. Perhaps their speculations accurately reflected a certain feature of objective reality: that joining the Party really could become, and in fact already had become, a well-known means to realize personal gain.
But wasn’t this precisely what was worrying Shi Huailiang, precisely what made him send his Party dues directly to Chairman Mao? He had been applying for years to join the Party. But in the meantime there were certain things he couldn’t understand. A person in the Xindian granary had been expelled from the Party only three months after joining, charged with illegally purchasing more than ten tons of state grain. A person in the County Grain Section had been expelled from the Party four months after joining, charged as a neo-bourgeois element. Another person had been detained for interrogation in solitary confinement three days after joining the Party. When the truth came out, it became clear that all these people had committed crimes before entering the Party. Then how was it that this sort of person could get into the Party? Once, during an official trip to Harbin and elsewhere, Shi Huailiang learned that quite a few who joined the Party did not go through proper channels but entered as “specially approved” members, all via “connections.” “If this goes on for long,” he mused to himself, “won’t all these people inevitably change the nature of the Party? This is serious!” But how could he get this message to Chairman Mao? If he wrote a letter, Chairman Mao probably wouldn’t receive it. Besides, think of the trouble if the letter fell into the wrong hands! He thought long and hard and finally came up with the idea of mailing his “Party dues” to Chairman Mao as a hint. Chairman Mao would surely wonder why this fellow hadn’t paid his dues to the County Party Committee. “If he mailed them to me, there certainly must be some problem with the local Party.” If Chairman Mao were to realize this and send down his instructions, Shi Huailiang could then let fly all his charges without fear of reprisals. He could send the authorities a report that would tell everything about the whole Bin County Party organization.
He had dreamed a lovely dream. But nothing came of it, and all he actually got for his efforts was a flurry of denunciations. The problems never reached the ears of the higher-ups. Yet this only reinforced Shi Huailiang’s belief that the Party structure had suffered a breakdown that had to be corrected. His concern for things outside his purview was one of the symptoms of his “mental illness.”
Shi Huailiang was different from Liu Changchun. Shi was much steadier, simpler, and more good-natured. He typically wore a silly grin on his face and did not look at all like the combative or cantankerous sort. His “mental illness” showed in his extraordinary sensitivity to the suffering of the masses. He seemed to reserve an extra nerve in constant readiness to pick up signals from strangers in need. He was a man of few words, unflappable and unhurried. The energy that others spent on talking he would devote to thought. Why was it, he wondered, that in 1976, when Bin County had had only one drought, a drought that hadn’t even caused lower productivity (then still over 1130 lb./ acre) they were already suffering from lack of food, clothing, and fuel? Why did there have to be national emergency allocations of money, food, and coal? Why was there a big drive in the county seat for contributions of winter clothing? Why, even with these measures, did so many peasant families have to burn the thatch from their roofs and the frames of their bed-platforms to get heat? How could it be that, after so many years of socialism, both collectives and individuals were as poor as this? . . . Every evening he spent a bit of time studying the works of Marx, Lenin, and Chairman Mao. Since his income was so low, he was able to buy only the thinner volumes. Yet he was already well versed in the Anti-Dühring.10 Despite his poor education, he liked to write occasional reports on investigations of social phenomena, or the like, as if he were a researcher from the Bin County branch of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. This was no joke. There were plenty of people in Bin County more learned and literate than he, and plenty who were better writers, but Shi Huailiang was the only person anyone had ever known who considered unpaid social research to be his personal responsibility.
This being the case, it was quite natural that his attention should come to focus on the internal workings of the pharmaceutical company. As soon as it did, his life opened a new chapter whose title might have been “The Tragedy of Independent Thought: the Price of Concern for Country and People is Sacrifice of Oneself.” Or: “A Good Person Almost Always Comes to Grief.”
The first thing he observed at the pharmaceutical company was one aspect of the problem of “connections” that we have already discussed. From the time Secretary Pan arrived there, he began building his own little circles and cliques within the leadership. He drove out the old leadership one by one. Four of the five people in the new leadership weren’t even members of the labor union! Then, after he had been secretary for two years, Secretary Pan suddenly struck it rich. When he arrived he had owed the public treasury more than $850, and two years later he had returned it all. Not only that, his son had bought a moped and a hunting rifle, and his family had turned up with expensive radios, clocks, watches, and so forth. Yet his salary was only $36.30 a month. Shi Huailiang continued to observe the personal relationships within the company, then gathered all his findings and wrote a wall poster:
... how strange it is that a certain leader in our company, though he lives in a socialist society in the eighth decade of the twentieth century, dreams the dreams of an eighteenth-century feudal monarch. His doctrine is “I am king” and whoever disobeys him is in for trouble. The workers in the pharmaceutical company have none of the rights of citizens. They have become slaves. The leaders are doing whatever they please to the workers, and are subverting the nature of a collectively owned company ...
When Shi Huailiang was preparing another wall poster, this one about Wang Shouxin, some people tried to dissuade him by saying, “Forget it—you can’t do anything about them.” But he only laughed and replied, “So what if I can’t? History will record that there was somebody who opposed Wang Shouxin. That, too, has its uses.”
On September 15, 1978, he wrote yet another wall poster that he took personally to glue up inside the County Party building. It was a very unusual poster, entitled “A Satellite for Social Science.” It began thus:
In the eighth decade of the twentieth century, several leaders of the Bin County Party Committee successfully launched a satellite for the “social bourgeoisie,”11 thereby benefiting China’s social sciences. The satellite not only provided valuable material for the scientific research of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences; every socialist country in the world could, in my view, learn from its data. Wang Shouxin was in possession of neither factories nor land nor shops—no private means of production. Nonetheless, she was able to accumulate as much as $276,500 in cash and 900 kinds of material supplies. This qualifies hers as a rich and powerful family. In my view the phenomenon of Wang Shouxin has to have its scientific explanation; otherwise it would not have come into existence. I conclude that a dissection and analysis of it will promote the development of human society and of social science. Accordingly I call upon all the successive leaders of the County Party Committee who have been implicated with Wang Shouxin (but I exelude Zhang Xiangling), plus the various section and bureau chiefs who are also involved: Do not be afraid, and lift your sights above the question of your own culpability. Consider the fate of Party and country. Report the whole story, in simple, unadorned truth, to the provinciai and central authorities. Summarize the lessons to be learned ...
This was a most beneficial and necessary wall poster.
Joy Lined with Worry
In 1978, Bin County began its “Double Strike” campaign.12 On August 1, the first wall poster attacking Wang Shouxin for corruption appeared. This was the work of Liu Changchun again!
On August 5, a work team from the County Party Committee stationed itself at the fuel company. This time it seemed the County Party Committee really meant business. Yet while the battle was ending in victory, it was also revealing some problems.
When a Communist Party county committee dispatches a work team to look into the problems of an enterprise over which it is charged with leadership, how can this work team receive no support from the local Party organization? From start to finish, not a single Communist Party member came forward to expose Wang Shouxin to the work team.
The work team leader, Gu Zhuo, was a clear-headed and capable comrade. He and many of his team worked so hard that they gave up sleep and lost weight. Yet even after three months they could uncover no material that conclusively proved Wang Shouxin’s corruption.
Comrade Gu Zhuo acknowledged that the only important information supplied to his work team during the investigation came from the same Liu Changchun. Liu was also the only one to take the initiative in providing information. Flush with excitement, he had told Gu Zhuo that “Wang Shouxin’s den is at White Rock.” (Later, hundreds of thousands of dollars did indeed turn up in her illicit treasury at the White Rock Business Department.) “She sells stateenterprise coal as small-pit coal and marks up the price. You can have my head if she isn’t guilty of corruption! I think she may be the biggest embezzler in the entire country.”
“Enough, enough!” Gu Zhuo had been thinking to himself, quite unconvinced. But the facts eventually showed that every word Liu Changchun had said was true.
Gu Zhuo had bridled at what Liu Changchun said next. “I’ve told all this to Secretary Guan and to the provincial and prefectural leaders. If you don’t clear things up here you’ll have to pay for it. I’ll get you indicted!”
Liu Changchun’s old shortcoming—of not caring whom he offended—had riled Gu Zhuo. “I’d be perfectly happy if you went to the County Committee and got me recalled! You think this job is a piece of cake?”
Gu Zhuo later recalled something that Liu Changchun had said. “If I can’t topple Wang Shouxin, I’m not going to close my eyes when I die!” Gu wondered how anyone could talk this way. Wasn’t this personal animosity? It never occurred to him to ask what was wrong with a bit of personal animosity directed at the forces of evil. The social forces represented by Wang Shouxin had completely destroyed this man’s family. Could anyone marvel that the White-Haired Girl hated Huang Shiren?13 But the Party members in the fuel company not only felt no personal animosity toward Wang Shouxin—they didn’t even feel any “public” animosity toward her . . .
This, however, was not Comrade Gu Zhuo’s fault. For many years the commonly held view had been that the collective and the individual were separate and opposed. Personal wishes, feelings, and inclinations, no matter how proper and reasonable, or even highminded, had all been trampled into the ground as “individualism” . . .
The various prejudices against Liu Changchun deterred the work team from assiduously following up the important information he gave them. Another piece of important information that turned up was also ignored. This was a letter of August 28 written “to County Party Secretary Guan in confidence” by the peasants of the Pine River Brigade of the Raven River Commune. The letter raised nineteen important questions about Wang Shouxin for the County Party Committee to consider. Each question was solidly backed by supporting evidence. Moreover, the first of the nineteen points was, purely by coincidence, the same matter that Liu Changchun had pointed out— the “small-pit coal” surcharges that had provided Wang Shouxin her opportunity for embezzlement. The letter clearly pointed out the existence of the problem and could have given the County Party Committee some concrete leads with which to begin their investigation.
But it seems the work team never saw this letter, or at least paid no attention to it. How else could they have spent all of September and October “so vexed we could not eat or sleep well” and still have failed to determine whether or not Wang Shouxin was indeed guilty of corruption? And why would they have worried about the possibility of falsely accusing Wang Shouxin, making it “a terrible pity to have to reverse her verdict sometime in the future”? All they needed was a direct raid on her base at White Rock. Interrogations of Ma Zhanqing and Sun Xiyin would have provided the necessary breakthrough in the case.
The problem with the work team was the same as that with the County Party Committee. Both were divorced from the masses and therefore divorced from reality. The work team’s attitude toward Zhao Yu, chief of the Commerce Section, shows the laughable proportions this problem could assume. It was obvious from the time they arrived on the scene that Zhao Yu ought to have been an important lead, so they went to him for information on Wang Shouxin. Yet the connection between Zhao Yu and Wang Shouxin was an open secret. Because of his public opposition of Tian Fengshan, Commissar Yang in 1969 had made Zhao Yu number-one man in the Party organization of the Commerce Bureau. Wang Shouxin had been his second-in-command. Zhao Yu had intercepted all the letters of accusation the masses had written about Wang Shouxin, neither investigating them nor questioning her. When Wang Shouxin pushed a large group of workers out of the fuel company, he gave her his backing. And it was also he who praised Wang Shouxin at a mass meeting called by the Commerce Bureau; she was “strict in the administration of her enterprise, ruthless in checking unhealthy trends, and correct when she revoked the licenses of certain drivers!”
In 1976, when Zhao Yu was doing political indoctrination at the Raven River Commune, he lived at the hostel of the White Rock Business Department. The commune’s cadres, the workers at White Rock, and members of neighboring communes all rushed to him with exposés of the violent tyranny, the extravagant waste, the fraudulent pricing practices, the disruption of the economy, and other offenses perpetrated by Wang Shouxin and Ma Zhanqing. All of this Zhao Yu suppressed. “Don’t try and mess with Old Lady Wang!” he threatened. “You’ll only get yourselves into trouble!”
In 1977 there was an ideological clean-up of Party members in the Commerce Section. Shi Huailiang, as a worker in the pharmaceutical company, wrote four wall posters that were right on the mark in exposing Wang Shouxin. But Zhao Yu would not allow them to be posted.
When Liu Changchun put up his poster attacking Wang Shouxin, Zhao Yu, who could see that Liu did this at great risk, took pleasure in the prospect of Liu’s suffering. “This guy Liu Changchun is quite a go-getter! The only one out of half a million people to speak out—he’ll get what’s coming to him sooner or later, just wait!” When Shi Huailiang wrote posters supporting Liu Changchun, Zhao Yu ordered the work team that was stationed at the pharmaceutical company to cause trouble for Shi Huailiang. More than ten struggle sessions of various sizes were held in an effort to have Shi Huailiang branded a counterrevolutionary.
It was precisely at the time Zhao Yu had ordered this persecution of Shi Huailiang that the Party work team at the fuel company came to him inquiring about Wang Shouxin’s crimes. How absurd can you get?
But absurdities were everywhere. Here there was a work team sent to the fuel company by the Communist Party’s County Committee, and at the same time cadres of the Communist Party were busy frustrating that work team as well as the whole Party Committee. While one of them was running to Wang Shouxin to warn her that she was the target of the campaign, another was concluding a pact with her to cover up each other’s crimes. Yet a third was busily scheming with her about how best to evade the imminent attack. Let’s look at a conversation between Wang Shouxin and the County Revolutionary Committee’s chief of agriculture in August 1978, five days before the work team moved into the fuel company:
“I’ve come simply to warn you that a work team is on the way. You are the target; they’re going to put you on the stand . . . Now, about that incriminating material I gave you ... I want it back before it incriminates me.”
“Impossible. Ours is a proper relationship . . . Can you arrange to have Liu XX be appointed leader of this work team?”
“I only handle agriculture; I have no say in such things.”
“If you could arrange to have a woman sent, I could run her ragged, completely wear her out. Can’t you figure out a way to have a woman sent?”
“Don’t try to choose who’ll be sent. Whomever they send will be tougher than Xun Hongjun, and that old geezer really gave me a hard time last year. Meng XX is all right, more stable . . . Liu Changchun once came to my house urging me to attack you, but I wouldn’t.”
Two days later, this fellow nevertheless went looking for Liu XX. “Do you have a work assignment?” he asked. “If not, come to the fuel company!”
Ah, connections! Such is the nature of those endlessly magical connections!
The final cracking of the case of Wang Shouxin was complex and exciting, especially in the way several hundred people were mobilized to track down and recover all the money. But I cannot use space here for all these interesting details, because there is a more important point that deserves our attention.
The more important point is that after Zhou Lu told the work team of his and Wang Shouxin’s embezzlement, he begged the work team to protect him. “You have to be responsible for my safety,” he told Gu Zhuo. “If she finds out I’ve told you everything, she’ll move heaven and earth to get me killed. What if she comes to my door in the middle of the night to do me in—what am I going to do?”
In the case of Sun Xiyin, the work team had assigned guards to him beginning the very night he confessed. This had delighted him, for he also had feared that without such protection Wang Shouxin would kill him.
Liu Changchun’s circumstances were somewhat different, but some well-intentioned people went out of their way to warn him, too. “Be careful when you go out after dark from now on,” they said. “Wang Shouxin despises you. She’d part with a small fortune to see you dead.”
Even reporters and investigators who came to look into the whole story of Wang Shouxin and Bin County had people come to them with warnings as they left. “When you come next time, you’d better look out for your personal safety. Don’t take any comfort from the fact that Wang Shouxin has been locked up; the situation in Bin County is rather complicated.”
The situation in Bin County was indeed complicated. And who can wonder that this is so? All ten of the people jailed in the case of Wang Shouxin were members of the Communist Party.
The former Bin County Party Committee Secretary, that so-called sly fox who married into Wang Shouxin’s family, tried to conceal Wang Shouxin’s embezzled funds for her. He also came up with a scheme for her. “Get yourself one of those giant earthen jars, put the money in the bottom, and cover it with something else. Then bury it as deep as possible . . .”
The “complications” did not end in Bin County. Wang Shouxin’s eldest son, Liu Zhimin, was under investigation in Harbin by the Sungari River Prefectural Party Committee. His corruption and criminal activities had become quite obvious. Those “buddies” of his, who had arranged for him and his wife to get job transfers and who had removed incriminating material from his files (getting, of course, quite a reward for this) were still doing all they could to help him. Even when Liu Zhimin was “under surveillance,” he wined and dined himself just as before; those charged with watching him helped him to while away the time by playing chess and poker with him. He could even hop into a limousine and ride to Acheng County, over thirty miles away, in order to conclude a mutual-protection pact with an accomplice . . .
The case of Wang Shouxin’s corruption has been cracked. But how many of the social conditions that gave rise to this case have really changed? Isn’t it true that Wang Shouxins of all shapes and sizes, in all corners of the land, are still in place, continuing to gnaw away at socialism, continuing to tear at the fabric of the Party, and continuing to evade punishment by the dictatorship of the proletariat?
People, be on guard! It is still too early to be celebrating victories . . .
August 1979, Shenyang City, Jilin Province
Author’s postscript: For reasons that my readers can well understand, the names of certain characters in this piece have been changed.
Originally published in Renmin wenxue (Beijing), no. 9, 1979.
1. Wenyi qingkuang, no. 9 (1980): 13-15.
2. Ibid., pp. 13-15.
3. Bad harvests in 1959, 1960, and 1961 were the results of natural calamities in addition to man-made calamities caused by the policies of the Great Leap Forward, a highly impractical effort to get instant results in industry and agriculture.
4. Here and throughout this book, “dollars” refers to the equivalent of 1979 U.S. dollars. Measures of length, area, weight, etc. are converted to miles, acres, tons, etc.
5. A campaign was under way in 1979 to praise the young woman Zhang Zhixin, who spoke out against repression during the Cultural Revolution and paid for it with her life.
6. Presumably “On All-out Dictatorship Over the Bourgeoisie,” by Zhang Chunqiao, in Red Flag, no. 4, 1975, and “On the Social Basis of Lin Biao's Anti-Party Clique/׳ by Yao Wenyuan in Red Flag, no. 3, 1975.Red Flag is the theoretical journal of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Zhang and Yao were leading Party theorists, and two of the Gang of Four.
7. A traitor in the widely read novel Red Crag (1961) by Luo Guangbin and Yang Yiren.
8. The martyred heroine of Red Crag.
9. Fearless military hero in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms and other stories, whose entrance in Peking operas is always announced by drumrolls.
10. Anti-Dühring is the brief title for Friedrich Engels’ Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science (1878), an important work in clarifying basic theories of Marx.
11. “Social bourgeoisie” refers^ to people who act like the bourgeoisie within the socialist system. It is not a standard term, but is parallel to “social imperialists,” which in the 1970s was a standard term for the Soviet leadership, who were charged with acting like imperialists within a socialist system.
12. The name of the campaign also rather callously means “playing doubles,” as in ping-pong.
13. In the famous story “The White-Haired Girl,” the heroine’s hair turns prematurely white as a result of oppression by the landlord here referred to, Huang Shiren.